Monday, March 19, 2018

Manna Collecting at Our Feet: A Review of Christ on the Psych Ward

As a pastor and chaplain, I have experienced the presence of Christ on behavioral health units, or psych wards. I led a weekly Bible study on a local behavioral health unit as a volunteer chaplain, and served on a behavioral health unit as the student chaplain before that. Nearly every experience I had on the behavioral health unit brought me face to face with God. One week, we read the Beatitudes together in Bible study, and we spoke of how blessing does not mean being lucky, because we did not feel very lucky that day on the locked-down unit. It does not mean being prosperous. It means God is walking alongside of us, choosing us, whether or not we realize it. So many weeks, a patient would lead us in prayer for another patient, for me, for our world, in a way that we would know the Holy Spirit was with us. It was hard, too; especially on days when everyone sat and stared at me, or when someone tried to read scripture out loud but couldn’t because the hospital didn’t have Bibles at a more accessible reading level, or when I met someone who was so angry I remembered why the nurses’ station gave me a panic button. But even then, God was there, offering love again and again. When I would share (in very general terms to keep confidentiality) about my experiences on the behavioral health unit, my parishioners would begin to open up about their own stories of mental health struggles. In his new book, David Finnegan-Hosey asserts, "telling our stories is an act of resistance to the alienation and isolation of mental illness." And we have found, in telling those stories, in resisting alienation and isolation, we draw closer to one another and to God.

 David Finnegan-Hosey has written a book to help us tell those stories and to share his own. Christ on the Psych Ward is part memoir about his experience in and out of psych wards and part theological text, using the Biblical story to help frame not only his story but all of our stories. As he tells his story, he helps us discover what my congregation was beginning to discover as we broke the silence around mental illness. He writes, "Rather than a conversation about people with mental illness, and how the church can help them, I want the church to listen to and hear the stories of people with mental illness, and to discover the surprising gifts we have to offer."

One of the most surprising gifts that Christ on the Psych Ward offers was not surprising to me at all, because I have known David for a long time.* I found it incredibly refreshing to experience his readings of scripture, especially his interpretation of Genesis 3, the story we often refer to as "The Fall." He asks questions of the text, doesn't fall into easy readings, and, from the depths of the psych ward, shows us why these stories and how we read them matter. Who told you you were naked? God asks in Genesis 3:11a. And David imagines God's voice shaking, saying, "Who told you...that you were lacking in anything? Who told you that you were anything but beautiful and good?" These are questions of life and death when read from psych wards, but they are also questions of life and death that our faith communities should be wrestling with instead of perpetuating tired agendas of shame. I want to use this book not only to interrupt the stigma of behavioral health struggles in church, but also to teach confirmands about sin and shame and challenge Sunday school classes to locate the presence of God in their own lives every day.

I found refreshing challenge in David's words, and I also found grace. This book gives us, clergy and Christians and simply people who are seeking, the grace that is God’s vulnerability in our own vulnerability. When I first read this book, it was on the eve of the first anniversary of my beloved mother-in-law’s unexpected death and while recovering from surgery before my last (in this chapter at least) attempt to live out my call to have a baby. And so I found myself drawn in because of my own need, not only as a pastor, but as a child of God. David speaks of God’s grace being sufficient for us, about learning to take life day by day, moment by moment. He said in the psych ward, he kept a “victory column,” with things like getting out of bed, taking a shower, eating a meal, and other small wins, to help him notice the sufficiency of grace we have to help us get by. He said, using the story from Exodus 16, “Perhaps we are all struggling, longing for an abundance that seems always out of reach, missing the manna collecting at our feet." David’s book was some of that manna collecting at my feet as I struggled on a difficult day. It was a surprising gift, much like many of the patients I have worked with behavioral health unit and the sharing of stories in my own congregation. May it be so for you as well.

Manna collecting at my feet. Or, in this case, laying on my feet and snoring.



*David and I met on a mission trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2006. We got to work together often in United Methodist Church circles, but he has since joined the United Church of Christ because The UMC's commitment to justice has rotted as we continue to discriminate against queer folks and as we have been unwilling to listen to and act upon our missionaries' call to peace in Israel/Palestine (among other things). The whole time I read this book, I lamented the loss of his voice in our denomination (the guy is so freaking Wesleyan, really) and wonder at the sheer number of passionate theologians The UMC has lost or silenced because we just can't love our neighbors. But that is a whole other blog post.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Rainbow Covenants

I wrote this sermon for Calvary UMC based on one I wrote back in 2014 for Presbury. It is a story that has captivated me and I've been trying to move out of the way enough for the Holy Spirit to share it.

Scripture:
Hebrew Bible: Genesis 9:8-17 (NRSV)
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Sermon:
Let us pray:
Patient Teacher,
we give you thanks for this scripture even when the stories within it are hard.
Open our minds today. Open our hearts.
Write your covenant within us, so that these stories we read become more than just children's bedtime stories. May they become our story. Amen.

