Monday, February 08, 2021

Do we not know? Have we not heard?

 

For the past three Sundays, the Gospel has told of the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean Ministry. The story introduces Jesus’ proclamation of Good News – the time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God is near; it is time to repent and believe.

He calls his first disciples, Simon & Andrew, James & John. In the synagogue, he teaches and calls out his first unclean spirit.

People are astounded that this unknown man is not only speaking God’s will from a point of authority, but the unclean spirits listen to him and obey.

He goes out of the synagogue, the place of power, and into the world, the place where illness, dis-ease, and demons live.

Isaiah asks:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

Jesus learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is ill. They go to her house where Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. He   lifts   her   up. She begins to immediately serve. He does not heal her because he is hungry. His action restores to her the authority she holds as a servant, matriarch of her household, the person in charge of hospitality. This is her work. Megan McKenna, author, theologian, storyteller and lecturer, notes in her book “On Your Mark” that “in gratitude for his taking hold of her and giving her life to do his work, she responds wholeheartedly …”. Simon’s mother-in-law ministers to them, just as the angels who ministered to Jesus, just as a deacon does to God’s least of these.

“Have you not heard?” Justice is crying out.

 The word is out. Those who are sick or possessed with demons are brought to him. And the whole city gathers around the door. The whole of the city. All wanting for Jesus to take them by the hand and lift them up out of their sickness of body, mind, and spirit. Out of the tyranny that ruled their world. Into Healing. Wholeness. Salvation.

In the first century Israel, authority is clearly divided between those who have it and those who do not. The violence of the Roman occupation cannot be overlooked for it affects all of Israel. Life is dangerous for those who are not aligned with Rome. The Roman military is the ultimate authority and terror is their method of enforcing peace.

According to Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. in “The Politics of Jesus”, the wealthy hereditary priestly class plays a major part in this reign of terror. Included in this class are the high priest of the Temple, other priests, and elders. It isn’t just the Roman tax exacting such a monetary toll on the people; it is also the tithe that is demanded by the priests. The Sadducees and Pharisees serve, in one way or another, this greed of the priests.

This aristocratic hereditary priestly class and those who cling to its power are also to blame. It is a reign of terror against the people of Israel by the people of Israel. And it comes from an authority that is bound up in human desire for wealth and power. God is left out of the equation. Do they not know? Have they not heard? Justice cries out from the ground.

This unknown person, not only teaching but also healing as if he has authority to declare the word of God, to heal those who are sick, and is heard and obeyed by unclean spirits and demons….

Imagine the people of Galilee hearing Jesus proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Surely for the Kingdom of God to be near, it means that the reign of terror is ending.

Theologian N. T. Wright states that Jesus came to stop the nightmare of terror, to rescue the people from the destructive forces that enslave them. He comes to heal fevers, illnesses, whatever dis-ease afflicts the people, even those “whose personalities seem taken over by alien powers.”

I wonder about the trauma that must have affected the people due to the horror of the Roman occupation – all the anxiety, fear, anger, flashbacks, nightmares – symptoms we now know are classified as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Surely, they did suffer. It is unlikely that our brains are that much different physiologically today than 2000+ years ago. Trauma affects how our brains and bodies function.

What dis-eases were present in the people, both physically and mentally due to the terror inflicted? Compare to the trauma that people in this City, this Metro area live under every day with the gun violence, hunger, homelessness, racism, and systemic poverty. Trauma affects all aspects of our present-day society just as it must have in first century Galilee.

I think about the people I meet at Trinity Food Ministry. Can we imagine being homeless? Being outside on the best of nights can be frightening. Imagine the sounds, the shadows, no place to rest. There is probably gunfire. Even if one finds a relatively safe corner to hide in, I cannot imagine sleeping. I have problems sleeping through the night in my soft warm bed! How traumatic it must be to be cold, maybe even wet, scared, hungry, thirsty? How long before I would exhibit signs of sleep deprivation? How long before someone thought I was psychotic, on drugs, or that I was possessed by an unclean spirit?

Jesus did not come into this space to seek fame and fortune. He came to do God’s will and to share that news with the people. When Simon comes to tell him that people are seeking him – they want MORE – Jesus says it is time to move on, time to proclaim the message in other places. He says, This is what I came to do – preach, heal, cast out terror – not in just one place but in many places.

Jesus’ authority over the demons, to call them out, means that this is the end of the domination over that person. It implies that the current evil terror is near its end. Theologian Pheme Perkins, in the New Interpreter’s Bible, states “The kingdom cannot be separated from the person of Jesus, who embodies God’s power.” God is everywhere – with Jesus in prayer in the deserted place, in the healing, in the casting out, wherever Jesus goes, whatever Jesus does, God is there. That has not changed.

“This is what I came to do.” The people recognized that Jesus was bringing them Good News, even if they did not understand it. The priests and scribes could not/would not testify to the authority of Jesus because they were a part of the systemic oppression – Jesus threatened their method of maintaining personal wealth. Yet the demons recognize Jesus. They know that his authority is of God over which they have no power. The priest and others could have recognized this, yet     they did not.

