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Don’t. Panic.

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

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

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

Here’s what I said:

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November 6, 2016

Ordinary Time, Proper 27

Luke 20: 27-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amen.

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.

 

A Long, Long time ago

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

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

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

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

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

December 19-20, 2015

Advent 4

Luke 1:39-47

 

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

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

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

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

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

And that makes a difference.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Amen.

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

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

   

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

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

 

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.

Requiem

It has been quite busy here in Kansas City. We had clergy conference, diocesan convention, and our little baseball team did pretty well for itself (more on that later.)

Our choir was also asked to join with the choir of St. Mary’s downtown to sing the Faure Requiem in an actual requiem service.  To be nice, the rector of St. Mary’s asked me to assist and preach at the service as well.

Now, our choir is awesome, and basically can do anything they set their minds to.  (For the World Series, they sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Latin.).  So I wasn’t worried about them.

But, despite my high-church leanings, I have never participated in an outright Anglo-Catholic, please-move-into-the-eastward-facing-formation-now service.   We had to practice.  I had to study my bulletin.  It was a trip.  So much moving around, and facing inward, than outward, and bowing in unison, then talking to yourself, then bowing again!  I could feel myself steadily becoming more Protestant as the experience wore on.

(This never fails–no sooner do I start to feel overly Protestant, then I go to a low-church style event, and feel my inner Catholic look around for some icons and incense.  I’m a good Episcopalian.)

The service, however, turned out beautifully, and as expected, the choirs were great.  (WAY better than my high school choir when we sang that piece.)  I only made one mistake, and didn’t trip over myself.  I even remembered which lectern I was supposed to go to and when!  #winning!

Here’s what I said.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

November, 5, 2015

Commemoration of the Dead

1 Thessalonians 13

            If you stand in the Old City of Jerusalem, and look towards the Mount of Olives, you will see what looks like a heap of rubble—an entire mountainside gleaming with heaps of broken rocks.  It breaks up the piles of dirty buildings, apartments, churches and mosques, stacked up on each other haphazardly which marks this section of the city—this stretch of shining, bright white.

            I assumed, when I first saw it, that it was like much else in East Jerusalem—another remnant of fighting.  The remains of something important which was no longer, and just hadn’t been cleaned up yet.

            But when I wandered over one day to investigate, I discovered that it was, in fact, an ancient graveyard. It’s the oldest in the city—at least 3,000 years old—with tombstones heaped upon each other so densely that there wasn’t room for anything else.  Any square inch of space was immediately pressed into service for another marker—which is why, from a distance, it looks like a pile of rubble.

People started to use this as a burial ground because it faced the Temple Mount, and according to Jewish thought, when the resurrection from the dead comes, it begins there.  So those buried facing the Temple Mount have front row seats, and are raised first.

So, It’s crowded.  

And, of course, the end-times obsession can be found over here, on our own shores as well.    The Walking Dead, The Last Man on Earth, The Matrix, Left Behind, The Leftovers, Kimmy Schmidt, preppers on TLC, you name it; countless TV shows, movies and books—all having to do with what happens when the world ends—either by zombie attack, or act of God.  I went to the Royals parade and rally on Tuesday with apparently, the entire population of the metro area, and as a big stream of us walked across the Broadway bridge, effectively shutting down traffic, a kid behind me marveled that it was like the world had ended.

Not that the city had momentarily stopped, not that we had done something cool—“hey, it’s like the apocalypse is here.”

We’re obsessed.  And so, it matters what we believe about the end.  It matters where our beliefs come from.  Because, as you no doubt have noticed from watching the Middle East conflicts for millennia—elbows get thrown over stuff like this.  It matters.

Much of what floats around in the American air right now is actually derived from this 1 Thessalonians text.  A guy in Scotland, named James Francis Darby was reading this passage in the mid 1800s and decided to divorce it from its surrounding verses and interpreted it in a new way.  He used it to describe an event he termed The Rapture, where those alive whom Christ deemed worthy would be physically lifted up into the air to be saved from the coming devastation when Christ returned to destroy the unworthy.

