It is Lent, Again.

March 4, 2014 - Leave a Response

And I’ve been thinking, again, about the practice of fasting, and of “giving something up”s identical cousin “taking something on”. And what value they are intended to bring into my life, besides the extra guilt that comes of being hungry, or tired, or absent-minded.

And I’ve been thinking, too, of Rob Voyle’s really helpful stuff around Appreciative Inquiry- particulary the idea that we can’t really concieve of, or work towards, less. We can only work on more. So the significant question isn’t “what do I want to give up?” But rather “what would I rather fill my life with than this”.

I started seeing a Psychodynamic Therapist this year. I said it was because I wanted to be less angry. I wanted to yell at my kids less. But, I can’t really work on “less”. Slowly, we’ve been figuring out what I need more of, to leave less room for anger, and yelling.

Turns out, a big part of the answer is sleep. Most of my adult life I have resisted going to bed. Because I don’t like being told what to do? Because I’m not tired? Because TV is interesting (sometimes) and I’m always just a few minutes away from being able to advance something in whatever video games has me hooked for the moment. Because I know that I “should”, and I hate being told what to do. Even by myself. But something in me is changing, or letting go a little bit. And I’m regaining the ability to look at the clock and say “time for bed”. I would like to get to where I leave the clock out of it. But I’m not there yet. “I feel tired, and I am going to bed”. I think I may have said that, like 3 times in my entire adult life. (All when I was pregnant).

Which is all a long way around to saying- I’m thinking about the ways in which I finish these sentences:
After a really long day I really want a …
Before I face a difficult experience, I prepare myself with a …
I don’t know what I’d do without my …

Those are the things I want to think about, this Lent. But not in a cold-turkey, give them up sort of way. Because lets assume that everything named above is, in and of itself, a good thing. A glass of wine, a cup of coffee, chocolate, games, stories… all, in the right circumstances, harmless indulgences. Simple pleasures. Permissable joys.

It is only when they are the support I turn to when I am hurting, or despairing, or lonely, or fearful that they become something else. It isn’t the thing itself, but my use of it as a crutch, that turns chocolate into something other than a pleasure and a joy.

So- how would I rather end those sentences? Right now? Well, there’s the golden question. What would I rather take on. Not as an extra obligation or demand or duty. But what would be a more life-giving thing to reach for, when I am hurting, or despairing, or lonely, or fearful?

A good book? A solid night’s sleep? A journal and pen? Cooking for my family? Loving gesture to my husband? Prayer? Meditation? Silence? A brisk walk? A slow walk? Cuddle time with a borrowed puppy/baby/kitten?

What will bring more abundant life? What will let me deal with my hurt or my fear with courage and integrity? Let me choose that.

And by Easter, perhaps I’ll see what I’ve given up. And if I miss it. Or if it has simply become, again, a joy.

Kool

August 30, 2013 - One Response

This summer, we did our first ever family vacation, and it was awesome. We packed up the car and the kids and headed for a secluded housekeeping cottage on PEI. At 5 and 7, our girls were just at the right age to fall in love with Anne of Green Gables, and fall they did.

Our best day was spent at Avonlea Village. Costumed characters roam the village, between presenting staged highlights from the book. So our girls ate ice cream (Cows, obviously) while chatting with Josie Pye about their day at the beach.

We never did find Matthew, who was turning pens somewhere. But Mrs. Rachel Lynde was staffing the artisan shop, and teaching some handcrafts. As we approached, there were colourful bits of yarn drying on a rack, and a mason jar full of turquoise blue liquid and yarn.

She told us she had started using a fancy new chemical dye she’d bought in Charlottetown called “Kool-aid”, and we were there as she took out the hank that had been soaking in colour in the sun all day, and rinsed it out, and hung it with its companions on the tree. Then the girls tried some loom knitting. And then it was time for the County Fair (which holds the place that the Sunday School Picnic held in the book) and the sack races, so we said goodbye to Mrs. Rachel Lynde.

On my way home, I bought 4 skeins of Briggs & Little Atlantic in washed white.

A few weeks after our return, we pulled out the “yarn babies” and stocked up on the limited flavours of dye available at our local grocery store. And we started to play.

First was straight up Raspberry Blue Lemonade. And since we didn’t have a mason jar large enough for full skein, we used the directions from Knitty and the microwave.

Kool. I had read that we would know we were finished when the bath was clear, and the colour was all in the wool. But it still surprised me when it happened. Especially with the lemonade, because the water was milky rather than clear. We rinsed it and hung the lovely robins-egg-blue skein in the shower to dry.

A few nights later, we played some more. One skein in 4 packets of grape.

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And, because we are terrible scientists, we changed multiple variables. On our 3rd skein we mixed orange with lemon-lime (2:2) and also added some green food colouring. The colour guide we found suggested this would result in a darkish green. But the resulting shade was definitely brown- thus the addition of food colouring. It was an occasion to talk about colour theory, and how we should have known that mixing blue-and-yellow with red-and-yellow would make blue+red+yellow=brown.