Can we, the church, testify to that same authority of God? Will we be a part of that which stops the systemic violence of oppression? And do not be deceived – all oppression is violent and traumatizing.

Wright states that if we can learn to testify to the authority of God, we will find the saving power of God unleashed once more. There may be increased opposition from those with much to lose, yet, however the demons may still shriek, they will have lost their authority if we claim God’s.

Understanding this authority of God empowers us to speak and act against social injustices and to work with and for those for whom Jesus holds a special affinity – those who are poor and oppressed.

We have a power, the authority, to use our circumstances to speak against these same situations that Jesus acted upon. As followers of Jesus, we must know that the kingdom cannot be separated from us either. We are a part of that Kin-dom because we claim Jesus as the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with God.

Are we able to reach out to touch those worn down by injustices, oppression, and fear? To work to overcome the social injustices that perpetuate the dis-ease and oppression? To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God?

Our first arctic cold of the winter is here. High today is predicted at 19. Single digit and negative temperatures later in the week. This is killing weather. What does it say about us as a society that we allow other humans to stay outside in this wet and cold?

I saw in the alerts about the weather conditions that it cautions us to bring our pets inside. If it is too cold for our pets to be outside, it is too cold for our siblings in Christ to be huddled in our doorways or in the corners.

We can actually do something about all the demons in our world. Homelessness, hunger, racism, gun violence … And that is just the beginning. We can end the oppression.

There is a great amount of work to do to unleash the power of God’s healing on our world torn by unjust social policies that cause injustice and oppression, fear, frustration, and anger.

It is why we are here.

Do we not know? Have we not heard? Isaiah reminds us: God is everlasting, the Creator of all that is, never faint, never weary. God gives us the power when we feel faint, gives us strength when we feel powerless.

We have the power. And we have the authority.

Set us free, God, from our human limitations, send us out into the world, sharing that abundant life and love which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Forever and ever.

Amen.

Sermon offered for St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Carondelet, Saint Louis, Missouri on the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, February 7, 2021


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Authority

 

In the Book of Common Prayer, it states that Deacons are called “to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by word and example, to those among whom they live, and work, and worship” and “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.”

It is from that authority that I speak these words to you today in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

 

The word “authority” can be a confusing word– it can come from a greater truth or it can come from a self-perceived point of power. It can promote liberation, or it can be used to oppress and abuse.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus, as he began his Galilean ministry proclaimed the good news of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. It’s time to repent and believe!”

Now here he is in Capernaum, in the synagogue, teaching. Everyone knew that for religious teaching to be genuine or to hold authority it had to come from the ones with power to speak of these things, the priests and the scribes.

Who was this unknown man? What permission does he hold to teach in the synagogue, not speaking the words of a rabbi or of Moses but of his own understanding? How audacious of him! How disrespectful! How dangerous!

Few if any of the elders recognize the source of his authority. Yet, the man with the unclean spirit knew. “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” And Jesus called the spirit out and it obeyed him.

Everyone was astounded. This was a new teaching, this authority that even the unclean spirits obeyed. News about him began to spread quickly.

In the first century Israel, there were those who had much authority and those who had none. The violence of the Roman occupation affected all of Israel. Life was very difficult and equally dangerous for the impoverished people. The Roman military was the ultimate authority and used terror to enforce peace.

The other group with authority were the priests, elders, Sadducees and Pharisees. We remember these groups. They are the ones that Jesus and John the Baptist called a “brood of vipers”.

According to Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. in “The Politics of Jesus”, the wealthy hereditary priestly class played a major part in this reign of terror. Included in this class were the high priest, other priests, and elders. The Sadducees and Pharisees served the priestly class.

Priests were an aristocratic class, and their status was achieved by inheritance. Elders were not priests; yet they were the heads of the richest Jerusalem families.

It benefitted all of them economically to maintain a relationship with Rome. The priests offered daily sacrifices to Caesar to satisfy Rome. Rome in turn protected the Jerusalem Temple, the source of the priests’ wealth. Rome got rid of anyone who threatened the authority or status and power of the priests. Public crucifixions took place along the most public roads with the intention of reminding the citizens exactly who was in charge.

It is easy to see why the priests are Jesus’ primary opponents. They had the most to lose as they willfully willingly exploited their fellow Jews for the sake of their own wealth.

The Sadducees political and social influence came from their great wealth. It benefitted them also to opposed Jesus.

The Pharisees, on the other hand. were a devout non-political group of men whose main concerns were obeying scriptural law and respecting tradition while observing ritual purity. Their biggest problem was that the letter of the law was more important that human need. Simple to observe purity laws when there is no need to work or worry about food. Not as simple for those who worked so that they might eat.

Most people in Israel were poor, living in profound poverty and the major cause of that was Roman taxation. Added to this                                                                                                        was the religious tax demanded by the priests.  

Indebtedness caused those who could not repay taxes or loans to sell themselves, their older children, or others in the household into slavery. Or the family members were simply taken and tortured.

