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Hype Babies, Part 2

I took a week off which wasn’t really a week off.  I went to the Forma conference in Philadelphia and introduced my WeMo colleagues to the joy and wonder of Wawa.  Then I took a train up to NYC for a few days because it has been over 2 years since I have been in the city, and that is just plain unacceptable.

I saw lots of friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and wandered aimlessly around Central Park and the Met.  I ate egg and cheese on hard rolls and drank cheap diner coffee (breakfast of the gods, I tell you) and rode the subway like a pro.  And oh yes, I SAW HAMILTON.  (Will probably write more about that later. Will probably also goad every single person I know into going back to see it with me for as long as it runs.)

Now, back in the swing of things, everything has picked up pace again.  Lent Madness is back up and running (go vote!  www.lentmadness.org! ) and they are foolishly letting me write for another year.  And we’re packing up the office to relocate to the 4th floor tomorrow for a series of months as the east wing is renovated.

On the preaching front, Hype Baby got some competition on Sunday.  Behold, the advent of Hype TODDLER!

I don’t know what is happening, but evidently, my manically-waving hands and odd faces attracts the attention of small children, who then feel free to chime in loudly.  Which makes for a pretty epic church experience.  Longer story at the asterisk.

Here’s what I said:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 14, 2015
Lent 1
Luke 4


Conflict between Satan’s idea of who Jesus is, and how Jesus sees himself (existing to serve God/others)—Who are you?

This passage from Deuteronomy is a lot of fun, though granted it doesn’t immediately sound like it.  It’s one of the many passages that feature heavily in the traditional Seder meal, and has coordinating action that goes along with it—as a big part of that service, the people all recite the formula “My Ancestor was a wandering Aramean,” and then you dip some matzoh and trade it around.  You say it several times. (The other really fun charade-like passage is “God saved us with his mighty arm, and outstretched hand.—and overtime you talk about the mighty arm of God doing something, the leader is supposed to either point to or wave their lamb bone around emphatically.  See, liturgy is fun, y’all.)

Now, I grant you—this, like most liturgical actions, can seem slightly strange to outsiders; it’s not quite clear what this is talking about, since Abraham isn’t an Aramean insofar as we can tell, and who knows why the writer of Deuteronomy thinks he was?
But the sense of it,  the overall meaning is clear—because it neatly sums up who God wants the Jewish people to see themselves as.  When this line was recited at the Temple, and even now at the Seder meal, Jewish people recall the same story: They were descended from wanderers, had been saved from oppression, and now, their job was to protect and save others.  Bam.  There it is in one.  My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, so I might save others who wander.  

That’s part of why we have holy texts—to remind us of who we are, since we’re liable to forget.  The scriptures we have collect for us the record of other people’s relationship with God and who they were—how they struggled and what they figured out, or didn’t figure out.  The goal is that we can take all that knowledge—that huge story— and use it in light of our own story.
Problem is that scripture is confusing.  There’s some weird stuff in there—giants, sea monsters, and a dragon at one point.***  And also, scripture is contradictory.  One moment, there’s a story about being kind to the widow, orphan, and alien in the land—the next, there’s a story about driving a spike through the head of an enemy.  The idea that the Bible speaks with a unified voice on much of anything is pretty odd.
And exhibit A of this is the Gospel
Where, hello!  The devil himself quotes scripture to Jesus.  Who quotes it right back.  
Please note that neither of them quotes it incorrectly, or twists the meaning—they’re both pretty much correct.  Though, this is a good argument for why prooftexting is going to land you in trouble.  
In this episode, the devil comes to Jesus and starts to tempt him with some really nice stuff: free food!  Unlimited power!  Flying!  
And for each temptation, Jesus argues back with a nice scripture quote.  But Satan is ready with some of his own.
It’s worth noting that ‘satan’ here isn’t quite what we think of as the devil—the embodiment of all evil.  It’s pretty close, but the Hebrew ‘ha-satan’ was originally a courtroom term which meant “The accuser.”  The idea was that heaven was set up like an actual courtroom, and God needed someone to argue with, so there was this prosecuting attorney figure.  They weren’t good or bad, necessarily—they just were there to argue the other side of things.  Largely because God was always the one who judged, and interceded for humanity—something that couldn’t happen if God just talked to himself all the time.  (See, they had thought this out.)
ANYWAY.
Satan comes in, and does his arguing thing, but it’s a little more than that.  He offers stuff.  And all the stuff that he offers is predicated on the same idea—Jesus should really be way more flashy than he currently is being.  He’s the Son of God?  (Which Satan doesn’t dispute, BTW) then he should make himself some magic food!  He’s so smart and wise and loving?  Then he should take over the world and coerce EVERYONE into knowing and loving him!  He’s so holy?  Then he should make God prove how much he loves him!!!
The through-line here is that Satan has a clear idea of who Jesus is—a wonder-working, glory-seeking, magic worker who is out for himself.  Self-focused.  Self-involved. The definition of sin.
But Jesus knows better.  Jesus’ idea of himself comes not from himself alone, but from his relationship with God—from the knowledge that it is this relationship that gives him identity—not himself alone.  Jesus repeats the idea that he’s great, yet he’s still dependent on God.  
Jesus by himself is awesome, and could totally make himself a magic sandwich.  But it is through his relationship with God that he is able to become more.  Able to reach people, and realize his vocation to be the Messiah for a whole world.  It’s through being humble, and relying on God, not just himself, that he becomes more.  That’s who he is.  