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(Pretty sure that the green bathwater means food colouring just doesn’t get taken up into the fibre the way whatever the heck they use in Koolaid does)

Out of the bath, though, our “brown” seems more gold to me, with tinges of green. It wasn’t what we were expecting (or hoping for) but it is beautiful.

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People told me that knitting would be a gateway craft. This summer, I watched as members of my favourite Ravelry community went crazy at indigodragonfly’s Stained Fingers Dye Camp. And now I get it. I get that impulse to say “but wht happens if we do this. Already, I want to figure out how to get that favourite shade of green for my eldest. If we ever find more of that elusive lemon-lime we’ll stock up.

And having started knitting with our first skein, I’m already convinced we want to do more of this, with better bases. Playing with yarn, and colour, and turning string into 3-D objects. And then felting it!! (I hope it works, but if not there is more wool, and more Blue Raspberry Lemonade). This is fun. We’re taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy. And my daughters are peeking through the door into this world that I love.

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Best. Vacation. Ever.

I hope grandparents can muster some enthusiasm about loom-knitted scarves for Christmas. They will come in awesome colours.

Elevating and Exhilerating

July 16, 2013 - 4 Responses

Recently, I’ve been talking on Facebook about my visceral negative reaction to my daughter having been taught “Creation Science” at another denomination’s Christian Ed program. And I know, I should have seen it coming, but chose to ignore the signs in desperate hope that perhaps different branches of the Christian family tree could play together.

But dinosaurs cohabiting the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve? I just can’t.

I spent some time with one of the leaders of the program that included “Creation Science” and felt like maybe she was waiting for me to apologize for my lack of faith; that believing in evolution was an understandable but regrettable lapse.

And I need to articulate how much it isn’t that I believe in evolution despite what the bible teaches. I believe in evolution because of it. “I find it elevating and exhilerating to discover that we live in a universe that allows the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we” said Carl Sagan. Or sang it, when I first heard it, in the Symphony of Science.

That the created order is not static, but constantly dynamic is, I believe, entirely compatable with the God who declares “Behold, I am doing a new thing”. That each species is responding to evolutionary pressures is entirely compatable with the God who delights in abundant life. That each species is, simultaneously, co-creating others by exerting evolutionary pressures, so that living things that share an environment are intertwined ever more deeply in mutually responsive dynamic community is entirely compatable with the God who is three-in-one and one-in-three.

I do not reluctantly, despite my faith, accept the evidence that life is becoming ever more interesting, ever more deeply inter-connected. I do not reluctantly, despite my faith, accept the evidence that more genetic possibilities are tried than could ever succeed. I do not reluctantly, despite my faith, accept the evidence that all things are possible, through mechanisms that are an inevitable result of the fundamental nature of the interactions between living things, the interactions between molecules, the interactions between electrons. I do not reluctantly, despite my faith, accept that the Lord of all of Space and Time has been active in and through both for longer than we’ve been talking about it.

I do not reject “Creation Science” because the theory of evolution has been forced upon me by a fallen and secular society. I reject “Creation Science” because all the evidence suggests that the story of God’s ongoing creation and-recreation of the world, through mechanisms set in place at the beginning of all things, is just so much more beautiful than the ancient Isrealites, for all their wisdom, all their faith, all their compellingly true poetry, could have dreamed.

Alone

May 27, 2013 - Leave a Response

Some say that knitting is an essentially solitary activity; one knitter, two sticks.

I suppose I can see how you could think that.

But there is a project now blocking on my back porch. It was knit with Stacey in mind, using the colour Hazel chose, out of yarn Jocelyne selected when Liz was destashing.

I cast it on in anticipation of a trip with Beverly and Heather- a trip where I met Ruth and Brendan. It was finished with Rhonda, and Thomas, and Jess, while we celebrated with Marcie and Erin and Anna and Denise.

These people, and these places, are worked into the fabric. The saving grace in the midst of travel frustrations. the sunlit hill where children played. The birthday party where the bag of de-stashed yarn changed hands. The heartbreak of game 7. The ridiculous antics of the Bluth family.

So, even as I laid it out to dry in one of the rare quiet moments when I am the only person in the house?
I wouldn’t say I was alone.

Homeward Bound

April 27, 2013 - 3 Responses

I spent the week at a training session for Fresh Start facilitators. There was much to love about it, including really skilled faculty, meeting some great new fellow learners, and getting the hell out of Ontario during the last gasps of the Winter that Would Not Die. (Oh, please let those have been the last gasps).

It was an intensive time together, far more so than the clergy conferences I’ve been to in recent years. More was demanded of me. Because we were learning how to facilitate these sessions, we were actually facilitating sessions. And covering a lot of good content in plenary sessions in between the trial modules.