It did not catch on.  But it soon travelled across the pond, and became really popular here—because there is nothing America likes better than when something or someone gets devastated.  Darby invented the whole “Rapture” thing, and it’s entirely based on this one verse in 1 Thessalonians.

WHICH IS NOT AT ALL WHAT PAUL IS TALKING ABOUT.  (As you could probably already tell, using those helpful skills you learned in elementary school known as context-clues.)

Paul is writing to the community at Thessalonica—a city in what is now Turkey.  This community was faced with a growing problem that was causing a lot of distress—its members were dying.  Not necessarily from Roman persecutions, though there was probably some of that going on, but also from normal stuff like sickness, and old age, and the things people die from.  And the church was left wondering if that meant God had forgotten those people.  Maybe they would get left out when Jesus came back.  Maybe these people, their friends and family whom they loved, would get left behind.  Maybe something was wrong with them, so that’s why God had let this happen.

So Paul writes this to them, to reassure them.  To let them know that no one is getting left out.  In fact, God is going to work a new thing, and somehow save EVERYONE—even those who have already died.  Because God’s salvation extends even into the depths of the grave, even into death itself.  And no one is out of reach.

It is, perhaps, a testimony to how insidious the human urge to divide is, that in our times, we have taken this message of hope and turned it into a message of desolation and threat.  Instead of magnifying the good news here, somehow, we got it turned around and made it more of what surrounds us everyday.  More threat and fear and destruction–the rubble we live in daily.

That’s the stuff we’re already acquainted with, it’s the things that make up our world–and perhaps it’s because we’re so well-acquainted with it that we ascribe it to God as well.  We have become so used to being surrounded by these things, to living in rubble, that we begin to believe that it was God who did the destroying in the first place.

Yet Paul reminds us that we have it the wrong way around.  God didn’t make this mess–we have.   God doesn’t want to destroy creation–that’s us, with our weapons, and wars and disregard for the earth.  God doesn’t want to wipe out humanity–that’s our game, in our calculated collateral damage and our insistence that some are just more human than others.God doesn’t want us to overcome our material bodies–that’s our fear, with our constant overwork, and our disregard for our own health.  

But the truth is–God cares deeply for this world.  God has no wish to threaten or destroy us.  Instead, God works through our very rubble to recreate what is, into what God wills it to be.  Every bit of this present brokenness.  All of it–all of our grief, our sadness, our anger, our hurt–God works, bears it with us, through it to bring about the healing of this entire creation.  It is out of the rubble of this world that God brings about redemption.  

Because there is nothing, no brokenness that we can dish out, no hardship that we can imagine, no rubble so great, that God in Christ will not accompany us through.  Not even death itself.  

And so, we can stand at the very center of our rubble, and the edge of the grave, and be confident in the love of Christ, enough to make our song:  “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia”

Amen.

What we talk about when we talk about Mary

On Friday, some parishioners asked if we could hold a vigil for the Dormition–a service in honor of the Virgin Mary.  “Sure,” I said.

We have a lot of former Roman Catholics who have migrated on over to Canterbury with us, and for them, honoring the Mother of Christ is a big deal.  I like Mary, though most of the traditional forms of mariology make me want to throw something, so I thought the service could be fun.

At the group’s request, I found a reading from a female theologian on Mary–because any excuse to buy a Dr. Elizabeth Johnson book is a good one.  And I came up with a reflection.

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Here’s what I said.

Two days ago, Janelle Monae, from Kansas City!, put out a new single—pretty much a protest chant.  She released it with the other artists on her record label at a #blacklivesmatter march in Philly.

It’s not really a song—there’s a repeated chorus, and then the shouted name of one of the many people killed by police over the past few years:  Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner, and on and on and on—a litany of names.  In between, the crowd shouts—say his name, say her name.

It’s the protest form of the litany of saints:  that roll call that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do as you run down the list of saints, asking them to intercede for you.  Like an attendance call in heaven, of sorts—running down the list of the worthy, the holy, the good.

In pretty much every religious tradition, naming has been important—more than important—naming has been holy.  God brings things into being through naming them, as the first act of creation.  To name something is to speak its essence, to control it—and to give it life.  Adam and Eve name the animals.  Jesus names when he heals.  It’s also why there’s that big aura around the name of God.

