RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Sermons

Palestine, corporate sin, and #blacklivesmatter. Also, Advent.

I’d been trying to crack this sermon all week.  After the events of Wednesday, and another non-decision from a grand jury, I knew what I wanted to talk about–about corporate sin, and systemic racism, and how the Kingdom lay on the other side of us facing truthfully our own complicity in a really broken and unjust system.

(None of this makes for a really joyful pre-Christmas sermon, if you can’t already tell.)

I had about 2/3rds of a draft finished on Saturday afternoon, when I got home from the Advent Clergy lunch  and realized it wasn’t working at all.

The opening was a short discourse on the Essenes.  It was fine, but it was fairly unemotional, and it ran into a wall pretty quickly. (I get fired up about 1st cen religious sects.  Me and maybe 10 other people. We’re not a demographic you want to rely on for numbers.)

Instead, what had been going through my head since Wednesday was this runner about the Prayer of Humble Access. I hadn’t put it in initially because I figured that the sermon was already messing with a few Principles of Good and Decent Preaching (1. Don’t get political. 2. Don’t get angry 3. Don’t be thoroughly depressing, etc)   Generally speaking, I try to restrict myself to knocking over one or two of those at a time, but not all of them, not all at once.  Throwing in the crowd-pleaser known as Israeli-Palestinian politics was probably just going to heap fuel on the fire.

But I tried it.  I sat down, and within 45 minutes, I had a complete second draft.

Here’s what it said.

December 7-8, 2014

So let’s be unEpiscopalian today and let’s talk about sin a little bit.

I didn’t really used to believe in sin.  Or, rather, I did, but not as a major, concept in the singular.  Sin, I thought, as a thing wasn’t something to be too concerned about—sins in the plural, now—those were those mistakes you made as a person each day in the course of normal daily events.  You told a white lie, someone cut you off in traffic so you swore at them, you hold onto that grudge against someone when you really should have forgiven them.

These, I thought, were sins.  They weren’t GOOD, but they could be dealt with.  I could fix them.  Just, y’know—I should not do that thing any more.  Don’t lie.  Don’t cheat.  Don’t swear (where kids can hear you.)

What I couldn’t quite understand was why our liturgy occasionally exulted in confession, especially the Prayer of Humble Access—do you know that one?  We don’t really say it anymore.  It’s in Rite 1, used to be said right before Communion.  “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.”

That, I thought, was complete and total overkill.  Sins weren’t good, but I didn’t see how my telling someone off in rush hour traffic equated to crumb collection.

 

Then I went to Palestine.

 

In the diocese of Jerusalem, at St. George’s cathedral, the Prayer of Humble Access starts the service off.  It’s the first thing you say.  “We do not presume to come to this thy table, oh merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness.”

I didn’t like it. I gritted my teeth and I got through it, but barely.

But then something happened.  Then,  I spent week after week volunteering and living in occupied East Jerusalem.  Week after week listening to stories from my Palestinian coworkers.  Week after week listening and watching the unequal treatment they received at the hands of the Israeli soldiers who patrolled the streets, who were barely older than my baby brother.  Week after week of lying to Israeli cabdrivers about where I worked and lived, so that I could get back home, and they wouldn’t refuse to take my fare because they thought I was “one of them.” Week after week of walking through checkpoints unmolested, because I flashed my magic blue American passport, while my coworkers waited in lines in the sun hours long. Week after week of hearing and seeing hatred, violence, and the day-to-day illogical grind of oppression.

By week three, I welcomed Sunday morning, and for the first time, it made emotional sense to me to proclaim that humanity was in absolutely no way worthy to come to any table of God’s.  Not with our current track record.  Not with what I was seeing.

Because here was sin.  But sin in a new way—Sin singular.  A sin so great, and so massive, so systemic, that no one person could undo it, yet all of us living there were caught up in it.  We were all living in a total system that entirely and utterly held the children of God as worthless, as something less than human—on both sides of the conflict—Palestinian and Israeli.

 

All too often we assume sin is that plural category that I once did—those easy, personal, sins to identify and absolve.  Those sins we can list and quantify, then cross off the list as taken care of.

Yet, take a look at what John the Baptist is yelling about in the gospel today.  He’s preaching a gospel of repentance, for the kingdom of God has come near.  The way John is positioned in the desert here, scholars suspect he might be an Essene.  The Essenes were one of several  separatist groups of devout Jews who thought the whole temple system, and all of Jerusalem was corrupt, so they left and went to the desert to form their own communal society.