As wonderful as we are,  and we are, we aren’t the be all, end all.  We need other people and we need God.  
We need other people to give us different perspectives and to challenge  our preconceptions.  We need them to be vehicles of God’s love for us.  
And we need God to remind us of who we are.  We need God to be bigger than we are, —to lift some of this weight off our shoulders, and to inspire us to do better.  We need God to knit together all of our stories.  
We are never who we are alone.  We are always who we are in connection with others, and with God.  It is these other relationships that help guide us to who we are, that help us construct our stories. In the midst of competing voices and claims about who we might be.

Lent is a time to reconnect with who we are. To recall our story, in relationship with God. In service to others. To tease out the story of ourselves as we truly are, and not as the accusers around us would have us be.

A time to reconnect with our core identity and story as beloved children of God, who don’t have to save the world, but do have to love it.  Who were chosen by God in baptism, and never have to be any more or less, than that.

Amen.

***It was at this point that a 3 year old boy in the front row turned around and loudly whispered “SEA MONSTERS!!!!!” in great excitement to his parents and assorted family members.  I didn’t hear until later that he proceeded to hush them quiet, and comment that “Wow, she really knows some deep stuff!”

After church, he approached me with great trepidation, and at his mother’s urging, told me that I did a good job.  I returned the compliment, and thanked him for listening to what I said so attentively.

Hype kids for the win, y’all.

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.

 

People get ready

My parents were here for Thanksgiving.
They traveled all the way out here for a full 3 days, and got to experience most of what Kansas City has to offer.  We went to many restaurants (including Joe’s KC for BBQ).  We went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the WWI museum.  I gave them a driving tour of the Plaza, all lit up.  And they tried in vain to figure out where Kansas was.
(“It’s across that street.”  “It can’t be!  That’s a neighborhood!” “Yes. That’s Kansas.” “In a neighborhood?!  With different license plates and everything?!” “Yes.  Because it’s Kansas.”  “But where’s the river?” etc.)

They also got to hear me preach, which doesn’t happen all that often.
Preaching (or doing anything, really) in front of one’s own family is rough.  Jesus wasn’t lying with that crack about prophets not having honor in their own hometown.  The trouble with your own hometown is that this is the town that conflates grownup, professional you with the you who once was madly in love with Beanie Babies.

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November 28,-29, 2015

Advent 1, Year B

Luke 22

 

The good news which I have for you this day, is that whatever odd little subgroup of humanity you may belong to, TLC has a reality show spotlighting you!  Yea and verily, TLC has shows about people in over-large families, people who compete in child beauty pageants, people who have multiple wives at the same time, little people, little people who then get married, people who obsess over strange things, people who have psychic experiences while living in Long Island, and people who experience regrettable tattoos, and people who are mall cops.

It’s a veritable cornucopia of the strangeness of humanity.  

And, then, there is a whole OTHER subgenre of people who are concerned that the end of the world is upon us–the preppers.  

These are a group of people who are collecting supplies to prepare for the end of society as we know it–usually canned goods, potable water, generators, ammunition, things like that.  And not surprisingly, they are not generally a cheerful bunch–mostly, they grimly await the chaos they expect.  In fact, as I was researching this, the star of the biggest prepper show was arrested and put in jail on weapons charges.  

To these folks, the end is something you have to prepare for grimly, by cutting yourself off from everyone else, and hunkering down.  Since the worst is coming, best to minimize the damage to yourself, so that you can survive.  Everyone else can just fend for themselves.

That’s one way to go, certainly.

Probably not the Christian way, however.

In the gospel. we’re again in an apocalyptic section, where Jesus is again talking to the disciples about what’s going to happen to them.  Or, to be more precise–he’s talking to the community that Luke’s gospel is written to about what is currently happening to them–lots of scary things involving Roman persecutions and the fall of the Jerusalem Temple.    And again, it sounds scary to us.

But, I would like to point out that at no point in any of his apocalyptic diatribes does Jesus recommend building a bunker.  Or stockpiling food.  Or retreating to the desert.  (That was John the Baptist, and he didn’t last long.)

