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Category Archives: Sermons

Continuing Education

On Saturday, I went to my first diocesan event in Central New York.

Here’s the thing with diocesan events:  I consider them a win if they are unremarkable and contain one or two pieces of information I can use.  Occasionally, diocesan events descend to the point where they test my continuing belief in my vocation, which is worrying, but mostly, they sort of float along unnoticed.  I go, I talk to people I don’t usually get to see, and life moves on.

Happily, Dr. Catherine Meeks was invited to be the keynote speaker at this particular event.  And Dr. Catherine Meeks is a freaking genius-person who can bring the gospel with the best of them.  Listening to her speak was a true highlight.  (If you haven’t read her book Living into God’s Dream, then you should do that.  Go read her book.). One of the things she said was that hatred, prejudice, bigotry, etc resulted from our own inability to do our own work.  When people were unable to process their own insecurities and their own damage, they projected the elements in themselves they were uncomfortable with onto the Other–whoever that might be–and that projected image became what we saw when we engage with the other person.  It’s fear, but not fear of difference in the other, as much as it is fear of difference in oneself.

For me, this melted my brain a bit.  I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for racism and sexism over the years: economic anxiety, lack of exposure to difference, ignorance, etc.  None of them quite fit for me–because there is always the person who grew up around difference, knows perfectly well the consequences of what they say and do–and just does not care.  I’m related to people like that, and just calling it cognitive dissonance doesn’t explain it fully.

I adore learning something that explains some of the world to me.  So I have, since Saturday, walked around marveling in my head how wonderful and brilliant this idea is.  How much it explains.  How useful it might be to explain yet more of the big world.

Dr. Meeks also made mention of God’s role in all of this; how God asks us to fully engage in the process of making justice and peace a reality, even as we would much rather wander around with our faces toward the sky, asking for someone else to do it for us.  That part, I used in my sermon on Sunday.  Here it is.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 13, 2018

Ascension/Easter 7/ Frances Perkins shout-out?

Luke 24: 44-53

 

My fiancé and I have noted that when someone’s name appears floating through our social media, our first thought is “Oh no, I hope he’s not dead.”  Then, our second thought is usually “Oh no: what horrible thing has he been accused of?” 

It’s only been a year since the article was published that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s repeated crimes against women, and in that time, the #metoo movement has done much to shed light into some of the darkest spaces of our society.  By elevating women’s voices, and by using social pressure against those who harass and abuse the vulnerable, the movement has started to shift how we address these issues as a society.  (Started to.)

And one of the side-effects of that shift is that there has been more than one fallen idol in all this.  Louis CK seemed so affable and funny, until the stories about him came out, and suddenly it all looked different.  Bill Cosby was hilarious, and harmless, until he really, really wasn’t.  Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, in Missouri, the governor, Eric Greitens, and this week, the Attorney General of New York.

As I was reading about the latest case (which was really awful, and you should prepare yourselves) what struck me was the women who urged the victims not to come forward.  “He is what we need against Trump,” they argued.  “He’s such a key player.  He’s done so much good.  We can’t do this without him.”

What horrible calculus is that.  Don’t get me wrong; I understand the logic.  I understand why the victim of assault would not want to come forward, especially against a public figure.  But the thinking that one person, one person alone!, can save us.  The idea that any hope for change rests on One Magic Person being perfect is bound to end badly.  It’s a very dangerous thing, trying to make an idol out of anyone, much less a human.  But we try it all the time.  We do it in ways large and small.  Oh, how we would love for someone, ANYONE, to save us so we don’t have to.

Think about this burning human need for a savior, in the back of your mind, when you reread the Ascension story.  Because, on several levels, the Ascension story is WEIRD.  It’s a bit…unnecessary? Even?  Jesus has lived, he’s died, he rose again, and now?  He just lifts on off the ground, and for what?    I’m sure the disciples were really put out with this turn of events—they had just gotten the guy back 40 days prior, and here he is leaving again.  This was perhaps not the most helpful to the disciples.  They have all these expectations, all these things they want Jesus to do now that he’s new, Resurrected Jesus:  “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Because surely now that he’s back, he’s going to get on with making the world perfect, with doing all the things he promised while he was alive.  

But nope! No sooner had they begun to get their minds around the resurrection than Jesus leaves again, and NOW what state of being is he in? They expected Jesus to fix everything now that he was resurrected, but instead, he leaves.  Again.  And they are left staring at the sky.

But two angels appear, and ask them what they’re doing “Men of Galilee, why are you staring at the sky?”  

Now that Jesus has departed, the disciples are a bit baffled, and more than usual.  Who will save them now?  Who will do all those things that Jesus said they should do?  How will anything get better?  Who will save the world now?

The disciples want Jesus, of course, to be the person to do all the heavy lifting—to be the one person who does all the work.  And of course, Jesus, during his ministry on earth, does an incredible amount of healing and teaching and preaching. 

But in the end, when Jesus departs for the heavenly realms, the disciples must pick up the torch of that ministry.  They must go out and do themselves what Jesus had previously done.  Peter must grow into the Rock Jesus declared him to be.  James and John must grow beyond their quarreling and bickering, and work together.  Thomas must venture beyond his cynicism and journey forward in faith.  Mary Magdalene must embrace a new life.    All of which wouldn’t have really been possible if Jesus had stayed with them.  But now that he’s gone, these gathered people grow from a lost band of confused individuals to the seed of the church.

It’s only after the Ascension, after all, that we see Peter beginning to get a clue, and start preaching dynamic sermons in Acts.  It’s only after the Ascension that we see James and John band together and build up the church in Jerusalem.  It’s only after the Ascension that, according to legend, Thomas goes to India to preach the gospel and Mary Magdalene goes all the way to Rome to tell the emperor of the Risen Christ.  All of a sudden, it’s as if the Ascension spurs the disciples to grow into the people they were intended to be all along.  

