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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.

Salt, Ham, and Resistance

There’s an article that’s been floating around on Slate.com written by an Episcopal priest, about how hard it’s been to preach since the election.

I can attest that this is true.

The problem is not that there’s nothing to preach about–the problem is that there’s so much to preach about, and it all cries out to be addressed, all at once.  The refugee ban, the Islamophobia, the selling of the government for profit, the blatant disregard for any move towards unity…on and on and on.  The ancient prophets would have a field day if they were alive (and, let’s not kid ourselves, would also be promptly chucked into a cistern or jail.)

Adding to that is that most of us have politically diverse congregations who are really struggling as all this news hits.  While I am incredibly lucky at St. Paul’s to have a congregation who is used to the rector and I addressing current events from the pulpit, the fact remains that people are reacting differently to what’s happening right now.  Some are mobilizing into activists for the first time in their lives.  Some are doubling down on activist efforts.  A few are in a deep denial about the severity of what’s happening.  And many are having to come to terms with the idea that the assumptions they’ve held for their entire lives about America, government, and the essential nature of this world are now not holding true.  Trying to reach all these groups at once in a sermon is hard, especially when you recall that preachers are human, read the news, and also feel tempted to spend much of their time hiding under their desk as of late.

Here was my attempt this week.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

February 4, 2017

Epiphany 5

Matthew 5

 

My family has a tradition of eating Smithfield ham at Christmas time.  This is not an easily found product–this is a locally produced variety of pork that dates back from colonial times before refrigeration.  The ham was salt cured, seasoned with brown sugar and cloves, then hung in a barn to dry out.  Then, you stuck in in a burlap sack to keep.  To prepare it, I recall my mother soaking it in a sink full of water for 2-3 days to leach some of the salt out of it, and then, scrubbing the naturally occurring mold off.   (Yeah.  It wasn’t all glamorous back then.)

The end result, however, was delicious.  Salty ham that is great fried up with eggs, or served cold on a biscuit.  And now I’m hungry.

But the takeaway is this:  salt is really important.  To the people of Jesus’ time, salt did everything for you.  It was used as currency.  It kept your food edible, it flavored it, it worked as a medicine, it seemed practically magic, because it stopped things from going bad.  

And yet no one ever had a lot of it.  Salt was expensive.  You had to hoard it.  And trust me–you did not want to overdo it on salted pork.  A little bit of salt is good.  Too much salt is not good.

Salt, in other words, is a really good minority. It does best when it is outnumbered.  You only want a pinch of salt in your cooking to add flavor, otherwise you end up with a mouthful of awful. (Light, actually, does the same thing.  If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a laser beam to the face.  Lots of concentrated light is bad–a little, artfully applied is good.)

And so Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt and the light of the world.  

That implies some pretty great and empowering stuff–namely that–hooray!  We get to change the world!  We get to save the world!  We can go out and PRESERVE STUFF LIKE SALT DOES.  I’mma be some salt!!!  All tangy and whatnot.

But there’s another side of this too.  Jesus’s comment also implies that we are going to be vastly outnumbered.  We will be salt, but not in a salt shaker– in an ocean of water.  Light in a pretty big night.  This is coming right on the heels of the beatitudes, in the sermon on the mount, and like Jesus said then–this being salt business doesn’t make you popular.  It doesn’t give you the majority.  You are doing something that most others aren’t.  

We talked about this last week–

But being salt in the world, living by the beatitudes, following Christ in the world constrains you to live in a different way.  And not in a way that makes us powerful, or important, especially not right now. When Christ asks us to be salt in the world, Christ is asking us to be powerless, to be outnumbered and to embrace that.  Majorities and minorities live in very different ways in the world– We have to live differently, because we are outnumbered, and our job is a big one–to flavor all this food in which we live.  

So what does that task look like for salty people?  How then do we live as faithful, outnumbered grains of salt?  Because that can be exhausting!  