How many of you have heard the story of Noah's Ark before? It is somewhat familiar, I know. Most of us if we have any religious background at all growing up hear about it as children. Look at the animals in the ark! we say, mimicking the lion's roar. When I was a kid, we used to read these silly stories written from the points of view of the animals on the ark. We used to laugh and laugh at Noah trying to keep the elephant away from the mice they were so terrified of. But when you take a moment to read the Genesis account, you realize that this is not a nice happy story. Lots of people die. Earlier in chapter six of Genesis, the scripture actually says that God was sorry God had made humankind. It is a heartbreaking, confusing, terrifying tale. But from the terror emerges this beautiful promise, a covenant, one of many that God makes with us throughout our history as people of faith.

You may have heard a tale of terror this week if you turned on the news. Or maybe you didn't. Can something really be a tale of terror if it replays over and over again to no effect? But surely what happened in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Wednesday was the kind of evil that would make God regret creating us.

When I think of the story of Noah and the ark now it is the idea of God who is angry and frustrated and done with the world that sticks with me. It sticks with me because it is an image that makes me uncomfortable. And because it is a feeling I understand. I scrolled through images of the victims, read stories about them, heard the nonsense from Washington about thoughts and prayers but no action. And I thought, you know what we need, God. Another flood. How can we possibly come back from this? How can we rebuild in a world where so much has gone so wrong?

But God does not work like we do, thank goodness. Well, in the story of Noah, God does take on some decidedly human tendencies, which makes me wonder that we decided the destructive flood came from God because humans have a capacity for violence we would like God to have as well. I'm not so sure God does share those qualities. But there is something in this story that God does share with us. And that is grace.

God is able to redeem even the worst of situations. A flood was coming, everyone would die, but maybe God could still save us. And God did. Noah built the ark. Teachers and coaches gave up their lives for their students. First responders saved who they could. And now survivors are claiming their voices and standing up to politicians who refuse to enact common sense gun laws to try and save more children from the horror they lived through.

We may think in these stories of terror that God should pack up shop and move on. But if God does that, then we don't have to change either. We get to wash our hands of the world, stop trying to figure out how God is calling us to change it. We don't have to sit there and be grieved over loss as we move toward new life anyway.

But God has made a covenant with us. Set a rainbow in the clouds to remind God’s self, supposedly, but also to remind us: new life is possible.

I see the story of Noah as a resurrection story. Sure, it is a much more depressing resurrection story than the one we will read in forty days, but it is about new life that comes out of the horror of death. Not because of the horror of death--- God doesn’t need destruction to bring about new life. But new life is always possible for humanity. The thing that makes Noah’s story a Lentan one is that it covenants with us, requiring us to rebuild. To try again. To take forty days to dig deeper into spiritual disciplines, to fast and pray, and turn our lives back to God.

So already I have suggested in this sermon that maybe it wasn't exactly God who caused the Flood like the text says. Now I am reading a responsibility for us into the covenant we read this morning. If you look carefully at the covenant we read, God covenants with us that humanity will never again be destroyed by a flood. There is no response for humans. It isn't a “if you do this, then I will do that” kind of covenant.

Maybe the Gospel story explains this part better. In the scripture we read from Mark, Jesus has been baptized. He emerges from the water, the heavens open, God names him beloved, and then he is immediately driven into the wilderness. We can presume he is still wet, that’s how quickly he moves. He doesn't have time to celebrate his belovedness; he gets right to work in the wilderness, relying totally on God in the midst of difficulty to discover what his identity as Beloved means for his work here on earth. God never says, “This is my Son, the Beloved if he does all the things I want him to do.” But Jesus knows that his identity as Beloved of God means that he has a responsibility to help live into the kindom of God.

And so do we. God's covenant with Noah says there is no such thing as too far gone. We might not believe God, but that is what the rainbow tells us anyway. There is no violence, no grief, nothing that is too far gone that God can't eke some good out of it. And we, as beloved children of God, baptized as Jesus was, also have a responsibility to work with God to eke out this good. We are agreeing to work with Jesus to renew the world from the inside out.

I was talking to Pastor Beth this week about this passage from Noah. When I read it now, I picture less the art we find in children's Sunday school rooms, and instead I picture an experience I had the last time I was in Bosnia.

Bosnia, to those of us who remember the news in the 1990s, is one of those places that seemed to once mirror the wickedness of the world that must have so disappointed God. During the war, neighbor killed neighbor, concentration camps were established, mass rape was used as a calculated tool of war. Today, the violence is not rampant though tensions still course along ethnic lines, but corruption still defines the country. There is apathy, disgust, hopelessness. A dark rain flooded the country with a hate so powerful that it is a wonder anything is left, but even today stagnant water left over from the war seems to cover so much. Bosnians know the wickedness of humankind. They have wondered if God can ever pull them out of the violence they have endured--- if they are too far gone. Bosnians know what Noah felt, looking over the wickedness of his fellow humans as those first fat drops of rain fell on his nose.