Jesus, on the other hand, says that when you see all this horrible stuff happening, look up!  Lift up your head!  Get ready!  Because your salvation is coming.

Be on guard, and don’t be weighted down with worries of this life.  Because that day is coming unexpectedly.

Don’t move out to a cave, and give up on the world.  The kingdom of God is still near you.  Right now.

They must have thought he was nuts.

Where’s the kingdom of God when our temple is being destroyed?  Where’s the kingdom of God when Caesar is hauling us off to the lions?  Where is my nice cave when I need it?

The kingdom of God, though, doesn’t emerge in a cave.  Or in a bunker.  Or in a top-secret, super-safe facility in an undisclosed location.  The kingdom of God emerges in community.  Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, and when we share together the love of God.  That’s what the kingdom looks like, and that, we cannot do if we choose to hide in a corner, away from the world.

The kingdom of God does not come apart from the world, with all its chaos, and its turmoil–the kingdom comes in the very middle of of all of that mess.  Unlikely as it feels.

So, our response as Christians to when the world seems about to turn upside down cannot be to beat a hasty retreat to the nearest cave.  Or to batten down the hatches in fear and ride out the storm.  We cannot let fear run our lives, and cut ourselves off from each other and from the world God made and loves.  

 

Our response when everyone around us cries that The End is Near! must be to dig in our heels, and take the gospel even more seriously.  We must give even more generously, do even more good, seek even more after mercy and justice.  We must remember even more deeply to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  We have to care for each other even more.  And maybe it is foolish, and maybe it is risky, and maybe it is even a bit dangerous–but it is in the times when the world seems the most dangerous when it most needs the kindness that Christ teaches.

 

It’s the beginning of Advent today, though we’re disguising the color a bit, due to another mass shooting.  But honestly, I think our red/blue mix is appropriate.  Because, contrary to what Hallmark tells us each year, Christ didn’t come into a peaceful world.  It wasn’t a settled world, with everything perfect, Mary, Joseph just hanging out lazily with some picturesque hipster shepherds.

That world was a mess, too.  It was violent–there were wars, rebellions, prejudice, and disease.  Jesus would become a refugee before his second birthday.  It’s not so different from our world.  And, in fact, believe it or not, there were quite a few sects of Jews who were all about hiding in caves and waiting for the end of the world back then.  That’s how bad it was.

But it was right in the middle of that mess that Christ came.  In the mud, in the straw, in the dirt and heartbreak.

And that is where he sends us too.  

So, be strong.  Lift up your heads.  The kingdom of God is near!  

 

Amen.

When you can’t hide under the bed

I realized, recently, that I have a habit of compulsively searching for good news.  I have a deep-seated fear of being thought of as a Debbie Downer in conversations, so whenever I vent to someone, or break some bad news, or discuss some awful aspect of the world, I try to tack on something good, however small.

Traffic was horrible, global warming threatens us all, and the American healthcare system is a waking nightmare.  (But cat vs cucumber exists!)

I have 3 conference calls in a row, hosted by people who don’t understand the value of keeping their phones on mute when not speaking. (But, know what’s awesome? The Great British Bake-Off!!)

The good things never cancel out the bad–life doesn’t work like that–but they do help keep focus on something other than the refrain of “EVERYTHING IS AWFUL” all of the time.

But lately, the struggle to find good news has been harder than normal.  My parish is dealing with several parish leaders’ health crises, one on top of another.  Couple that with the spotlighting of racism at Mizzou, and the violence around the world, and by the time word broke about the attacks in Paris, I was about done.  I was ready to crawl under my bed, and listen to Hamilton** until the world decided to get its stuff together.

Then, you know, I had to preach.

There are times, hopefully brief, when good news is difficult to find.  And I’m not a preacher who believes that the job of the pulpit is to dispense sunshine over everything.  Preaching should be truthful, since Jesus is, y’know, the Truth–so ideally, preaching should name where we are,  name where God is, then take a guess at where we’re called to go next.

So, easy stuff.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up saying.

 

November 15, 2015

Ordinary Time, Proper 28

Mark 13

 

Every year, when we approach these propers, I think that surely, this will be the year when they seem out of place.  When the world will be so quiet and blissful that the oncoming of Advent and the prophet’s lamenting and calling for justice will just seem off key, because the world will finally know a moment of peace and wholeness, and all we’ll have to worry about is actually who’s done the Christmas shopping.

 

But every year, when I read over Jesus’s warnings about the end, and the destruction of the temple, and wars and rumors of wars, I wonder again if he had access to Twitter.  Or some sort of  first-century social media.  Because every year, this idea of a world on the verge of collapse seems all too familiar.  

 

As it does today.  Yet again, we’re witnessing violence and bloodshed around the world–the attacks in Paris Friday night, the attacks in Beirut, in Syria, the earthquakes in Japan, and the hatred that seems to be fester everywhere you look these days.  Not to mention the smaller, more personal earthquakes that affect us as well.  It’s a lot.  And it’s a mess.  