Hendrick’s point is that not only was the Roman occupation a burden to the people of Israel, so also was the aristocratic hereditary priestly class. It was a reign of terror against the people of Israel by the people of Israel. And it came from an authority bound up in human power.

So here comes this unknown person teaching as if he had some sort of authority to declare the word of God. Every word he spoke, every person who listened to him, threatened the system that benefited the aristocratic classes because he promised a liberation from oppression.

Can you imagine how the people of Galilee felt when they heard Jesus proclaiming that the kingdom of God is near?

From where did Jesus get his authority? From the very same place that the priests, elders, Pharisees, and the Sadducees could have claimed their own. From the Torah – the Law of God.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

And:

"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

Instead, they chose personal wealth rather than that love.

This is the question for us today. Which authority do we choose? Love of God and neighbor? Or wealth and power?

What about our personal authority? What gives us our authority to speak out against injustice? To rebuke the unclean spirits in our time?

What authority do we have to speak out against a system that allows a few to have the most while too many have little or nothing? All God’s children have the same needs.

We need a new normal. The old one doesn’t work for everyone. It makes it too easy to believe violence happens to others. Too easy to lock our car doors and avoid eye contact for fear that someone will ask something of us. Too easy to ignore the fact that God’s children are hungry, cold, homeless, caged as we are tucked in all warm and cozy. Too easy to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound of national hunger as we push ourselves away from the table and walk away believing we have done all we can. Far too easy to feel safe while states and countries burn, icecaps melt, and hurricanes destroy. Too simple to accept these things are normal.

Loving our neighbors in words alone is effortless. Yet, it is not an empty phrase or even a request. It is a demand for action … yet not without risk. Claiming the authority to demand that our social policies change for the good of all can exact a personal cost … just as it would have cost the priests to live into the love of God rather than the love of money.

Seeking harmony alone is more costly. Harmony does not mean that justice has been achieved. It only means that too many of us are silent in speaking out against the injustice.

It can be frightening to talk about Jesus. It is even more so to think of acting like Jesus. Who wants to risk confrontation or argument?

Yet the unclean spirit was willing to be rebuked and cast out as he proclaimed, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God. It knew that as the kingdom grew near, its end was imminent.

The unclean spirit recognized Jesus for who he was while the scribes and priests only continued to feel threatened by his presence, afraid of what he would cost them. Jesus offered hope to an oppressed and wounded group of people. He promised them the Kingdom of God was near, and by casting out the unclean spirit, that the time of oppressive possession was coming to an end. He ignited their interest, their hope, and the possibility of deliverance from the terror.

How do we proclaim that same justice that Jesus proclaims? In our own lives, in our society? In what ways would our proclamations bring love of God and neighbor into just social policy changes?

I certainly have no power or authority to empower you. Yet I can speak from my own place that we are already empowered – You – me – we – are the body of Christ.

In our Baptismal Vows, we claim our covenant with God. This is our authority.

I will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship; I will persevere in resisting evils, repent, and return to God; I will proclaim by words and example the Good News of God found in Jesus Christ; I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself; and I will strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. With God’s help.

Continue. Persevere. Proclaim. Seek. Serve. Strive. Respect. We don’t have to ask how. The answer is in these words. We are empowered by the command to act.

We are not called to seek human approval. It does not matter if the world has yet to recognize our authority. It matters only that we recognize this authority given to us in Scripture, in our Covenant with God.

Whose favor do we seek? The Empire or God’s?

Are we able to accept our knowledge of God and be empowered to speak and act against the injustices in our world and to speak and act for those for whom Jesus holds a special affinity – the poor and oppressed?

This is my last time with you for a while. As I go, I leave you with the words of Jimi Hendrix who said:

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

Let us work from the power of love, letting go of our love of power, opening the world before us in a new array which shows us that peace is never without justice. Love does have the power to change all things.

Amen.


COVID Fourth Sunday After Epiphany Year B 01312021

Offered by the Rev. Dn Barbi Click for Christ Church Cathedral

 

 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Are our ears tingling?

Let us pray:

For all who are blind to the injustices of our world, that our eyes may be opened and that we together may work for an end to oppression and injustice. Amen.

 

With the cries of “This is Not Who We Are” resounding across the nation, I contemplated the scriptures for this day. I saw a theme of being known by God and knowing God as the complicated humans we are. And I wondered about our Accountability. How responsible am I, are we for the current strife and division in our nation?

If God knows each one of us, it seems to imply responsibility for our actions. Just how accountable are we to that knowing? Simply because God knows me, can I presume to know God? Am I capable of knowing God if I, in fact, do not know myself or believe that I am loved?

I love Psalm 139 because it so clearly expresses God’s love for us. Because it shows we are known. To be known and loved despite any personal failing is powerful. This psalm tells us plainly that we, each one of us, are a part of the God-story.

Lord, you have searched me out and known me, no aspects of myself can I hide from you. You are with me always and everywhere. Even if I do not know you, you know me. Even if I do not love you as I should, you love me.

That can be an overwhelming thing to ponder.