I had lunch with a friend this week and we were comparing notes on the state of the world, and we figured out our mutual struggle right now was with feeling powerless.  I told her that .  I am a middle class straight white woman–I am used to being empowered!  I am used to DOING THINGS and Leaning In, or at least feeling really guilty if I am not doing things.  I have just not been socialized to feel so powerless.  And yet that is precisely where the gospel places us.  In a place of (relative) powerlessness.

I would say first that Jesus wasn’t joking when he says that salt that has lost its flavor is in deep trouble.  We need to be careful to retain our saltiness.  We need to be careful not to spread ourselves too thin.  We can’t do everything.  We can’t put out every fire.  (Salt can even extinguish grease fires!)  There will be times when you get tired, and you need to take a break and that is ok.  While we are flavoring this bland world, take time to reconnect.  Connect to the Christ that calls you, to the God that made you, to the beauty that inspires you.  No one of us has to do everything, conquer every mountain, achieve every goal.  

Connect to the other lone grains of salt doing the same work you are.   Here are all these other little grains doing this hard work too.  They are here to remind you that you are not alone in this struggle. It’s not just you out there–there’s me and you and you and you and her and  him and that other guy over there. They are here to help you, and you are here to help them.  (That’s why we have church, you know.  This is a salt cellar.)

Then head back out there.  Because though we are small, and though we are outnumbered, we can do so much–through the God who called us to this in the first place.  And through God’s power, we will yet transform this big, bland world.  

Amen

John the Baptist is coming for you!

Funny thing, but all those readings about the end of Days no longer seem quite so bad as they did a year ago.  Now, when Scriptures talk about the coming desolating sacrilege, I think, “Huh.  What did The Orange One tweet now?”

I learned in college about the role of apocalyptic literature for minority communities, and always liked that interpretation, but I confess that I had never understood it on an emotional level.  While I could intellectually grasp why someone hiding in the catacombs would feel better hearing about Michael the Archangel fighting with the Beast, for me, those texts were still mired in a lot of ‘Left Behind’ stuff.

This year, it’s starting to make sense.  So here’s a sermon about that.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 4, 2016

Advent 2, Year A

Matthew 3:1-12

 

 

I had a dear friend in college named Claire.  Claire has spastic cerebral palsy, uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, and is easily the smartest person I know.  She would sit in class and memorize the lecture, rather than take notes, and had firm opinions about everything from the puns in Shakespeare to the politics of the ADA. *Americans with Disabilities Act

Second Advent was unironically her favorite Sunday of the year.  “It was” as she explained to me one year “the accessibilities act of the bible–the mountains were lowered and the valleys lifted, the rough places made plain–so that even people in wheelchairs could get to the house of God without trouble.”  

To Claire, John the Baptist wasn’t bringing a message of doom–he was bringing a message that sounded like inclusion. Because interpretation depends on location.  

To the Pharisees, John sounded like a really mean man.  (Getting called a brood of vipers will make you a bit irritated, as I understand.)  Also the Sadduccees.  But to the rest of the people flocking to him, he offered something lifegiving, even as his words sound pretty harsh to us.  

Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  And anyone who does not bring forth fruit worthy of repentance is thrown into the fire. What he’s talking about here isn’t individual sin, it’s plural.  It’s sins, it’s corporate.  John is describing a repentance of EVERYTHING–not just individuals deciding not to cheat on their taxes any more.  

And yeah, that may not sound so great.

 

But here’s the thing.

When we’re feeling on top of the world, and powerful, and like everything is going great, then John’s message of the coming judgment sounds harsh and scary.  We like the way things are going; we don’t want to hear that we’re doing something wrong.

But when we are feeling like the world is working against us, like we are outnumbered by forces beyond our control, like we are being taken advantage of by mighty systems that don’t have our welfare at heart–then John’s announcement that judgment is coming is good news indeed.  

It just depends on where you fall when you hear this.

Think about who John’s audience is after all.