And it has made me wonder several times this past week how soon we could colonize Mars, because that seems like a nice option.  

 

In this equally-scary sounding gospel, Jesus and the disciples are still hanging out in the temple, where they were last week.  And they’ve just witnessed one of those small earthquakes.  A poor widow (poorest of the poor, last of the least) came in and gave away the last of what she had, to support a rich and exploitative temple system.  Jesus is upset–wouldn’t it have been better if one of the rich priests had given more, instead of this widow giving away all she had?  

And in response, they have this conversation here.  The disciples marvel at how large, how fixed, how immovable the whole thing is–the Greek here (yeah, I know, but bear with me. Because I’m going to talk about the Greek again.)  The Greek here can be read like the disciple is frustrated, and not just in awe.  “Good grief–how big this system is!  How immense!”  How could it ever change?  It’s too big.  It’s too broken.  It’s too much to hope for.

 

And then comes Jesus’ apocalypse.

 

Here’s the thing about apocalypse.  Powerful people never write them.  Not real ones anyway.  Powerful people, who have all the money, all the power, all the control, never want the world to change in major ways, because they like the world as it is.  

The people who write apocalypses, stories where the world changes so dramatically as to seem like it’s ending, are people who have no money, no control, no power.  They’re people who have nothing, and are getting kicked around by everything and everyone. Because apocalypses are built around the idea that when everything has gone so terribly wrong that there’s no hope left, God will still come and save God’s people.  God will still turn the world back around.  Because nothing is too big for God.  

 

So when confronted by the enormity of the corruption in the Temple system, which is basically their entire socio-political structure at the time, Jesus assures the disciples that it’s huge.  And it’s wrong.  But God is still working and God is still here.

 

In fact, there’s something weird about his little apocalypse speech that he gives.  (And here comes Greek lesson #2!)  The verb tenses start changing around from future to present to future and back to present.  Which is not really what you’d do, if you were Mark (or whoever) writing a speech trying to foretell coming events.  

Scholars think that one possible reason for this is that the writer wrote this part while the Temple was actually being destroyed, while there was a massive war on–when the Jewish people rose up in revolt against Rome, and got destroyed as a result–another small earthquake.  And so, the events described here aren’t misty in the future–they’re happening to Mark’s audience.  They’re happening now.  The audience is living through their own apocalypse–their own enormous big, bad thing.

 

So it’s in response to an actual war that Jesus gives this speech, reminding them that God is still here and God is still working, and the story isn’t over.

 

Wars aren’t new.  Violence like we’ve seen this week isn’t new.  The human capacity for brokenness isn’t new.  Suffering and death aren’t new–and we are faced time and again by problems that seem insurmountable, unfixable, and intractable–in the world and in our own lives.  

 

But what we are promised today is that we have a God who will stay with us through the earthquakes.  Through the wars.  Through the upheavals of our lives.  We have a God who will stay with us no matter what comes.  

 

Because even though this world can be scary, and it can be,  And even though we can face the worst problems imaginable, God-in-Christ promises that none of this is the end–that God will bear with us through even the worst of it to make a world that is not broken, that is not scary, but that is whole, and fully redeemed.  

 

And that is where we place our hope.  

Amen.

**Just through ‘Room Where it Happens’.  I’m not an emotional masochist.  One does not listen to ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ or anything after, and expect to feel better about life; one listens to that and pulls the car over because you’re sobbing too hard about historical figures that you’ve become very emotionally invested in.

Mothers, others, and other mothers

I don’t ever preach on Mother’s Day.

This is because it’s a landmine of a topic, and as a homily subject, usually ends badly.  The only sermon I ever walked out on was on Mother’s Day, when I was in high school.  The priest (who absolutely should have known better) was lamenting that the holiday was not mandated in schools everywhere.  I sat there in angry tears.  My own mother had undergone another surgery for cancer the month before, and I had again been reminded that my hold on Mother’s Day was fragile.  The idea of forcing school kids into a happy Hallmark narrative seemed both insensitive, false, and borderline cruel.  So I left.

But this year, for whatever reason, I reasoned that Mother’s Day might be like those difficult texts in the Bible.  They do not improve when you ignore them–they just get co-opted by people you disagree with.  The way to deal with difficult things is to talk about them, and poke and prod at them until they become less difficult.

So here’s what I said on Mother’s Day.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 10, 2015

Easter 6, Year B

John, Mother’s Day

There are times when holidays sneak their way into the liturgical calendar, despite not actually being at all liturgical themselves.  Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day—these sort of snuck their way in there, even though Jesus had not very much to say on the subject of Pilgrims or on the subject of constitutional democracy. 