That wickedness is always very apparent in graveyards in Bosnia, especially if you can look across and see just how many graves are marked 1993 or 1994. And one day, I found myself in one of these graveyards. I had gone with my friend Đana to visit her family because it was Bajram (or Eid), a family, food, and faith-oriented holiday. First, though, we stopped at the community graveyard; during Bajram, one also says prayers for the dead. The cemetery sits almost precariously up on the mountain, rows of skinny white graves sticking out into the sky. We stopped the car and got out to see Đana's cousin Dijana and her family were already there. Dijana and Đana covered their heads with these huge scarves and went over to the graves. I stood around awkwardly trying to keep Dijana's three-year-old and Đana's two-year-old from falling down the mountain. But at one point I paused and looked up at the two cousins praying, their veils flapping in the mountain breeze, at this little line of graves all with the last name Domazet--- most of whom I knew. Đana's father was killed during the war in 1994, her mother from a heart attack when she was in her early forties, her grandmother from Alzheimer’s, and her aunt from cancer. Đana was crying, and reached over to touch her mother's grave. So much loss in such a young life. So much pain. The floodwaters in life had taken so much from her. And yet, yet here we were. The sun was shining, the grass was so green, and two toddlers were running around hand-in-hand laughing.

Đana rebuilt her life. She decided that the destruction of war, the pain of grief, the constant fear of loss would not keep her from living. Noah rebuilt his life, built a home and planted vineyards. And many in the community of Parkland, Florida, are rebuilding already as well, refusing to let violence have the last word in their community.

Perhaps there is a part of your life that needs rebuilding. Perhaps there is a part of you destroyed by fear or apathy, shriveled by bitterness and loss. Invite God into those places this Lent. Look for rainbows, seek goodness together. Perhaps that means taking up a practice like gratitude journaling--- forcing yourself to look for the good in your life and nurture it. Perhaps that means becoming an advocate as many students are, standing up to death-dealing things in our world and working to stop them. Perhaps that means spending time in service, helping someone else to rebuild.

The rainbow covenant reminds us that God will work beside us to bring life from dead situations anywhere and anytime. Won't we choose to work with God?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Pray for Us

Scripture:
Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-28
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Sermon:
Let us pray:
Patient teacher we give you thanks a morning of welcoming new members. And we give you thanks for this time of worship. Guide us now, in the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, to follow the path you have laid before us. Amen.

Growing up, my mother led the church every Lent in taking up a practice. Originally it was to be a new spiritual practice every year, but the very first one they tried stuck and they continue to do it year after year. They call in “prayer partners.” When you walk into church during Lent, you get a slip of paper that you are to write your name on. Then the slips of paper are collected and at the end of the service, they are passed around in a basket for everyone to take a name. You have to make sure it’s not yours, but that week, you commit to praying for whoever you chose at some point every day. Growing up, our family put all our prayer partners together on the Lazy Susan on our kitchen table, and every day before dinner, we would light a candle and take turns for praying for all of them together.

I thought it was a nice tradition. So I stole it when I started serving a church as a pastor. I passed out slips of paper every week, encouraged people to pray, and got a lot of good feedback from folks. But I didn’t know the transformative power such prayer had until the first year I started this at Presbury.

One week, a parishioner who let’s call Maria, got another parishioner who we’ll call Tamara’s name. Maria was one of the matriarchs of the church at that time, a widow with more money than most in the congregation. She loved music and when her grandkids came to visit. She struggled with her health, but always spoke about blessings rather than her struggles. Tamara also did not talk much about her struggles, which were many. She was older and lonely. She wished her family would visit more, but she was also surrounded by affection and respect at the restaurant where she still worked. She was retirement age but she was unable to retire. She also never complained and lifted up blessings frequently, but she was generally quiet. Maria prayed for Tamara, not knowing quite what Tamara’s prayer concerns were since there was only room on the paper for a name, not an explanation, and then she came into church next week and reached into the basket for a new prayer partner. And she got Tamara. Again. Now, Presbury is not a large church. And both Maria and Tamara sat on the same side of the church and I usually tried to switch the baskets to mix up the possibilities of whose name people would get. But Maria had Tamara two weeks in a row.

And so this time, as Maria prayed, she also felt a deeper connection to Tamara. She began to wonder how she could reach out to her. So she decided to send her flowers to work, and signed that they were from her prayer partner. And by the end of the week, Maria gave me cash in an envelope to give to Tamara anonymously.

Tamara told me about the flowers and cried, and then cried again when she opened the envelope. She wanted me to tell her who her prayer partner was so she could thank her. I couldn't, but even if I could, I'm not sure I would have. Because I think that though what Maria did for Tamara was special, in some ways it is the normal next step on our discipleship journey when we are praying and worshiping together.

For the past few weeks, we have been talking about Discipleship Pathways, which are those ways that we can draw closer to God. A disciple, remember, is a follower, in this case a follower of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus set out on a path to become more and more like Jesus, especially when it comes to how we relate to God and one another. The past few weeks, we have talked about how serving God and others and how generosity and giving help us grow and mature in our spiritual lives, help us to become more like Jesus. Worship and prayer are another pathway to help us encounter the living God.