Consider the knitters you know, the way each stitch is methodically, intentionally woven into its place. Every stitch is important to the whole. Think for a second about God knitting each of us into our mother’s womb. We are marvelously made by God, each moment, every path is known. If I as an individual am loved this much, doesn’t it mean that I am made to love? And if that is true for me, then it is true for all of us. Not only are we designed to be a part of this story, we are vital to the God-story. Before we can understand this, we have to believe this. Do we believe that God loves us this much; that God would knit ME into the God-story?

Consider Samuel – he does not know the Lord, yet God knows him. God whispers his name, again and again, calling him to be a part of the God-story. Look what happens when Samuel understands that it is God calling him. He answers with no hesitation, Speak, for your servant is listening.

In the Gospel, Nathanael asks Jesus, “how did you get to know me?” Jesus didn’t get to know him. Jesus already knew his deepest heart. Jesus knows that he is already a part of the story, even if Nathanael does not yet know it. As soon as Nathanael realizes that Jesus knows him, he immediately understands that this is the Son of God, the King of Israel.

Knowing ourselves is painful and difficult and takes work. Yet to be afraid to undertake this work is to limit the power of love.

The desire to be known and to be understood is a compelling desire.

In any argument we might have with another – is this not the goal? To deliver such an adept argument that the one disagreeing suddenly understands and agrees with us fully?

Yet, the desire to be understood by another person, to win an argument is pure ego and requires nothing. It isn’t about winning.

Suzanne Guthrie writes in her blog Edge of Enclosure that to follow Jesus we must set aside ego, pride, shame, fear. All of these are parts of a false self. How can we know ourselves if we start from a false beginning? We must also set aside those thoughts that make us believe that we already know Jesus. Because if we are not standing against violence, insurrection, injustice, unequal access to all things necessary to life, we    do not    know Jesus.

It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing all that is required. It is easy to declare that “I am not racist!” Just because we say it, just because we believe it, does not make it true. We have heard the chant, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” That is because it is a system that is built on the premise of White Supremacy, that white men particularly are supreme. And that all other humans are less than. Think back through our nation’s history. Proof of this lies in the enslavement, the internment camps, the incarcerations, the children ripped from their parents. All sins against people of color brought on by white people.

The most life-changing lesson I learned in Divinity School was realized in a Womanist Theology class. It was a brutal class. Seven of us remained at the end of the semester. More than half of the students originally registered fell out as the pain of personal revelation overwhelmed us. However, by the end of the semester, I, and I am certain the others as well, had unpacked personal baggage, discarded those things wrongly taught us and repacked only those things that could not be changed. I could not and cannot change the fact that I am white and the recipient of many unearned privileges because of my whiteness, yet I can always know that baggage is with me everywhere I go. That awareness reminds me that my story is vastly different from the story of far too many.

As white people, if we do not understand what is unchangeable and what is unnecessary in our story, our ignorance, denial, or delusion causes us to be complicit in the evil of oppression. That is the point of the confession:

We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

That left undone part is not about little things we didn’t get done during the week. It is about distancing ourselves from the wrongs that swirl around us, about isolating & protecting ourselves. It is about recognizing that too often, we fail to act in a way that Jesus would, rather, we act out of our fear and hide away.

If we have difficulty knowing ourselves, how can we know others? In Howard Thurman’s book “Jesus and the Disinherited” he writes:

You must abandon your fear of each other and fear only God. You must not indulge in any deception and dishonesty, even to save your lives ... Hatred is destructive to hated and hater alike ...”

He says that we should be seeking “the religion of Jesus” – to engage in the story OF Jesus in our daily lives rather than just following along in the Lectionary the story about Jesus. To seek the religion of Jesus is to participate more actively in the actions of Jesus, to be a part of his story still today.

Easy to preach about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and all of that. Easy to think we have done enough when we give to those who have less or nothing. Easy to think that managing a food ministry for people who are hungry is enough. ……Yet is it?

Last week we saw Jesus paraded around on flags and in arrogant marches that made our mouths tighten and our skin crawl. We watched violent mobs defile our Capitol, disrupt our government … people actually died. And we are disgusted. As well we should be. Yet, we cry, This is Not Us!

I am not able to speak to what it is to be a person of color and subject to the oppression that entails. Yet I can speak to what it is to be a part of the system built to oppress. Yes, I am a woman and yes, I am a woman married to a woman. That offers its own level of oppression. Still, I am white. I see the oppression of White Supremacy that is built into our society, our culture. I see the differences between the way white people and people of color are treated every day. As long as I see it and do nothing about it, I am a part of the false narrative of supremacy.

Stories are a vital part of our existence, our collective memory. These can be family history or our nation’s history. We tell stories to our children to instill fear to scare them into safety. We create stories to promote pride in a perceived ideal. While these stories have a purpose, many are not based in truth.  

In Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation this week, author and theologian Brian McLaren wrote about our Framing Story. He defines this as that story that determines the general belief of a culture, nation, religion, or even humanity as a whole. If that story tells us that the goal of life is to get as much as possible as quickly as possible, we have no reason to control our consumption. There is no reason to admit wrong, to seek reconciliation or peace or to even work with one another because to win is all there is. To the victor goes the spoils. To be in second place is to be a loser.