In theological terms, we say that Christ doesn’t depart in the Ascension—or rather, he does, but only so that he can be more fully present with all of Creation.  While he was incarnate on earth, he was bound in time and space, but after the ascension, he was no longer so limited, and so could be present to all people in the same instant.  The spirit of Christ could accompany Peter as he taught, Thomas as he traveled, Mary as she preached—everyone all at once.  And us, as we gather here.

Instead of relying on an external Christ to magically save them, the Ascension pushed the disciples to rely on the spirit of Christ aiding them internally for guidance and strength. It pushed them to do the work that Christ had been preparing them for during his ministry, and to realize all they were capable of.  To claim their roles as co-laborers with God in this world.

Because really, we can’t rely on idols.  Idols, as the Psalms are always telling us, will disappoint us every time.  No matter what.  Idols won’t save us—no matter how well-intentioned.  If we want the world to be a more just place, we have to change.  If we want oppression to cease, we need to work on that.  If we want to see more love, more mercy, more forgiveness in our world, we need to start cultivating these within our own lives.

The Holy Spirit, present in our midst, empowers us to seek and do the will of God, even when its difficult, even when we aren’t sure how to begin.  It is the Holy Spirit that shifts us from gazing longly at the sky, wishing for another idol to rest our hopes on, to moving forward, ready to embrace the life and work that Christ calls us to.

  

Happy happy, joy joy

I did NOT decide to preach a sermon on the joy of Christ because I recently got engaged. (While I am really happy, I’d argue that the immediate inundation of “YOU MUST PLAN YOUR WEDDING THE FOLLOWING WAY” ads on all social media platforms really cuts down on the experience a bit.) I decided to do it because I am again indebted to D. Mark Davis’ lectionary/linguistic blog Left Behind and Loving It. In the post, he asks what the joy of Christ might look like, which got me thinking.  I’ve talked before about how I usually steer clear of commentaries, because they tend to overshadow how I hear the text with their own opinions and framing.  This blog just posits questions alongside the Koine text, which I find infinitely more helpful as a place to start a sermon.

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 6, 2018

Easter 6

John 15:9-17

One of the side-effects of beginning your ordained career at a younger age than the average priest, is that you spend quite a lot of time in meetings with people trying to figure out how to speak the language of “Kids These Days.”  This is fascinating for a number of reasons, among them, the assumption that an entire generation has ever been of the same mind about anything, and also—that a person who felt called to enter the priesthood as a teenager would make a particularly good spokesperson for said generation.   I went to seminary at age 21!  I am not the most typical of young people!  

And yet, here we are.  In one of those meetings, I can recall sitting with my college students when I was a chaplain, and being surprised to hear adults in the room congratulate them for attending service.  “I can’t believe you come to church! Next time, we’ll make sure to reward you with lunch afterwards.” One said.  Another made some mention of college students not coming to Holy Week services, because “that’s just too much for them” and probably too boring.” 

I found this all quite strange.  In point of fact, my particular college students had pushed for a full schedule of Holy Week services, and would have probably loved it had I given in to their demands and done a full chanted Rite 1 eucharist with incense every week.  When I was introduced to one freshman in his first week of school, he shook my hand solemnly and informed me that the Hymnal 1982 was a sadly underutilized document within the Episcopal Church today. 

My college students LIKED church.  They liked church a lot, which was why they came, in a culture that increasingly looked askance at the openly religious.  There was no peer-pressure to attend church for them; in fact, there was just the opposite.  But they came to church because here, they found meaning.  Here, they found joy.

The gospel today is taken from a long speech that Jesus gives in the gospel of John.  At the last supper, after he washes their feet, Jesus holds forth for chapters and chapters in something called the High Priestly prayer—essentially recapping what his ministry has been about for the past few years.  He’s taking these last moments with his disciples to remind them of what they need to know before he leaves them.  

And so he reminds them that he has given his commands and lived his life in order that we should abide in his love, and so our joy may be complete.  The language in this gospel is more complicated than really it ought to be—it’s like someone is showing off—but this section is chained together with a little word that means either “so that” or “in order that.” I have said these things to you in order that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you—and no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

These ideas are connected like dominos—Jesus is saying that if we follow this command to love one another as he does, then we will find his joy. 

This, then, is what the Christian life is about:  his joy, and his love.  Joy that can sustain us thru everything in the world, and love that can overcome death.  The joy of Christ—that’s a somewhat unfamiliar thought, but if you’ve ever seen Desmond Tutu speak, then I imagine it might be similar to the joy that shines out from his face.  Because surely, someone who has experienced such suffering and human cruelty in their lifetime, yet can still beam with delight over a silly joke knows something of the joy of Christ, that persists even in the face of bleakness.  

This joy isn’t denial, by the way, and it isn’t emotional manipulation.  I don’t think Jesus wants us to deny or manufacture emotions—the sort of joy I speak of cannot be conjured up through force of will, really, or a key change in emotional music.  It’s born of being rooted deeply and surely in the love of God for all creation, and knowing that God’s love will have the last word, no matter what.  And feeling the delight of that knowledge set you free.  

Oddly, this joy is not always what we associate with church—love and joy and good news.  Church is frequently talked of as a somber, stale thing, filled with frozen people who must assent to a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts, and who probably don’t understand science.

 

But that popular conception hardly seems like the sort of thing that Jesus is talking about here.  Or the sort of thing that would be lifegiving at all.  Faith, he tells the disciples, is meant to be joyful.  Our relationship with God is meant to be a source of freedom and joy.  It is supposed to connect us to that sense of joy.  By this the world will know that you are my disciples—that your joy may be complete.  That you abide in my love. 

