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In which Megan indulges in some shameless self-promotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On telling the truth

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 18, 2017

Lent 3

John 4: 5-42

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is whether we are prepared to hear her.

 

 

Redeeming the Pharisees

One of my pet peeves in preaching is Straw Man Pharisee Syndrome.  You are, no doubt, familiar with this–the preacher describes, in great detail, how the Pharisees were legalistic moralists, who didn’t really care about spirituality, liked to exclude people, hated women, and were the sort of rigid rule-followers who liked to yell at those who differed from them.  We, however, were not like the Pharisees, unless we messed up.  But generally speaking, they were everything Jesus hated.

End of sermon.

This is one of my pet peeves because it tends to be a homiletic crutch.  It lets the preacher off the hook of having to do any self-examination, because the categories of good and evil are a given:  Pharisees=bad, Jesus and disciples=good.

It also has the problem that most dualisms and strawmen have:  it’s wrong.  It leaves out Pharisees who liked Jesus, like Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea.  It skips over the debates that we know even from the gospels (which have their own agenda) were happening within the Pharisaic community.  And it lets the disciples off the hook, who more often than not, have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing, and act accordingly dim.

(And, ceaselessly attacking the Pharisees is kinda antisemitic.  The Pharisees invented modern rabbinic Judaism.  If you stand up in a pulpit and describe them as intolerant, unloving, and devoid of spiritual worth, what, exactly, are you saying about modern Judaism?)

So, from time to time, I like to preach in defense of those guys.  They don’t really deserve their reputation from history, and I would hope, in 2,000 years, someone would take the time to explain how awesome I secretly was, as well.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

February 12, 2017

Epiphany 6

Matthew

 

So there’s a Darth Vader gargoyle on the National Cathedral.  I’m not kidding–back in the 1980s, they were finishing up the cathedral’s edifice, and decided to hold a contest for what the scariest image was.  A schoolkid submitted Darth Vader and won.  So, behold.  There is now the head of Darth Vader on the side of the National Cathedral.

This really amuses me, not only because it confirms the role of Star Wars as our national mythology.   But because it points to the important role that villains play in those stories.  Whom we pick as villains usually say as much about us as they do about any inherent evil on their part.  So, Darth Vader stomping around, but then being redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi says a lot about Han, Luke and Leia  in general.

If there are villains in the gospels, then they’re probably the pharisees.  And they work really well as villains.  

They’re the sticklers, they’re the rule followers.  They believe in rules over love.  They’re bringing everyone down all the time–you can imagine them just being huge buzzkills all over ancient Palestine.  Possibly with light sabers in ominous colors. Pharisees would sell great as action figures, and you could really scare small kids with them.   Don’t be a Pharisee!

Couple of issues with that, though.  

For starters, in history, the Pharisees were GREAT.  They were a grassroots political movement aimed at spreading religious power to the average person.  See, at the time, if you were, say, a nice farming family up in the Galilee, you didn’t really have much to do with your Judaism, because it was hard and expensive.  The laws you knew about mainly told you to hike all the way down to the Temple in Jerusalem and that was cost-prohibitive.  So, most people who didn’t live in Jerusalem also figured that God really didn’t care what they did.  

Enter the Pharisees.  Who insisted that religion was for everyone.  God actually did care about the farmer in the Galilee!  So much so that God really wanted him to pray, just where he was!  And read the scriptures, just where he was!  

The Pharisee movement was actually about democratizing religion and making it more inclusive.  Not exclusive.  And when the Temple falls in 70, it is the Pharisees who manage to pull Judaism up from the ashes and resurrect it into the form we know today, complete with synagogues and rabbis.  So part of the reason we need to be careful about slagging on the Pharisees too much is that they invented modern Judaism.

Here’s the other reason we need to be careful about the Pharisees:  Jesus was basically one of them.  Look at this gospel reading!  JUST LOOK AT IT.  Because for every section of the gospels wherein Jesus is all ‘love is all you need” and “there are no rules, I’m James Dean”, there are sections like this, where he gets very intense about the intricacies of the Law.  This is one of several places where Jesus basically recites, verbatim, arguments that we know Pharisees had themselves at that time.  If villains tell us about ourselves, then part of what the Villainous Pharisees tell us about the gospel writers is that they were part of the same group, and they were anxious about the same things.  Which is why they go after each other the way they do.  It follows the logic of “no one gets to hit my brother except for me.”  We save the hardest and most specific criticism for those within our own group.  