Prayer are worship are two of the ways we are most often drawn into life in the church. Worship attendance is often one of our basic litmus tests for Christians, right? Prayer is ubiquitous to the point that even people who don't know much about God or even go to church still admit to praying, especially in times of need. With this framing, they seem more like entry-level tasks of discipleship than life-transforming ways to deepen our discipleship. But worshiping together and praying together are not just for beginner Christians anymore than our Gospel lesson today about the greatest commandments to love God and neighbor are ones we check off our list of how to become a Christian when we get join the church.

Loving God and neighbor are easy to say, easy to understand, but hard to do. So it is with prayer and worship. We have scripture to tell us the words to say--- heck, my personal prayer life consists more of breathing than it does composing actual words in my head. We have alarm clocks to wake us up and cars to hop in and drive to get us to worship once a week. But to let prayer and worship change us? That is another story. But think about Maria and Tamara, how both of their lives were enriched through prayer and worship. They found a deeper connection to one another and to God.

This connection is something that we don't just need as Christians, but that we need as human beings. Aaron and I listened to a podcast about loneliness this week. Britain's prime minister Theresa May was quoted in the podcast as saying that in Britain, “Two hundred thousand older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.” Apparently Britain has appointed minister for loneliness because research suggests it is a growing health epidemic, as dangerous as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. It is a risk factor for premature mortality. In fact, they called it a public health crisis.1

While listening to this podcast, I kept thinking about this pathway to discipleship. I'm sure that like me, you have heard people say that they worship just as well at home in the quiet or in the woods alone as they do in church. They can read the Bible by themselves, and they don't need anyone to pray for them. And while sometimes being alone is important, research like this reminded me at least that we are not created to be alone. And it follows that loving God, worshiping God, even praying are not things we are supposed to do alone either.

Of course, when we pray and worship together, we take a risk. You have heard C.S. Lewis' assertion that “prayer doesn't change God--- it changes me”? But we don't like change. We don't want to change. We want to God to listen to us and do what we want. But prayer and worship in community? That's risky. Too many moving parts. When Maria prayed for Tamara, she felt compelled to do something. She couldn't just go about her daily routine like nothing had changed after praying for Maria. Both of them entered deeper into discipleship, both found a closer connection with God, and began to live with the hope and expectation that God was working in and through them. Prayer and worship are not solitary activities. They must be done in community, for community.

Connection is important, to our health apparently, but also to our faith. Our connection to others makes possible our connection to God. Many of you know that Rev. Beth Richards and I went to a conference to learn about Stephen Ministry, a one-to-one caring ministry designed to be led not by pastors but by people in the pews. Calvary is starting up Stephen Ministry again as a way to help foster those connections. People who are going through a hard time--- grief, illness, loneliness, for instance--- are paired with a Stephen Minister who will pray for them and meet with them weekly just to listen. One of the people at the conference who was a Stephen Minister herself but had had her own Stephen Minister in the wake of a diagnosis said, “I knew God was with me, but I needed someone with skin on.”

This is what the discipleship pathway of worship and prayer does: point us to the God who is ever-present with us by putting us alongside others with skin on who God is working through. Does that mean that your prayer will always be transformative if you start praying with a friend? Does it mean that everytime you join us for worship here at Calvary you will immediately feel closer to God? No, not always. But being here, praying for and with each other, and worshiping together clears a path to allow us to move ever closer to that ever-present God.

So after sharing about this pathway, I really think you needed me to give you some homework to help you work on it throughout the week. I didn't cut up pieces of paper to have all of you exchange prayer partners, but you aren't leaving empty handed today. Today, you have prayer partners right there in your bulletin. Our list of new members. Take that page out of your bulletin and put it in your wallet, in your car, on your bedside or kitchen table. Put it somewhere to remind you to pray for each of these folks every day. Shake their hands today and remember their faces to say hi next week. Go online or call the office and look up their address and send them a welcome card. Who knows? Maybe you will find yourself more connected to God by connecting to one another in prayer.

To echo the words from our 1 Thessalonians reading today: Beloved, pray for us. Me, yourselves, the person sitting next to you in the pew today, and our new members. Pray daily. And show up here next week to see where God is leading each of us, drawing us ever closer in love. 

 

1The Loneliness Epidemic, accessed 27 January 2018, http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/01/23/the-loneliness-epidemic

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid, Mary

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Sermon:
Our theme for Advent comes from the words the messengers from God, the angels, be they Gabriel or a whole host, say when they appear to share the good news of Jesus' birth. Do not be afraid. Our world is a fearsome place, and we are fear-filled people, often for good reason. But the angels remind us that such fear can keep us from hearing and experiencing the good news that God is with us. Last week, we looked at the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and cousin-in-law of Mary of Nazareth, Jesus' mother. His fear was so much a part of his identity he didn't believe the angel standing in front of him. This week, we are talking about Mary, and our fear that God has made a mistake and that nothing can ever change.