How strange is it, then, that in so many places, what passes for Christianity does the exact opposite.  How odd that what is called the gospel by many is such a soulless, hard thing—that so often what we hear shouted from rooftops and quoted by politicians is not the joy and love of Christ, but something else.    After all, the gospel is called good news, and so good is what it should be.  

And not just good news for the person proclaiming it—not just good news for the rich, the privileged, the fully-able, those of white privilege, those society already favors.   but good news for everyone.  

Good news for the poor, the sick, the politically oppressed, the disabled, the struggling, people of color, LGBTQ, the marginalized—if what we say is not good news for these, then it is not the gospel.  If what we proclaim does not bring the life-giving love of God into the world, then it is not abiding in Christ.  if It does not speak of that joy that laughs in the face of evil because it forces its coming downfall—it is not the gospel.  

Because if we let it—our faith is joyful.  That was the secret those college kids had discovered years ago.  What could be dour or dull about what we do here?  THIS IS FUN.  THIS IS HAPPY.  Celebrating God come among us, and the eternal triumph of love incarnate—that is incredibly joyful.  

This is the joy we need to share with the world; this is the joy we need to celebrate, especially in a world so often dismal and sad.

Amen

You, Me, and CAMEL! makes three

I realize that I have again fallen behind in the sermon-posting.  However, this time I swear I have a good excuse!

I got engaged last weekend to my boyfriend-though-we-both-agree-that’s-a-rather-silly-name-for-an-adult, Ben.  Hooray!  We are both very excited about getting married, which will happen in October, God willing and the wedding industrial complex consenting.

However, it does turn out that getting engaged takes up some of your time and energy?  Who knew.  So I hereby apologize for my tardiness in posting last Sunday’s sermon, but here you go.  (It does not mention my romantic life,  but it does mention a camel.  Because camels are cool.)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 28, 2018

Easter 5, Year B

Acts 8!

I took a group of young adults to the Holy Land over the summer on pilgrimage.  I’ve been there several times, but one of the things that hits me every time I go is how very wild the wilderness is.  On this trip, we went out to the desert outside of Jerusalem, early one morning before the sun came up.  We went only a few miles outside the city to the southwest, and soon were in the heart of the desert, with nothing around us except the barren hills.  

We celebrated the eucharist as the sun came up over the hills—with nothing as far as the eye could see—only hills upon hills, and the glimpse of a road in the distance heading back to Jerusalem.

But as I was praying over the bread and wine, suddenly, I noticed a Bedouin family appear over the crest of the hill, riding a camel.  I don’t have any clue where they came from; but they appeared from seeming nowhere in the middle of nowhere.  They quietly waiting, the older man and the young child, until we finished praying, then they offered us rides on the camel and beaded bracelets.  It was them and us, alone in the wilderness.  No buildings, no roads, really, no nothing.  Just a group of wayward Americans, and some friendly Bedouin.  And a camel.  Quite the odd gathering that morning.

I was sitting with that image as I read Acts 8, because it seems like a similarly disparate gathering is occurring in that desert.  To set the scene, things are not going well for the disciples.  Stephen has just been killed in Jerusalem, at the urging of Saul.  So the pressure on the brand-new church is fiercer than it ever has been, and as usually, they do not have a plan.  So Philip is traveling down to Gaza through the desert, partially to get out of dodge again. 

And on the way, in the desert, he encounters a fellow traveler who is also lost—a government official from Ethiopia.  And he’s lost in several important ways: The text says this guy is the treasurer for the Candace—the Ethiopian queen, so he’s clearly important.  Some of the other context would indicate that he is interested in the Jewish faith and has been up to the Temple to worship, but the Temple rules were really against him.  For starters, he’s not an Israelite—he’s Ethiopian, so that’s the first issue.  Second issue is that unless he is willing to fully convert, and be circumcised, he would not be allowed to enter the Temple, and this was generally not a popular idea among adult male converts.  Third, as a high-ranking court official of the queen, chances were good he was a eunuch—which also meant he couldn’t enter the Temple.  Basically, despite his expressed desire to encounter the God of Israel, he has several major strikes against him.  

So here he is, in the desert, in the middle of nowhere, reading Isaiah by himself, when he chances across Philip.  Philip hops in the carriage with him, and reads the scriptures along side him.  And it is this interaction that leads the official to ask to be baptized.  

It’s interesting to note that Philip doesn’t appear to notice the barriers that restricted the official’s access to worship in the Temple.  They don’t register to him.  Also, it’s not clear that Philip has all the answers that the official seeks, or that Philip figures out how to solve the oncoming persecution of the church in Jerusalem.  

But somehow, these two people struggling with their own immense questions manage to find each other in the wilderness and aid each other in a powerful way.  

This event marks a turning point in the life of the baby church—it is the first time that a Gentile converts to Christianity, and it is the first time that the growing Jesus Movement heads outside Jerusalem to discover what other plans God might have in store for it.  To be clear, the church did this the same way it undergoes all change: under protest.  Philip didn’t decide the best strategy for growth was to head out towards the desert and preach to people there; he panicked and tried to flee, but God still pointed him towards the right decision.

Despite their common lostness, both Philip and the Ethiopian official manage to be icons of the divine for each other in this encounter.  Philip guides the official to a new acceptance and faith home, and the official begins Philip on a new journey for the church.  But that common sense of not having all the answers, I think, is part of what brings them together in the first place.

