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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.  

Screwtape Letters, continued

When I was in high school, I had to read the Screwtape Letters for an English assignment. I unabashedly loved them, and I didn’t like the other CS Lewis I had read.** There was humor, there was some solid theology, and there was some solid worldbuilding.

It was towards the end of the year, and the teacher gave us an option of either writing a straightforward essay on the book, or writing our own version of the Letters. I wrote my own version. In my rendition, a demon named Headley Gristmill creates the 2000 election disaster in order to test the faith of a Palm Beach County retiree named Bobo who lived in Whispering Palms Leisure Park. Bobo is unaffected, primarily because he thinks the word ‘chad’ is hilarious, and figures the influx of lawyers to his locale will give his lemonade and pickle stand more business.***

You know–normal stuff.

In recent days, I saw the fake Screwtape letters meme travelling around Facebook and felt the time had come to perhaps revive my satire. So, here is Screwtape Letters, continued!

** I KNOW. I KNOW. Revoke my Anglican card right now. In my defense, the Chronicles of Narnia are a really transparent allegory that gives short shrift to the female characters which irked me, even as a child.

***FYI: The character of Bobo and his friends at Whispering Palms went on to have several other adventures which I also wrote about. Look, some people get bored and do drugs, or drink. Me, I invent characters that amuse me and write bonkers letters from them.

Helldate July 25, 2016

Young Scrimshaw,

It has not, perhaps, escaped your notice that I have not written you since the Great Defeat some years ago–when I, Headley Gristmill, first attempted to entrap one devastatingly simple denzien of Florida, only to meet with utter defeat. My downfall was great; my penance severe. I have only now, you will see, have returned from that pit of despair known as the waiting area of the Milwaukee Airport, wherein I have spent the last sixteen years in various and sundry minute temptations and irritations: flight delays, gate changes, inventive TSA regulations, and my personal invention–overhead storage that fills up in an instant.

While such nagging irritants does more to draw the humans away from the Enemy than nearly anything else, I felt that such monotony was beneath me–a descendant of some of the most fiendish minds of our times. Would Lady Gristmill be proud to see me administer fees for checked baggage? Would Undersecretary Hertzmunster VonBrine be pleased to hear me coax another infant to scream through a redeye flight? Nay. Blood (and maggots, but I digress) will triumph!

And so, I have emerged from my Wisconsin cocoon to undertake a new feat–one which, if I am successful, will prove more destructive to the Enemy than anything attempted in recent memory. (Except the invention of Jar Jar Binks. I remain jealous of that genius bit of devilry.)

I give you: your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

Think of it, Scrimshaw! The reality show blowhard postures about greed, hatred, and malice, while the cheers of good American citizens ring out across the countryside! Ah, it fills the cavernous void within my chest with delight just thinking of it.

The genius of this plan, however, is not the candidate. No–any mere imp may propose a highly irritating politician. Do not think so lowly of me! It is rare indeed that we find a person willing to echo our tenants so loudly or with such fervor, but no! Drumpf himself is not the crux of my plan. He is incidental.

Rather, the genius of the plan is what comes next–what creeps across the country in thousands of incidental ways. The mistrust that unfolds between friends, as their differing political views are now cause for alarm. The fear is unleashed against the Muslim, Latino, Black, and pretty much every other minority community. (Our Donald covers them all, doesn’t he?) The apathy that causes formerly engaged citizens to give up because they cannot take the ugliness and disappointment anymore. These, these, dear diary–are the true prizes. They are what will turn the people of this land away from the Enemy.

Do bear in mind, Scrimshaw, that the Enemy’s chief commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. How better to turn people from this law, from the disgusting, weak-hearted law of Love, than to spread hatred, fear, and finally–apathy?

Once this plan meets with success, Scrimshaw, do remind me to regale you with tales of my tempting of Shari Lewis. Such a drubbing I gave to that damnable sock puppet.

Your dedicated cousin-twice removed,

Headley Gristmill

Hype Babies, and Reassurance

I would like to make it clear that I did not plan on preaching on the Primates communique.  I was pretty much over it by the time I got to Friday, and I assumed most everyone else would be too.  (A tiny amount of projection helps in preaching, don’t you know.)  As I commented to someone over the weekend, I haven’t spent this much time explaining the workings of Anglican polity since the GOEs.

