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Ezekiel the Crazy Prophet

I returned to work on Sunday from a lovely two week stay-cation.  It was lovely.  I spent the two weeks knitting, watching Netflix, and going to protests, because this is the Year of Our Lord 2017 and the world doesn’t improve because I’ve decided to take time off of work.

It was quite a Megan vacation.

I also spent a fair amount of time up in St. Joseph, where I went to the Glore Psychiatric Museum (which I highly recommend.  If you’ve never seen Barbie and Ken act out a medieval witch burning, have you ever even been alive?***)

I forget how helpful vacations are until I take one, and then I recall that irritation is, in fact, not my natural state, and motivation does, in fact, return with the proper amount of rest.

Oh, that everyone were afforded vacations in this world.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

September 9,10, 2017

Ordinary Time, Proper

Ezekiel 33:7-11

 

Of the Hebrew prophets, you can construct a sort of scale of social acceptability.  On one end, you have the nice guys:  your Micahs, your Isaiahs, even your Amoses.  Amos was a dresser of sycamore trees–and while no one knows exactly what that entails, you’d probably be safe inviting him to dinner.  In the middle, you’ve got people like Jonah, Jeremiah–folks inclined to do some inappropriate yelling at some awkward times, at People who Should Not be Yelled At, but they didn’t DO anything horribly embarrassing.

Then, on the far end, you have Ezekiel.  Ezekiel belongs on the ‘special’ end of that prophet spectrum.  He is one of those prophets who wasn’t just concerned with preaching the word of God; he also undertook specific actions that were symbolic of what God was doing in the world.  So his prophetic work was two-fold.  (Hosea was another one of these, and it’s how he ended up married to a lady of questionable morals, and saddled his children with long and unfortunate names.)  

The downside of engaging in lofty symbolic acts all the time is that they make a person look insane.  Ezekiel lived and worked at the same time as Jeremiah, so clearly a lot was going on, and his acts had a flair for the…shall we say, desperate?  He ate a chunk of the scripture parchment, to illustrate that the word of God was sweeter than honey.  He lay for 390 days before a brick to reenact the siege of Jerusalem. He cut off his hair with a sword and burned a third of it in the city center.  

Basically, he was the town weirdo.  If you saw him pacing down the street, you crossed to the other side.  In life, he was probaby a fairly offputting dude.  

But I tell you what–he lived in some anxious and troubling times.  Ezekiel was one of the first wave of exiles from Jerusalem to be carried off in the Babylonian invasion.  He, and the rest of his comrades, had been rounded up and dumped in a foreign land with no language skills, no friends, no rights–cut off from their family and friends.  Meanwhile, the Babylonian army was destroying the homes they had been snatched from.  The prevailing sense was that God had abandoned his people for their sins, or–that somehow the gods of Babylon had proven stronger than the God of Israel.  And there didn’t seem to be much evidence to the contrary, because all the exiles could see was one disaster unfolding on top of another.  Stacking up like firewood.

That sort of dire situation can make people do some pretty unlikely things.  When people are surrounded by disaster like that–unrelenting, unending bad news on all sides, with seemingly no hope of an end–it becomes hard to hold on to ‘normal’ behavior or beliefs.  

Our tendency, in such situations, is to fall back into fear, and into the most knee-jerk patterns of belief.  God has abandoned us!  Evil has overtaken us!  God is punishing us! The most primal, the oldest thought patterns we have tend to surface around great and implacable disasters, and it’s because of this sort of base level fear that rises up when we feel overwhelmed and under siege.

For Ezekiel’s society, it comes out in the form of an old belief that God was smiting them for their sins.  (Thankfully, this is a belief that no one ever mentions during natural disasters nowadays…..)  The exiles, in their exhaustion and in their panic, believed that they must have done SOMETHING to bring this upon themselves, and so God was now going to destroy them in their wickedness.  The whole people were convinced.  Even though–nothing they knew of God to this point would suggest that God worked that way.  

{This happens on an individual level too.  I have chronic migraines, and in college I had a particularly nasty one, which lasted for a few weeks with no relief.  By the third week, I had come to think of the pain in my head, that pulsing, throbbing thing as a demon–as I prayed for relief.  The whole time, mind you, I KNEW that this was ridiculous.  I knew that the world didn’t work that way, and that what was happening was a neuro-biological process.  But in those moments, I was tired, and I was in pain, and I just wanted it to stop.  }

So up steps Ezekiel, who informs the people that while they, like everyone else, have gone astray–it is not the will of God that they perish.  “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways.  For why will you die, O house of Israel?”  