And the thing Jesus is fired up about here is the same thing the Pharisees were:  he wanted everyone–not just the special people– to keep the law. The whole law.  And not just part of it. But, Jesus points out that there is a difference between keeping the law in order to keep the law, and keeping the law in order to fulfill the spirit of it.  

Because the law, in and of itself isn’t bad.  We really shouldn’t murder.  We really shouldn’t commit adultery.  We really shouldn’t steal.  Those are, you know, good ideas for life, in that they help us better love one another.  

The problem arises when you try to legalistically split hairs, and ignore the spirit of those rules in order to get away with not loving one another.  When the aim of God’s law is to get us to love God and love one another, then there’s a problem when we use the same law to act unlovingly.  That’s hypocrisy.

So it’s really not ok to say “Well, sure, I bully people online for fun, but I never stole anything.” or “Well, sure, I make jokes about people who look differently than me, but I’m no murderer.”  or “Yes, I closed the borders to people who believe differently than me, but ancient Israel had a wall once,  so God’s fine with this.”  By the letter of the law, you might be ok.  But if you’re not being loving, then you aren’t following the law.  You aren’t doing your job.

To claim to follow God’s law means to be committed to loving God and loving neighbor as the goal  It means that all our actions, all our words must be aimed at loving God and loving our neighbor, and spreading that love in the world.  We don’t get to pick and choose to what degree we do this–that’s what Jesus is arguing.  We have to be whole-hearted.  We have to follow the whole law.  Not just part.  Not just the part that works best for us right then.

As is usually the case with villains, the thing we dislike the most about them is the thing we dislike the most in ourselves.  The Pharisees get such a bad rap in the gospels not because they were actually such legalistic nitpickers….but because we tend to be. We always have been.

 Jesus and the Pharisees were the one who actually would like us to knock that off.  Don’t carve up the law like that.  Keep the whole thing.  Love everyone.  Serve everyone.  Persist in that loving even when it’s difficult and unpopular.  Persist even when you’ve been warned.  Persist nevertheless.  Because it’s only through that wholehearted loving of everyone–the Pharisees, our neighbors, ourselves…even Darth Vader, that the world changes.

Amen.

 

In which I advise my teenage self

Yesterday, I had an unexpected treat.

Thanks to this very blog, I was invited to go and talk with the students at one of our local Catholic girls’ high schools about women in ministry.  I didn’t know anyone there–apparently one of the theology teachers uses Lent Madness in class and discovered my blog thusly.  (Ah, the wonders of the intertubez!)

I was so psyched.  No kidding–talking to young women about my job is one of my all-time favorite things, because it always feels like I am disclosing one of the secrets of the universe.  Yes, you, too, can do this job!  And wear these shoes at the same time!

I sat at a small table and girls came up to sit with me to eat lunch if they wanted.  Other tables were staffed by nuns, in a variety of habits, another Episcopal priest and a local Muslim activist.

I don’t think I said anything profound.  I talked a lot about how the Episcopal Church differed from the Catholic Church (same service, different emphasis in theology, and we really like elections.)  I talked about how I had decided to become a priest. (God called me, I pouted, then gave in.)  And I talked about why I loved my job (I get to talk about the most important stuff, and I get to bless wine and bread, and then hand people a piece of God.)

But I absolutely loved it, because I know how desperate I was in high school for any glimpse of an adult who was living a life that I wanted.  I was lucky–I had known female priests all my life–but at that critical moment, I didn’t have anyone around that made the life I thought I was called to seem within grasp.

The students were delightful and engaged, asking good questions.  We cheerfully ate Skittles and cookies all through lunch.  And then I headed on back to my normal life with a lovely swag bag. (It’s like I’m famous!!!)

Probably, no one had a conversion moment. But hopefully, the girls saw another option of what adult life could be for them.

In which my teenaged self is really wrong.

Here’s a funny story.

When I was a teenager, and first considering the priesthood, I didn’t take it seriously.

Know why?

I thought it would be too easy.

Let that settle in for a second.