But, over the years, the church found good enough ideas in those holidays that we wanted to emphasize them, and so, on the calendar they went.  Not the whole thing, maybe, but Independence Day allows us to talk about how our freedom enables us to serve God and one another.  Thanksgiving, as we just sang, lets us talk about how everything we have is a gift from God, and not a product of our own ingenuity.  

So we come to today, which as I’m sure Hallmark has told you, is Mother’s Day, a day that likewise attempts to slip its way into the church calendar.

So on this day, in many places, flowers are distributed, and songs are sung, and tributes to mothers are read.   “Motherhood!” the day trumpets!  “Mothers are great!  Hooray for mothers!  We can aspire no higher!  They are PERECT GEMS!”

But in many ways, this is not the easiest fit to sneak into our church calendar. 

Because yes, mothers are great.  Parents are great.  Parents, ideally, teach us and help us grow, and provide a firm foundation our whole lives through, and help us construct our worldview from a place of safety and security.  Being a good parent is one of the most important things in the world—there’s a reason why Jesus refers to God as Father, why he invokes this parental metaphor for this foundational relationship.  It’s an immense thing to be a parent, to be a good parent.  And we absolutely should honor that, and support it, wherever we find it. 

And we should do that even more, because we recognize how rare that is.  When we recognize that not everyone has the Hallmark certified ideal of Parents.  Not everyone’s mother is fantastic.  Not everyone’s father is a pillar of strength, warmth and unconditional love.  Not everyone’s parents can manage to be what they hope to, or need to be, for their children, every second of every day. 

And really, if every parent was the Hallmark certified ideal, what would therapists spend their lives doing? 

If we’re going to slip Mother’s Day (Father’s Day too) into the calendar of the church, then it can’t just be about proclaiming all parents as paragons of virtue, when we know that this is not always the case—that the reality we live in is often much more complicated.  Because in the church, where we are called to be inclusive, and welcoming of everyone, and we are called to live in reality, to recognize where our people are.  And the reality is, not everyone had or has, families that fully reflected the love of God.   So we need to be careful.  Not to mention that not everyone is called to be a parent.  There’s that reality, too.   

And let’s also remember that we are called in the footsteps of Jesus, not of greeting cards.  Jesus, who had a slightly, less-than-greeting-card-esque relationship with his family.  He ran away from his parents at age 12, he hid for 3 days, and then, when they finally found him, instead of being apologetic, or buying them flowers or chocolate, he talked back to them when Mary merely pointed out that they had been worried sick.  Not quite the dutiful son you’d hope for.  

Once he grew up, he left home, never to return again. When Mary and his siblings came to collect him, they told the crowd outside the house where he was that he was possessed by a demon.  So they’re possibly not on the same page with his ministry at this point.  He, in turn, turns to the crowd when he hears this, and says “Who are my mother and my brother and my sisters?  Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” and proclaimed anyone who followed him to be his family.

That was actually a huge deal in 1st century Jewish society.  You didn’t leave your family—your family was quite literally who you were.  It determined your job, your marriage, your future, your faith, everything about you.  You could no more announce that you were heading out on your own then announce that you were going to walk to the moon.

Yet that’s just what Jesus did.  (Remember that, actually, next time some politician invokes Christ’s name in a discussion of family values.)

Jesus left his family of birth, and constituted for himself a new family, no longer limited to ties just of genetics.  But to ties of love.  To ties of faith.  

If we’re going to find a deeper meaning to Mother’s Day, I think it’s going to be there. 

The vocation to be a parent, when done well, involves loving another being, loving your child, in an unconditional way.  Valuing their happiness even as much as your own, and ensuring that they know themselves to be loved and safe, and protected. 

Basically, you embody the love of God for your kids.  That unconditional, here-you-are-safe, here you are known, sort of love.  Love that is undying and never ending.  You reflect the sort of love God has for us.

But when Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel that they are to love one another as God has loved us, he doesn’t limit it to a certain group of people.  He doesn’t limit it to women, or people with kids, or mothers, or anyone else.

 As Christians, all of us are called to this—whether we have children or not.  All of us are called to embody that sort of love for each other, for the world.  That’s how we’re supposed to love the rest of the world– all of us, all of the time.  We’re called to mother the world–with that fierce, sort of unbreakable love.

Julian of Norwich called Christ our own mother, because Christ gave of himself like a mother, and taught us how to love each other, like a mother raises children, and teaches them to talk and walk.   We then put those lessons into practice when we love one another.  Each time we baptize a new person, we commit ourselves to support them in their life in Christ.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a screaming 6 week old baby or an older 55 year old–each time, we welcome them into the household of God, and we welcome them into this new family–this bond of love.  

So, on this Mother’s Day, as you exchange cards, and flowers–give thanks for all those who have shown you that love of God in your life.  Give thanks for all those who have taught you how to love, no matter who they were.  And then, go out and mother the world.  Clean its scrapes and bruises.  Wipe its tears.  Love it in spite of its mistakes. 