God never wants the destruction of anyone.  God wants to give us a second chance so we can do better and learn.  God does not send disasters upon us to teach us “lessons”, or to punish us.  God does not do that, God does not work like that–it is our own fear and human nature that makes us think that in these times of peril.  

Because, after all, wouldn’t it feel slightly better if we could blame disasters on God?  That way, we could take comfort, cold though it might be, that we were morally superior to those afflicted.  And we could promise ourselves that if we just prayed hard enough, if we just did X, Y, and Z, then we wouldn’t be the next to suffer.  And if we are the ones afflicted, then that same fear can turn us inwards, make us blame ourselves for our own evil–robbing us of the chance to reach out for help.  

In times like these, when we have deadly hurricanes stacking up along the coast like planes around O’Hare, and threats of war coming from overseas, and upsetting decisions coming from our leaders, people are doing some odd things.  There are religious leaders out there announcing God’s wrath is upon us for various reasons.  There are other people trying to deny that anything at all unusual is occurring.  

Overall, the anxiety in our world is reaching a fever pitch.  And that tone of fear can be seen and felt in so many aspects of life right now.  The same old fear-based beliefs that rose to the surface during Ezekiel’s time are coming up again now.  What if God has abandoned us?  What if we are being punished?  What if evil has overtaken us?  

When you are tired, and when there is so much anxiety in the air, those thoughts are harder to push back against, because they can be so easy to believe.  So, when you feel those thoughts crowding into your head, remember Ezekiel, and his crazy antics.  Remember the lengths he went to to convince the despondent exiles of God’s undying love and presence with them.  

Here was a man who threw away dignity and common sense to illustrate in word and deed just how much God loved and stood by his people–even in the darkest and most anxious of times.  

Maybe we are called, in our own anxious times, to be Ezekiels for this time and place.  Maybe we are called to act extravagantly to illustrate just how committed God is to our human flourishing, in defiance of those voices who would doubt it.  Maybe we have been sent to throw caution to the wind and stretch out our hands and live largely so that all can see and believe, through us, that God loves all people, and does not abandon us to anything–not even fear.  

 

Amen.  

***Half the museum is the preserved psychiatric state hospital as it was in the mid 1960s, with the practices and equipment explained.  The other half are recreations built by patients from the 1960s to explain mental illness treatments through time.  One such recreation is something entitled the “Bath of Surprise”, in which the medieval person would be lured up onto a platform, then SURPRISE! dumped through a trapdoor into a pool of water.  The plaque noted that the treatment had a low success rate, but patients did seem to be calmer.  This display is helpfully illustrated by a department store mannequin seated in a wooden tub, covered in blue paint.   NOT TO BE MISSED.

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Fun Camp Interlude!

Each year, at the beginning of June, I head to the wilds of the Ozarks for a week to help staff Camp Wemo–a week-long camp for middle–high school youth in the diocese.  I am a cabin counselor, I help run games, and activities, I plan and lead liturgies, I explain why we can’t panic at the sight of ALL bugs, only the really hairy ones, and generally attempt to keep the lives of 6-8 middle school girls on track for a week.  It’s a trip.

This year, our theme was Proclaiming the Good News to All Creation.  Because the Presiding Bishop had come to the diocese earlier in May, we decided to springboard off that theme, and continue the idea of evangelism all year.  So on the day that I had to give a 5 minute clergy talk, I decided to talk about what good news was, and what our experience of the gospel was.

Here’s what I said.  (More or less.  I didn’t have this in front of me, and I was standing outside talking off the top of my head.)

What is Good News?

 

We promise at our baptism to share by word and example, the Good News of God in Christ.

 

We also promise to persevere in resisting evil. (Hold these two ideas in your mind.)

 

What is this Good News, and are there times when the gospel is heard in ways that aren’t good?

Now think about it–can I say some things that aren’t good news to you right now?  What if I come over here to Amanda (walks over to Amanda, counselor) and tell her that I have some great news for her!  News that will change her life, news that will make every day of her life worth living!  Isn’t that great, Amanda?!

Amanda says yes.