Coming home now, I realized that things about this last week have reminded me of who I used to be, back when I was taking University courses just for fun, learning because learning is awesome. I miss that challenge. I miss who I am when I am fired up about new ideas.

I also realized some pleasant things about who I am now, a little more confident, better at taking feedback. My first trial module was a train wreck. 10 years ago that would have been a devastating failure and personal crisis. Wednesday it was… An unpleasant experience from which I had a great deal to learn.

I’m still digesting a lot of the content, and will be for a long tome, judging by the 4-inch binder in my suitcase. But I am also digesting this: my Diocese thought I was worth investing the $$ to get me to Phoenix (oh, I could so go back to Arizona in the springtime… So beautiful), and to this not-inexpensive training. The trainers thought I was worth teaching. My colleagues thought I was worth challenging with some true but hard-to-hear feedback. People figured I was worth that.

I have some work to do now, proving them right.

In God’s Hands

April 22, 2013 - Leave a Response

A sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter / Earth Sunday.
Acts 9:36-43
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.

There is a game I used to play on the school-ground with my friends, and now occasionally play with my eldest daughter. Good for those quiet moments when you need to amuse yourself for a little while but with nothing at hand but… your hands. We face each other, my hands palms down, her palms facing up, against mine. And her goal is to slap the back of my hand and pull her hands away, fast enough that I cannot turn, and catch her hands in mine. She’s getting faster and I’m getting slower. When I catch her, we switch places.

I don’t know if this game has a name. But there is a fair amount of laughter as her hands slip out of my grip. Sometimes she lets me catch her. Sometimes I let her catch me.

We haven’t played in a while. Maybe I should try my luck with my little one, her reflexes are slower.

And somehow, despite the ease with which my own children slip out of my grasp, that’s the image that comes to mind when I hear this promise from Jesus, in the Gospel of John “No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” God’s reflexes will always be faster than mine. God’s grip will always be firmer.

And what a week to hear that promise.
Doesn’t it seem as if something dark and powerful is snatching at us?
Do you sometimes feel as if you are slipping out of someone’s grasp?

Fear has been a fairly constant companion, for many of us this week. Fear, and confusion. And pain. And grief.
And that helplessness that comes from watching people suffer, when there’s nothing tangible we can do about it.

And that’s just the stuff in the headlines.
Let alone the worries and frustrations and struggles that go on behind closed doors, in all of our lives.

So much fear, and pain. So much confusion and grief.
Too much.

An undertow of fear- can you feel it, pulling at you? If you can- than this promise is yours: “No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

The Father and I are one. And we are held, safely and securely in God’s hands. This is his promise.

The God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is victorious over all- even death itself. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. No one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. Thanks be to God. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The more fear, and confusion, and grief, and pain that there is in the world, the more it matters, I believe…
The more it matters to find a reason to hope.

Not the naïve optimism that says “nothing bad will ever happen to me”. We know that doesn’t work.
But Hope that’s been knocked down, and gets back up again. Hope that knows that terrible things can and do happen to good people. Hope that finds a way to look into the face of darkness, and declare “You lose. I choose. Let there be light”

Amidst everything else that has been circulating around the internet since Monday, there’s a quote from a source that my own generation, despite all our cynicism, manages to trust almost completely. Mister Rogers. Beloved television personality AND Presbyterian minister, from a parenting book he wrote in 2002, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

And there is the essence of hope.
Not only to look to the helpers- to insist on seeing the light;
But to BE the helpers. To share light, spread light, shine light into dark places. To, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, “kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

We are an Easter people, not yet quite half-way through the Easter season. And if the Easter Gospel is to mean anything to us, 2000 years later, it is a constant invitation for us to find that kind of hope. Fierce hope. Brave hope. Determined hope.

Hope that remembers that even as God laughed in the face of death, Even as all the power of the tomb was undone,
Jesus went to his friends, his beloved ones,
And gave them one last command:
“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep”.

On the beach that morning, did Peter remember that his friend Jesus had once described himself as the good shepherd?
When he wondered “what in the world does that THAT mean, Jesus?” Did he remember that his friend had once said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Peter went on from that beach to reach out to, and tend, any number of unlikely lambs, Simon the tanner and Dorcas the needleworker among them. From that beach, Peter’s story becomes one of ever-widening circles of Jesus’ lambs, fed, and tended.
Knowing they were all held in God’s hand, he reached out his own hands, reached out with teaching, with good news, with healing, with life.

This is a week that challenges us to pay attention to our own circles, our own sense of who we will imagine as God’s own lamb.
The martyrs described in John’s vision, who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white, held in God’s hand where the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Can we imagine Rehteah Parsons held safe in the hand of God? What about Martin Richards. They’re both children. Both victims of violence. It isn’t too hard to imagine them held firm in God’s grip. The first responders who were caught in the explosion when they went to fight a fire in West? Heroes, it is easy to imagine them held safe in God’s hands. But what about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Are they held in the hand of God? Are they ours to tend, and to feed? Can we pray for God to have mercy on those who showed none? Can our circles extend so far?
Before the events of this week kept us glued to the news reports, we were prepared to mark today as “Earth Sunday” – and celebrate our connection to “this fragile earth, our island home”.