For the Pharisees and Sadduccees, they’re doing ok.  They’re organized, they’re basically political parties of Second Temple Judaism.  They have pull in the temple structure, and they have the ear of King Herod.  On the other hand, the people in the crowds don’t have any of that.  For the most part, they are excluded from a lot of the religious power and the political power structures of the day.  They live in an empire that doesn’t give them rights, and frankly–there’s a lot that’s going wrong for them.

Then John shows up and proclaims that they aren’t wrong–everything IS broken.  Everyone does need to repent.  And God is coming soon to fix this broken, messed up world.  The Pharisees don’t like it, but boy, do the crowds love it.  They were right all along!

Real quick, I want to point something out.  There is a profound difference between what John is saying and the sort of political populism that we’ve seen sweep the globe recently.  John’s repentance does not depend on turning people against one another or spreading fear and distrust.  It rests on raising the valleys and lowering the mountains–bringing everyone together.  The difference is in the perception of that–because if you have lived on a mountain all your life, that doesn’t sound as good as being raised out of the valley.  But that’s very different from being told you will be supplanted as king of the mountain and made to serve someone else.  

All this to say–the judgment of God doesn’t come in the form of earthly political systems.  What John is preaching has material implications, but it begins and ends with the action of God.  We repent and turn towards God, and God resets the world, and God brings us all in.  

So where are we in this scheme?  Are we the Pharisees or are we the crowd this morning?  Does John’s call for a complete turn around sound like the apocalypse or a welcome reprieve?  

When I lived in Jerusalem, a wise bishop told me that to the oppressed, God’s judgment always comes as good news.  It is only to the oppressor that judgment is feared. So I wonder if we are both right now.  If there are parts of us that, like the powerful of that time period, are not thrilled when John tells us that we need to repent, that the way things have been is not the way God wants them to be.  Because–let’s face it–we’re not doing that badly.  Most of us.  Most of the time.

But in other ways, we are like the crowds.  While there are parts of us that love the comfortable lives we enjoy, the security of this country, and the lives we know, in other parts of us, we do know that something is wrong.  We do know that this world is broken.  And in that part of our soul, we can welcome the coming advent of God, when the rough places shall be made plain, and the lion and lamb shall lay down together.  

Because in each of us, I would wager, there is a Pharisee and a dispossessed crowd member.  Someone happy in the world as it is, and someone anxious for the world to change.  The struggle for us, this Advent, is to decide which inner voice we will listen to.  

There’s Fanfiction about Mary

I know that there are many conspiracy theories about the extra-canonical gospels, but despite what Dan Brown has told you, there is no there there.  Rather than being a font of SECRET WISDOM OMG, much of the extra texts are basically fanfiction that early Christian groups wrote, in order to either combat a nasty rumor (Jesus was the bastard son of Mary and a Roman soldier!) or to further fill in unfortunate gaps in the narrative (what DID happen in those missing 18 years between 12-30 years old?)  So, yes.  All those hours you’ve spent pouring over Tumblr is now paying off.

Here’s what I said about that:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

December 18, 2016

Advent 4, Year A

Matthew 1:18-25, also Isaiah though

 

If you, like I did as a teenager, spend your time reading the extra canonical gospels and infancy narratives, not only will you have a thriving social life, but you will learn lots of odd rumors about who Jesus’ parents were and where he came from.

Contrary to popular conspiracy theories, the extra canonical gospels weren’t kept out of the Bible by some vast churchy-cabal, determined to silence minority voices.  They were kept out because they were written later than the 4 that wound up in there, they are mostly incomplete, and also, they are straight up weird.  

There’s the one where child Jesus strikes the neighborhood bullies dead because they bother him.  There’s another where he keeps getting into fights with his teachers as a 5 year old and knocking them unconscious, til Joseph tells Mary just not to let him out of the house.  (SEE WHY THAT ONE DIDN’T END UP IN THE BIBLE!?)