Amanda, I need to tell you, that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ really hates your shoes, and you need to give them to me immediately.  THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS I HAVE BEEN SENT TO PREACH.

Now, Amanda, does this seem like good news to you?

Amanda, correctly, says that no, this does not seem like good news at all.  She likes her shoes.  

See, that’s the thing.  Sometimes, I think we can preach the gospel in ways that people don’t hear as good news.

I grew up in Virginia, I think most of you know that. My family has lived there for generations. We had a mill in Spotsylvania, outside of DC. And we owned slaves.  We did. Because it was the south, and that was how you made money. And I know, from hearing my grandparents’ stories, that they and other owners made their slaves go to church and be baptized and they preached to those slaves. And they read to them those parts of the Bible where it talks about submitting to authority. And how God placed leaders in power, so you should see them as God appointed. And turn the other cheek meant suffering without complaint, and being meek, silent and obedient.

 

And I know, if I were a slave, and if my life, my family’s life, was not mine that none of that would sound like good news.  How is it good news if God wants you to suffer like that?!

 

But I also know that the slaves didn’t listen for long. They read the Bible, oh they did. But they read the parts where Paul said “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”  They learned about Jesus, but they figured out that Jesus didn’t come to make them more submissive, but they read that part in Luke where Jesus preached in his hometown synagogue and told the people that he had come to set the captives free and preach Good News to the poor. And they knew that Jesus did not want them to suffer as they were. They heard the Good News.

IN SPITE of what my ancestors were telling them.

 

They would sing songs to God at night about a sweet chariot coming to take them home, and my ancestors would say “oh how lovely, they have such faith in a heaven!” But little did they know it was a code. they were singing their way to freedom in Canada. Because Jesus brought Good News.

 

I tell this story, because there is still today a danger that we mistake bad news for good. That when we preach about God, we get turned around and confused, and say things that are hardly good for anyone to hear. Because there are people out there trying to sell a lot of bad news. There are people and there always have been, trying to promote a lot of meanness, hatred, division. Telling us that if we just learn to fear those who are different from us, everything will be better, and in fact/-that’s what Jesus wants. More fear. More anger. More violence. That those who are poor or sick or hurting deserve it and are on their own.  That there are people out there that God doesn’t love.  Can you imagine?! 

 

But that is not Good News. We know that. And to quote Michael Curry–if it’s not good news, it’s not of God.

Jesus came and brought us Good News. Jesus came and asked us to care for one another. He asked us to heal the sick, shelter the weak, knock down walls, and feed the hungry. He demanded that we love one another, and he told us that perfect love casts out fear. And that with him we wouldn’t even need to be afraid any more if we just learned to love each other.

That is the good news. That is the story we have to tell. That is what the world needs to hear. The amazing news that God loves us so much he asks us to love each other and LOOK WE ARE DOING IT.

So, I know it’s hard. I know we mess it up. But never be afraid to tell the good news.  Because that is what the world needs to hear.  And that is what we need to hear.

 

Ascend already

Welcome to the now-Annual Sermon Dump!  That lovely time of year when Megan reads back through her Google Drive and belatedly posts the sermons she gave over the summer, but did not post to her blog because she was otherwise at camp/running Missionpalooza/in the Middle East/un-flooding the church/something else.

You’d think that after 9 years of this, I would have figured out that summer is the reverse of a restful time of year for me, but it never fails–each year, I have great hopes that I will spend the warmer months sunning myself on a nearby patio with a drink in my hand.  Instead, I find myself screeching into September again, with a chill in the air, sleep deprivation in my mind, and again, no sermons on the blog.  It’s like a reverse miracle!  🙂

So we begin way back in May (!) with the Ascension.  Before you can say it, I KNOW THE ASCENSION IS NOT A MOVABLE FEAST.  DON’T @ ME.  However, our local practice is to recognize it in part on the Sunday, as well as on the actual day.  And I don’t plan on dying in that particular ditch.

I give you: Ascension!

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 28, 2017

Easter 7/post Ascension

Acts 1

 

The Ascension is one of the quirkiest biblical stories to appear in art.  Whereas with the Annunciation you usually get the same sorts of pictures–Mary, with an angel, and beatific light, the Nativity, Mary, Joseph, baby, animals.  With the Ascension, you just get a lot of really odd stuff.  