But when I went to look at the lessons, there was that piece from 1 Corinthians, as if the Holy Spirit herself had planned this whole thing, and was off in a corner giggling at us.  And all day Saturday, as I was handing out food to the hungry and cold of Kansas City, parishioners asked me, “So why are the Anglicans being so mean to us?” “What happens now at church?” “Are we really being kicked out?” All the social media that flows past my eyes daily bore witness to a heightened level of anxiety about this which, frankly, really surprised me.

I think those of us who are enmeshed in church geekery assume that these squabbles are just that, and no more.  We forget that there are times when our political arguments are not just theoretical, but they do affect real people, who really care what happens.

So, dear reader, I preached about the Primates.  And parties.  And wine.

Here is what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

January 16-17, 2016

2 Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

John 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians

 

So there are good things and bad things about preaching from a lectionary.  Sometimes, it’s your week to preach, you look up the gospel, and discover that Jesus has just told a story about a servant who embezzled cash, then gets rewarded.  (Thing that happens!)  That’s a downside.

Then, sometimes, the media spends most of the week deciding that your worldwide Anglican Communion is on the verge of collapse, OMG, and the lectionary assigns this reading from 1 Corinthians.  

I haven’t decided if this is a good thing, or if the Holy Spirit is just cheerfully trolling us.  

So, a few notes for background:

If you weren’t anxiously glued to the #primates2016 on Twitter this week (and why should you have been? You have lives, you have jobs!), then you may not be aware that this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury called a meeting of the different heads of the different Anglican churches from all around the communion.  For what amounts to a very large tea party, as is their wont.  

The stated purpose of the meeting was to work through the conflict in the Communion which has been festering for some years now.  Or decades.  Or even longer, depending on how you’re measuring. The conflict can be traced to a lot of things: colonialism, western imperialism, differences in scriptural interpretation,  differences in authority, but where most of the blame has been focused is the church in the US’ openness to women’s ordination, ordination of LGBTQ folks, and willingness to bless same-gender marriage.

In the run up to the meeting, everyone was doing that whole chest-out, I’m very tough, routine.  The conservative group of primates released a statement threatening to boycott, and/or walk out.  The English media wrote a lot about how this would be the END OF ANGLICANISM, OH NO.  

It was dire.  

But you know what happened?

None of that.  Pretty much none of that.  

No one walked out, except one guy from Uganda, and he apparently forgot to tell anyone about it until Thursday.  On Thursday, the primates leaked/released a statement which affirmed the primates’ commitment to stick together–but also said that many of them were worried by what the US church had done, so it recommended that we take what amounts to a time out for 3 years–not representing the Anglican Communion on ecumenical dialogues (which we haven’t been doing anyway, since 2009) and abstaining from some internal votes.  Now, we’ve pretty much been doing those things already, so this is not actually as big a deal as it  sounds.  It has not affected our life here in Kansas City, because I daresay none of you even noticed.  

The statement went on to say that the primates were against the criminalization of homosexuality, and believed in caring pastorally for all people.

So that’s what happened. It’s not the greatest possible outcome–it would have been wonderful for the primates to have agreed, to have immediately gotten on board with what we did, when they heard our explanations.  But I don’t think that this is the worst possible outcome either.  It’s not the death knell for Anglicanism, it doesn’t mean we have been kicked out of the global church, or punished, or sanctioned, or anything like that.  We. Are. Fine.  

There’s a lot still that’s unknown.  Stan and I have been arguing about what is supposed to happen in three years–both because we don’t know, and we disagree in our theories, and because we are clergy, and so are paid to argue about things like this during the week.  What’s clear, though, is that right now a few things are true:

  1. The churches of the Anglican Communion have said they are committed to sticking this out together.
  2. The Episcopal Church isn’t changing its stance on the full inclusion of GLBTQ people.  The Presiding Bishop told the other primates that, and he reaffirmed it in his statement to the church.  We are doing what we believe God has called us to do, based on how we have experienced the Spirit at work.  And certainly, our life at St. Paul’s here in KC isn’t changing.  

It’s like all these member Anglican churches, together at a giant party.  A wedding, why not, since we are all called to the wedding of the Lamb, says Revelation.  And yet, the wedding has hit a snag.  A crisis.  And the whole thing is thrown into a shambles.