Then there are the stories about Mary.  And there are a LOT.  There is an entire fragmentary gospel about Mary’s childhood–saying that she was raised in a shrine in the Temple, that angels fed her, and that the young women of Israel danced for her amusement.  And that Joseph is assigned to be her husband because he won a game of lots.  (This is less icky than it sounds, but still sort of eye-brow raising to 21st century sensibilities.)

Why all the focus on Mary?  

Partially, it’s because of how important Jesus was.  Common thought in the first century was that if you turned out to be important, then your birth must have been extraordinary too.  And so, since Jesus said and did such miraculous things, surely his mother must have been incredible too. Caesar Augustus, for example, claimed to have been the result of a virgin birth.  Because he was so awesome and emperor-like and all.  It helped solidify his claim to the throne.   

Conversely, in some of the anti-Christian writings we have, there are some pretty nasty allegations about Mary having an affair with a Roman soldier–as a way to delegitimize Jesus.  So, early Christians were united in their opinion that Jesus’ birth had to have been extraordinary in some way, because he was extraordinary.  

The virgin birth, as it appears in the gospels, is less about Mary being pure, and sex being bad, and more about foreshadowing how incredible these people were–how important this baby was.  So incredible that even his birth was amazing!

Like the rest of the miracles in the gospels, the writers don’t get caught up in how it happened or laying out details–what they care about is why.   In the Bible, saying “virgin birth” is tantamount to holding a giant flashing neon sign above whatever is about to happen, signalling that GOD CARES ABOUT THESE PEOPLE.  GOD IS GOING TO BE INVOLVED IN THEIR LIVES.  

Now, a weird thing has happened, in that in modern times, when we hear these stories, we sometimes get distracted and think about the supposed purity of it all.  We dwell on the mechanics–  Entire theologies have been built around the idea that what made Mary special was her purity.  Her virgin-ness.  Her super-human-meekness.

Here’s the thing–what makes Mary special is not her superhuman purity.  Regardless of whether she was a virgin or not, the miracle of Jesus’ birth was that new, divine life, sprang out of humanity.  And God was with us.  Mary facilitated that just by being human, and being there.  

 

It starts with Isaiah, after all.

Isaiah, who we meet in the first reading today, trying to talk the King of Judea off a ledge.  See, here’s what had happened:  the same as had happened every 5 years or so, someone was threatening to invade.  In this case, it was the joint threats of Israel to the north, and the Assyrian Empire, who had just taken Israel as a client state.  (Sort of like Russia, and whatever client-state they are currently controlling.)

In any case, the king of Judea is worried for several reasons.  He doesn’t have a good army, he doesn’t have many resources, and he is located on any sort of path Assyria would want to use should they expand.  It’s the classic Luxembourg problem.  So he suggests to Isaiah that the smart thing to do is go ahead and surrender now.

Isaiah is not on board.  “Look,” he says to the king, “why don’t you ask God for help?”  The king protests that he couldn’t do that, for Reasons.

Isaiah is having none of this, and announces that a woman in the court will have a child.  She will be the sign.  She will bear a son, and before her child is old enough to make decisions, the enemies will be gone.  

That’s pretty much what happens–before two years are out, Assyria is conquered, and Judah survives a while longer.

To be clear, Isaiah isn’t saying that this unnamed woman is going to conceive miraculously.  The miracle is That God will be with them, they all will survive, and this new life is the proof of that.  

However it comes about, bringing new life and new hope into broken situations is the miracle God excels at.  This is what God does–God takes our human messes and brings new life out of them.  God comes into our screwed up situations and transforms them.  

What we are required to do, to be a part of that, is not to be magic.  Not to be purer-than-pure or have secret talents or to have been fed exclusively by angels.  What we are required to do is be human.  To show up.  To bring our whole, vulnerable selves into a relationship with God.  And to say yes to God’s dreams for us.  However crazy or outlandish they may seem.  