So John isn’t just talking about personal sins—John’s talking about sin, singular, too.  The big sin in the system that we can’t escape from on our own. The corruption in the system.  For them, in their time, it was the funneling of money through the temple to support the lavish lifestyle of the priests, and King Herod, and the Roman occupation.  all the while neglecting the poor.

Big systemic corporate sin.  Can’t be solved by one person alone.

But these singular sins are the hardest ones to face.  Precisely because they’re so big, so awful they become hard to see, it’s like trying to discern the color of the air you’re breathing.  It’s all around you at once and it’s all you’ve known, so how would you know any different—right up until something shifts, and suddenly it’s all you can see.

Fr. Stan and I have stood here and talked about the events in Ferguson several times since the death of Michael Brown back in August.  But what has been made clear in the weeks and months since then, and what was again thrown into sharp relief this week, is that this isn’t just about this one case in one small community in Missouri.  Instead, it’s about case after case after case after case, as black people are killed in disproportionate numbers by police, time and again, and time and again, it seems that accountability is slow in coming.

So there is protest after protest, and wave after wave of hurt, and frustration, and sorrow and pain flooding the streets right now from many in the Black community, because Michael Brown’s case, Eric Garner’s case, Tamir Rice’s case, John Crawford’s case—all contribute to a situation that’s been in place for a while, and has finally boiled over, finally shifted into sharp relief.

It’s that systemic sin.  Singular sin.  The ghost in the machine.  This problem of racism in policing in the justice system is bigger than any one person—this problem, and that’s what makes it so hard, and so inexorable.  We are not where we are because the police chief in Ferguson has an outsized collection of white sheets, or because grand juries are universally bad at their jobs. If that were the case then this would be so easy to fix!

But we’re here because  because the institutions of this country were founded on a bone-deep distrust of anyone who doesn’t look like me, and I mean that quite literally.

And until we call out that ghost in the system, until we repent of that big, systemic, unspeakable sin we’re all entrapped by, we aren’t ever going to be able to move past this.  We aren’t ever going to be free to step fully into the Kingdom of God.

But we have to listen.  We have to listen to the stories of those who are hurting, of those who are upset of those who are angry.  Even when, and especially when, those stories make us angry and defensive.  We need to push past our own defensiveness, our own need to be right, and to be comfortable, and we need to listen to the people who are being hurt by this sin we’re caught in.

Then we need to name it.  We need to name it when we see it.  We need to have the courage to call it out—because God does not intend for God’s children to live in a world where some lives matter, and some lives don’t.  God does not intend for us to live in a world where some lives seen as criminals waiting to happen.  God created us so that if white lives matter, then black lives matter too.

 

And lastly, we need to remember that as broken, as corrupted as this world may be, we belong to a God whose property is always to have mercy.  And no matter what, God will empower us with courage, and enliven us with compassion, once we take that first step out of the city, into the desert of repentance where new life and a new Kingdom await.

That’s where John calls us.  That’s where God calls us.  Just listen.

Post-modern preferential option

Last Tuesday, my friend, the Rev. Marcus Halley–the associate at St. Andrew’s (the Other Episcopal Church in KCMO), asked me to present a talk/speech/thing on God in the digital age.  And I hardly need much convincing to talk about social media.  So I talked about Twitter, and the theology around it–what sort of theology we could construct as we become more interconnected, but in a different way than we’re used to.

Inevitably, whenever I talk about social media, someone always asks, “But how do you know that what you’re reading is THE TRUTH?”

I love this question.   LOVE it.  I want to cross stitch it on a sampler and sew it to a throw pillow, it’s so adorable.

Because, seriously, how did you EVER know that what you were reading was THE TRUTH?  My parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1965 when I was growing up.  Big set of books that someone (not entirely sure who) paid a lot of money for.

There are a lot of things in those books that are not true at all.  And that’s ignoring the pile of stuff that they ignore entirely.  (I learned after 1 try that I could not do a project for Black History Month by looking in those things.)

But for a long time, they were THE AUTHORITY.  They were books, so they were up there with Walter Cronkite (who also was Wrong on occasion, and who also left out some notable things.)

Objective truth is out there, but there’s no monopoly on it.  So the question is less–how can I find the one truth, and more–have I listened to all the stories I need to?

That’s pretty much where this sermon came from.

August 30-31, 2014

Ordinary Time, Proper 17

Exodus 3

[how do you know what you read on social media is the truth?  Walter Cronkite is dead—there is no ONE OBJECTIVE ANSWER out there waiting for us.  Everyone has their own side of the story, whether we like this or not.]

[transition to…] 

Moses just wants to be a little Switzerland right this moment.  He’s having an identity crisis, of sorts, and of all people, he gets to have one.