At the Bishop’s urging, we name this day- the Sunday closest to April 22, as a day to remember that we are intimately connected with the earth, and all the many and varied forms of life upon it.

What the book of Genesis describes as a poetic story is echoed by astrophysicist and science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “We are all connected; / To each other, biologically / To the earth, chemically / To the rest of the universe atomically”

We are all in this together. St. Francis knew it- the birds and bees, animals and trees- all our brothers and sisters. All of us creations of this God who is triumphant over death, and who said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

How wide can we draw the circles. Who and what can we imagine as God’s own lambs? A stand of old-growth trees? An endangered species? An ecosystem?

Jesus said “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand”. How much of Creation can we imagine is cradled lovingly in the hand of God?
Today we are invited to remember, to celebrate, to honour a simple truth: That we are all connected. To each other, to the earth, to the universe.

And it is a universe with darkness in it.
We know it. God knows it. There is darkness.
But we have also seen light.
The more fear, and confusion, and grief, and pain that there is in the world, the more it matters, I believe… the more it matters to find a reason to hope.

Hope that finds a way to look into the face of darkness, and echo the very words that began this whole wondrous enterprise: “Let there be light”

So may we choose hope, choose love, choose light.

May we know that we are held safe in God’s hands,
But may we also see how crowded it is there,
And recognize in one another,
In all people,
In all creation,
The image of our Creator.

In ever-widening circles.
May we be gentle with ourselves, and one another,
Helpful to our neighbours,
Kind to strangers.
Respectful of even the dust of this earth,
From which we came, and that sustains us.

May we rejoice in abundant life
Flying and swimming things.
Creeping and crawling things
Green and growing things.

May we nurture life. May we tend sheep. May we feed lambs. May we live in hope. In the face of darkness, may we choose light. For we have seen light.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Bread and Fish for Breakfast

April 14, 2013 - Leave a Response

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter. Warning: contains nudity.

Earlier this week, the worship committee made the decision to observe four special days in the Church calendar this year- two of them coming up in the next few weeks. The feast days for all four of our patron saints, here in the Church of the Evangelists- the Feasts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

By honouring each individually, we also remind ourselves how each of these chroniclers of the life of Jesus make their own distinct and unique contributions to the body of scripture that we hold as sacred. Of course, all four are different, or we would only need one.

Luke, with his scientific mind and his orderly account- just the facts, ma’am.

Mark, writing for a community of gentiles that had been converted by Paul- people who knew the story of resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit, but who needed, and received from Mark, the missing pieces: the stories, miracles, and sacrifice that gave meaning to Paul’s proclamation of Resurrection.

Matthew, writing for a community of Christianized Jews, telling them how every story, every miracle, every proclamation showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophets and the law.

And then there was John. You know from his very first words that this is something different. In the Beginning. John echoes the story of Creation. He interrupts his narrative with poetry and hymns. He speaks of light and dark, truth and mystery. He makes it abundantly clear that he is not a chronicler of history. He is an evangelist of Good News- telling the story of the cosmic and eternal battle between Good and Evil, and how it was won. And he says, “this was written so that through believing you may have life in his name.”

And although we are in the year of Luke, and we’ll be hearing more from him through the spring and summer- these few weeks after Easter, we hear from John. His stories of not only what happened on the day of resurrection, but of what happened next- of what it meant, in the cosmic and eternal battle between Good and Evil.

And so- here in the last Chapter of his Gospel, the story that John gives us this morning is not a simple tale of a breakfast on the beach. This is John’s summation- this is the conclusion of all that has gone before. This is John’s “but so what”. If the whole book is written so that we might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah- then this last chapter is written so that we might know what to do about it.

Having come to believe- how do we follow?

This is a story of disciples meeting Jesus. And it is a part of John’s cosmic and eternal story. So not just those disciples- but all disciples. This is not just their story- it is our story.

And John tells that, some time after the glorious morning and evening of the resurrection, some time after Thomas had touched his hands, and his side… some time after all that, the disciples could no longer sustain the excitement that this incredible good news had brought them.

I love that part- I think it speaks to every one of us who ever had an intense experience that led to new spiritual growth or insight- that transcendent moment, that conference that led to an AHA moment, that book that completely re-shaped the way we saw the world. It seems like nothing could ever be the same again. And then when life goes back to “normal”, we might feel like we’ve failed to sustain something. But we’re not alone.