In my slight defense, this was in the late 1990s.  It was a world of budget surpluses, Ally McBeal, and the end of the Cold War.  Basically, another planet to where we currently live.  And in my small, 16 year old brain, I thought representing the church in those times would be easy.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, when I alternated between writing this sermon, and calling my senators from an Anaheim hotel lobby, in the wake of the president’s executive order banning refugees from Syria, and immigration from 6 other Muslim countries.  We at St. Paul’s host a Sudanese refugee mission parish, so I texted my rector to see whether any of our people had been caught in the travel ban.

Yeah, none of this is easy.

Here’s what I said.  (You can also go to St. Paul’s FB page and catch the livestreamed version here.)

Rev. Megan L Castellan

January 29, 2017

Epiphany 4

Matthew 5

 

I am an unabashed religion nerd, and so please do not judge me too harshly when I tell you that I have several–and by that I mean many–copies of the gospels on my bookshelf.  Different translations, different annotations.  Including that weird, Jesus seminar one, where the scholars re-translated the greek text, and voted with different colored beads as to whether they thought Jesus really said it.  (It was a fad in the 1970s.)

And so, it is from those sources that I can tell you with some authority that the word here translated ‘blessed’ also usually means ‘Happy.’  Happy are the poor.  Happy are the merciful. Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Happy, happy, happy.

Happy.  Like a room without a roof.

On some level, Jesus telling me that happiness is a result of being poor, or merciful, or a peacemaker, is a harder sell than Jesus telling me that those characteristics will make me blessed.  Blessed, I can buy. Blessed seems within the realm of possibility.  For me, at least, ‘blessed’ conjures up images of some far-off spiritual place where I will be rewarded, I will be blessed, for sticking to these choices now, but IN THE MEANTIME, it’s just going to be miserable.  And I should expect no less.

That idea of blessedness being spiritual is pretty common, did you know?  Especially among mainline Protestants in the Western World.  When Dietrich Bonhoeffer, our favorite, went to seminary in New York, he did some writing about how the beatitudes weren’t actually intended to be kept at all.  Because how could you?  How could you, a good patriotic German, be truly merciful, be a peacemaker, in the rising tide of nationalism and imperialism  and war fever sweeping the country?   Really, you couldn’t do it.  So most Lutherans at the time thought that these verses were there to remind people how very sinful they were.  Christ wanted us to live in one way, and we just couldn’t because of original sin, and our innate brokenness, and so we needed God’s grace.  Classic law and grace dichotomy.  

Then, Bonhoeffer went to New York.  And while there, he encountered the idea that Jesus was serious about the beatitudes.  That Jesus did want us to do these things.  Here, and now.  First from a Swiss classmate, and then from the African American churches he attended in Harlem, who fought against lynching and segregation in the mid 1920s.  It was through their eyes that Bonhoeffer first understood that Jesus was serious about peace, serious about mercy.  Serious about being persecuted.  

And we know what happened to him from there.  Once ‘blessedness’ shifted from a lovely, distant spiritual reality to a present imperative, his whole life changed.  And the church gained a saint.

I bring this up, because this tension between ‘blessed’ and ‘happy’ is real.  It is a question that pulls at us, like it pulled at Bonhoeffer, every moment of our lives.  

Do we believe that to follow Christ it is a spiritual choice, or do we believe that following Christ requires daily, concrete choices about our actions and place in the world?  Do we believe that to follow Christ makes us blessed in some distant, spiritual way?  Or do we believe that following Christ in the here and now yields true happiness?

And, before I answer this hypothetical question of mine, I want to acknowledge something.  For many of us, this is a terrifying question.  For many of us, ok, for most of us, maybe, these are terrifying times.  But there are, in that large, petrified group, I believe, who perhaps haven’t had to wrestle so deeply with these questions before.  There are those of us, perhaps, who, til now, have rested secure in the belief that the powers that ran the world were–if not good, then at least benign, and would protect them, would listen to them.  

For those of us in this category, this belief is now breaking apart.  And for the first time, we all must confront the idea that we are, in a new way, outside of power.  Those who control the levers of power do not care.  They do not.  Concern for the common good is not what has driven the decisions of the government this past week.  Adherence to Christian ideals of loving your neighbor, caring for the foreigner, the stranger, the immigrant, the sick, and the suffering–these were abandoned by those in the halls of power this week.  

And in times like these, in the face of this fear, and this sort of abandonment of what we are explicitly called to be–being ‘blessed’ just won’t cut it.  It won’t.  I cannot find hope in Christ’s promise that one day, I might find a spiritual peace if I find peace on a spiritual level.  Blessed doesn’t cut it.