So as we delve into this story, let us pray:
Patient teacher, we give you thanks for the words of your messengers, and ask that they sink into our hearts today as we worship you. Amen.

Aaron and I returned from vacation just over a week ago. We went on a big European adventure for our thirtieth birthdays, spending most of our time in France, though we also spent a few days in Italy and an afternoon in Switzerland. We drove, well, Aaron did anyway, to get from place to place because we figured we would see more that way. Anytime we saw a really cool old church or old castle, we could just stop on a whim. Except every town in France has an old church or castle. That may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. I distinctly remember at one point Aaron pointing out the window and saying, “Oh look. Another castle.” Now castles sometimes cost money to go inside, so we didn't always go in those. But churches are free. So we visited a lot of churches. And most of them, being Catholic, seem to be named Notre Dame, or Our Lady, in deference to the Mary we read about in our scripture today.

We saw so many statues, icons, and paintings of her in these churches, particularly of the moment our scripture today describes. She's always calm and serene, regal, usually reading a Bible or some kind of devotional in the Annunciation. Even if she appears small and child-like in stature, there is a calmness to her in these images that makes her seem not just older but otherworldly. And though we Protestants may complain about this veneration of Mary of Nazareth sometimes, we too are guilty of relegating Mary to a pedestal of perfection. Because the more perfect we make her, the less we feel we can emulate her.

But when I read this scripture, I don't read this Mary as this meek, ethereal being. I think she's kind of snarky. Whereas Zechariah cowered in fear and clung to disbelief when faced with Gabriel, she raises an eyebrow and points out the flaw in God's plan. In fact, reading back over the scripture in preparation for this sermon, I had trouble figuring out where such a delightfully self-confident young woman was fearful. Notice the words: perplexed, not fearful: But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Zechariah is terrified when he meets the angel. The shepherds are as well. Mary is perplexed. She is confused and has no qualms about asking the angel to explain himself. That is a bit different than fear.

It is the angel himself who brings up fear. Writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner imagines the scene of Mary encountering the angel from the angel's point of view, and in so doing uncovers an interesting understanding of where that fear comes from. He writes:
She struck him as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child. But he had been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. “You mustn't be afraid, Mary,” he said. As he said it, he only hoped she wouldn't notice that beneath the great golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of Creation hung on the answer of a girl.1

Maybe the fear in this story is not Mary's fear at all. Maybe it's Gabriel's. From scripture, we do not know much about angels, what they think. We don't know that they experience emotions like fear. We only know that they share God's message with us. But I, like Buechner, wonder. Was anyone in heaven talking to God, throwing ideas about redemption back and forth. And did anyone think the whole incarnation thing was a good idea? As Buechner points out, “the whole future of creation hung on the answer of a girl.”

One of the beautiful images of Mary of Nazareth that we encountered in France was a Mary with an intricate and expensive crown on her head and royal bearing. This is not the Mary Gabriel encountered. Mary was just a young woman, girl really. She was nothing special in the conventional sense, certainly not someone who had proven herself responsible or worthy or anything else we might consider a requirement to bear God's own self into a world filled with violence, pain, and suffering. How could one young girl bring God into this kind of world?

So maybe the fear in this story is not just Gabriel's. Maybe it's ours. Fearing that God has made a mistake. A mistake to choose a young, poor, brown woman to bear God’s own self. A mistake for God to put on flesh and dwell among us at all. A mistake to keep loving us. A mistake to keep offering us opportunities to transform the world.

Most of us, though, would never admit that we thought God would make a mistake. But we act like we do. We throw up our hands and say, “I don't know what you're trying to do, God, seems a little off, and nothing we do is ever going to change anything anyway.” And so we don't. Even with angels before us, sharing God's plan, more often than not we don't say yes, as Mary did. More often than not, we have a list of reasons why God's plan wouldn't work. We want a total do-over, to wipe the slate clean. We've given up on the world as it is. We believe changing it is impossible.

But Mary didn't. She asked questions, of course. “How can this be?” she asked, eyebrow still arched in confusion. Almost like she's saying to the angel, “You know there's a pretty big problem with your plan, so how are you going to get around that?” But when the angel answered her, she was in. Because she believed the angel. Nothing is impossible with God. This mess that our world is in is not irredeemable. God uses us, maybe not to bear Jesus in the same way that Mary did, but God uses us to bear God's self, to bring light and love into a hurting world, and to work for the kingdom that will have no end.

Now, I should admit to you that I had a rough week. I found myself crying or clenching my teeth in rage whenever I turned on the news and heard something about politics. On Friday, I read a powerful letter about moral bankruptcy in our country and in the church that made me wonder if we should just shut everything down. And then I came back to this sermon. I came back to Mary of Nazareth and her unwillingness to let fear turn to disbelief and disbelief turn to apathy. When God said, “Will you do this with me?” She said, “Here I am. Let's go.”