Part of the experience of being in the desert, in the wilderness, is how vast and isolating it can be.  When you encounter another person out there, no matter who it is, you rely on them because there is literally no one else for miles and miles.  We, as travelers in the journey of faith, each have times when we feel more in the wilderness than others.  When we feel more adrift in an ocean of sand and lost.  But the struggle for us in these moments is to recall that the people we encounter are also traveling like us.  Everyone we encounter in this walk of faith is also lost, to some degree or another.  No one, despite their claims to the contrary, has all the answers.  Not me, not you, not Philip, and not the court official.   We share a common experience of trying to put the pieces together.

And this common experience should gift us with humility towards others and towards ourselves.  For even as neither Philip nor the official really knew much about what they were doing, that did not stop them from being a great comfort to each other.  Even as we struggle along, if we are open to the Spirit, and open to each other, we can shed light upon the path for one another.  The action of the Spirit does not depend on our understanding or comprehension, only our openness to it.  

But this reliance on the Spirit and on each other, ultimately, brings us closer to God, and closer to each other.

 

Amen. 

Sheep!

It was hard, I tell you, not to spend this whole sermon talking about how lovely sheep are.  As a knitter, this was a real danger for me, and I feel you should count yourselves lucky that I didn’t just devote 10 minutes of homiletical time to describing various sheep breeds and the characteristics of their wool.  (TARGHEE!!!  BFL!!!!). I realize that so-called “Good Shepherd Sunday” is right up there on the Unpopular Sermon list with Trinity Sunday and Low Sunday, but guys.  Sheep are actually awesome.  And so shepherds must also be.  And why wouldn’t we all be really psyched to be compared to an animal that is pretty intelligent, and can produce milk, meat, and wool?***  Move over, cows.

In view of my sheep-fixation, I decided to go basic with the sermon.  So here’s what I said.

(And no, I don’t explain the various types of wool.  Though, if you’d like me to offer an opinion, I can do that.)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 22, 2018

Easter 4/ Good Shepherd

1 John/ I am the shepherd

I had a professor in college who taught a whole semester on the Gospel of John.  The thing he most appreciated about it, he said once, was that it was confusing.  I can attest that he was correct.  Jesus uses several metaphors to explain who and what he is in the Gospel of John.  Each of them could fill a book, if you unpacked it all the way, and none of them are what you would call clear.  The gospel of John as a whole doesn’t seem to be intended for people just entering the Christian life; it’s Christianity 2.0—the why of things are rather than the who and the what.  Not the facts, but the reasons behind it all, the grand theology uniting it.

Which is lovely, but also confusing.  So buckle up, because we’re going to be spending a few weeks here in the post-Easter lectionary.  

One of the last metaphors Jesus uses for himself as he’s talking is “I am the good shepherd.”  Now, this one is unlike the other metaphors he’s been using.  For one, it is a person metaphor:  he’s not becoming a plant, a gate, or a food item.  For another, his Jewish audience would have had an immediate context for what he was saying.

Not only were shepherds pretty familiar images in the hills of Palestine, as they still are today, they were also a common metaphor for leadership.  Israel’s prophets would talk about the king as the shepherd of the people, in either positive or negative terms.  Usually negative.  Usually VERY negative. 

  Jeremiah, for example, laments that his people have only had bad shepherds to care for them, shepherds who let all the sheep scatter and be lost.  Ezekiel, too, has a long metaphor of bad shepherds neglecting the sheep of Israel, and letting injustice and corruption reign in the country.  “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed a flock? ‘You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly, you have not strengthened, the diseased, you have not healed, the broken, you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought in, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and severity you have dominated them.”  

So, it’s bad.  And what will God do?  “Thus says the Lord God—I am against the shepherds.  And I will demand my sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep.  So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver my flock from their mouth, so they will not be food for them.”  God is not messing around.

The idea of a shepherd-king being invoked as the person who rules was really familiar, then. Here, though, Jesus is picking up shepherd part, but more on the ‘good.’ The prophets used it all the time, but usually to make the point that SOMEONE had messed up, and now here the people were, wandering around lost, like errant sheep.  But Jesus is doing something different.  He’s making the point that yes, he’s definitely been given some sort of power, but more than that, that the way in which he uses his power marks him as trustworthy and good. 

Those other shepherds us sheep had no choice but to follow, but this shepherd we do.  

 He’s not just the shepherd we have to follow, because we’re sheep.  He’s the shepherd who is good, so we want to follow. 

Jesus says “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  His sheep know his voice.”  He draws a clear distinction between a leader who is good, who cares deeply and intimately about the creatures they care for, and someone who is just in it for the money, who abuses the trust given to them.  Look, he says, I am the good one.  I am the one you can trust because I care so much. I even sacrifice myself for those I care for!  I am the good shepherd. 

I know we know that God loves us.  Or at least, I hope you know that.  But how often do we sit with that knowledge for a bit?  How often do we recall that Jesus really does love us?  In a wonderfully-specific and life-giving way, born of knowing us intimately, and still just relishing the fact that we exist.  I had a friend in college who was particularly skilled in finding what was lovable in others.  One day we were discussing Shakespeare, and she commented that she would love Hamlet for his puns alone, and I thought that this must be how God sees us—utterly delightful in our uniqueness and complexity.  God must love us for our puns alone.

So often, maybe, we skip to all the other truths about our faith—forgiveness, grace, salvation, our call to justice, and all that, that it’s possible that we can gloss over the foundation of the whole thing—that peculiar delightful love that Christ has for each one of us that keeps drawing us in.  Calling us to follow.  That we are loved in spite of, and even because of, our quirks and oddities, and our failures, and broken places, and that somehow, Christ loves us into something more whole, more holy each day.  