Because God is always with us, in times of danger and in times of uncertainty.  In times of triumph and plenty too.   Our job is to make space for that presence, to make room in our human lives and await the miracle.

 

Living after the world ends

My rector called me Thursday evening with the news that his mother-in-law had died, and so he couldn’t be in church on Sunday.  Could I preach?

Sure.  Theoretically, I could.  I didn’t know what I would say, or how I would say it.  I had spent most of my time since Tuesday night fielding messages from distraught parishioners and hiding under the covers myself.  Maybe we would just stare at each other in silence?

Then I started writing.  And I remembered this story about my brother from when we were toddlers.  For the record, I checked, and he has no memory of this happening at all.  But, as a friend pointed out–for him it would have been just another day of privilege.  It was only for me that the moment was significant.

Throw a tantrum, my friends.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November 13, 2016

Ordinary Time, Proper 28

Luke 21

To be clear, I didn’t choose these readings.  That was the lectionary.  

These are the assigned readings, for this Sunday in November.  Sometimes the lectionary just does what it will, and so here we are.  Contemplating the apocalypse in the middle of November.

For some of us, this lines up pretty neatly with what the world feels like right now. It feels like, for some of us, the whole world has ended, and the country we thought we knew has betrayed us and become a hateful, ugly place.  

For others of us, this couldn’t be further from the truth–the election was either just another day or it was a welcome chance to usher in needed change, a chance to push back after feeling overlooked for a long time.  Both happened; both are in this room.  

And so, the question for us becomes how, then, should we live?  The election is over, and God is still our God, and Jesus is still Jesus, so we have to figure out what to do now.

In this gospel story, Jesus and the disciples have travelled to Jerusalem, and they’re staring up at the largest building they’ve ever seen–the pride of the religious and political establishment of Israel.  As they marvel over how permanent and secure it looks, Jesus comments one day, it will all fall.  Cue panic.

Scholars think he says this the way he does for some boring historic reasons.  Because Luke was written a specific amount of time after the Temple actually did fall; in an armed revolt against Rome that ended with Rome sacking and destroying the city.  And Luke is having Jesus address the very real fears of the small Christian community that was living through the aftermath.  Their world had changed, so what did they do now?  

Because–look, after the temple falls, it matters less whether you think it was a good thing or a bad thing.  What matters is that it happened.  We know that the actual disciples were pretty divided on their opinions about the Temple–some thought the temple system was great, some thought it was corrupt.  But then it fell.  And they had to figure out how to be faithful in that new world.  A world where things were more unpredictable than they were before, where more was up in the air.  But a world that still needed faith, hope, and God’s presence.  That’s where we are.

It’s a new world, and everything is newly confusing.  But like I said last week, our call is still the same.  We still follow Jesus.  We still rely on him to guide what we do.  And that commitment must be stronger than ever, even when, and especially when, it seems difficult.

Those early Christians Luke was writing to were terrified.  They were being jailed.  They were literally outlaws.  And yet, to them Jesus says that this isn’t the end of the world.  Don’t listen to those who would tell you to give into fear.  It’s not time to panic; it’s time to be faithful.  Now is the time to live the gospel, because now is the time that it is needed.  Now, when hate and fear seem strongest.  Now, more than ever.

If you have been on social media in the last few days, then you might have seen that hate crimes have skyrocketed since the election.  Muslim women wearing hijab are being assaulted in the street.  Hispanic children in school are being taunted by their classmates.  Every Black student at the University of Pennsylvania was sent pictures of lynchings.  The Klan has announced plans to march in North Carolina in victory.

Again, this is not about who you voted for on Tuesday.  This not about whether the Temple was right or wrong.  Right now, though, we need to agree that events like this go against every single thing Christ has taught us about how we love one another. Every single thing God calls us to in this lifetime.  Every promise we made at baptism, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  

And we need to agree that we, as Christians, are called to protect each other.  To have one anothers’ backs.  