And so, even though the news is filled with stories of morally bankrupt leaders, I began to think of other stories, stories like Mary's, of people who have not given into despair but instead transform the world by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” I want to share one such story with you.

Tarana Burke is a name that has come up recently in the news.2 She is the founder of the Me Too campaign ten years ago, recently taken up on social media and exploded. An actress used this campaign, writing, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too.' as a status we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The hashtag exploded everywhere and got people talking about the epidemic of sexual violence in the country, and even creating cultures in some places where that violence is no longer tolerated. Tarana said that the campaign evolved out of her own experience. She said the simple words, “Me too,” are so powerful because someone said that to her. She is a survivor, as well, and those two words helped her in her healing, and so she has been able to help others in their healing. We still have far to go, so far it may seem daunting and impossible. And in some ways it seems useless, as some senators are being forced to step down over allegations of harassment but others are possibly getting ready to be voted in regardless of similar acusations. How easy it would be to let our fear that nothing will ever change, our fear that we are powerless keep us from breaking the silence! But Tarana didn't let that fear keep her locked in shame. She spoke out, and through her campaign and survivors sharing with survivors, she shared God with a hurting world.

Now perhaps it's not exactly a fair comparison, to say that either Mary of Nazareth or Tarana Burke's stories are about a simple response of hope in the face of fear and despair. After all, Mary's “Here am I” launched her into a pregnancy outside of marriage and a motherhood that would lead to watching her son die on a cross. Tarana Burke's “me too” has deepened her organizing work with hurting people in hurting places. You can't say, “me too” and go back to life as usual. But so often we think that if it isn't something big, it isn't going to make a difference, so why even bother? Mary's and Tarana's stories show that even simple words can be transforming in big, though difficult, ways.

Do you know of other Mary of Nazareth stories? Of people who refuse to let the fear that nothing will ever change and God's plans are crazy keep them from working with God anyway? Perhaps you may know one from history, like Harriet Tubman, or maybe from watching television and hearing of peacemakers like Malala Yousafzai, or maybe you know someone from church or school or work who has in some way brought God into the world. Find those people. Become those people. Yes, our God might seem pretty crazy at times. But, as the angel Gabriel said to Mary, nothing is impossible with God. Let's jump into the possibility together. 

 
1Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, as quotes in Maria LaSala, “Mary's Choice: What the Annunciation Story Tells Us About Moral Agency,” 19 December 2011, https://rewire.news/article/2011/12/19/marys-choice/.
2See 17 October 2017 accessed 9 December 2017, https://www.democracynow.org/2017/10/17/meet_tarana_burke_the_activist_who. See also Tarana Burke, “The Inception, Just Be Inc., accessed 9 December 2017, http://justbeinc.wixsite.com/justbeinc/the-me-too-movement.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Birthday parties for those who are gone

When you have had multiple miscarriages, it seems like the whole year is filled with anniversaries of death and destroyed possibilities. The anniversary the end of last month was particularly hard: the first anniversary of my first baby's due date. I would have planned the world's most obnoxious Star Wars-themed birthday party. I would have tried to make BB-8 cupcakes that would have been an epic #pintrestfail; I would have fought with my sister about how my baby did not need a drum set but rather we wanted donations sent to UMCOR for hurricane relief instead; I would be annoying my spouse by obsessing over which characters we, including all the animals, would dress up as. The party would be at Susquehannock State Park in Pennsylvania where we got married so we could throw in a little 5th wedding anniversary celebration. I would have had a Death Star pinata, though I would feel guilty about cultural appropriation, and I would have spent entirely too much money on a giant Millennium Falcon to hang from the ceiling of the pavilion (and later our bedroom...I mean the baby's bedroom). Oh and if anyone had wanted to get me a present, that would have been fine because I also turned 30, and 30-year-olds appreciate presents more than 1-year-olds do.

But I did not plan a party. Last year on the date I would have liked to experience a day of birth, my baby was long gone, and my spouse and I were looking for rainbows in Niagara Falls. But the promise of a rainbow did not come true for us this year, just as it hasn't for many years now. Though we did become pregnant soon after that first due date, our second baby died too, and so we added more grieving days to our calendar.

Except that on the day I would have liked to be having a party, I was not devastated, consumed with bitterness and angry with God as I have spent so much of the last three years being. Instead, I was thankful. Thankful for so many people wrapping me in prayer and love. Thankful for so many--- from homeless shelters to Urgent Care to right after church today--- who share their stories with me, stories of loss but also of hope. I had rejected that hope before, looking at my track record of constant brick walls of diagnoses just when we thought we were close to having our baby and being realistic that not every still mother gets her rainbow baby. But at some point I realized I could be angry and bitter that I have experienced pain--- and who hasn't?--- or I could recognize that I still have so much in this life to be thankful for.

I think what I am most thankful for, though, are my babies. It might seem strange to be thankful for fetuses whose non-viability has caused me so much pain, but I am. The joy those babies brought us when I was pregnant, as we imagined what they could be! Even now as I navigate the alternate grief timeline imagining what they would be like now, I still feel joy. Because I love them.