Yet we know, from today’s gospel, from that tricky lectionary, that Jesus has a thing about parties it would seem.  Parties need to go on.  *****

Running out of wine at a wedding feast may seem like an incidental problem, but it would have been a huge crisis.  People saved their whole lives long for weddings–they lasted several days, up to a week, and you invited literally everyone in town. Wedding banquets were the one time in a person’s life where you had to rub elbows with people you may not know–people different than you, because EVERYONE was invited.  To run out of food or wine was to show that you were failing in showing hospitality to these people you lived with.  It was a loss of honor–which is why Jesus’ mother is so perturbed by the situation.  The party is in danger of shutting down before it starts.  She’s looking out for the bride and groom.  And so Jesus does something unexpected.  Instead of giving a speech, or running to the wine merchant, he provides the best wine.  And a lot of it–Jesus churns out 120 gallons of it.  

An unexpected miracle.  And so the party continues.  

It’s not comfortable to be in this place where we are right now in the church.  It’s not a great place.  But I do believe that our call is to be right where we are.  Because for as uncomfortable as it is to be at this particular party we find ourselves at, with this particular guest list, I do believe that St. Paul is also right–we all need each other.  And for as painful as it is at this particular moment, I think our particular gift at this time, like our Presiding bishop has said, is to bear witness to the gifts we have received through the presence of our LGBTQ members.  That’s the gift that we–and no one else, right now!–has.  We need to share that–and we also need to listen and receive the gifts of the other Anglican churches.  Something that we, who benefit so richly from the presence of our South Sudanese community, know very well. Their presence with us and their perspective make us better able to see the God of infinity.

We need to stay at this party.  Even when it hits a bump.  Even when Real Housewives-type drama breaks out.  Because if we stay here faithfully long enough, sooner or later, there’s going to be a miracle.  

Amen.

 

****Very important NB.  At the 10:30 service, it was at this point, when I paused to let the importance of parties sink in, that a baby from the very back screamed “YAAAAAASSSSS!” at the top of her lungs.  The congregation burst out in laughter and applause.

This has given me a new idea:  I will haul a baby around with me to all future preaching appearances, in order to have Adorable Affirmation of all of my homiletical points.

 

What comes next?

For the past week, the primates from around the Anglican Communion have been meeting in England to discuss the state of the church, and drink tea. (Please note: these are the heads of regional churches, not the monkeys.)

In the run up to this meeting, the churchy media went a bit nuts with speculating.  What would happen? Who would storm out?  The conservative primates had all threatened to storm out, at one point or another.  Would so-and-so get an invite?  Would this person wear appropriate vestments?  More fussing than normally happens at a middle school party.

We found out what actually happened today.  The primates, in what seems to be an effort to quell the rumor mill, put out a statement.

And the frenzy ratcheted up another couple notches.

The secular press immediately declared that we had been SUSPENDED FROM THE COMMUNION (no, that’s not a thing that can happen.)  Some of them declared that SANCTIONS HAD BEEN IMPOSED (again, nope, not a real thing.) All in all, it was pretty breathless and frantic, and please to recall, the secular press in general has a horrendous track record of reporting on the Episcopal Church because our polity is wackadoodle.

So, some things to bear in mind, now that you’ve read that statement for yourself:

(If you haven’t, go back and do that.  Good Lord. Primary sources are important.)

  1. The Archbishop of Canterbury ‘fired’ our representatives on all Anglican ecumenical and interfaith dialogues a few years ago.  That was already a reality. (And not a great one either, but neither was it the kiss of death, because few people noticed, other than those affected.)
  2. Up until now, the previous archbishop had wanted to solve this problem by instituting that old chestnut, the Anglican Covenant.  Under the terms of the Covenant, if a province does something unpopular, they lose all representation until they repent.  So the understanding, in many quarters, had been that the suspension we’d been under was just infinite. Or until Jesus returned and sorted this out himself.  The fact that we now have a 3 year time frame WITHOUT an attached expectation of repentance is a rather big deal.
  3. It’s not altogether clear how the primates can manage what they’re proposing.  They don’t get to determine membership on the ecumenical dialogues, or on any voting groups.  Up until now, the primates met together to plan the Lambeth council. Probably, this statement is referring to a voluntary abstention from certain votes on TEC’s part.
  4. Weird how no one’s mad at Canada, huh?  Considering that Canada was blessing same-gender unions, and had legalized same-gender marriage before we did, and that New Zealand is now also doing both those things, it’s rather fascinating that the Episcopal Church alone is the one in trouble.

Let’s talk about that last one, because it’s that last one that’s really where this gets interesting.

Way back in ye olden times of 2003, when we ordained +Gene Robinson, and this whole thing kicked off in earnest, the Anglican Communion responded by issuing the Windsor Report.  Among other things, it said that Canada was also in trouble for being troublingly nice to LGBTQ people,  as well as Nigeria, Rwanda, and the Southern Cone, who had crossed into provinces that weren’t their own and stolen churches–a no-no since Nicea.  (Literally.)  The Episcopal Church got the biggest talking-to out of the report, but everyone else was also in trouble.