That commitment to follow Jesus right now has to include a commitment to stand with those of our community who are scared and grieving.  Who are vulnerable right now.  Whoever you voted for on Tuesday, the truth remains that this election has unleashed elements of racism, sexism, intolerance and bigotry that we have not seen in a long time.  Right now, the marginalized in this country are more at risk than ever, and if we want to follow Jesus, we have to stand with them.  We have to listen to them.  We have to side with them.  There is no alternative.  

We worship a God who came among us as a religious minority, as a poor, itinerant preacher, as a refugee.  If we do not side with people like him, we are not following Jesus.

That’s part of who we are here at St. Paul’s.  We strive to welcome and love all God’s children and that is not changing.  That will get stronger.  We will welcome more.  We will love harder.  We will be the face of God in these streets, in this city.  Because God loves everyone, God cares for the least and the forgotten, and that does not change.  

This week, I’ve been pondering a random story from when I was a toddler.  My grandparents took my brother and I to their country club in Richmond once, when we were two or three years old to go swimming.  Afterwards, we split up to get changed and have lunch–my grandmother taking me, my grandfather taking my brother.  Bert took my brother to the Men’s Grill, and when I took off after him, my grandmother stopped me, to explain that girls didn’t get to go in there.  That was for the boys.  She tried to lead me away.

I don’t really remember the details of this story.  But what I do remember is standing in the hallway, my grandmother trying to lead me away, while my baby brother figured out his sister couldn’t go where he did.  And he threw an absolute fit.  Arms flailing, crying, screaming loud enough to be heard several states over.  He refused to be comforted.  He refused to be budged.  And finally, my grandfather, in disgust and frustration, relented, and never tried to take anyone to the dumb Men’s Grill again.  

For the next while, my brothers and sisters, we may be called to throw some tantrums.  We may be called to pitch some fits.  When you see your brother, a Black man, being taunted, start yelling.  When you see your sister wearing hijab being assaulted, start waving your arms.  When you see your fellow children of God being denied their god-given dignity and freedom, cry until something changes, because so long as they are being denied, we are incomplete too.  When you see injustice happening, cry until it stops, because the victim of injustice is always, to us, Christ himself.  

That is our call right now.  Not an easy one.  Not even a safe one.  But others have been called this way before.  And we know, beyond all knowing, that the God who has called us, will not leave us now.  

Amen.   

Don’t. Panic.

I am part of a Slack group of clergy and lay people who discuss everything from evangelism to politics to what we are going to preach on Sunday.

Last week, we were agonizing over how to preach on the Sunday before this election.  What do you say when everyone is so freaked out?  I, personally, spend most of my days now frantically checking polls and lying in a prone position hoping for time to speed up.

My brilliant friend Holli Powell commented that as a person in the pews, all she wanted to hear from the pulpit was that Jesus was still Lord, and everything else was secondary.   (She actually used slightly different words, but the sentiment was the same.)  Holli is right about most things, so I tried to write that sermon.

Here’s what I said:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November 6, 2016

Ordinary Time, Proper 27

Luke 20: 27-38

I figured out that I did the math wrong earlier–there are actually only 2 days to the election.  So how are we feeling?  You panicking yet?  Do you find yourself checking Fivethirtyeight.com several times a day?  Have you bookmarked several polling websites to update you when something changes?  

Or have you gone in the other direction–are you one of those people who has gone full news blackout, ignoring all sources of news coverage and political advertisements until after Tuesday (or whenever this thing gets called) and focusing on calming things instead.  Rediscovered a love for cat GIFS?  

What can I say–this is stressful.  I was reading something the other day that said that psychologists are advising people to turn off the news, because they have recognized a strong uptick in ‘election anxiety’ on all sides of the political spectrum.  Regardless of who you support, because we’re so polarized right now, there’s a feeling that if THIS DOESN’T GO THE RIGHT WAY, EVERYTHING WILL END FOREVER OMG.  Trump supporters are convinced that if Clinton wins, the country will be plunged into a morass of taco trucks on every corner, open borders, and free healthcare for all that will bankrupt us.  Clinton supporters are sure that if Trump wins, we will have political opponents thrown into jail, martial law declared, and probably a nuclear war within a month.  So everyone’s biting their fingernails.  