Now tomorrow, of course, I may be texting my friends about how much I hate everything. I may lay in bed all day wondering what the point in getting up is. Those are also ways we grieve. But so is gratitude. So today, I will give thanks for love.

And I will look up recipes for BB-8 cupcakes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Leaning into God: Living by Faith

A sermon for Calvary UMC right before Reformation Sunday.

Scripture: Romans 1:16-17,3:21-31 (NRSV)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Sermon:
Let us pray:
Patient teacher, we give you thanks for your wisdom and ask that you move among us to open our hearts to receive that wisdom. Speak to us this morning through the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts. Amen.

October is a wonderful month, and October this year is very special. It started with a very important birthday of my own, and it is ending with a very important anniversary--- 500 years since the Protestant Reformation began. One of those days may be a bigger deal historically than the other. But anyway, this month we are celebrating with a sermon series on the important themes of the reformation that continue to help us reform today. Last week, Pastor Steve preached on God's sovereignty, a much needed message in the midst of the chaos that sometimes seems overwhelming. Today we will talk about another key theme: living by faith.

Faith is one of those words we use a lot without being too clear on what it means. Sometimes we use it to mean trust. I have faith in the new directors that the next Star Wars movie will be good. Or, perhaps more relevant for us in church today, we have faith that God is at work in the world. Sometimes we use faith to mean believing in what we can't see. Hebrews 11:1 is one of the more famous Biblical definitions: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Belief in heaven, for example, or the resurrection of Jesus. And faith is those things. But I think the definition of faith we often forget, the one that Paul speaks of in our scripture today, is more than trust, more than belief. Faith is the ability to open ourselves to receive the gift of grace God has already offered to us.

Martin Luther, the German monk who lit the tinder that began the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago, became obsessed with the concept of faith.1 Luther was a monk, faith was his job. He was trained in the faith, immersed in scripture. And still, he doubted. He felt distant from God, sure his sins could never be forgiven and he would find himself eternally punished. He sought to discover what good works could cleanse him. And yet, still he felt distant, and he began to see how the payment of indulgences that were created to help assuage people of their guilt and give them a way to atone for their sins prevented people from truly connecting with God. It wasn't until he discovered this passage in Romans that we read today, let it sink into his heart, that he realized he had gotten faith all wrong. In reading how the righteous will live by faith, he felt the “burden of his soul” begin to roll away.2 He knew he no longer had to earn his salvation. That God has done the work. He had only to open himself to God and receive the gift of grace.

Luther preached this good news of faith his whole life. The Church was Reformed, and for five hundred years we have experienced the peace and joy that comes with the assurance that God loves us and forgives us, right? Well, apparently, this ability to walk by faith is more difficult than it appears. Though it ought to bring us relief, though it ought to feel for us like we have strong, comforting arms wrapped around us in love, too often we want to be in control. Believing we can earn our own salvation means that we have some control, that we don't have to rely on God after all. If we check the right things off a list, or if we pay the right amount of money, we can control our fate. We can earn God's love.

Only, have you tried to earn someone's love before? How did it work out for you? But we still do it all the time. This is not a problem of the medieval Catholics, my friends. Even today we find it easier to clench our fists in control than we do to open our hands to receive.

Two hundred years after Luther nailed 95 theses about how we are made right with God through our faith not through our works, John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, was also struggling with his faith. John Wesley was the son of a preacher. He experienced a miracle as a young child being saved from a fire. He started a club in college with his brother and other friends that earned them the name Methodist because their practice of faith was so regulated, scheduled, methodical. He became a missionary, crossing the Atlantic to preach to people in Georgia in early 1736. He was on board a ship bound for the Georgia colony when a ferocious storm shredded the main sail and flooded the decks. Many of the English passengers aboard screamed in terror that they would soon be swallowed by the deep. But a group of Moravian missionaries from Germany calmly sang throughout the squall. They were unafraid of death, an astounded John Wesley later recounted in his journal. But it wasn't until two years later on May 24 that Wesley, back in England, discouraged by the path his life had taken, and miserable, stumbled into a Moravian society meeting. He would never have gone if he did not remember the calm singing on the ship two years before. That evening someone read from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m., he writes, “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley realized that as much as he tried, he could not control God's love for him. It is a free gift. The Moravians he saw on that boat understood that gift. They found peace even when it was difficult because they were secure in God's love for them. They knew God was with them through the storm. They didn't have to compete for God's affections, or try desperately to get God's attention. Their hands were open, and they trusted God.