And so, because naming has this power, this effect—it is vital that we pay attention to who is named in our tradition and who gets to name them.  Who gets to say his name.  Who gets to say her name.

And when we do that, we discover that there’s a bit of an inconsistency.  Men are named—men get lots of names.  Fathers, sons, uncles, family names.  Lots of names.  Women get …fewer.

Because we not only meet Mary Magdalene with Jesus, we also meet Joanna and Salome, floating out in space, untethered by named relationship, and for Gentile women, it’s worse– the Syro-Phonecian woman (no name) and the woman at the well (no name, again.)

But that’s not so bad!  At least women are there, right?! So many women in the gospels!  So many! And yet, names themselves are less important than who says them.

In the book I just read from, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ points out that for most of Christian history, only one group was really doing the naming.  Only one group decided what names got named. And so that affected the stories that got told.

The story of Mary. Mother of God, told this way, becomes a story about submission to authority, about purity, about self-denial, and at times, almost borderline erasure.  In many ways, the traditional telling of Mariology—all blue and white and hyperdulia, erased everything that made her unique.  Everything that made her human, so that she could be an even better story.  So that she could be a name that all women aspired to, and a name that reminded all women just how sinful we were.

But—(that never fully worked.) Did you notice?  Because all around the edges of this official, spiffed up story that the Church was telling, were these other stories.  Stories from different people, and not the people in charge.

Stories of Our Lady appearing as an Aztec princess to a Mexican man during the Spanish conquest, appearing as a grieving mother during the Plagues in Europe.  Mary being depicted as every tribe and race under the sun, even in priest’s vestments.   Mary never really seemed to get the memo on her ‘official story’.  Everywhere you look, Mary shows up in various not-exactly sanctioned guises.  One of my favorite iconographers, who’s work I borrowed for this service is Robert Lenz, who depicted Mary as a Latin American woman who lost a child to the death squads in the civil wars.  And as a woman in a Holocaust concentration camp.  And as a homeless woman.  And as a struggling woman in America’s inner cities.  Despite her official story, Mary has managed to reach out to women and the oppressed who find in her a a real person–a kindred spirit through the centuries.

And I don’t think that’s because the official naming of Mary by the church is so compelling.  (In fact, you can argue that the official “be good and quiet and God might love you” does a great deal of harm, but that’s another sermon.)

I think that’s because Mary does something no other woman in the Bible does.  Mary names herself.

When she greets Elizabeth, she sings the Magnificat—my soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior—from this day on, all generations shall call me blessed.  She defines herself.  THAT’s who she is.  A poor, pregnant, unwed teenage girl, in an occupied village, whom the whole world would say was anything but—She defines herself.

That’s her power, I think.  That’s her lesson.  For those of us whom the world would name as unworthy, as less than, as failed and as disposable, Mary reminds us in her witness and in her person, that in the reign of God we are all counted as beloved, all counted as worthy.  She gives us an example of naming ourselves blessed, of telling our own stories, for ourselves, in our own voices, as this is what God prizes, she assures us.  Because this is what the reign of God requires, what it is built on—this reign where the lowly are lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, and the hungry are finally fed.  In order for that to happen, all of our stories need to be told, all of us need to be named in this world.

For this naming is the work of the gospel, this naming is good news for all of us.

Amen

So long, and thanks for all the fish

Many of you already know this, but my time as Day School chaplain has come to an end.  The administration felt that a chaplain was no longer something the school required.  I’m sad, but life in  ministry is nothing if not changeable.

Needless to say, this context added an interesting flavor to the end of the school year.  I’ve been running around, trying to clean up everything at the school, so that whatever form the chapel program takes, it won’t have to be rebuilt from scratch.  And I’ve been thinking about what I want to leave the kids with.  I’ve worked with most of these kids every day for two years, and I really do like them.  (Most of them.  Most of the time.)  For some of them, I’m the sole representative of organized religion in their lives, so I thought a lot about what I wanted them to remember from this experience.