If our shared story tells us that each person is an equally worthy part of this creation, knit together by a loving God, made in love, to be loved, to Love God and to love one another, then our society will take a radically different path and our world be entirely changed because we align our lives with God’s vision.

At any given time, we have opportunities to change our Framing Story. This is one of those times.

Moving on from this violent uprising is not an option. Rather, it is time to change our framing story and make certain that whatever the “New Normal” is, oppression will not be a part of it.

In response to the insurrection at the Capitol last week, Ibram X Kendi notes in the January 11 article in The Atlantic that “the heartbeat of America is denial.” He pointedly states that “we” claim that America is the freest, the best, the greatest democracy in the world. Yet this “we” that states this are the white, free, non-incarcerated, older, able-bodied, economically well off, cis-gendered heterosexual and (mostly) patriarchs throughout our American history. Historically, these are the people who made the laws. Those who make the laws are the ones who define the crimes … and the criminals.

This is who we are. But it is not who we must be from this moment forward.

We can move forward by doing the work of seeing and acknowledging the need for change, recognizing that this system of separation, violence, and oppression IS who we are as a nation. And that it is wrong. And we must know who we are because God already knows. Are our ears tingling? Are we listening?

Understanding God’s story more fully will help us reframe our story. We must work to understand God’s story – that is, we are made in love, to be loved, to love. All of us. Without exception. That is the whole story. AMEN.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany Year                                                                                                  January 17 2021


Suzanne Guthrie, http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/epiphany2b.html. January 12, 2021

Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, week of January 11, 2021

Ibram X. Kendi. Denial Is the Heartbeat of America. JANUARY 11, 2021, The Atlantic

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Prophetess Anna, an Interpretation

 

Luke 2:22-38

Sometimes I get so tired and hungry, fasting and praying night and day. It has been decades since I first came into this temple seeking your will for me. But what choice did I have? You were my only hope. My husband was gone. I had no sons to care for me. This temple was my only solace, being in this sacred space set aside for the Holy of Holies.

Every day, all through the night, my life is a prayer, seeking that which is unknown, understanding only that it is yet to be. So many years I have been doing this, calling out to you, my Lord God, to hear my prayer. In a moment of weakness. I fell to my knees thinking that it was my end time, asking one more time for you to bring me into the understanding of what it is that I seek, what it is that I know you wish me to see. Open my ears, that I might hear. Open my eyes and help me to see. One last prayer …

And then … suddenly, I hear Simeon’s voice exclaiming wonder and glory. I see a light shining around him as he cradles something in his arms. He joyfully exclaims, “My eyes have seen your salvation, Lord God! Right here in my arms I hold the light of revelation for all the people of the earth, all to your glory, Lord God.”

What was I to do but turn aside to see this strange thing, this light shining for all with eyes to see? And see I did! And I knew! In his arms he held the wonder of the world! That for which I had been longing was revealed to me in the flesh of this tiny babe, in the light that shone around him, in the glory of all that he was and is and is to be. Before me, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings and the Glory of all Creation!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise God that I have seen this pure and precious sight! Praise God that I may now rest in that peace which passes all understanding, knowing that our Savior has come into the world! Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Year of our Lord and COVID-19 May 10 2020 Easter 5 Year A Offered online for Trinity Church in the Central West End by the Rev. Barbi Click


In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit

This particular story in the Gospel today is only in the Gospel of John. It is the beginning of what is referred to as The Farewell Discourse where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, the resurrection and his ascension.

Jesus begins with, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Basically, do not let our anxieties overwhelm us. Stay strong in our faith.
The second part is this: “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Jesus is telling the disciples and us – I’ve got this. And so do you. Believe that I love you and that as I love you so God loves you. You are a major part of the whole plan. I will not forget you.

Even as the anxiety threatens to overwhelm them because they forget they know the way, Jesus reminds Thomas and those gathered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is telling them us that we have a relationship. We belong together.

Embedded in the word Believe is another one. Trust. Believe me. Trust me. Trust that what Jesus is saying is truth. Trust that we are a part of the whole plan.

Isn’t that what is so troubling about right now? Our hearts are troubled. It isn’t just sorrow. It is the unknowing. It is the concern that we do not know the way or the truth. Everything thing we know has been tossed upside down. The present and it seems, our future.

For decades now we have been told by professionals that too much screen time is bad for us. Yet here we are – living life via Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and Facebook Live. Online in front of a computer screen, living in virtual time. We conduct business and shop online. We give virtual hugs to our loved ones online. Our students are learning online. Everything is online and our physical contact has been shut down.

I noted in the Trinity newsletter this week that I was trying to think of COVID-19 time as God-time. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Today. Right now. This time has made us understand that there are many things that we cannot control. And that while planning as a strategy for getting work done can be a good thing, it is not the best way to live a life in faith. We can offer Plan A and even Plan B but then UnKnown Plan X gets thrown in there and destroys whatever our small minds might have envisioned.