So, Simon-Peter says; Simon-Peter, who has felt the breath of the risen saviour on his face, “I” Simon Peter says, “am going fishing”. At some point, regular life and the way things were before, grabs hold of us. But John is clear- this isn’t the story of how Peter lost enthusiasm for his Lord. This is the story of how Jesus found him.

“I am going fishing” Peter says, and the rest of the disciples breathe a sigh of relief and rush for the boats. “We will go with you”

And so there, in the ordinary work of their regular everyday lives, Jesus finds them. I love that.

But, the fishing doesn’t go very well. I love that part. I think it speaks to every one of us who has felt that fear- that the things we used to be good at, as individuals, aren’t working any more. When the job has changed on us, even while we were doing it. I know people who feel like that, a lot. But also a Church, the things that used to work, the things that used to fill the Sunday School and fill the offering plate – they don’t seem to be working any more. And yet, it is just in this moment that Jesus finds them. John offers us a promise here, perhaps- that just at that moment when our own expertise starts to fail- Jesus is there to suggest something new. I love that.

So, despite the fact that what Jesus suggests is unlike anything they’ve ever done before. Despite the fact that the boat is only built for fishing off one side. Despite the fact that they are already tired, and have already worked so hard for so little gain, they try something new.

I’m not sure I love that. If this is a story of how disciples meet Jesus, then I’d rather skip this part. The hard work, the scary new step, the willingness to try again after a night of failure. But there it is. It’s part of this story. And part of our story. But- a promise here, too. When they listen to Jesus’ suggestion, when they try something different- there is incredible abundance. And they were not able to haul it all in. And this is the moment that one of the disciples recognizes the mysterious stranger giving them fishing advice from the beach. I love that. That when we are surprised by abundance- it’s a good sign to us that Jesus might be near.

And the disciples gather in their net full of fish- 153 of them. And the nets are not torn. It’s a strange detail to include- don’t you think? But I love that. When Jesus is near, when we are surprised by abundance, it’s easy to be afraid that this is more good news than we can handle. But John tells us that God’s abundance will fill – but not destroy – what came before. When disciples meet Jesus, there is much to gain. But what is essential for tomorrow’s work will not be destroyed. I love that. I’m counting on that.

Meanwhile – speaking of strange details to include – Peter puts his clothes back on. It is not at all surprising that men with limited wardrobes, and limited access to laundry facilities, might choose to do the smelly work of fishing without their clothes on. So unsurprising, in fact, that it seems a peculiar detail to include. Why do we need to know that Peter was naked? And why put his clothes on BEFORE JUMPING INTO THE SEA? Isn’t that pretty much exactly backwards?

Why does John include Peter’s nakedness in his cosmic and eternal story of disciples meeting Jesus… of men meeting their God? This is not, in the language of film and television “gratuitous nudity”. This is not “get the leading men shirtless so the wives and girlfriends will be willing to go see G.I.Joe” nakedness. This isn’t even Bathsheba on the rooftop nakedness. Do you remember other stories of biblical nakedness? John began his story with an echo of Genesis, “In the beginning”. And here is another.

Adam, in the garden, heard God in the garden, but would not answer. He was afraid, for he was naked. Adam had discovered shame. And he could not approach God, who had once been his friend, until he was covered. Having disappointed God so greatly, he could not face him, not naked. He hides until he can put a protective layer, even just of leaves, between them.

Peter, too, once walked with God as a friend. And Peter, too, now knows shame. It may have been forgotten in the glorious joy of that first Easter day- but with that moment past- Peter can no longer forget that his last conversation with his friend was a promise, “I will follow you, I will lay down my life for you”. Now, here on the beach at dawn, Peter can hear the cock crowing.

Peter knows shame. And having disappointed his God so greatly he cannot face him, not naked. Peter puts his clothes back on.

Adam’s shame is met with punishment; banishment.
But after Jesus’ life, and death, and resurrection- everything is different now. John’s story- our story- is a new one.

This God- this God who walks on the beach with his friends, sends Peter to get some fish. Fish. And loaves of bread. How can they eat those two things together and not remember the abundance that God has shown them before? How can they watch him break bread, and share it, and not remember that it is a sign, for the forgiveness of sins?

Peter is not banished. Rather, he is fed.

And then grace is poured out, abundantly.
And as many times as he said “I do not know him”,
he now says “you know that I love you”.
And he does love him. And he does know it.
I love that.

But more than this, Peter is given a job to do. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me.

And here we are. This is our story.
The story of how disciples meet Jesus.

In the ordinary work of our lives, when our own expertise comes up empty, trying something new, surprised by abundance, Stretched, but not broken… we find Jesus there. Or rather, Jesus finds us.

And where Jesus is, we find that we are Forgiven.
Trusted.
Invited.
Called.

This is our story.
Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me.
Thanks be to God.