Because people are suffering, now  People will lose access to healthcare now.  People will be turned away from our borders, now.  Our Sudanese brothers and sisters, beloved, are in jeopardy, now.  Their family will remain stranded in the Sudan, now.  They cannot wait to be blessed, in their souls, in their hearts.  They are suffering now.

And so, I hold to Christ’s promise of happiness.  Happiness. That when we are merciful NOW.  When we make for peace NOW, when we are poor, when we grieve NOW, we will be happy.  Not just blessed.  Not just righteous, but happy.  That our decision to follow Christ in concrete ways, when we choose to take the Beatitudes seriously in the here and now, we will make for happiness for all creatures.  

Not that it will be easy.  Jesus didn’t throw in that last one about being persecuted for dramatic effect.  Right now, to follow the beatitudes, and demand that we all uphold them will get us persecuted.  Full stop.  It will.  We will go on some list, we may go to jail, we may become unpopular.  We may even walk into danger.  

But here is what I know.  I know that millions of faithful people have been here before us.  And it was in following Christ’s way that they found their joy.  It was in resisting a world that sorted people into desirable and undesirable that they found hope.  It was in fighting back against a system that sold human beings for profit that they became truly happy.  Not fleetingly comfortable, but truly, incandescently joyful.  When they joined their footsteps to Christ’s, they found happiness.  When they joined their hearts and their minds to Christ, they found joy.

Because here is the other thing I know–when we stand up for the Beatitudes in the here and now, when we embrace the idea of true happiness in these values, there Christ is.  Christ is in the face of the merciful.  In the feet of the poor.  In the hands of the grieving.  In the arms of the despised.  And it is when we embrace these, when we stand up and fight for these, that we embrace Christ and we find happiness, like so many have before us.

We won’t be comfortable, we won’t be sedate, or popular.  But like Bonhoeffer, like King, like Dorothy Day and Romero before us, will we be happy?

 We will.

 

Amen.

In which Megan inflicts a horrific Disney earworm upon her congregation

Illustrations are tricky things.  My rector, for example, rarely uses them, and his sermons turn out fine.  It’s a difference of preaching styles.

I, on the other hand, like them–mainly because it’s the way my mind works.  This thing reminds me of that thing, which reminds me of that concept.  However, this can have its pitfalls, because sometimes the image is so weird or idiosyncratic that it distracts from what my actual point was in the first place.  For example, I still remember a sermon from when I was a kid that our associate rector in Virginia preached.  No idea what the point was, but it had something to do with baby turtles, and the high infant mortality rate as they made their way to the ocean.  Lo, these 20+ years later, I don’t remember the point, but I remember those turtles!

This particular week, I ran into a similar problem–let’s make the whole congregation sing a popular Disney song!  Although–there was a visiting 4 year old girl in the parish.  When she heard mention of Elsa, her head popped up, and she was IN IT for the rest of the sermon.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

June 26, 2016

Ordinary Time, Proper 8

Luke 9:51-62

 

Before I even begin this sermon, I must beg your forgiveness, my family in Christ.  The only appropriate illustration I could think of, and believe me when I tell you that I thought long and hard, for many days, on this problem–the only illustration I could think of was from a certain children’s Disney movie named Frozen.  This movie is a generous adaptation of the Snow Queen fairy tale, and the Snow Queen herself, Elsa, suffers rejection and misunderstanding as a result of her special “I can freeze things” powers.  But finally, she leaves the castle and her village behind, and decides that she will direct her energy towards being awesome on her own terms.  And then, friends, she sings “Let it Go”.  A song about–letting it go.  About breaking with people and places who don’t feed your soul, and resolving to be who you are anyway.  Which is a great song, unless countless 4 year olds have been singing it to you for the better part of 2 years, because it is quite the earworm.  And see, now that I’ve mentioned it, the song will be stuck in your heads all day.  Again, I am deeply sorry.  

This story represents a bit of a transition. Up until now, Jesus has been biding his time, healing people, telling stories, and hanging out with the disciples.  But now, prompted by the transfiguration, Jesus has an aim, a purpose.  Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem, metaphorically and somewhat literally.  From here on out, Jesus is headed towards the cross…and all that means.