 For so God does for all of us.

Amen.

 

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

On Sunday, we played host to the choir from the local Jesuit boys’ high school.  This was fun, because they are a good choir, and it really amuses me to hear people from outside the Anglican tradition sing Anglican choral music.  (It’s  like hearing British actors turn their American accents on and off.  “Ha!  Yes, we do love to pronounce the letter ‘r’!”  “Yes!  We do enjoy 4-part harmonies modelled on the peregrinus tone!  Aren’t you clever for trying!”)

I mention this, because I got the impression, from feedback on my sermon, that the congregation felt the rector and I had concocted some brilliant, crafty plan, to have me preach, and preach specifically on the Blessed Virgin Mary, the better to convince the unsuspecting choir kids that the Episcopal Church was awesome.  Lots of pats on the back, and “I’m so glad they got to hear that from you!”-type responses.

While I find this touching (also hilarious.) , I also think this is  giving us way too much credit.  My aspirations do not extend to converting an entire choir in one fell swoop, and in any case, only about 3 of the kids were willing to receive communion, so clearly, my “secret plan to enlarge the church” needs much work.

But in any case, here’s what I said.

And now, some kids who hadn’t ever heard a woman preach before, have heard one.  So I’ll take that.

 

December 14/15, 2013

Advent 3, Year A

Canticle 15/ Magnificat

 

In the cathedral in Santa Fe, there are two statutes of Mary.  One statue is called La Conquistadora in Spanish,  titled “Our Lady of Peace” in English, which is NOT what that Spanish means.  It’s the statue brought by the Spanish Jesuit monks who came to convert the natives.  Depicted in this statue, Mary is tiny, about 2 feet tall, paler than me, she’s dressed in gorgeous robes, and a real golden crown, ruler of all she surveys.

That statute was brought over by the Jesuits when they came to the New World, and they believed the Blessed Virgin Mary lent her protection to their mission to colonize the natives, and when the local Pueblo Indians rose up in revolt, they believed that it was this version of Mary that allowed them to return, and re-conquer the territory.

The statute is definitely what you might call the traditional school of Mary-stuff.  She’s really calm.  She stands there
 and looks slightly downward, eyes downcast meekly.  She’s wearing white. And she looks childlike, other-worldly, removed from time and space and context.

 

But then, there’s the other statue, on the other side of the cathedral–Our Lady of Guadalupe stands over the other altar.  She looks nothing like the first statue, the earlier one. This Mary looks like an Aztec teenage girl.  She looks fiesty–she’s staring you in the face, making direct eye contact, she’s painted in bright colors, and she’s got her foot defiantly on a snake.  Sun and moon beams coming out from behind her head,  No gold jewelry anywhere near this lady.  She’s wearing the clothing of a peasant, of a native woman, from the time the Spanish first had contact in what is no Mexico.  Very different depictions, both of–apparently! the same person.

 

And granted, I’m reading some things into these statues, but I’d argue that they play into some definite traditions around the Virgin Mary.   Because think of how Mary is usually described, how Mary is usually depicted in our Western world– think of Christmas cards, Christmas carols, for starters. Mary, as we usually see her depicted, is all white and blue and meek and mild.  As she generally is, in our Western Christian American world.  That seems to be the prevailing pop-culture take on the Virgin Mary. She was meek!  She was quiet!  She did not make a fuss!  She’s all white and blue and more than likely blonde!! (Which was definitely it’s own little miracle for a Palestinian Jewish girl, but hey.)

 

And on its own, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.  I’m an introvert myself, and on one notable occasion, the Commission on Ministry described me as ‘meek’.  (It was a mistake, and they took it back.)

 

So there is nothing wrong with any of that!  Those things are good, they are fine attributes–if you actually have them, if you come by them naturally.

 

But we get into trouble when that’s all that Mary is–when we restrict her to that one, white and gold La Conquistadora statue.  Because Mary is so important, because she gets an important role in the gospel narrative, she’s practically the first person we meet, because she gets touted as the ideal faithful person, when all Mary is is that quiet, meek, pale-ish girl in the corner who doesn’t say much, then that can become a problem. Because that does some weird things to faith.

 

Because that is a pretty narrow category to fit into.  Those are some pretty rigid expectations.  And while we need people like that around, holding all people of faith up to that single way of being,  especially up to that single way of being faithful, ends up excluding a lot of people.  Because it turns out, not all people are good at sitting still and benig quiet.  And what, pray tell, are they all supposed to do?  All those of us who have never been quite so good at sitting still, or quietly assenting to things.