Because, if you think back to what you recall either of a Charlton Heston movie or from watching the Prince of Egypt—Moses, when he was born, was saved from a genocidal pharaoh by his sister, Miriam, who stuck him in a basket and floated him down the river.  The Pharoah’s daughter found him, and adopted him as her own, saving him a second time.

So Moses had grown up with a foot in both worlds—the world of the Pharoah’s palace, all prestige and privilege, and the world of the Israelite slaves who made that world possible in the first place.  He’s had access to both worlds, to both places.  So he grew up with two identities—Moses the prince and Moses the Israelite slave. 

They were in conflict, to be sure, both sides of that particular story, but he was managing to balance them, apparently.

Everything was going fine it seemed, until one day when Moses was grown up and he ran into an Egyptian task master beating an Israelite slave. 

All of a sudden, these two identities are in conflict, these two sides of the story are standing opposed to each other.

Moses intervenes and kills the guard.

Well, whoops.

He panics, and flees out to the wilderness, because Moses does not want to pick a side.  Moses wanted to hang onto being a prince, but being a sort of cool prince who understood what was really going on, but still with all the power and money, and stuff.  Moses wanted the best of both worlds, but killing someone was probably going to mess that plan up.

Now, Wilderness is where the people of God go in the scriptures when something weird is going on.  It’s the neutral space, it’s the space of retreat and where you head to rebuild, even though it’s not hospitable.  But it’s also where God usually came and found you.

Which is what happens.

As we hear in the reading today, Moses is tending some sheep when he sees the burning bush, and he hears God call his name.  And God sends him back to Egypt—not as a prince in a palace this time, but as something entirely different.  As the leader who will save the Israelites from oppression. 

In other words, God wants him to pick a side.  And God wants him to give up some things, like power and privilege and some things that go along with it.

Hiding out in the wilderness of neutrality doesn’t cut it—you have to figure out where you stand.  Where God is calling you to go in the stories of today.

because yes, there are always many sides to each story. And yes, God loves us all, everyone.  God loves everybody.  And that has always been true.  God loved the Egyptians and the Israelites. God loved Pharaoh and Moses and Miriam and Aaron and their mother.

And it is God’s love that calls on them.  It is that very love that makes God receptive when the beloved Egyptians start enslaving the beloved Israelites.  It’s that very love that causes God to say to Moses— “I have heard the cry of my people Israel, and I have come down here to set them free.”

God’s love means God comes down, means God picks sides.  God loves the Israelites, so God calls Moses to free them from slavery.  God loves the Egyptians, so God calls Moses to convince them that holding people in bondage is not the way to go.  God’s love for humanity means God gets involved in the story.  God doesn’t stay neutral—that’s not how love works.  Love wants the fullness of human life.  Love wants the fullness of justice and righteousness and peace for everyone involved—and that’s not a thing that’s neutral—and so that meant the Israelites couldn’t be slaves anymore.   Because God’s love forces God to come down on the side of the oppressed, the powerless and the helpless.

Desmond Tutu said once If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse is not going to appreciate your neutrality.

Our pretended neutrality doesn’t serve the love of God.  It doesn’t serve God’s call to us.  And God doesn’t let us stay there. 

God called Moses out of his desert of neutrality, out of having the best of both worlds.  Out of his Egyptian palace and into his role as a leader for an oppressed people. 

And God calls us the same way.  God calls us to take sides, to take sides thoughtfully, to take sides in love.  To side with the poor, the powerless and the oppressed when we see injustice in this world.

So what we have to ask ourselves is where is God calling us now?  Here in Kansas City, here in Missouri, where is God calling us to go?  What desert is God calling us to leave behind? 

For starters, I can tell you that although the tanks are gone from the streets in Ferguson, the basic situation hasn’t changed.  The officer who shot Michael Brown still hasn’t been charged, the original prosecutor remains in charge of the case, the police still have a whole mess of riot gear and tanks and tear gas at their disposal, and not a whole lot has changed. 

Except, in the three weeks since he died, two more young black men who were also unarmed have been killed by police officers around the country.

So what is it that God is calling you to do in this situation? 
Do you need to sign a petition, do you need to have a hard conversation with your friends, with your coworkers, do you need to go to a march, do you need to email the governor?  Do you need to do some research into the history and context of race relations in St. Louis and law enforcement? Do you need to listen to people with first hand experience of dealing with the police while being Black in America?

What are you being called to do here in this moment?

Because we are being called to something. Whenever we as people of faith find injustice, we are called to do something.  We are not called to complacency, we are not called to run to the wilderness, we are called to do something. 