Take the Food Ministry as an example. The best laid plans – we have worked so hard to make community, to build personal relationships, to bring people together. And we have done it. Yet It is so difficult now. Everyone is scattered and separate. However, simply being present, separated by 6 feet, is all there is. Although we don’t know where everyone is, they do know we are there.

Another plan, we had to postpone was the second annual Maundy Thursday Foot Ministry. That one hurt. However, we have formed a new partnership with people who offer clothing and shoes while we are unable to do so. In good time – in God’s time – we will have the foot ministry again. I believe that.

Pandemics cause all plans to be tossed up in the air and blown away by the wind. Yet sometimes new understandings become known in the midst of the chaos.

We simply have to stay grounded and believe. And Trust.

The disciples asked, Where are you going? And how do we know the way?
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Sounds simple, right? 

Jesus said Believe. Believe that if we know Jesus, we know God. Believe that In Jesus, we meet God and God meets us.

Jesus tells us how to believe, that we already know the Way. He doesn’t say that he will take the disciples with him. He says that when he returns, “I will take you to myself.”

As if to say – where I am so you will be. Or where you are, so will I be. Even in those times when we are anxious; Even in those times when we are too alone. Even in those times when we are unable to actively participate in the Eucharist remembering Jesus in the bread and the wine. Still, in the midst of the unknowing, we do know the way.  

Jesus coming back to take us somewhere and Jesus returning to take us to himself are two different things. This made me remember my grandmother. She used to tell me that Jesus is always with me, that I best be worrying about what I am doing here on earth because the Kingdom of God is right now. Don’t be worrying about heaven. Worry about now. Make sure I am doing and believing right.

When Jesus’ words jumped out at me, I heard my grandmother talking to me.

I think this is what Stephen knew. He knew it all along. It is why he was not afraid, and he was able to kneel and pray as he was being stoned to death. He knew Jesus was with him and that he was with Jesus.

Stephen understood the relationship, that he was a part of it. He knew and followed in the works of Jesus. Stephen stood up and spoke truth to the power, to the ones who had the power to put him to death. He enraged them with his truth. Still, as he knew he was about to die, as he knew how angry they were, he shared his vision – “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Other that this one time by Stephen, Jesus is the only one to use the phrase, “Son of Man”. Stephen knew the way.

And perhaps the Council did also. Maybe that is why they were so angry. They chose to not believe Stephen. They chose to believe that their way was the right one.

Stephen is known as the Patron Saint of Deacons and as having special gifts in evangelism. “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) A good part of what caused the Sanhedrin to be so outraged was Stephen proclaimed that the Temple was unnecessary. 

People could seek reconciliation with God anywhere. He declared that the people are called out of the Temple and into places unknown and foreign, just as were their ancestors. He boldly reminded the Council that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands,” that as God created all that is, so is God in all. Stephen accused them of doing the same things as their ancestors had done – killing the prophet that God had raised up for their disbelief.

This accusation caused their fury to overcome them, they covered their ears as if to block his words, the truth. Still, knowing that he was in the presence of God, Stephen asked that they be forgiven for what they were doing. And he died.

As the first deacon, Stephen reminds us that our work is in the world, outside of our places of worship. Sometimes in places as close as the Memorial Garden or in these times, as far away as the internet can take us. This has never been made more clear than it is now in COVID-19 time. Shut out of our worship spaces, we have created sacred spaces in our homes, in front of our computers, on our walks, or simply staring out of the window at the amazing Spring. I don’t know if this a particularly lush Spring or if I am experiencing it more from a ground level in slower time. Whatever, I am seeing it fully in God-time.

Jesus tells us that he is the Way, the truth, and the Life. Do not let our hearts be overwhelmed with anxiety. Believe. Trust. Remember, we have a choice.

We choose to believe … and we choose who we believe.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in this day.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

We are Not "Normal" People.


Offered for Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO, April 26, 2020 COVID-19 Time