The work of our lives in faith, perhaps, is to learn to love the whole world with this sort of love.  The epistle has talked a lot about living in love, and this, really, is what it’s talking about.  Gradually, we are meant to mirror outwards the love Christ shows us, so the whole world can bask in its warmth.  But this is a challenge for two reasons:  First, because other people are often irritating, and it is hard to love them, and frankly, it would be easier not to.  Other People frequently live on the other side of the world, where we forget about them.  Or they have different loyalties to ours, which makes it hard to agree with them, and sometimes we confuse that with love.  And sometimes, other people hurt us badly.  And it can be difficult to continue to wish the best for someone after they have clearly not wished the best for you. 

But secondly, this can be a challenge to mirror this sort of love because it is sometimes hard to remember that we are loved.  We live in a world that confuses so many things with love: agreement, conformity, even abuse, at times.  And so to hold on to the idea proclaimed to us at baptism that we are God’s beloved, sealed as Christ’s own forever, can be hard, in the face of all that.  That Christ loves us with a non-coercive, enveloping and freeing sort of love.

But the more we hold onto this as our birthright as humans, this inner knowledge of God’s love for us, the more we can show this same lifegiving love to the world around us.  

Because it is this love that builds a better world, when we accept and cherish others.  It is this love that urges us on to be better people, when others can see in us better than we believe ourselves to be, and it is this love that draws the lost and the lingering sheep back home.

***I know–Jesus isn’t using this metaphor to compare his followers to sheep, as much as he is comparing himself to a leader, like the ancient kings of Israel.  The metaphor is about the shepherd, not the sheep.  But, still.  Sheep are cool, is my point.  They don’t get enough credit in this bovine-centric world.

Peter’s Super Power

In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere on this here Series of Tubes, I will be moving to Ithaca, New York in a few weeks to become the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

I am really excited and happy about this–St. John’s is amazing and I’m so thrilled to be able to work with them.  But this also means leaving KCMO, and St.Paul’s–and that is hard.  I love this place and this parish so much, and I am so proud of the ministry we have done together.  God is doing such amazing things here, and I have been lucky to participate.

But that departure is not today, and never fear–this blog will continue as it has before.  And this blog knows I owe you at least 2 sermons.  So here’s one of them–from the Last Sunday after Epiphany, in which we discuss Peter’s super power.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

February 11, 2018

Transfiguration, Last Sunday of Epiphany

Year B

 

–I have a tradition of watching the Opening Ceremony of each Olympics.  And livetweeting them.  A group of us have formed over the years–I think the first time I did this was 2012 or so.  

–It’s the only rational response, I feel, to watching such a momentous occasion under the circumstances NBC gives us, which are less than ideal,  At least for me–it’s frustrating to have parts of the show edited out, random trivia spouted by talking heads, and so much attention placed on the American athletes, when maybe this is a great time to pay attention to people who exist outside this country?  And often, as it was this year, the whole thing is time-delayed with plenty of commercials.

-So, loving mockery it is.  Because how else can one digest the dichotomy that occurs onscreen?  The designers of the Opening Ceremony were tasked with a near-impossible task:  tell the story of Korean life and culture over thousands of years through a show–use everything at your disposal.  So, they have 5 children ‘wandering’ through the history of Korea, meeting with mythical creatures, giant puppets, dancers, war torn refugees, drumming choirs, mountains made of calligraphy, and a technological future.  It’s all pretty great, actually.  And it’s all hard to explain in mere words.  

–So, perhaps that’s why the commentators ended up offering tidbits like “Asians are not afraid of tigers!” and “Korea has more tech rehab centers than any place except China!” ….Ok.  

 

–the need to explain is not always helpful.  And often counterproductive.  In fact, NBC had to offer an apology to South Korea just this morning for some of their commentary, when one of the on-air folks said that Korea had always looked to post-war Japan as their economic ideal.  If you know your history, you know that NO.  Koreans definitely did NOT have those warm feelings for post-war Japan.  

 

So, when looking at the gospel for today, maybe sub in Katie Couric for Peter?  Because really, it’s the same problem.  

 

Jesus, after a year or so of teaching, preaching, miracle-working, takes a few of the disciples up a mountain by themselves.  These are his inner circle, his most trusted friends.  And the disciples, Peter, James, and John, have a mystical experience.  There’s no other name for it.  Before their eyes, the truth of Jesus is revealed.  

 

Now, the text gives an image of what this is, but it’s important to keep in mind that the specifics are less important than the thing to which they point.  So Jesus suddenly becomes transfigured, his clothing whiter than the sun, shining with light.  For Mark’s readers, this would have sounded to them like the divine Son of Man figure in Ezekiel, who seems to be made of shining light, all shimmering and brilliant.  So they would have gotten the notion that Jesus is being revealed to be like that figure–divine!  Otherworldly!  Mystical!  

And then Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus.  Mark doesn’t tell us what they talked about because that’s not what he wants the audience to get here.  The audience would have grasped that Elijah was the sum of the prophets, and Moses was the carrier of the Law.  Their friendliness with Jesus indicate that he is literally conversant with the Law and the Prophets, he’s on their side, they approve–and Jesus, as established by the shining,  is clearly divine.  And then, if that weren’t enough, God speaks, and reminds the disciples to LISTEN TO HIM.  

There’s also thunder, and mist, and sleepiness

There’s a lot happening here.  Whatever exactly happened, it must have been overwhelming.  

 

Because the first thing Peter does is open his mouth and panic.  “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE.  LET’S BUILD BOOTHS.  OR SOMETHING.”  I have decided that Peter’s chief spiritual gift is being the first person to open his mouth, and utter what everyone else is thinking.  He’s basically biblical cannon fodder, who takes the rebuke when Jesus explains why that, too, is wrong.  But someone has to do it, and Peter cheerfully takes the set down time after time.  