I don’t want to downplay this–elections are important, and this one is important.  You need to do what you can.  Go vote in two days if you haven’t already.  But there’s a difference between taking something seriously and letting it overwhelm you.  This election is a big deal.  But once you have done your part, remember that it is not the most important thing .  And remembering the scale of things when we’re panicking is vital.  Especially when the world likes to hand us reasons to panic.  (Looking at you, FBI director.)  

Nothing the world likes better than to hand us things to freak out about–whether its polls or emails, or this thing that guy said, or OMG, what if?  Because here’s how anxiety and fear work, after all.

Anxiety and fear are, ironically! much like the viral videos of adorable kittens we watch on the internet to combat anxiety and fear.  For many people, our feelings of fear aren’t real until we’ve shared them with someone else…and they’ve shared them, and on and on until they go viral.  Much like the viral cat videos.  The number of shares builds exponentially.

So fear builds on itself–in order for one anxious person to feel even slightly better, they need to get someone else to feel scared.  And so on and so on.  Which is part of why, when everyone is freaked out–it’s easy to feel like everything becomes scary.  FBI!  QUOTES!  HEADLINES!  EMAILS!!!!!

Here’s the thing, though.  Take a breath.  (Seriously.  Right now.  Take a breath.)  We are Christians.  We follow Jesus, we take our cues from him.  And that will be just as true tomrrow, and Tuesday and Wednesday as it is today, no matter what happens.  

Just because the people around us right now are breathing into paper bags, does not mean we need to.  

Let me point out that when the Sadduccees come up to Jesus with their smarty-pants brain teaser, this anxiety web trick was part of what they were trying to do.  This theoretical idea about the resurrection, and what it would mean, was hotly debated at the time.  People were really into it.  So they wanted to get Jesus to side with them on this REALLY TRICKY BRAIN TEASER.  They wanted Jesus to be as invested in the thing that was driving them nuts as they were.

Jesus is having none of it.  Why?  Because first off, the question is dumb.  It’s one of those hypothetical brain teasers that doesn’t happen in real life, and doesn’t happen to real people.  And there’s another problem with it too.  

The Sadduccees aren’t asking because they are concerned by what will happen to the woman–about her health or wellbeing, or worried about the welfare of all those brothers.  (They keep dying, for one.  Don’t tell me that’s not troubling.)  They are worried about proving a hypothetical. They are worried about being right, about satisfying their ego.  And that, though it may worry the Sadducees, doesn’t worry Jesus.

Jesus, as it turns out, is worried about other things.  Preaching the gospel.  Feeding the hungry.  Helping the sick. Freeing the oppressed.  Showing the love of God.  Those things that are real, are important, and that continue whether or not this hypothetical thing they’re scared of happens or not.

Because whether or not this Sadduccee’s brain teaser comes true or not, Jesus will still have a call.  And so will we.  No matter what happens on Tuesday, we still will have a job to do.  Jesus will still be Jesus.  God will still be God.  And we will still be called to do what we have always been called to, no matter what happens around us.  We will still need to preach the gospel, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to free the oppressed, to show the love of God.  No matter what.  That’s the most important thing.

So on Tuesday, go vote.  Do your part.  And then, think of those big, reassuring letters from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and “don’t panic.”  And when we get up on Wednesday, we are just going to go out and follow Jesus like we’ve been doing.  Because God will still be God.  And God does not abandon his people.

 

Amen.

Centurion’s wedding

My job has many delightful moments–leading the children in the dismissal each week, explaining documentary hypothesis to new Episcopalians, preaching.  And this past week, I got to participate in one of my more favorite fun moments–marrying two of my more active parishioners.