Interestingly, in the ensuing years, in the ensuing statements and actions, no one ever came after Canada.  But the Episcopal Church got nailed.  We lost representation on ecumenical groups, like I said, and we were called out in document after document.  What had started out as a pretty widespread communion breakdown shifted into something we did, by ourselves.

I have a theory.

Up until very recently, there really was no Anglican Communion to speak of.  There was us, and the UK churches…and a bunch of colonies.  That was it.  Then, around the 1980s, those colonies in Asia and Africa started to gain their independence.  And all of a sudden, these people had the ability and wherewithal to express their own thoughts and ideas, independent from the mother church.  Suddenly, it became very important for them to have their own voice, their own identity, beyond that of a British colony.

Fast forward: The OTHER thing that happened in 2003 if you weren’t myopically gazing at the church was the invasion of Iraq.  American cowboy president unilaterally takes over another sovereign nation preemptively.

Now, if you are a bishop in a postcolonial state, worried about the reach of Western imperialism and global capitalism, this is pretty much the nightmare scenario for you.  Because those hot-headed Americans are now running amuck across the globe taking whatever they want with their giant military, and who knows who is next.  And by the way, those Americans also went and ordained this gay bishop in New Hampshire.

I would argue that for many in the global South, the two events were fused.  Just as our understanding of politics in South Sudan is usually without nuance, the suggestion that the American Episcopal church (which, let’s remember, was also spread around the world through the military) would have a different approach than our government might not get picked up. The refrain that is frequently heard around this is that “Those Americans are trying to force everyone else to do it their way”.  While that’s both not true and pretty impossible, it does reflect the perception of America…which got thrown back onto the church.

All of which is to say that what’s happening right now is all about the US, and not about gay marriage.  It’s about churches and people long denied a voice now finding one, and using it to express their anger.

What’s frustrating, of course, is that this is anger directed at the exact wrong thing.  Seriously, Uganda!  I hate colonialism too!  Ask me about Yorktown sometime!  Rwanda, I agree, global capitalism is horrible and we need a better option.  We should work on that.  And Nigeria, none of us like the British, so let’s just shake on that right now.

But could we name this what it is, rather than misdirect it at LGBTQ people who didn’t do anything?  This isn’t about them.  This is about the scars of our mutual history coming to the surface.

The good news is 1.) that this post is almost finished, and 2.) that it now seems like everyone will get to stay at the table to figure this out together.  Because while we may be angry with each other, it is now looking like there is definitely light 3 years out on the horizon.

And we will get to find out what we have to argue about next.

 

A Long, Long time ago

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas!  I hope everyone is enjoying a well-deserved rest over these holidays.

Advent ended for me in a whirl.  I had grand plans this year of doing so much holiday baking, of discovering new cookie recipes, of wandering aimlessly through the Plaza lights, reveling in the scenery….absolutely none of that happened.

Instead, as my parish admin put it, “People just people-ed all over everything” as is wont to happen around major Church feasts, and I did absolutely no baking whatsoever.  I managed to ship off my family’s presents on the absolutely last day possible, and I did no aimless wandering anywhere.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent is always one of my favorites.  We get to read the Magnificat and talk about Mary, Mother of Jesus, who is easily one of the most kickass women in all of scripture, and a good model of the priesthood**

So despite the fact that my brain had reduced down to mush, and I was amusing myself making lists of biblical mascots for the deanery***, I wrote this.  See what you think.

December 19-20, 2015

Advent 4

Luke 1:39-47

 

So, I, like the rest of America, has been obsessed with the musical Hamilton for a few months now.  It’s the story of Alexander Hamilton–American founding father–as told through hip hop.  Believe me when I tell you that it works.  

One of the central themes of the show–all of which: book, music, lyrics, everything, is written by a young Puerto Rican man–is that who tells the story is important.  Easily the most important thing.  The show is narrated by Aaron Burr–who shot Hamilton, but it’s sort of meta-narrated by Hamilton’s wife…who, in history, survived to tell Hamilton’s story….never mind.  Just go see it.

Here is why I’m telling you this.  There are two stories about what happens to his parents before Jesus is born–one in Matthew, one in Luke.  Two versions of the annunciation.  
Matthew tells it from Joseph’s perspective.  Joseph is hanging out, minding his own business, when he hears that Mary, his fiancee is pregnant.  Joseph decides to be nice about it, and break up with her quietly, rather than make her go through the (literal!) public stoning which would otherwise ensue.  Sweet guy.  