 

It matters how we depict things.  It matters how we depict people we hold important in our faith, especially very important figures like Mary and Jesus, because in depicting them, we’re implicitly saying what we think our faith ought to look like.  We look up to Mary because Mary had faith, Mary had faith that she demonstrated when she agreed with this outlandish story Gabriel was telling her.  So it matters how we depict that faith.  It matters how we depict people–and it matters if badly informed news anchors decide that Jesus is white, JUST WHITE, all of a sudden.  That matters, and that is a problem, because it affects what faith looks like.

 

It matters, and IT IS A PROBLEM, if the only depictions out there, or if the dominant depictions out there are of Mary all meek and mild and passive.

So hooray, then, the Song of Mary, which we read today, comes as a great relief.  Because here is Mary saying quite a lot of things actually, all at once, and not sounding the least bit meek or mild.

In fact, most of the Magnificat comes out like fighting words.  He has scattered the proud in their conceit.  He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, the rich he has sent empty, away.

That’s pretty brave talk.  And that’s AFTER this unwed pregnant teenage girl declares herself to be the most blessed among all generations.  (This is some Beyoncé level swagger, y’all.)

 

This isn’t meek or mild talk, this isn’t the talk of someone who’s primary role in life is to be passive and to obey when told.  This song of Mary is the talk of a prophet.  And in fact, when Mary has her conversation with Gabriel, she doesn’t just say Yes, whatever you say.  What she says is Here I am–the same thing that every prophet in the Jewish tradition says when God calls them. That’s a very specific word in Hebrew, and it’s what Isaiah and Amos and every other prophet says when God calls them to prophesy, and it’s what Mary says to Gabriel:  Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord.  Mary’s accepting her call.

 

Mary’s got backbone.  This Mary, the one we meet in the Magnificat, and the one we meet arguing with her Son to conjure up some more wine at a wedding, and the one who knows what’s going on when no one else does–this Mary is her own person, she has strength, and she has courage.

She doesn’t just get moved around on the chessboard of God’s larger plan.

 

And that’s important.  Because for an icon of faith, to have real faith that makes a difference, you have to have strength.  Faith takes courage.  Faith doesn’t go anywhere, faith doesn’t get off the ground without courage.

 

Think of those proclamations in the song of Mary–the hungry fed, the rich sent away empty, the proud scattered, the lowly lifted up.  To believe in a world like that, to believe a world like that is possible, while standing in the middle of this world, takes courage.  It takes courage to believe that the world could be different.  It takes real strength to see how the world is unjust and to believe that God is working out a better way.

Otherwise, you’d just give up, throw in the towel, and move to a beach somewhere.

 

But Mary’s kind of faith, this brave kind of in-your-face-faith, proclaims that even though the world is broken, and unjust now, God is working out a better way, even as we speak.  And God is calling the most unexpected people to work with him, God is lining up volunteers right now.

 

And so, to take on that call, to join in the work of God, to join in the remaking of the world into that just, good place that God wants it to be, requires bravery.  Requires a brave faith, because faith asks us to step out into the world as it is, and do something to make the world into what it should be. Faith requires us to be like Mary and do our part to help incarnate Christ in the world.

 

And so that’s what we’re called to do.  To be brave.  To be fearless.  To proclaim boldly that God has blessed us mightily and has lifted up the lowly and cast down the haughty and has fed the hungry and sent away the rich.  To be brave enough to go out into the world and give God our hands and our feet, our bodies and our flesh for his use.

 

That’s the faith we need.  And thankfully, that’s the example we have.

 

Amen.

 

 

Lepers, then and now

Two thoughts.
1. Pope Francis is around, being awesome again this week, ministering to a man afflicted with a skin ailment.  So while leprosy, and the knee-jerk reaction it once elicted, might seem like a historical memory, while it might seem like we’ve all moved past that–there’s ample evidence to the contrary, as we all are amazed again by the pope actually doing what we’re all called to do.

2. I don’t tell this story in the sermon much, because of Rule #3.  Also, it feels odd to condense the whole life and witness of a person to a few lines in one of my sermons.  So here’s hoping I did them justice, at least a little bit.

 

 

 

October 12-13, 2013

 

Proper 23, Ordinary Time, Year C

 

Luke 17:11-19

 

 

 

When I was a small child, my family had two friends: Mark and Arliss.  To my child-centered mind, I thought Mark and Arliss were terrific, mainly because they played Barbies with me when I asked nicely, and listened to interesting music, and visited our local pool on occasion to go swimming. They were great.

 

They were so great, that I found everyone else’s behavior very strange, bordering on inexplicable. I didn’t understand when my mother had to remind me to lie and, if I was asked, tell the neighbors that Mark and Arliss were relatives–or the neighbors wouldn’t let them come back to the local pool.  And when Arliss was in the hospital, nurses refused to treat him, and everyone else on staff wore multiple layers of gloves, layer on layer on layer, and got out of his room as fast as they could. Because Mark and Arliss had AIDS, and this was the late 1980s, and this was Southern Virginia.