Salvador Dali has a painting of just the soles of Jesus’ feet.  That’s it.  Just the bottom of his feet in the center of a halo.  And lest you think that this is just Dali being a weirdo, Jesus’ feet is a prominent theme in Ascension paintings from the Renaissance, too.  There’s a popular German painting from the 16th century with Jesus’ feet at calves at the top, and a herd of confused disciples down below.  This was popular!  It was copied on to altar frontals and the like!  Other depictions have Jesus being hoisted up to heaven by a couple of burly angels.  Or soaring up with his arms upraised, like superman.  And also, the place where Christians think the Ascension happened, in Jerusalem, which is now a mosque because Muslims recognize the ascension too–has a set of footprints in a stone at the center.  Presumably left as Jesus lept from the earth.

In terms of sheer oddity, the ascension takes the cake, I think, just because it’s confusing on it’s face.  The resurrection is miraculous, but in a straightforward way.  Jesus was dead; now he’s not.  The ascension, however–what even?  Jesus basically becomes the Schrodinger’s cat of saviors. Is he here or not?  Well, yes! He is alive, we know that, and with us, yet not because we no longer see him, and it’s not the same as it was.  Except he’s still here.  No wonder everyone paints just the feet.  The feet are all we can get a hold of.

It’s also worth noting that the timing of the ascension is also not great.  The disciples are still reeling from the whole “Jesus was just crucified” thing, and they’re hiding in their rooms.  What they expect will happen is that Jesus, now resurrected, will use this new life of his to overthrow Rome, with its oppressive empire and injustice, reestablish a kingdom for Israel, and make everything okay again.  They have some high hopes.

As per usual, the disciples are wrong.  Poor little buddies.  Jesus informs them that it isn’t for them to know the times or the seasons the Lord has set.  So there goes that plan.

Instead, he leaves them.  Just whoosh–up into the sky.

The poor disciples are left standing there, staring at where he just was until some angels appear and ask them what their deal is.  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

First off, that’s a misnomer.  We know from the next few verses that there were definitely women there too, so come on, angels.  Secondly, they were standing there because they were confused and a bit lost.  They had a plan, they had a leader that they depended on, and now…..now they were on their own.  Now they felt a bit lost and abandoned.

What were they supposed to do now that they were left to their own devices?

This is the first real test for the disciples in a way.  Up until now, they haven’t had to do a whole lot by themselves.  Now they’re on their own, and they have to decide what to do.

The Ascension marks the passing of the torch from Jesus to the disciples.  More even than the crucifixion–this is when the disciples take over the ministry of Jesus.  Now that Jesus has ascended to be with God, it is on the disciples to carry on Jesus’ ministry of teaching, preaching, and manifesting the kingdom.  

That’s a tall order for anyone, particularly for this bunch.  Particularly for the times in which they live.  It’s a hostile world out there.  The government doesn’t like them.  Their families don’t like them.  Jesus was, after all, just killed because he was disliked so very much.  So this is a lot.  The disciples aren’t superheroes–they are ordinary people, with ordinary doubts, fears, and failings.  

So when Jesus lifts off, it panics them.  The leader they depended on is gone.

But the ascension also gives the disciples a gift.  Because Jesus has left them, Jesus can be with them.  (Again, it’s like Schrodinger’s Cat.) But think of it this way–instead of being physically present eating breakfast beside Peter, now Jesus is just as present with Andrew while he’s preaching in Jerusalem, as he is present with James in Galilee.  Now, instead of being temporally or spatially bound, Jesus is everywhere.  Jesus is in all times.  

The ascension frees Christ to be present with all the apostles as they go to figure out what their mission is, and how they’re going to do it.  And it frees Christ to be with us, as we go out to figure out the same thing.  As the ascension marks the day when Christ left the disciples, it also marks when he became real to them in a new way, and propelled them to figure out how to be the church in a new way.

So each time Fr. Stan and I stand here and tell you to go out and be the body of Christ, (which is basically our St. Paul’s motto)–I know it can feel overwhelming.  There’s so much to do–so much in the world that needs addressing,  how on earth do we start?  So we end up like the disciples, dazed and confused, and staring up at the sky, hoping for some disappearing feet to guide us.

But Christ is as present with us today as he was with them that day on the mountain. Christ may not be physically present when we gather, but Christ is present with us each time we receive the Eucharist, each time we greet a loved one, each time we recognize the image of God in someone suffering.  