We just have to listen for God’s voice, remember God’s love, and know that God is with us. 

In which Megan attacks cute animals, avoids an angry mob

I made a promise to myself when I started preaching that I would never preach about my dog.

This was partially prompted by a really traumatic sermon-experience in college, when a bishop expounded at length about his dog, Amos, whom he felt we should all emulate, and come to adore him more.

And partially it was inspired by a sense that, while I might love my dog, not everyone has met my dog, so not everyone is as enchanted with my dog and his Omega-Dog ways as I am. There’s bound to be something more interesting to talk about.

But this week, I broke that rule. And in the process, I explained the overwhelming, and sometimes problematic, allure of cute animals.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 21-22, 2014
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
Matthew 5:38-48

If you’ve been watching the Olympics, then you might have heard about one of the more tangential ways NBC has been filling its time: the dogs of Sochi.
And the situation is this. It seems that Sochi has a lot of stray dogs right now, and not a lot of dog shelters to put them in. So, this being Russia, the government’s solution is to round up the dogs and do away with them.

This has sparked an international outcry. A huge international outcry. As well it should—killing dogs is bad. And people have responded accordingly. Olympians have spoken out, and one athlete has even rescued four or five dogs while he’s been in Sochi competing. A rescue agency has been set up. People are on fire about the dogs. They are mobilized.

Which is great.

What is slightly curious, however, is the slightly-less-level-of-mobilized people seem to be about how the dogs got to Sochi. Namely, the humans of Russia. According to an article on Slate.com, the dogs are there in such large numbers not because they’re strays, but because they were abandoned when their owners were forcibly evicted by the Russian government, and their houses demolished, to make way for all the sporting arenas needed for the Olympics. With almost a city full of poor people displaced, the dogs stayed behind.

But the people don’t make the headlines—the dogs do. Add that to everything else that is currently happening in Russia, human rights-wise—all of it not really making the daily news reports, and why is it really that our sympathy is so readily stirred by dogs, over people?

I mean, I have some theories. And, in full disclosure, my dog is from Ecuador, oddly, so I have some experience in this. Animals are adorable. They are open, they are trusting. You know what you’re going to get when you pet a dog, because, with some exceptions, they’re the epitome of powerlessness. They don’t even have opposable thumbs!

Animals are simple.

People, on the other hand.

People are complicated. People are demanding. Even people you like, people often show up with needs, wants, and desires of their own, that sometimes conflict with yours. People can think for themselves, and that can be a whole mess of complicated, and so our empathy doesn’t get triggered as easily,

People do such a good job of thinking on their own, of acting on their own, of being their own differentiated selves, that we have a hard time of feeling immediate empathy.

And so there develops this empathy gap, where we run the risk of getting selective with what gets our empathy. Cute animals over suffering people. Cuter, younger, more photogenic suffering people over the less photogenic suffering people!

Some living things just end up getting more empathy from us than others, in this media age.

But Jesus has some things to say about that this morning. Jesus reminds us that when we approach our relationships with other people, those relationships are built, not on what we each deserve, but how God sees us. God, who makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. And the sun shine on everyone, good and bad alike.

This loving our enemies command isn’t a tricky plot to guilt our enemies into befriending us. Jesus isn’t preaching passive-aggression here. This is about echoing the relationship God has with us, so that we can stay in right relationship with God. This isn’t about us–it’s about God.

And so, we are to treat each other as God treats us. We are to love each other as God loves us.

And in God’s love, there is no empathy gap. God doesn’t care more for certain people than for others. God doesn’t love people who follow certain rules than for those who don’t. God doesn’t love people who look a certain way, act a certain way, pray a certain way or believe a certain way more than everybody else.

Turns out, God loves everybody just the same. God has mercy on everybody just the same. God wants justice, and dignity and freedom from suffering for everyone, just the same.

And so we are called to do the same. We are called to be hands and feet and hearts of God in the world, so we have to erase that empathy gap, and learn to see with God’s eyes, so that every life becomes equally worth caring about. Not just the lives that we find relatable.

We need to learn to look at children so that each child–the cute toddler who looks like your kids at that age, and the one who looks totally different than you–becomes someone to invest in.

We need to see our neighbors in such a way so that everyone shows forth the image of God–the fine upstanding young man you assume is in college somewhere, and the one you think is dressed inappropriately and is blasting his music too loud. Both are children of God. Everyone is a child of God.

We need to see every person–near and far, friendly and not, just like us, and not at all like us–becomes a reflection of God, so that the light of Christ is shining out of their face.

And until we can see people like that, until we can see the world like that, we haven’t truly achieved the call Jesus sets before 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.