Then, he gets an angel appearing in a dream, which tells him, not so fast.  “Do not, in fact, be afraid to marry Mary, because she’s having a special kid.”  So, Joseph changes course, and all is fine. (Until the magi and Herod, and that’s later.)

But Luke is another story.  Luke’s gospel tells us about the angel that appears to Mary, informing her of the coming birth.  It’s Mary’s story here, rather than Joseph.

And that makes a difference.

 

We see, from Mary’s perspective now, as she hears the news of the angel, processes it, consents to her role in this weird little adventure, and immediately, as our story kicks off today–races off to see her cousin.

And it’s detours like this one which are instructive.  Mary could be heading off to see her cousin for any number of reasons–we aren’t told why she’s going exactly–she misses her, she just likes visiting Elizabeth, she wanted to empathize with another relative who was also pregnant, she wants to fact-check the angel, who told her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy…but it’s worth noting too that there’s also a less cheerful possibility for her trip.  Like we saw in the Joseph story, there was a harsh penalty associated with young women turning up pregnant out of wedlock.  So Mary just might be following the age-old tradition of heading out of town until the scandal had died down, and her life was no longer in danger.

Regardless of whether this was the case–the stakes were higher for her anyway.  She was involved in this story in a different way than Joseph–she had more to lose.  No one’s going to be hurling rocks at Joseph because of what they assume about his life choices any time soon.

 

Perhaps this is why Mary plays twenty questions with the angel once she hears the news.  The angel tells Mary she’s blessed and highly favored, and Mary wants to know what on earth this means.  The angel tells her she’s about to have a baby, and Mary wants to know exactly how.  Mary, in other words, is not going into this blind or uninformed.  She’s doing her homework.  She’s asking questions, taking notes, voicing opinions.

So when she says that she’ll do it, it’s not passive–it’s the furthest thing from it.  Mary’s obedience here is active.  She actively engages with what she’s been tasked with.  All right, I’ll do it!  And we’re off to the races.

 

Because as soon as she sees Elizabeth, Mary takes the opportunity to sing out the news of what has happened.  My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  

 

Mary’s song recaps what has just happened to her, but it also goes a bit farther.  Mary’s song–and you can think of this as Mary’s own Broadway style show stopper, where the character becomes so filled with emotion that they have to start SINGING–basically sums up the whole gospel that she, Jesus, and the disciples will spend the rest of the gospel trying to live out.  This is the gospel message Jesus preaches.  This is the good news the apostles later tell.  But it starts here–with Mary’s agreement.  It’s Mary’s “I will” that starts the ball rolling–her consent to be an active partner in this unfolding plan.

 

God, after all, isn’t all that interested in passive obedience, in passive followers.  God wants us to think, to question, and to figure it out as we follow in the way.  Our relationship with God is a two-way street, founded on our free will, and our ability to engage with God’s mission in the world.  

When God lifts up the lowly, when God casts down the proud, and feeds the hungry, that requires our engagement.  That requires our participation.  

When Mary says that her soul magnifies the Lord–that means that she’s doing something. So when we echo her language, we’re committing to the same thing.  Both that we would be willing to be lifted up, fed and used in such a way, but also that we would give ourselves to take on this mission as well.  That we would promise to be co-agents of this mission along with God.  

 

There are, after all, enough puppets in the world.  There are enough idols begging for blind faith and obedience.  God doesn’t need any more.  What God wants isn’t puppets, but Marys.  People willing to be bearers of good news on the mountain.  People willing to risk for the sake of the gospel, and participate in God’s plan of a new world.  God needs us to birth a recreated world as a teenaged girl did so long ago.

Amen.

FURTHER IMPORTANT AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This is where my original sermon ended, as given.  However, my rector commented, in the 10:30 announcements, that while he had never, in over 30 years of ministry, corrected nor challenged a fellow cleric’s preaching, wouldn’t it have been better if I had ended with “as a teenaged girl did, a long long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away”?

So I promised that I would make the addendum on the blog.  Because Star Wars fandom is JUST AS VITAL as the Hamilton fandom.

   

**And it’s not just me saying this–it’s the pre-1920s Vatican saying it as well.  Long story–I will unpack in a later blog post.

***A real thing!  When I get punchy, I get creative and punchy.  Occasionally, the entire clergy of the metro KC area bears the brunt of it.