This is what I came up with–my sermon at the 8th grade graduation Baccalaureate.

Baccelaureate sermon

May 21, 2015

You know there are stories that didn’t make the bible, right?

 

In some of those stories, they talk about Jesus as a child–those mystery years of Jesus between ages 2-12, then ages 12-30.  What was he like?  What did he get up to?

 

The people who wrote the stories had some theories.  One story has Jesus bringing toy birds to life by the river, and scaring his playmates nearly to death.  One story has Jesus getting mad at the neighborhood bully, before turning him into a goat.  Then, Mary comes out, yells at Jesus, tells him that WE DO NOT TURN OUR FRIENDS INTO GOATS, and Jesus turns him back.

Another story has Jesus helpfully aiding Joseph in the woodshop.  Joseph would make a mistake, and cut the wood too short, and Jesus would stretch it back out again through MAGIC.  Eventually, Joseph got so unnerved by this that he sent Jesus to his room.

 

There’s a good reason these stories didn’t make the New Testament–they’re more than a little ridiculous, and they sound more like superhero stories than they do stories from the Bible.  But they do sort of underline something that comes through again in the Actual Gospel reading for this service–

Jesus must have been an obnoxious kid.

 

I mean it–he must have been a real pain to be around.  He must have sounded like one of those toddlers that you all were, not too long ago—asking why all the time, and rarely being satisfied.  He was into everything.  He didn’t take direction well.  And while it’s crystal clear that he had an enormous heart and was incredibly loving, I’m sure there were times (like in this story) that Mary and Joseph wondered why he couldn’t be just a little less high maintenance.    There must have been times when the two of them went to bed at night and thought about how they loved him a lot, and he was a really great kid, but man, he was tiring.

Because, all he did was ask questions.  That’s all he does when he goes to the temple with his parents in Jerusalem.  He runs away from them, hides for days on end, so he can stay in the temple asking question upon question upon question, and talking with the scribes and the priests.  So, you’ve got to figure that Jesus was one of those kids who wanted to know ‘why’ all the time and constantly.

(Do you remember being like that? Do you remember a time when all you wanted to do was figure stuff out, figure out the world around you?)

It’d wear anyone out.  Probably wore out the priests in the Temple, too, after 3 days.

But you know what?  All those questions turned out to be important.  All those questions were how Jesus learned.  They were how he figured out what parts of the world needed to be changed, and what parts were fine as they were.  They were how he came to love the people around him, by learning their stories and their weaknesses.  Asking questions, trying to learn, being curious—that was how grew in wisdom and faith.

That process, that asking questions process—that’s what we call an education.  That’s what we’re here tonight to celebrate.  Now, you graduates, you are here because we are marking together this milestone in your education.

And if there’s one thing I hope we’ve taught you it is this: questions are good.  They are, in fact, the goal of all this education, all these years of going to school, of studying books, of taking tests.  Because the best questions are not the ones that yield answers—the best questions are the ones that lead you to deeper and more profound questions.

The goal of education is to learn enough so that you can start asking the deeper, wiser questions, so that your questions can lead you further and further into that mystery we call truth.  The goal is not to teach you everything—to give you all the answers you need, so that you head out into the world knowing more than anyone else.

The goal of education is to illustrate exactly how much you don’t know, and exactly how much there is out there to learn.  Hopefully, over these past years here at St. Paul’s, your teachers have inspired you with curiosity to learn more, to ask more, to find out for yourselves.

Because your education, really, is just beginning. You are just now approaching the starting line of life–we’re waving the checkered flag at you now.

Going forward from this moment, you will be faced with a whole wide world to explore.  A wide world that you can confront in one of two ways—you can either hold on tight to the answers that you’ve been given, keep to the paths, and stare at your feet as you go, or you can let your curiosity lead you into new and winding paths, you can ask more and more, learn more and more, and gaze up at possibilities above your heads that no one ever saw before.

It’s your world out there.  Yours to explore, yours to uncover.  So as you head on out there, recall Jesus heading to the temple.  Remember this enthusiasm, remember this excitement.  And never be afraid to ask your questions.  It’s those questions that will make you wise.

 

Amen.