 

Here is no exception.  Peter says this truly dumb thing about booths, made all the more inane by the beatific vision unfolding before them, and I’m sure Jesus just sort of looks at him.  And everything disappears, and Jesus tells them not to talk about it.  

 

One of the commentaries I read this week pointed out that literally everything Peter does is undone by God in this story.  He talks, Jesus tells him not to.  He wants to build booths, Jesus has them leave.  He wants to tell people, God reminds him to listen.  

 

It would seem that there’s an impulse for Peter, perhaps for all of us, in the face of what we cannot understand to shrink it into digestible parts as fast as we can.  Especially when it comes to God.  We take these experiences of transcendence in our lives, and rather than letting them exist in their complexity, to slowly unfold and reveal themselves, we sometimes try to jump to explain them–or worse, we try to explain them away.  

 

But the reality is, that while words can do a lot to convey what we know of God, they cannot do everything.  Much of the divine remains beyond us.  Part of what makes God divine is that inability to be fully comprehended.

 

Our instinct to shrink those experiences that challenge us comes from fear, that most primal of failings.  Our fear that God is, in fact, beyond us.  Our fear that God might want us to change.  Our fear that the great unknowable Divine is uncontrollable, and therefore will wreck us.  

 

Yet, in the face of that primal fear, is it not striking that the one thing God says on that mountain, in the middle of all that shining light, all that mist, and fog, and appearing prophets, in the middle of all that theophany—is “Here is my Son.  My Beloved.”?  The one thing God says is an assurance of love.  In fact, if you look through the gospels, everytime there’s a terrifying voice from heaven, the ONE THING God always says is that affirmation of Love.  That’s it.  

 

Not “I’m coming for you!” or “Pray hard and beat the flu” or “Here are the lotto numbers”.  Each and every time, God says My Beloved.  Each and every time, God speaks of love for us.  And love, as scripture tells us, casts out fear.  

 

If we hold on to one thing, let us hold on to that perfect love of God, and not be too anxious to shrink all of God down to easy words.  The main thing God reveals of Godself is this love–this love for us throughout history, and in the person of Jesus.  

Old and New, Light and Dark.

Poking around on the interwebs today, I came across a blog I kept during seminary.  It was quite the reading experience.  Apparently editing was not my strong suit 10 years ago.  I also had many thoughts about church politics and events in the Middle East, so solidly on brand there.  It included the text of the sermon I gave in the chapel senior year.

I was surprised at how well the sermon held up.  There were definitely things I would change–stylistic tweaks I would make.  Things I would add for clarity’s sake, and adjustments if I weren’t preaching in an academic community who all knew who Cyrus the Persian was***.  But for the most part, the faith I talked about in that sermon is the faith I talk about today.  I want to go back in time and high-five my younger self, and tell her “That’s it!  Don’t be so nervous! You got this!”

On that note, here is my sermon from this Sunday.  It’s less of a sermon, more of a very thorough outline, but the ideas are there.  I wanted to talk about light and dark, and the limits of dichotomies in our dealings with God.  So I talked about neurological things!  As one does.

December 31, 2017

Christmas 1

John 1:1-18

Fun story:  For a few years in college, I saw things.  Not interesting things, like visions of God or angels, or apparitions of the future.  I saw flashing lights, floating dots, and ghost images around lights.  All those symptoms that doctors tell you are Very Bad, and you should immediately go to a doctor should you experience.

Tests were all negative–they couldn’t find anything wrong with me, even after all the doctors had stared at me, and med students had looked worried at me.   But the flashing lights, and weird floaty things persisted.  And thus did begin my fascination with light–since suddenly, everyone else could see something clearly that I could not.  This phenomenon I had taken for granted was now very apparent in my life.  

(Fast forward a couple years, and doctors would conclude that nothing WAS wrong with me–that what I was seeing was the result of a fried cranial nerve during a bad migraine, and could mostly be fixed with surgery and good glasses.  So please don’t worry about me–I am FINE.  But my fascination persisted.  Light, it seemed, wasn’t just light for everyone.)

 

Light/dark is a familiar dualism.  Light= good!  Dark=bad!  Light makes us happy, and dark makes us sad. Light is the thing we want, darkness is the thing that scares us.  This dichotomy is so familiar to us that we assume that this is apparent to everyone and we use that turn of phrase all the time.  It’s everywhere.  It’s in the gospels–and not just in the Johaninne prologue. 

 

Recently, this turn of phrase has become controversial, because it has been used throughout history to tell people of darker skin that they are less than.  Even so far as Joseph Smith telling Mormons that Indians and black people had darker skin because it was an outward sign of their sin.  Now that’s horrific, and so equating light with goodness has become a problem not just for those of us with visual impairments, but also for the reason that it can hearken back to this really troubling history.  

 

But  if we listen, what the prologue tells us is that, in fact, the dualism we assume is not apparent.  And it isn’t self-evident.  When the light comes, John writes, the world doesn’t even notice.  Even as the light illuminates the darkness, and even as the light has been present for all time, and lightens all creation.  Such a powerful presence, and somehow we just don’t notice it.  He came to his own, and his own did not receive him.

 

In retrospect, we sit here, comfortable in the 21st century, and it is hard to see how Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t realize who he was.  He was doing miracles!  He was preaching such amazing things!  How could people not stop what they were doing and noice?

Yet what’s fascinating throughout the gospels is how mundane the reasons people give for avoiding following Christ are.  It’s rarely that they don’t believe, per se-more often it’s something more pedestrian.  The rich young man really likes Jesus, but Jesus tells him to sell all he has, and well, his house is so comfortable!  Business leaders in Jerusalem acknowledge the truth of what the apostles are preaching in Acts, they believe in the risen Christ, but they’re worried about their income.  Pilate and Herod know who and what Jesus is–Herod asks for a miracle–but they have other, pressing political concerns.  