Christ is all around us, present just as powerfully.  We don’t need to stand staring at those disappearing feet.  We can feel emboldened to pick a task and go out into the world to live the good news.

Both sides now

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I confess to you, my neglected blog that I have gotten into more internet fights than is usual for me.  

I don’t know that this is intentional; at least on my part, I find that I have markedly less tolerance for people continuing to excuse actions I find inexcusable.  These past few months have seemed to take a heavier toll than usual, and I daresay this is true for people on the other side of the spectrum as well–who knows?

But one refrain I have heard several times has stuck with me: “both sides.”  “We have to hear both sides.”  “There are two sides to this.”  “What about the other side?”  “Aren’t we called to love the other side?”

 

It has haunted me, this idea of “both sides”, and in the terms of the President on Saturday afternoon “many sides”.  Is that what we’re called to do as Christians?  

It is certainly a modern expectation of polite society.  The common understanding is that every situation is a Rashomon: a complicated situation that we may never fully understand, because everyone’s story is necessarily different.  So, in order to gain a more full picture, we have hear all sides.  We are blind people grappling with an elephant.  We are tiny insects on a beach ball.  And for most nuanced situations, these analogies work very well.  They encourage us to question our own assumptions, and stay humble in the moment.  They remind us that what we see is not all there is to see.  

Fine.

And yet, in situations like what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday, can we, as Christians, take the same feeling-out-the-elephant approach?  For the most part, that approach is predicated on the idea that truth, while it does exist, is ultimately unknowable.  It’s a mystery!  So that’s great for situations where the full truth is overly complex or impossible to fully grasp.  And there are many of those.  

 

But on Saturday?  Saturday, we had all the information.  There was a long-planned rally of several white supremacist groups organized by a far-right blogger.  They came to Charlottesville, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.**  They came well-armed, and bearing tiki torches, chanting slurs and Nazi slogans.  They attacked counter-protesters with bottles, metal bars, and finally and most tragically, with a speeding car.  19 people were injured: 1 person died.  2 police also died when their helicopter crashed.  

 

The dogmas of white supremacy are familiar to us; they have been the virus embedded in the soil of this country since its founding. It snakes out in various forms at various times: chattel slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, the war on drugs, mass incarceration–and sometimes it recedes, but it’s always there.  Lurking.

 

This is not a mystery to us.  We know what fascism is.  We know what white supremacy is.  We have seen both before. And we have lost many human souls to both.

 

That, to me, is the crux of the issue, so I don’t think that “what about the other side?” is the right question to ask.  We aren’t missing any information.  I don’t think it’s the proper metric for this situation.  When I read the gospel, I do not find Jesus urging his followers to examine many sides of an issue.  Instead, he urges them to alleviate human suffering wherever they find it. Period.  Love God, and love your neighbor, he says: and from these two commandments come all the law and the prophets.  

 

Those commands don’t urge us to a concept of ‘fairness’.  Instead, they push us to focus on our fellow humans, and their needs.  Jesus tells us that the meek are blessed, the grieving will find cheer.  He tells us that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, and release to the captives.  He reminds us that he has come to seek and save the lost, as he eats with tax collectors, sex workers, and Samaritans.  In Christ’s world, it isn’t about ‘sides’, it’s about love.  What does love require?

 

In fact, Jesus is not fair at all.  As Fr. Jim Martin pointed out, the Beatitudes are one-sided:  the meek inherit the earth; those who aren’t?  They’re on their own.  The sorrowful will be comforted.  Those who are already happy?  Presumably they don’t need comforting.  

Consider also Mary’s Magnificat, where she describes how God acts in the world.  “He casts down the mighty from their seats, and has lifted up the humble and meek.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”  This is not fair!  God isn’t portioning out equally to both sides–but the inference is that God sets right that which human order has made unjust.  God is interested, not in standards of fairness, but in what makes for human flourishing.  God is interested in love.  And that’s it.

 

Which brings us back to Charlottesville.  As a Christian, my job is to love my neighbor, and love God.  My job is to incarnate God’s mercy and justice into the world.  So I cannot stand by in situations of human suffering and oppression and equivocate.   More important than all sides on a situation is the suffering inherent in a situation.  Did people suffer this weekend?  Yes. Because of the slogans, because of the doctrines espoused, because of the actions taken, children of God were hurt and killed, and made to feel like less than God made them to be.  That is evil, however you slice it.  