 

Bonhoeffer, and the death of dualism

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Listening to the tenor of the debate in this country ratchet up and up and up, as politicians call for rounding up and deporting immigrants without papers, registering Muslims in a database, closing mosques, and now, closing the borders to anyone who professes Islam, it is hard not to feel like we’re in a scary time warp.

Bonhoeffer, after all, faced similar problems.  When the Nazis began forcing Jews out of government jobs, schools and other opportunities, Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth wrote the Barmen Confession, upon which the Confessing Church was built.  Bonhoeffer would spend his life articulating the gospel in defiance of a government that was bent on evil and destruction.

The man was a brilliant theologian, and by the end, before he was arrested, he had been forbidden from speaking or publishing anything at all–so afraid of him was the German government.

Bonhoeffer is a good figure to bear in mind these days, I find, not only because we are currently being faced with similar challenges (stay or go?  Speak out or stay quiet?) but because he is so hard to classify in the ways we like to use in the church.

Bp. Dan Martins set up one of these time-worn classification systems recently, and I can’t help but wonder where on earth Bonhoeffer would have fit.  Bp. Martins describes the church as being filled with two sorts of people: those who are progressive, in favor of gay marriage, women’s ordination, and generally have little use for the Prayer Book and its language (these people, he finds, usually have an active dislike of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ), and those who believe steadily in the historic faith once received, the BCP as written, and enjoy Mel Gibson’s Aramaic epic.

The Mel Gibson thread, he argues, is actually the most important one, as these divisions mostly come down to what we believe about Christ–either you believe Christ was a person motivated by love and justice, urging us to do likewise, or you believe that Christ was the incarnate Word of God, through which all may be saved.

 

All right.

First of all, as the theologian of blessed memory Edward Schillebeeckx once said, “Any attempt to introduce a dualism here is the work of pure evil.” **
There really aren’t ever only two types of people.  There are billions of types of people, because there are billions of people.  (Or, if you’d rather, there ARE two types of people–those who believe there are two types of people, and those who realize there aren’t.)
All of which to say, people are complex.  They don’t fit neatly into either one thing or another.  And then, people frequently will change their minds on you, and then you have to reconsider your whole system.

This is actually important, because when you embrace a dualism such as this, you disallow for the possibility of people like Bonhoeffer–people who devoutly believe in the historic creeds of the church, and because of that, strive for justice, freedom, and peace.***

It is a troubling novelty in the last few decades that progressives have consigned orthodox faith to conservatives.  We, undoubtedly, have done a poor job of explaining our positions in theological terms, rather than just ideological ones.  And the tragic outcome of this failure is the common misconception that believing in Jesus’s love means you probably hate someone else.  It is a PR disaster on an epic scale, and you only have to look at the rising number of ‘nones’ to see the results.

It is more than possible to be progressive while embracing orthodox Christianity–indeed, I would even argue that it is necessary.  Taking seriously the Incarnation means that you also must take seriously the value of human existence–this tangled mess that God loved so much as to want to participate in.  To believe in Christ as God implies that you will honor each person as Christ, since God has so honored humanity with his presence.

The Christian story is one that confounds easy dualisms–God speaks alike to men and women, faithful and faithless, the hopeless screw-up, the person who manages all things well, and everyone in between.  When we accept the Christian narrative as normative, then we accept that God uses and speaks through all sorts and conditions of people; that God prizes and intensely loves all sorts and conditions of people.

I am not a feminist, an LGTBQ ally, or a believer that #blacklivesmatter in spite of my Christianity.  I am a feminist, and an ally BECAUSE of my Christianity.  It is my faith that tells me that everyone is important, that everyone matters, and that my call is for the common welfare of all.
** Know who excels at irony?  Theologians.

***It’s positively Hegelian, I tell you.

 

But what happened to the Amazing Wandering Lutherans?

Someone in the comments asked about the Travelling Lutherans, and I thought I would give the ending to that story.

The Lutherans stayed with us that night, and we fed them, watched Guardians of the Galaxy together (as is proper) and put them up in our parish hall.  They ate breakfast and vamoosed in the morning, bright and early.

A few weeks later, I received a really lovely letter from their pastor in Wisconsin thanking me and the parish for our hospitality, which was cosigned by all the kids who had visited.   It was very sweet.

And truthfully, this is how formation works.  It happens in the meticulously-planned programs, and the expensive mission trips and the curriculum we agonize over, but mostly, the things that stick are the small moments in between, when children watch adults make decisions on the fly.   Hopefully, these kids will remember this one.