 

Except for a handful of people, they were isolated, totally isolated.  Society viewed them with suspicion at best–and that is an awful way to live a life.

 

 

 

It’s draining, it’s dehumanizing, when every interaction with the world is shaded with the world’s distrust and fear.  And I watched the toll it took on my friends.  The modern day leprosy, the news pundits called it, at the time.

 

 

 

Leprosy! Practically the standard by which all shunned people are measured!  And here in the gospel today, we have ten lepers. Because Jesus is travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem, and passing through the wilderness, he runs into what amounts to a leper camp.

 

And now, two things become important here:

 

one: anyone diagnosed with leprosy would have been shunned:  kicked out and shunned immediately by everyone, either until they died, or until they were cured.  No one would have come near them, or touched them, or given them food or work.

 

 

 

And two: a cure wasn’t a crazy thought, because what we translate in the Bible as leprosy was any spot or rash appearing where it ought not to appear..  So this included anything from an allergic reaction to bed bugs, to the thing everyone was terrified of: actual leprosy–that would kill you and spread rapidly from person to person.

 

But it also included things like mold, or mildew.  There’s a really entertaining section of Leviticus that details how to cure your house and books of leprosy.

 

 

 

Anyway, Jesus encounters ten people with skin problems living cast out of society because of their affliction and he’s travelling, and they cry out for help.  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

 

Even as they ask him for help, they don’t approach.  There were strict rules about how people classified as lepers were to behave, because there was so much fear of the disease and its spread.  You had to stay so far away from the uninfected.  You had to warn people who were approaching, in case they didn’t notice you, and they bumped into you accidentally.

 

All in all, it was an incredibly dehumanizing and lonely experience to be treated as a leper, because the society was so terrified of even the possibility of this disease.

 

 

 

And so it’s not hard to imagine that the lepers, or those so diagnosed by society, were used to that, to some extent. After months, years of being avoided by everyone they knew, they might have grown used to it, or thought that since that was the way society operated, that was the way it always was, and always would be.

 

 

 

Being oppressed, being cast out like that, does something to a person.  It wears on your spirit–when the voice of society questions your worth, your value at every turn.

 

 

 

All of which is to say–when the one ex-leper returns and approaches Jesus–that’s a surprising moment.  Not only is he a Samaritan, so he’s crossing some religious lines here, but he’s going against everything society had been telling him he was meant to do.  Don’t talk to people, don’t go near them, certainly don’t touch them.  He does that in one moment of gratitude.

 

And Jesus marvels.  And notice that in Jesus’ comment about gratitude, and where the other healed lepers are, he doesn’t take back the miracle.  God’s healing grace, it turns out, doesn’t depend on our being grateful enough for it, or praying hard enough, or some imaginary yardstick. God is gracious because God is gracious.

 

Jesus marvels, and Jesus comments on the man’s faith.  Your faith has made you well.

 

 

 

Because, Somehow, through the grace and power of God, this man has held on to his belief in his essential humanity.  He held on to a faith in the idea that no matter what the voices around him said, God loved him, and God created him in God’s image and nothing could destroy that– no isolation or fear or disease.  So when Jesus restored him to health and to community, he didn’t run away.  In faith, in a way, he had been there all along.

 

 

 

For all of us, there are constant voices telling us that we aren’t what we are supposed to be.  Advertisers who would like to sell us something. Politicians who would like us to vote for something.  In our society, we are constantly being told that we aren’t quite what we should be: we should all be richer, thinner, paler, (or tanner, as the case may be), younger or older, depending, we should be healthier. We should have more stuff. We should care about different things than we do.  And we should all certainly be cooler than we are.  And then, we will be perfect–ever more perfect each year.

 

It’s a constant Greek chorus of doom, that warns that the consequence of not being so perfect means that we will end up alone.

 

 

 

So this preys on what we know, what we were told at our baptism, and what we reiterate  each week here: we are made in the image and likeness of God.  We are loved by God, and nothing changes that.  No sickness, no fear, nothing the world derides as imperfect separates us from the love of God, or his image in us.

 

 

 

It is that faith that carries us through and empowers us to recognize the image of God in other people.  It is a faith that opens us up to see the grace of God bringing healing to our lives and our community.  And it is this faith in the image of a God in us that lets us act as agents of that grace in the world.

 

 

 

Because the world has enough voices counting the ways we aren’t good enough. It really doesn’t need any more.  What the world needs are people who believe in the love of God for each person.  The unshakeable, un breakable love of God imprinted on each human heart that will not quit, no matter what.

 

And when we rely on our faith in that, when we carry our faith in a God of that kind of love, out into the world, that is the sort of faith that brings miracles.

 

 

 

Amen.