Nothing to Prove

February 17, 2013 - Leave a Response

My sermon text from the first Sunday of Lent.
Having spent some time hopping from Church to Church, and having the same gospel story for this day each year, this is the first time in 3 years I haven’t relied heavily on old work.
And I’m glad of it…

Here is a picture of bread, and chocolate.


May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be now and always acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.

Did you grow up with the tradition of giving things up for Lent? I heard some people talking about it at the pancake supper. That’s a thing here, too? In recent years you’ve begun to hear people talk about what they take on for Lent, rather than what they give up.

It’s a kind of convenient short-hand to talk about the Holy Lent we are invited into, in the language of the Ash Wednesday service, through self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our preparation for Easter.

And so we begin this season, always, with the story of Jesus, fasting in the wilderness, and tested by Satan.

It’s a strange and interesting story; and an important one. We have skipped back in time, to long before the Transfiguration, before Jesus’ first sermon at the home synagogue, immediately after his baptism. And yet, between these the baptism story, and this, Luke gives us the genealogy of Jesus- all the way back to Adam. And so with Adam’s name fresh in our minds, we hear this story of temptation, God’s authority questioned, and food offered. Clearly, Jesus and Adam are bound together. But where Adam fails and the relationship between God and humanity is broken, Jesus succeeds, and our relationship is restored.

Eating is one of the most basic elements of life. We live, and we eat. We die and we are eaten. It is the great circle of life. And in his 40-day fast, Jesus participates in a disruption of that cycle. And everything that Adam lost is somehow now back in reach.

But even as he connects this moment in the life of Jesus with the beginning, with Genesis, he also connects it with the end. For we, astute readers that we are, know that for Luke a loaf of bread is not just a loaf of bread. It is a foreshadowing. Watch and see, he says, in these early chapters, how Jesus will disrupt the very nature of life and death. Watch and see, he says, how he will, he did, he has, he does triumph over Satan, every time. Watch and see, how this victory will be extended to you- when a loaf of bread is not just a loaf of bread.

Watch and see, he says. Because Satan takes Jesus not to just any city, but to Jerusalem. “If you are the son of God” he says, throw yourself down, and God will let no harm come to you.

The crowds just outside this same city will offer an echo: “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross, and save yourself”.

So this story of fasting and temptation is an important one.
And I’m not sure how we, as a community of the faithful, to from there, to “so, what are you giving up for Lent this year”

And I was raised with this idea that every time we are “tempted” to break our fast, we remember to be thankful.

Or, that Lent is the time to bring ourselves closer to God by kicking bad habits, or taking on good ones. But then, why stop after 40 days. I mean, if you really feel like daily prayer is important for your spiritual development, don’t wait ‘til Ash Wednesday to start, and don’t take it on for 40 days. Just… as the saying goes… Do it!

Or, this notion that because Jesus withstood temptation, we should, too. As if we needed to create opportunities for temptation. As if every day wasn’t a constant battle to choose what is right over what is easy.

But at the heart of my general discomfort with the whole “giving up for Lent” approach to fasting is what one commentator described as “a second chance at failed New Year’s Resolutions”. Have you done that? Or known people who do? “I quit going to the gym around mid-January, so I’m going to take that on for Lent. It’ll be good for me.”

Which misses something really key about the story that inspires the very real and potentially very holy practice of Lenten fasting.

And that is that the tempter is the father of lies.
He offers Jesus the easier path of taking care of himself first. “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread”. He offers Jesus the easier path of compromise, sharing Power with Satan, “if you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours”. He offers Jesus the easier path of spectacle and wonder-working, that would avoid the pain and humiliation of the cross. “Throw yourself down from here”.

With each promise, he plants the seed of doubt “If you are the Son of God”. And with each promise, he lies. Glory and Authority were never his to give.

But Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, withstands this test. And, in the verse we don’t hear, immediately following, Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returns to Galilee to begin his ministry.

Having defined what his work is not he goes to Nazareth to proclaim what is is: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

And if the Father of lies could find his way to Adam, to Jesus… is it so hard to imagine that he could work his way into the traditions of the Church?
so hard to imagine that we could find him casting doubts around the very core of our identity?
Casting doubts around the nature of our relationship with our god?

It is so hard to imagine that we, too, could have lies whispered into our ears?
If you really are beloved of God,
If you really are forgiven,
If you really are redeemed,
Prove it. Prove it by how much you can give up,
And by how much you take on, for these 40 days.

We run the risk, I think, of treating this Holy Season as a way of bootstrapping ourselves to holiness. As if, by the exercise of our discipline and self-control, if we sacrifice, as he sacrificed, we can win our way into the heart of God.

As if we were not already held, beloved, forgiven, redeemed, in the heart of God.

“It is finished”. He said.
So that we don’t need to go back and re-fight this battle.

He already won. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

It is finished. There is no more opportune time. We have nothing to prove. But, that liar still whispers.