Acts 2:14a,36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

As I read the Gospel for today, I thought of the collect in Evening Prayer. It asks Jesus to stay with us, because night is near and the day is past, to be our companion in the way, to kindle our hearts and awaken hope that we might know him both as revealed in Scripture and in the breaking of the bread.
This is a time when many of us are afraid and lonely. We miss the people we love, both near and far. Our hearts ache for community and our arms for physical hugs. We want to know we will soon be close again. We strive to remember that Jesus is with us even as we feel alone. We yearn for those moments when Jesus is known to us in the breaking of the bread as we gather again, in the communion of all the saints. We hope that time will come soon.
Surely, the apostles felt that same way. All that was known to them was suddenly gone. One moment, Jesus is with them, telling them that the bread is his body, and the wine is his blood and they are to remember that each time they eat or drink. They hardly have time to consider that before everything changes, and he is gone. This anxiety keeps them from fully remembering that he told them that the Son of Man would suffer many things, be killed and then on the third day, rise again. Or that he promised that he would be with them always. We can empathize them.
Right now, we are hearing a lot about Traumatic Stress and how we are being affected in this unprecedented time. I wonder about the disciples. Can we imagine the trauma of loving Jesus, giving up everything to follow him, going with him everywhere; suddenly he is taken away, arrested, tried, lashed, humiliated, and nailed to a cross? He dies in agony. The grief. Oh my God.
And then, Mary Magdalene and the other women telling them the astounding news that the tomb is empty, Angels saying he is still alive! How can that be!
I can imagine the emotional whiplash they experience as the sensations flash through them. And now, here they are walking with this stranger, telling him of the past few days. It is the third day – What was so different about his physical self now, that they did not know him?
Perhaps they are so caught up in their own shock that they could not recognize him in that place and time. He seems amazed that they do not understand or remember the things they had been taught, so, he begins to teach them. And they listen.
Because night is near, the two disciples invite the stranger to stay with them. So, he does. At supper, the man they still did not recognize takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it, then he gives it to them.
And they know. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us?”
The collect for today says: “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work!”
The eyes of their faith are opened. Even though he is now gone, they know!
Talking with a friend this week about the Gospel and these times, we lamented the idea that we feel as though we are on a rollercoaster with no buffers. Everything seems fine and suddenly with little warning; we plummet into a new low. Those buffers that might ordinarily soften the impact of the unexpected are missing right now. We are extremely vulnerable.
Surely, this must be the way the disciples felt. The highs, the lows, the shock, the grief, the hope, the joy. And all the points in between. Sometimes the memory of the promise of resurrection is lost in the middle of the moment’s anxiety.
Resurrection is a very big deal to believe. Our bodies dying, rising from the dead, life made new, eternally. Forever. It is a promise. Believing in resurrection is THE thing.
We are not “normal” people. We are Easter people. Even in our busiest times, we continue to be an Easter people because we believe in the Resurrection, daring to imagine what our lives in Christ are about.
Resurrection is so much more than we can dare to imagine. Yet we do dare, every time we pray. We remember that to love God, to love one another, to allow ourselves to be born anew again and again by that imperishable word of God. Are not our hearts always burning with that understanding? Even if the disciples were not able to recognize him with their eyes, they surely knew that Jesus was with them. They knew in their hearts, in the eyes of their faith.  
Easter is about Transformation. Surely, we are in times of transformation in the midst of this pandemic.
This threat came into our lives, untamed in its potential, unbound within our understanding of normal. This tiny virus disrupted our world. Unwanted, unheralded, what is this tiny thing opening before us? Maybe, even in its chaos and damage, this is an opportunity for us to see with new eyes things that were always before us. `
One of the special things to come from this pandemic is the opportunity to pray with others the Daily Office throughout the week. The number of people who are now praying in this new way is amazing! In our physical separation, still, we can pray with one another any time of day. The same is true for Sundays as we worship with people we love -- online.
Perhaps, this time is an opportunity for us to use what Walter Brueggemann calls the “Prophetic Imagination”, looking more deeply into those things which we often take for granted. Prophetic Imagination asks us to know through faith beyond our fear and anxiety. That does not mean that these fears or anxieties are not real nor that we can make these go away. Simply, it asks us to remember that God is with us always, regardless. That even during the most frightening times, there is something new that God is doing in our lives, with our lives, for us and for this world and that we are a major part of that.
These are anxious times for many who are concerned about housing costs, job losses, grief, or health concerns. For others, it has offered moments of reflection, rest, and possibly boredom. Then there are those in between. We know there are great discrepancies in our societies’ economic levels. What helps the least of these, helps all of us. Thinking about it economically or spiritually, when all have equal access to food, water, housing, education, and healthcare, society as a whole benefits. This is an opportunity to see more clearly the injustices in our society. The prospect of intentionally working towards righting that which is unjust awaits us as we come out of this.
As we look toward to what Dean Kathie Adam-Shepherd calls “re-membering” our parish communities and our society, of once again being with each other physically, hopefully, we will remember the discoveries that we are making. Whether these are the injustices that beset so many, or the amazing awareness of the new spring growth, or the long walks, the moments spent playing or new ways of praying – hopefully, we will hold onto these. We can forget these moments when we are rushed. We do what needs to be done as the demand arises. Yet, if we can hold on to the new awareness, to see with the eyes of our faith, to cling to the knowing that Easter is here, this can carry us into whatever new thing God is doing.
“Lord Jesus, stay with us; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

“The OnBeing Project: Walter Brueggemann – The Prophetic Imagination”
Found on April 24, 2020

Monday, September 30, 2019

For Dennis Kinealy Who Left This Life on September 16, 2019

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”


I am the Rev. Barbi Click, Deacon and Manager of Trinity Food Ministry. 

I had not been Manager of the Trinity Food Ministry very long when Dennis came up to me with his hand outstretched for a shake.

“You don’t know me, but I know you. My name is Dennis and I used to be somebody.”

His statement stunned me, shaking many preconceived notions. It also humbled me and taught me a valuable lesson. New to the ministry of working with people who were unhoused, it had never occurred to me that losing one’s sense of identity was even a possibility.