 

To stay silent on that evil is unloving, both to the victims of this racist violence, and to the perpetrators.  We cannot love the victims if we allow them to suffer, and we cannot love the perpetrators if we allow them to do the hurting.  Inflicting violence, be it physical, emotional, or participating in systemic violence, deadens the soul of the violent person.  It does something to you.  To love someone and want their flourishing must mean not wanting them to suffer that loss of humanity.  So we have to confront and name their violent actions as wrong, rather than minimize them as just ‘another side’.  

 

The gospel doesn’t have sides–it has a position.  It doesn’t ask what the facts might be, or what can be proven–oddly enough, the gospel doesn’t seem to care as much about that.  The gospel only asks us where the suffering is, and how we have helped.  That is the call of the gospel: to heal the suffering: to love God and love others.  

 

There are no other sides.

 

**Which was erected in the 1960s–meaning my parents are both more historic than that statue.  But #history, #heritage, etc.  

When the wind kicks up

As one intrepid parishioner reminded me, I have been remiss in updating the blog this summer.

The summer has been busy, with camp, a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine, and Missionpalooza, on top of the usual round of work things.

I will, at some point, go back and do a #sermondump and maybe even write something about the pilgrimage.

But never mind that– this is about Charlottesville.

Every sermon has a specific context, and this one was no different.  I spent the week assuming I would preach about Drumpf’s rhetoric about nuclear war, and the growing tension with North Korea.  The rector and I had a grim joke going about how we’d see each other tomorrow unless a nuclear holocaust intervened.  That sort of thing, I thought, needed addressing from the pulpit.

Then Friday and Saturday happened.

St. Paul’s had a long-standing plan to baptize on Sunday, and as the Spirit would have it, five South Sudanese children were ready.  So, in the weekend when Nazis marched on an American city, we welcomed them into the Body of Christ.

There isn’t much more to say.  Only that, as I looked at all the photos from Saturday, I noticed a picture of the priest–now retired bishop–who baptized me, standing with the counter-protesters, singing his heart out.  I thought about what I heard in church growing up, and what the kids in my parish will remember from me.

Here’s what I said:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

August 13, 2017

Ordinary Time, Proper 14

Matthew 14:22-30

 

It was hot in Israel last month.

I realize that may go without saying, but Israel/Palestine is a geographically diverse place.  Jerusalem, for example, is about 2,500 feet above sea level, and more arid, on the edge of the desert, while Galilee is down closer to the sea, more humid, and greener.  

So when our small band of pilgrims went up to the Sea of Galilee, it was HOT.  We went out on a boat in the morning, with a few other tour groups–one from Italy, and one from South Africa, I think, and we all roasted atop the water.  Hardly any breeze, the sun beating down.  The Italians played a Messianic Jewish version of ‘Hava Nagila’, as one does, I guess. 

Ranya, our tour guide, commented that this was normal, that in the mornings on the Sea everything was calm, which was why fishermen always fished overnight and into the morning.  But sure enough, after lunch, a strong wind kicked up.  Suddenly the sea was full of white caps, and fairly significant waves hitting the shore near where we were.  It hardly seemed like the same calm sea.  The sun still shone, and it was still pretty hot, but I would not have wanted to be out in a boat.

“See?” Ranya said, gesturing to the waves crashing on the shore “This is not a good time to go out in a boat.  Except Jesus, that is what he did.”

Looking at the water, I understood why the disciples thought Jesus had lost his mind.  THIS WAS NOT A GOOD TIME TO GO BOATING.  And also, it did this every day.  One moment, it was sunny and calm–the next, well, you might drown. The placid lake you thought was so safe disappears in an instant.  It’s a recipe for panic.

Yet there they were, those disciples, out in a boat, getting tossed around on the waves, because Jesus had sent them across the water at the wrong time.  Instead of sending them across in the morning when they could have made it across calmly, safely; he sent them across in the afternoon, after the wind had kicked up.

Basically, Jesus had sent them into a storm, while he was nowhere to be found, praying by himself back on shore.  I imagine there must have been a fair amount of consternation from the disciples, about how you never let carpenters decide when to sail.

But then, suddenly, there he was.  Walking towards them on the water.  And suddenly, they weren’t alone after all.  Jesus had appeared in the middle of the storm.  In the middle of the wind and the waves, Jesus was right there with them.