They told me early on that they wanted to invite the whole parish to their wedding, since St. Paul’s had been so important to their lives.  And they wanted to hold the reception here at the church–which turned out to be an inauguration of the newly renovated parish hall.  And so it was that most of the parish family turned out for a wedding of two of our own.

See, weddings (when you’re the officiant) can go one of two ways–they can be anxiety fests of stress and misery, where every decision is agonized over and every detail is scrutinized because everyone knows that you are spending the equivalent of a college education on this one day in your life–or weddings can be joyous celebrations of two people and their relationship and your need to dance to bad disco.

This one was the latter.

Here is what I said for the sermon.  (More or less–I wrote it down, but then didn’t look at the paper at all. So while I think I hit all the points, I also think I used different words.  But this is the general idea/flow/mise en scene.)

Luke 7

So, there are some traditional readings for weddings.  Some Bible readings that are always done–a Greatest Hits of Wedding Readings, if you will.

Romans 8–that’s a big favorite.  This section of Ruth–Where you go, I will go–very popular.  1 Corinthians 13: love is patient, love is kind–that’s practically the “My Heart Will Go On” of wedding readings.  

Know what’s not a well-known wedding reading?  

Jesus and the centurion.  It is on none of the Wedding Pop Charts–and yet when I met with them, this is the reading Jonathan and Chris were really set on.  

And for good reason, because this story is amazing. It is a hidden, underappreciated gem, is what it is.  

Jesus is headed to Capernaum, hanging out with the disciples as per usual, when a local centurion comes up and asks him to help one of his slaves.  The slave is about to die, and the centurion is upset, so he intercedes on his behalf with Jesus.  “Look, Jesus,” he says, “you don’t even have to come into my house–just do the thing from a distance and it will be enough.”

This impresses Jesus immensely and he heals the centurion’s slave.

Now, see, when I tell it like that, it may not sound that amazing–sick guy gets healed–not unexpected, and still confusing for a wedding.  

But here’s what’s interesting about this story.   This centurion didn’t act how you would expect a centurion to act.  This guy’s a big deal–he’s in charge of all the Roman troops that occupy the town.  The Jewish leaders even intercede for him with Jesus, saying “This guy’s not so bad–he built our synagogue for us!  Please ignore the imperialist tendencies of his people.”

And there’s what he said about his slave.  Centurions didn’t go around begging for the lives of their slaves.  Slavery back then was….well, slavery.  If a slave died, it was sad, but the owner moved on–you didn’t start calling up faith healers.  But what’s odd about this is the language the centurion uses.  In Greek, he doesn’t say the slave is well-liked, or good at his job–what he says is that the slave is precious to him.  That’s very different.  The Greek word used here is more indicative of a romantic relationship than a working on.  The centurion is asking Jesus to heal someone he loves.  

And Jesus does.   

So the miracle of this story is not so much that the centurion’s slave is healed–the miracle of the story–the part that is really transformative–is that Jesus sees and accepts the centurion and his slave for who they are.  Not individuals who believe the wrong things, hold the wrong jobs, come from the wrong place, love the wrong people–but as children of God, beloved by God.

And look–this right here is why the church blesses marriage.  Not so we get all cozy with the government, and not out of some weird obsession with procreation.  

We bless marriages in the church because we really believe that in these sorts of dedicated, faithful, lifelong relationships, we can see a glimpse of the sort of love God has for us.  And we want to hold that up as special.  

We believe that in marriage, we can see the sort of love that accepts us unconditionally, that sees us as we are, that heals us and brings us home.  That’s what we want to bless in marriage–in any sort of relationship that offers that sort of love.

And so, Chris and Jonathan, we are gathered here today to bless your union because we know that in your relationship, you offer us a glimpse of that healing accepting love of Christ.  In the way you lift each other up, and complement each other.  In the way you forgive each other and support one another.  You show us how God in Christ loves us.  And you, through your relationship, heal the world a little bit more.