And that appears to come with some consequences.  When the Jesus Show rolls into a Samaritan town, they aren’t thrilled.  Remember, Samaritans were a Jewish sect who worship not in Jerusalem, but on Mount Gerazim, outside Nablus.  The place of worship was a hotly contested issue.  So the Samaritans were not inclined to be welcoming to a visiting celebrity rabbi who was headed up to Jerusalem to worship.

This irks James and John (who, let me remind you, were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder.) James and John take this opportunity to really live into their nickname, and ask Jesus if they can go all Elijah on the unfriendly Samaritans, and just burn the living crap out of the village.  Jesus yells at them.  And since we’re not told what specifically he says, my guess is that it’s fairly R rated.  Please to recall–calling down fire on your enemies is not something Jesus condones.

But the larger issue comes forward in these little vignettes, as one by one, they encounter people on the way who would like to follow–but have other things to do.  Teacher, I’d love to come along, but what are the accomodations like?  Teacher, I’d love to follow, but can I wrap up some loose ends at work first?  Teacher, I’d love to come, but what will my family think?

And one by one, Jesus informs them that this isn’t for the faint of heart, or for those who get distracted.  Let the dead bury their own dead, he says.  You can’t put your hand to the plow and look back.

Now, this sounds sort of harsh.  It’s easy to see Jesus as being a bit obsessed with his mission here, and having turned off his pastoral sense.  Come on, dude.  The guy’s father just died.  Give him a little slack.

But what Jesus is saying here is also basically what he said to James and John:  Let it go.  Don’t put your energy into something that’s already dead.  Put your energy towards something that’s alive.  

That Samaritan village wasn’t going to welcome them.  That’s ok.  Who would?  Go find them.  That guy’s family has already passed on–nothing he can do to change that.  That’s fine.  What is his life going to be about now?

In other times, Jesus talks about God being a God of the living, not of the dead.  And this is another side of that.  God calls us to not worry so much about problems and people that are intractable.  Don’t hold so tightly to dead things.  Turn towards things that give life, that have possibilities.

In other words, don’t keep banging on closed doors.  Don’t keep doing things that wound your sense of self.  Don’t hang around people who don’t have your best interests at heart.  Don’t waste your time on people, places, and things that don’t add life and health to the world and yourself.  

Because, in this journey towards Jerusalem, we only have so much time.  Jesus is moving with urgency now towards the cross, and we move with urgency in our lives as well, whether we realize it or not.  And with our finite time on this earth, our job is to add life and health to this world–not to waste what little energy we have, in the grand scheme of things, on what will not prosper.

But most of all, this is about trust.  We have to trust that we can let the dead things go, because God can take care of them, so we don’t have to.  God can take care of that person, that project, that issue with which you’ve been struggling so long.  Because God’s job is resurrection.  That’s what God does–and we can’t.  

We can’t breathe new life into dead situations, dead relationships.  But God can.  Our job is to hand these things over to God, and then concentrate on celebrating and encouraging resurrection where we find it.  Where God has already begun to work.  The new, baby green shoots of new life.  That’s our job.

Not to make new life, but to cheer it on.  

So, yes, like Elsa, we have to let some things go.  We have to stand up on an icy mountain and declare independence from death.  And then, we need to have enough faith to trust that God will bring the spring of new life again–and we will be ready when he does.
Amen.

Love and Fire

So a few things:

I really did preach in between these two sermons.  But I used notes, and they don’t make a whole lot of sense outside of my head.  Sorry.

I have to thank Deirdre Good, my NT prof from seminary, for this reading of the centurion’s slave story.  I really like her exegesis of it, and so did my parish.  In fact, a couple that’s getting married in October asked to use this gospel at their wedding after this sermon.  Awwwwww.  🙂

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 29, 2016

Ordinary Time, Proper 3

2 Kings, Luke

 

I spent the last few days in Las Vegas for a friend’s birthday.  (I realize that this sounds like the start of a joke–priest walks into a casino! But it’s true)  Every evening, we noticed that there was one guy who would place himself on a corner of the Strip with a ginormous cross, and yell at people through a megaphone.  

All the normal stuff–we were all sinners, all going to hell, all in need of a personal relationship with Christ, etc etc.  He was a blast.  