Humans put a lot of stock in staying safe.  We spend most of our time trying to stay safe.  Fisherman know not to sail our boats when the wind is too high, when the waves might swamp us.  Carpenters know to keep their tools extra-sharp, so they won’t cut themselves–all because we want to stay safe.  I think as American Christians especially, safety, comfort have gotten to be luxuries that we prize pretty highly.  And rightly so–we’re so used to them living here, living as we do, we really don’t want to give them up!.  

There are times, though, when we don’t get to make that choice.  There are times when that placid lake disappears–when the world is a dangerous place, and there are times when our innate sense of safety, our sense of comfort disappears.  Suddenly, the news becomes more terrifying than it did before.  Suddenly, sleeping at night becomes an exercise in all the ways life could turn wrong.  Suddenly, that wind kicks up and the waves start sloshing over the side.

So then what do we do?  What happens when that safety and comfort we spent most of our life strenuously cultivating just blows away?

Well, you’ve got some options, I suppose.  Rigid panic is always up for grabs.  Anger is always another–lashing out at anyone or anything that could have caused this.  Pointless obsession is another–if you can just control EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN, NO MATTER HOW MINUTE, then perhaps your sense of safety might return.

Or, or.  

You can ride through the waves and trust that Christ will meet us there because Christ called us there in the first place.   You can hold onto your boat without fear and search the horizon for Jesus walking towards you.

We know by now, that Christ doesn’t call us to calm seas and fair winds always.  That when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death, and resurrection.  And none of that is safe.  We stand up here and make enormous promises on behalf of tiny children, and we pray that we can live up to them over a lifetime.  More often than not, Christ beckons us into squalls, into stormy places…and then we learn to sail with him.

See, I thought I was writing this sermon about North Korea, all this week.  All this week I assumed that this story was about North Korea, and the ramp up in belligerent rhetoric and how we didn’t need to be afraid of a nuclear war because Christ was with us, come what may.  And all of that is true, by the way.  

Then, Friday night, I started to see worrying messages from friends in Virginia about what was happening in Charlottesville.  And from fellow clergy who had answered the call to go and counter protest the long-planned Unite the Right white nationalism gathering on Saturday.  Angry people carrying torches marching through the grounds where my parents were educated, chanting Nazi slogans and anti-semitic epithets filled the internet all weekend.  There were clashes between the protestors and the peaceful clergy.  There was a state of emergency. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors.  19 people were injured, one died.  

It’s not a safe world in which to follow Christ.  It never has been, but this weekend has proven that to many of us on an emotional level.  These are stormy seas we sail in.

And so, we are faced with the same choice as those disciples were–do we panic?  Do we give up, or rage about the stupid waves, or the stupid fool who made us come out here in the first place?  Do we try to control everyone and everything?  

Or will we quietly give over our fear, and let the God who called us out here walk across the water to meet us?  

 

Because, as chilling as those images were yesterday, they also told me this– this stormy world needs the love of Christ that we know.  Those images we have seen this weekend on the news–they cry out for the reconciling love of Jesus that we proclaim at baptism–the love that insists that all of us are made in the image and likeness of God.  That all humans–all of us– are beloved of God. and that hatred, violence, and white supremacy are evils that draw us away from that divine love, and God will not have the last word.    These are truths that we know, and this is the gospel that this world badly needs to hear.  That our fellow human beings badly need to hear.

 

And when we proclaim these truths, our eyes can’t be on our own safety.  Preoccupation with our own safety provokes us to fear, and blinds us to Christ’s presence.  It wasn’t until Peter started to panic that he started to sink–but when he focused on Jesus, he could walk.  Our eyes have to be on the Christ amid the waves.  On the Christ who calls us here, and gives us the courage for these stormy times.

We have the God-given chance, in a few minutes, to stand with the newest members of Christ’s body, and reclaim the promises we made at baptism.  We have the chance to promise again to God and to each other that we will follow Christ and the gospel where they lead, knowing for certain that  Christ is with us.  Christ does not abandon his people.  Christ does not fail his gospel.  And even now, Christ can calm this storm.  

Amen.

 

**If you care to see it, there’s video up on the St. Paul’s FB site.  Video also includes the baptisms, showcasing a full range of adorable children, and a Sudanese hymn that, I swear, is what happens when “Come Thou Fount” is left to its own devices for 200 years.

 

In which Megan indulges in some shameless self-promotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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