This incident was simply one of the many times that I learned from Dennis in the six years that I knew him. He taught me that being homeless was only one small aspect of who he was as a child of God. A bigger lesson, I came to understand that love and addiction will always be at war, but that love will win eventually, no matter how long it takes. My job was simply to be there and offer my love.

Dennis helped substantiate what I had already begun to learn. Everyone has a story; some people have many; some of those stories are tragic. He could not be identified simply as “The homeless”. He was Dennis Kinealy who was so much more than what his current condition implied. Through him, I came to understand the profound depth of what community means. Sharing our stories is vital to building relationships. These stories lead us past the exterior into the real life, opening a new understanding that we are all connected, that we are one in the body of Christ.

And Dennis did love sharing his stories and the pictures he carried with him!  Las Vegas cab driver, farmer, urban mountain man, adventurer, teller of tales, son, brother, uncle, father, Trinitarian, Episcopalian and a member of our Beloved Community – these were just a few of the terms that described Dennis.

He loved being called Dennis the Menace. His grin just got bigger when he heard that term. He loved being funny, cute, even coy. He loved people loving him. Of course, for many of us, loving him was easy because it required little of us, we had no expectations of him and his power to hurt us was very limited. He came and went as he pleased, with very few demands. We at the Pantry met him where he was and walked with him for a little while. We were often his audience as he played the stage. Yet love is complicated. The toll of worry and concern on those who loved him longer was much heavier, more broken and far more painful to them and for him.

He was a proud man, pleased with some of the things he had done, proud of his family, of being a part of Trinity. He was proud to have had the actor Debbie Reynolds as a passenger in his cab. He had a pride in having owned a bit of land at one time. He was honored to be the father of his two sons. He almost burst with pride when Debbie, his sister and her family came with him to the Trinity Art Club.

However, he was a man of many sorrows. Some of these things that made him the most proud also were the source of his guilt which brought him such disappointment in himself. He was unable to forgive himself for not being the son, the brother, the uncle, or the father that he wanted to be. He knew that he had a lot of grief for people he loved.

He knew that his addiction drove a wedge between them and himself. But that is what addiction does. It burns bridges with no regard for love. The addict becomes a passenger in a runaway vehicle. Being out of control is a very lonely place to be.

I don’t know the back story of what brought Dennis to this place in life. There were times when his sorrow rushed out of him in a torrent of tears. His pain and guilt were so evident, so real. I and others reminded him that we are called to forgive, not only others but ourselves. He simply could not see, on this side of the veil, that we all fall short of the glory of God. Yet, that is God’s promise – forgiveness, regardless of our lack. He did not see himself as worthy. That is the wonder of all of this – he was and has been and is now forgiven, just as we all have been for whatever we lack.

Most times, he was happy. He loved to talk, especially about being an “urban mountain man.” He was one of the most resourceful people I ever knew. I would introduce him to people new to the streets so that he could give them pointers on how to survive. He helped a lot of people.

I teased him that he was like a cat with nine lives. Something was always happening to him that would have laid out a lesser man. I cannot count the number of times that Dennis would burst through the doors and head straight for me. His hello would always be sidelined by, “You won’t believe what just happened to me!”

Dennis used a few of those lives after he was hit by a vehicle in December 2016. I think he coded once at the scene and twice in the ambulance ride to Barnes. Many broken bones and a brain injury laid him up in intensive care for a while. He was totally amazed when Fritzi Baker and I visited him. After his long rehab, St. Patrick’s Center connected him with a group that got him permanent housing. Fr. Jon offered to bless his new home so Jon, Debbie Wheeler and I attended the blessing of his new space. He never forgot that day. He never forgot anything anyone ever did for him. It always amazed him that someone would do things for him.

Dennis is an example of how having a house is simply not enough in this world. Home is where community is, and a place to share our joys and the sorrows. God calls us into community because we need one another. Dennis was proud of his confirmation as an Episcopalian. To him, that was proof that he belonged, Trinity was his space, this was his community.

Dennis looked at small things as great blessings. Every ask might not be met with a stated thank you; however, every offering was accepted with a great deal of thanksgiving.

He told me a few weeks ago that he didn’t know if he could go through another winter like last year, that maybe Maddie from the City would be able to help him find a place. Dennis had burned many bridges with help organizations – they wanted to help him, but they had exhausted their resources for him unless he was willing to make some dramatic changes. I reminded him of what he had to do to get help – go into long term rehab. As he turned to walk out, with a wave of his hand, he said, “yeah, I know.”

Dennis left this world in a flight of freedom. The prison gates of addiction broke open. He was rid of all the guilt and all the sorrow. He finally understood that he was forgiven.

I know that Dennis was not alone at the end. I know that “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Take my hand and come with me.
I can hear him saying the same words he told me when I first met him:
“You don’t know me but I know you. My name is Dennis and I used to be somebody.”

However, I also know that God immediately told him, “I do know you. I know every hair on your head, I have known you since before you were formed in your mother’s womb. You are somebody because you are mine. I have a perfect place already prepared for you. Come and see.”


 Memorial Service for Dennis Kinealy   
John 14:1-6
Trinity Church, September 28, 2019