 

Rather than a simple dichotomy, what pulls us away from the light of God seems not to be darkness–it seems to be apathy.  We seem to be numb  to the light, and to what it’s doing.  It is all around us, and somehow, we just ignore it, or we don’t see it, because we’re so focused on other things.  It’s not that we dwell in darkness–a big, bad, foe out to snatch us up–we just become immune.  

 

It’s here that John’s prologue is at its most wise.  John, in his poetry, reminds us that the light is deeper and more profound than a simple enemy to the darkness.  But the Word, which is the Light, was in all things, and gave birth to all things, so when we stop and look around–it is in the light in which we live and move and have our being.  There is nothing we can think, say, or do that is apart from the Light.  And there is no darkness that can overcome or destroy the light. The light of God is what enlivens all life.  

 

But our constant task is to realize it.  To see the light as it shines around us, because while God never is apart from us, often we are so used to God’s presence that we begin to take it for granted.  Our task is to notice.  To recognize.  To be aware of the light shining around us.   To recognize the divine presence suffusing our existence, and not to be distracted by other concerns or worries.  Not money, not politics, not family–not even the darkness.  Because as John reminds us today, there is nothing in all creation that can snuff out God’s presence in this world.  Thanks to the Incarnation, we are inextricably intertwined in the life of God from now on.  The Light is here, and cannot be removed.  Our job is to recognize it and mirror it back.

Amen

 

 

 

***Cyrus the Persian was the Persian emperor who conquered the Babylonian Empire, and allowed the exiled Israelites to return and rebuild Jerusalem.  Despite not being Jewish, Isaiah LUUUUUVES Cyrus because of this–which is why I refer to Cyrus as the McDreamy of the OT.  (Because he is.) (Prove me wrong.) (You can’t.)

Mary Rides Again

I very much like preaching about Mary.

There is a dearth of good Anglican mariology, in my opinion.  Generally, we fall into one of two camps:  either we go full hyper-dulia and Romish about the Mother of God, with rosaries and novenas aplenty, or we go full Baptist, and ignore her.  I don’t think either are helpful.  Mary has a unique role in the Gospels and in the life of the church.   So it’s important for a theoretical, textual reason.

But it’s also important because of actual, human people.  This year, I was tempted to talk about something other than Mary, and her kick-ass self.  But then I came across a published sermon, given by a mainline Protestant minister, in which he claimed Mary was unimportant because she merely was a pawn in God’s larger plan of grace.  In fact, he argued, she had no choice at all–and emphasized that several times.

Nope–I decided right then and there I had to talk about Mary again.  It was either that or be kept awake for the next year with nightmares of that horrifying sermon playing in my head.

As I was giving the sermon, I watched the congregation.  They were on the smaller side–it was the morning of Christmas Eve, after all.  But when I got to the part about Mary being her own person, a teenaged girl in the pews shot her head up, and started grinning.  Afterwards, she told me delightedly that she loved my sermon.

That’s why I do this.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 24, 2017 (Morning)

Advent IV, Year B

Luke 2

 

The week before Christmas is a fascinating time for clergy, and other workers within the church.  Traditionally, it is the time when the copier breaks, when the plumbing declines to further plumb, and when all manner of small inconvenience suddenly appears, such that you cannot deal with the mounting pile of insanity that needs to be dealt with.  It breaks the weak, let me tell you.  And it’s why I’ve been bringing chocolate into work all week.

 

Of course, that’s what it’s like for most of us in these last pre-holiday days:  lots of rushing, lots of worrying about whether the family will make their flights, or whether Atlanta will have another blackout.  Whether that last side dish will get done, whether everything will be read or not.  For many of us, clergy or not, Christmas is an exercise in anxiety.

 

Contrast this, then, with the images on our Christmas cards of the Holy Family:  figures serene and formal, spotless and pale–looking like they never had a day of worry in their lives.  

Most of the images of Mary and Joseph that we see around this time of year do not reflect what we know their reality must have been:  harried, frantic, dirty, and terrified.  I did a Google search this week, when I was trying to avoid writing this sermon, and by a large margin, most of the images you find of Mary, especially, show her emotionless, and with her gaze off in the middle distance.  She’s distant and otherworldly–too pure and holy for whatever fears and concerns we struggle with.

 

But we know, of course, that this isn’t present in the narrative.  To read Luke’s account of the Annunciation is to encounter a young girl who has a lot of emotions.  

 

When Gabriel shows up to Mary (according to tradition in Nazareth, he shows up while she’s getting water from a local well), she very clearly has some concerns.  If you read the text closely, you can track the changes as the conversation happens.  Gabriel gives her the good news, and Mary is quite explicitly not on board.  She is worried, she is frightened, she has some questions, gosh darn it.  So she asks them.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Mary is trying to figure this out.

 

Gabriel gives further information, and it is only when he does, that Mary responds to the initial announcement.  “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”  Mary’s affirmative response is predicated on this give-and-take with the angel, and we know this in part because Luke describes Mary’s interior life–the only person really besides Jesus who is described as having interiority at all in the gospels.  

 

It never fails to amaze me, how many sermons and articles I come across which try to overlook or dismiss Mary’s arguing with the angel, and try to make the case that she either had no hesitations (flimsy) or she had no choice (horrifying.)  Each year, when I read about the Annunciation, these depictions of Mary as an emotionless pawn again flood my vision–the verbal equivalent of those pictures of the otherworldly, distant white girl on the Christmas cards.  