We, too, are offered the easier path of taking care of ourselves first. We, too, are offered the easier path of compromise, and the slow erosion of integrity. We, too, are offered style and show, over sacrifice.
That liar still whispers.
And should I stand here and say “Jesus withstood these lies, filled with the Spirit, and with the power of Scripture, and so can you if you read your bible and pray”? He’s Jesus. We’re not. So we’re going to fall. We’re going to be fooled.
We will fail, as Adam failed. But that is not the end of the story.

So, in this Holy Season- it does make perfect sense to take inventory. What have we allowed in to our lives that separates us from God? Get rid of it! What have we let go of that we should have held dear? Pick it back up! Where have we turned wrong? Turn right again!

Not because we have anything to prove. But because the God who has already saved us delights in our trying. Because stepping out of the ordinary rhythm of life can give us a glimpse of the extraordinary. Because we are thankful. Because we are beloved, and we reach toward God with self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And when we reach, we catch a glimpse of God, reaching back to us.

So, my brothers and sisters, may you spend a Holy and Blessed season. Not hoping that, if only we are good enough, or penitent enough, or sacrifice enough, then Easter will come. But in the sure promise: Easter has come. What Adam lost is regained.
Hope wins. Life wins. Love wins.
Truth wins. And the Father of lies is already defeated before we begin.

So fast: know that your life comes not from bread alone, but from the God who will never leave you. Give alms: participate in God’s constant call to share what you have with those who have less. Practice self-examination: become aware of what holds you back from accepting God’s gracious gifts. Be penitent: know the length and breadth of God’s infinite mercy. Pray: spend time in the presence of the God who loves you.

We have 40 days to prepare, to get ourselves ready for Easter.
But we make this journey in the light of this promise:
Easter has always been ready for us.

(sotto voce: Alleluia)
Thanks be to God.

Fire and Water – A Story By and For a Girl and Her Mom

February 1, 2013 - One Response

Once upon a time there was a girl. Not just any girl, a very special girl. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, because on the outside she looked like an ordinary girl. But on the inside, she was made of fire. And her name was Flame.

Flame was part of a very special family. Her father’s name was Storm, on the inside he was made of wind. Her mother’s name was River, and on the inside, she was made of water. And her sister was called Crystal, and inside she was made of the strong earth.

This very special family lived in the woods and ordinary people hardly ever saw them. But if they did, they would see that Flame was bright, and quick, and unpredictable. And they would see that River was sometimes light and bubbly, and sometimes dark and in a rush. And Storm was strong and usually very gentle and cool. And Crystal was careful, and sometimes didn’t move very fast.

Sometimes it was very hard to Flame to be a part of this family. She loved her father and her mother and her sister. But sometimes, even though they loved each other, she would fight with her mother. A LOT. “You are always trying to put me out” she would yell.
And her mother would yell right back “You get me SO steamed up!”

It made them both very sad when they would fight. But they were fire and water inside and sometimes it felt like they just could not get along.

One day the family was out for a walk in the woods, and Crystal, who was very good at being very still, and listening, heard a noise. The family found a bear in the woods, a little bear, and he was crying. There had been a few warm days and it fooled the bear into thinking it was spring, and he came out of his nice warm cave. And now it was cold again, and the poor bear was shivering and crying.
Storm said “all the air here is cold now, I can’t do anything to help him.
Crystal said “I can find his cave, but he is too cold to walk there now, I can’t help him”.
River and Flame both took a step forward to try and help.
Flame looked at her mother and yelled “you can’t help him, you are too cold!”
River looked at her daughter and said in her bossiest voice “you can’t help him, you are too hot!”

And they looked at each other and they both felt very angry.

Then River took another step forward. “I have an idea” she said “but I will need you to help me”.
Flame turned red and said hotly “Mother. You are too COLD I already TOLD YOU”.
River tried not to get too steamed up. She tried to be calm as she said “I have an idea. Please trust me. Please come help”.

And Flame looked at her mother and tried to calm her sizzling feelings. And they both took another step towards the bear.

River wrapped her arms around him in a great big hug.
“Now you hug me” she said. And Flame wrapped her arms around River.

Flame gave lots of hotness to the bear, and her mother kept it gentle so the bear did not get burned. And soon he was not shivering, and soon he was warm.

“I can take him back to his cave!” said Crystal.
“On the way, let’s take him past the apple tree we saw” said Storm. “There were a few apples left in the branches, I’ll get them down for him, and he can have a snack before he goes back to sleep”.

Storm and Crystal and the bear walked away, and Flame and River stayed and kept hugging.

A funny look rippled across River’s face, and words bubbled up from inside her: “I love you, Flame”.
A look flashed across Flame’s face, and words sparked up from inside her: “I love you, too.”

And they did. Very much.

Malachi 3:2b “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap”

December 11, 2012 - One Response

A sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, year C.

Last week, as we listened to Bishop George preach about the advent themes of waiting, and anticipation, I started thinking about how much the act of waiting changed for me, early in 2010.