What was interesting about him, was not only his dedication to his shouting, but how ineffective he was at it.  No one stopped to talk to him.  No one paid any attention–the Strip in Vegas, after all, is where you can see pretty much every sort of person God created, wandering around in every sort of weird clothing choice available.  And a guy yelling in front of a giant cross really isn’t the oddest thing to see–especially when he is yelling about how horrible and condemned you all are.  That’s not a good conversation starter.  His method seemed really flawed–and on the last night, he changed his tune.  He yelled about how to preach the gospel was the greatest task one could engage in.  “Oh” I thought.  “This made sense.  He’s not actually out here for us.  He’s doing this for himself.”   

 

But for some reason, this Yelling! Form of evangelism has remained very popular.  Elijah himself pioneered it, as we see today.  Now–this is an awesome story, because Elijah is the original James Dean of biblical prophets.  He wanders around, annoying the king.  He summons bears out of the woods to carry off kids who make fun of his baldness.  Elijah is great–albeit not a nice guy.  And here is no different.  Israel is again struggling with whether or not to be faithful to God.  The king has married a foreign woman (Jezebel–she’ll earn her reputation in a bit).  And as a result, there’s a lot of political pressure to follow her religion, and not the religion of Israel.  This really isn’t new.  

So Elijah decides to combat this nonsense in flamboyant style–he yells at the opposing priests, taunts their non-existent god, then calls down fire from the sky to consume them.  Then, you can probably imagine him strutting off, really proud of himself, and all he accomplished.  Because, as we all know–nothing converts people to your cause like intimidation and genocide.  

 

And spoiler alert–worship of other gods continues to be a problem for Israel.  While showy, Elijah’s trick here doesn’t actually solve the problem.  (And remember–just because someone does A Thing in the Bible, does not mean God likes that Thing, or wants us to replicate it.)

We don’t get the resolution of this story until a few weeks from now.  

 

But I want to point something out. Mount Carmel is where the Elijah story happens–in the north of Galilee.  Capernaum is where the Jesus story happens.  They’re pretty close together.  And growing up in Nazareth, as a good Jewish kid, Jesus would have known this story of Elijah.  Would have gone to the Mountain where it happened.  Would have maybe wrestled with what Elijah did in the name of God.

 

So it’s in that context that it’s helpful to look at the story from Luke.  Because on the surface, it’s not so complicated–it looks like another healing story.  A Roman centurion has a slave that’s sick, and he wants him to be healed, so Jesus heals him.  No biggie–happens a lot.

 

But there are some weirdnesses about this story.  First of all, the Roman centurion–a high-ranking army official from the army that was occupying the town–first goes to the Jewish elders for help, and asks them to intercede for him.  He’s definitely not one of them–he’s not Jewish, he’s even part of foreign government sent to oppress the Jewish Israelites, yet he gets along well with the local population.

And also–it’s not usual for an army official to intercede for a slave like this.  The language he uses (in Greek) is pretty emphatic–this part about ‘a slave whom he valued highly’–literally, “who was precious to him”.  The centurion himself refers to the slave as “my boy” which makes it even more unusual.  Slaves were nice to have–but the way this guy fights for his is similar to how parents intercede for their children, or spouses intercede for each other, in other healing stories.  This makes some scholars believe that the centurion has a romantic relationship with the boy–which wouldn’t have been unusual in Greco-Roman culture…but would not have been so proper in nice Jewish culture.

 

And so, Jesus is basically talking to the sort of person that Elijah would have definitely burned to a crisp.  From most outward appearances, the centurion needs to get yelled at, if Jesus is an old-school prophet.

 

Yet, that’s not what he does.  Jesus talks to him.  Listens to what he has to say.  And instead of chastising him, or reminding him of how horrible he is–Jesus shows him mercy.  Jesus shows him love, and heals the boy.

 

Because, it turns out the centurion didn’t need convincing of his unworthiness.  He knew it already.  Getting a lesson in how wicked you are wasn’t what he needed–what he needed was someone to show him the love of God in that moment.  That had the power to transform his life.  

 

There is enough in the world that communicates how awful we are.  The world doesn’t need more of that.  The world doesn’t need more people screaming about how wretched we are.  What the world needs–what has the power to transform it–is each of us embodying the love of God for one another.  Not waiting for preconditions to be met, not insisting on a level of compliance or righteousness–but simply loving one another.

 

That changes the world.  That changes lives.  That’s what we’re called to do.

Amen.