 

For one thing, the girl who doesn’t care doesn’t appear in Scripture, so there’s that.  For another, any assertion that Mary is anything other than a fully embodied agent of her own authority helps prop up some really disturbing ideas about women as a whole, and their ability to make their own decisions.  Because Mary is so often held up as What All Faithful Women Should Be, when she is reduced to a quiet pawn in the hands of God, that similarly tells women that the ideal to emulate is quiet, subservient, and without a will of her own

 

But finally, and perhaps most vitally, when we do actually stick to Scripture, and the depictions of women shown there, instead of our invented nonsense, we see that Christianity is resting on the foundation of the (still-controversial idea) that it is vital to believe women.  Both the malaligned women at the empty tomb, and the frightened, excited girl who spoke to an angel.  Without the believed testimony of women, we would have no church.  We would have no faith.

 

And just as vitally, when we bear witness to the fullness of this tradition, then we also see that it is as fully formed human beings that God encounters us.  God encounters Mary in her complete humanity–in all of her confusion, in all her doubt and fear, in all her questioning.  God does not shy away from any part of her or declare her questions out of bounds–God declares her as Blessed among women before a single word leaves her mouth. Indeed, she is blessed just as she is.  She does not have to do or change a thing.  

 

So then, Mary serves as a reminder that God takes us, each as we are.  Each one of us, regardless of our doubts and our hesitations has been declared beloved and blessed by the Most High.  Each one of us is needed in this recreation of the world.  And for each one of us, regardless of how well the cookies turned out, regardless of whether the dog eats the turkey, regardless of whether the children fight, regardless of whether we can muster up enough cheerfulness or not–Christ will be born on Christmas.  

 

 

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 24, 2017 (Morning)

Advent IV, Year B

Luke 2

 

The week before Christmas is a fascinating time for clergy, and other workers within the church.  Traditionally, it is the time when the copier breaks, when the plumbing declines to further plumb, and when all manner of small inconvenience suddenly appears, such that you cannot deal with the mounting pile of insanity that needs to be dealt with.  It breaks the weak, let me tell you.  And it’s why I’ve been bringing chocolate into work all week.

 

Of course, that’s what it’s like for most of us in these last pre-holiday days:  lots of rushing, lots of worrying about whether the family will make their flights, or whether Atlanta will have another blackout.  Whether that last side dish will get done, whether everything will be read or not.  For many of us, clergy or not, Christmas is an exercise in anxiety.

 

Contrast this, then, with the images on our Christmas cards of the Holy Family:  figures serene and formal, spotless and pale–looking like they never had a day of worry in their lives.  

Most of the images of Mary and Joseph that we see around this time of year do not reflect what we know their reality must have been:  harried, frantic, dirty, and terrified.  I did a Google search this week, when I was trying to avoid writing this sermon, and by a large margin, most of the images you find of Mary, especially, show her emotionless, and with her gaze off in the middle distance.  She’s distant and otherworldly–too pure and holy for whatever fears and concerns we struggle with.

 

But we know, of course, that this isn’t present in the narrative.  To read Luke’s account of the Annunciation is to encounter a young girl who has a lot of emotions.  

 

When Gabriel shows up to Mary (according to tradition in Nazareth, he shows up while she’s getting water from a local well), she very clearly has some concerns.  If you read the text closely, you can track the changes as the conversation happens.  Gabriel gives her the good news, and Mary is quite explicitly not on board.  She is worried, she is frightened, she has some questions, gosh darn it.  So she asks them.  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Mary is trying to figure this out.

 

Gabriel gives further information, and it is only when he does, that Mary responds to the initial announcement.  “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”  Mary’s affirmative response is predicated on this give-and-take with the angel, and we know this in part because Luke describes Mary’s interior life–the only person really besides Jesus who is described as having interiority at all in the gospels.  

 

It never fails to amaze me, how many sermons and articles I come across which try to overlook or dismiss Mary’s arguing with the angel, and try to make the case that she either had no hesitations (flimsy) or she had no choice (horrifying.)  Each year, when I read about the Annunciation, these depictions of Mary as an emotionless pawn again flood my vision–the verbal equivalent of those pictures of the otherworldly, distant white girl on the Christmas cards.  

 

For one thing, the girl who doesn’t care doesn’t appear in Scripture, so there’s that.  For another, any assertion that Mary is anything other than a fully embodied agent of her own authority helps prop up some really disturbing ideas about women as a whole, and their ability to make their own decisions.  Because Mary is so often held up as What All Faithful Women Should Be, when she is reduced to a quiet pawn in the hands of God, that similarly tells women that the ideal to emulate is quiet, subservient, and without a will of her own

 

But finally, and perhaps most vitally, when we do actually stick to Scripture, and the depictions of women shown there, instead of our invented nonsense, we see that Christianity is resting on the foundation of the (still-controversial idea) that it is vital to believe women.  Both the malaligned women at the empty tomb, and the frightened, excited girl who spoke to an angel.  Without the believed testimony of women, we would have no church.  We would have no faith.

 

And just as vitally, when we bear witness to the fullness of this tradition, then we also see that it is as fully formed human beings that God encounters us.  God encounters Mary in her complete humanity–in all of her confusion, in all her doubt and fear, in all her questioning.  God does not shy away from any part of her or declare her questions out of bounds–God declares her as Blessed among women before a single word leaves her mouth. Indeed, she is blessed just as she is.  She does not have to do or change a thing.  

 

So then, Mary serves as a reminder that God takes us, each as we are.  Each one of us, regardless of our doubts and our hesitations has been declared beloved and blessed by the Most High.  Each one of us is needed in this recreation of the world.  And for each one of us, regardless of how well the cookies turned out, regardless of whether the dog eats the turkey, regardless of whether the children fight, regardless of whether we can muster up enough cheerfulness or not–Christ will be born on Christmas.