That’s when I started knitting again. That February is when I started always making sure that if there was going to be waiting- I had a sock with me. And suddenly, the act of waiting was transformed.

I’d find myself sitting in waiting rooms for the kids’ appointments, and the nurse would come out with her clipboard and I’d think “oh, not yet- I’m almost finished this row!”

And everything was different- simply because I had something to do!

And looking back through some of my projects from that time, I remembered that I had a thing for a while there for hats.
Felted hats.

3 felted hats

It was at that time that I first experienced the great trauma of taking something into which I had already poured hours of careful labour, not to mention materials (keep in mind that for most of my life in Guiding, “crafting” has been a code word for taking a lot of expensive supplies and turning them into garbage) and intentionally ruining them.

You know all those things you aren’t supposed to do to wool? Heat. Water. Friction. Soap. The reason you don’t do that is because it changes the very fibres of your wool sweater. The individual strands that have been bound up together to form a yarn, that has been intricately looped up together to form a sweater… those strands stretch, and then shrink, and in the process form new and intractable bonds to the other strands all around.

Felting, its called. Or fulling. And when you do it by accident, it’s a laundry tragedy. But when you do it on purpose it is, in fact, an ancient method of making cloth.

Animal hair- from sheep, or camel, or Tibetan yak, is collected. And then washed- and with the animal’s natural oils removed, the fibres change. And once changed, the work cannot be undone. “Washed” is a bit of an understatement, though. Animal fibres become felt through the prolonged application of heat, and friction. You don’t just wash the wool, you boil it and beat it. Repeatedly.

It’s this image that grabs me, in Malachi’s prophecy, then. Not the refiner’s fire that purifies the gold and silver, but the fuller’s soap- the alkali clay that, along with all the beating and the boiling, also bleaches the wool.
And here’s the thing:
I don’t want to be boiled, or beaten, or fulled.
I don’t want to pass through the refiner’s fire.
If that is what is coming on the day of the lord?
Then I’d just as soon keep waiting.

But without the fire, the precious metal is just a rock.
And without the fuller’s soap, the warm cloth is just a pile of dirty animal hair.

And, I have now been the creator, standing over the washing machine, while heat and friction and soap did their thing. Ready for the moment to come when I stop the cycle and declare my work finished.

Transformed. In the very heart of the fibre from which it is made. And perfect.
And so I can see, in my mind’s eye, a proud creator. Looking upon the work his hand had made. And loving it. Treasuring it. And then boiling and beating the living daylights out of it. To make it what it was always intended to be.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Nobody wanted to hear that, either. For the powerful, the strong, the rich- listening to John was probably not unlike being boiled and beaten. A brood of vipers, he called them.

And he reminded them, reminds us, that, in a time of waiting, we have something to do.

Repent. Turn around.

We want to believe that we are, at our heart, okay. That God loves us just as we are. And God does. But we’re also not finished yet.

The day is coming when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. When the one who came in humility in a stable in the Bethlehem will come in Glory, and the world will know justice and peace.

And until that day comes. We are waiting. But not that useless, sitting around looking at ancient magazines waiting.
John (whose camel-hair clothing (fun fact!) was probably fulled and felted) reminds us that we have things to do, while we wait. He proclaims a baptism of repentance.

The Hebrew word he uses means to turn 180 degrees.
Turn around, and head in the other direction.
Are you headed away from God?
Turn around, and head in the other direction.
Are you using your power to hurt or diminish others?
Turn around, and head in the other direction.
And do it now. Because someone is coming- and you already want to be on the right path when he gets here.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand”, scripture tells us. And I believe it. Because some days, don’t you feel like you’re getting beaten and boiled? But, Malachi reminds us, this is all a part of our getting ready.

Gathered together. And feeling the effects of each other’s fulling. Getting cleaner. Getting stronger. Forming new and unbreakable bonds with the ones alongside us.

Its important, I think, to distinguish between the kind of suffering that God might bring in judgement on the day of his coming in power- and the kind of suffering that we create for ourselves right here, in the ways we hurt one another. But- (another fun fact) well-fulled wool is waterproof. And if we can love each other enough to stick together, and be transformed together through the latter- maybe we’ll be ready to weather the first.

In this short Advent season, we hold together these three truths.

Christ came- once, entering into human history, in Bethlehem.
Christ will come again- eventually, in glory and power.
And Christ is here, with us. Present in ways we know but cannot explain: in Word, in Sacrament, in Community, in human acts of love.

Love one another, he said. Over and over again.
Let love overflow more and more, Paul prayed.

So no staring blankly at out-dated magazines. That kind of waiting is not for us.

We have creative work to do.
Gathering together separate threads. Holding them in tension, working with whatever materials we’re given. Forming those life-giving bonds with the ones around us.

Following the pattern of the one who came to guide our feet in the way of Peace.

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