I myself have been try to unclench my hands and open myself to receive God. As I have mentioned to you before, I might not be the most organized person in my everyday life, but I have a plan. Graduate college, graduate seminary, get a job, get married, get ordained, have kids...only that last piece hasn't worked so well for me. Three years of trying, two miscarriages, and decreasing hope. Last year, I lamented to a friend that hope hurts too much. That I don't trust hope. And so she told me not to focus on hope. She said, focus on faith. Lean into God in troubled times, stop trying to control everything, and look for the good things in life. Seek the gifts instead of just the things you are missing. Around the same time, someone gave me a simple gift, a candle in a jar with the words, “Faith does not make things easy--- it makes them possible.” And for a year, I have lit that candle and prayed. I have tried to lean into God when I am feeling bitter and hurt and lost. I have given thanks when I don't really want to because there is always something to be thankful for. I have tried to let go of all the “shoulds” I have in my life. This should have happened. And instead I have tried to see God beside me and receive not the grace I think I should receive, but the grace I already have just for being a child of God.

Now, Wesley still struggled with doubt, and so did Luther, and I certainly will too. Wesley wondered why he wasn't more joyful sometimes. Reformation is a constant process, which I hope you will find through this sermon series. Faith is a journey. It is something we have to live by.

I don't know that one day I will wake up and lean into God naturally, always seeing the beauty and possibility in every day. Luther and Wesley didn't. But in those moments they did, in those moments I do, that is what it looks like to live by faith.

So in what ways do you clench your hands, telling God that you know a better way of doing things, or simply unable to believe that God could love you of all people? And what can help you to open your hands ever wider to receive the gift of grace God offers us? My prayer for all of us is that we can continue to reform our own hearts, that we may live by faith.



1Marin E. Marty, Ocober 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day that Changed the World (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2016), 19 and 23.
2“We Live By Faith- Romans 1,” 1 June 2005, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, accessed 14 October 2017, https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/we-live-by-faith-romans-1/.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lombriz of Grace

Another sermon for Calvary UMC in Frederick.


Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (NRSV)

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”



Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Sermon: Lombriz of Grace

Let us pray:
Patient teacher, help us to listen to scripture, the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts. When you tell us many things in parables, open our hearts to receive the word of the kingdom of God, and to live into that kingdom. Amen.

I hope you all will get to meet my grandfather. He and his girlfriend like to travel bit together, so they might come by one Sunday. He doesn’t quite get the whole preacher thing despite the fact that his daughter and granddaughter are pastors. But he dutifully brags about me anyway. That’s what grandparents are supposed to do after all! One of the things he brags about most, though, is about how many places I have traveled to. He always says, “Tell Ruby again how many countries you've been to!” And sometimes, if he wants to tease me, he'll say, “And how many of those trips did you go on for free?” Because most of the trips I raised money for either through missions boards or research grants. And frankly, if someone offers to send me somewhere, I will go. For instance, my last year of college, I took a year-long class on agriculture and politics in Venezuela just so I could go to Venezuela.

Now, I explained last week that Aaron and I are from the country; we grew up around farms and helped our parents garden, but I am not a huge fan of dirt--- or rather worms. I won’t even eat gummy worms. But, as it turns out, dirt and worms are actually a big part of agriculture, even in Venezuela. Taking this class about Venezuela was great, and going to Venezuela was even better, but at one point on the trip, we were standing in this huge pavilion positioned near the top of a mountain, listening to one of our hosts giving a lecture in Spanish about worms. In this pavilion they had huge troughs where they put a combination of manure and dry coffee husks or paper with rice inoculated with a beneficial fungus that prevents disease. They threw some worms in, the worms ate the mixture and secreted the resulting compost that was then taken to the fields. Underneath the troughs, they collected the juices that dripped through the dirt and they bottled it up. Apparently it is really good to then pour on top of the soil or spray on the leaves of plants and stuff. So, here I was, a little grossed out by all these worms, listening to this guy talk about worms in Spanish and throwing some political teachings about socialism in there too, wondering what the heck I signed up for.

I also should confess, that sometimes I feel that way when I read some of Jesus’ teachings. What the heck is this Christian discipleship thing I signed up for? Look at this parable. Jesus shares the parable, and, in a rare teaching moment, also interprets it for us. The seeds are the word of the kingdom, he says, meaning the kingdom of heaven, the world of goodness and mercy that God intends for us. The soil is our hearts. He doesn’t tell us who the sower of the seeds is, so we’ll come back to that. Once he explains what the seed is, he gives us four types of soil, or people’s hearts. He says that some people hear about the kingdom of heaven, but they don’t understand it. Rather than having time to ruminate on it, instead the devil snatches it away. It’s as though they never experienced God’s love at all. Then there are people who receive the word of God, perhaps they start going to church or a Bible study or AA, but as soon as trouble comes their way, they let go of the word they have received, angry that they are still struggling. Bitterness and anger don’t just define them for a season, but shrivel them up until they turn away from God. Still others hear about the kingdom of heaven, start to seek it, but choose wealth and other cares of the world instead. It is the good soil that we want our hearts to be like--- soil so healthy that the harvest is beyond our wildest imaginations and we find ourselves doing mission and studying scripture and inviting others into our community. These hearts make up for the failings of the other hearts, and ending with the abundant harvest leaves us without worry for the future.

Most of us have heard this parable many, many times. So you might be confused about why it makes me wonder what I signed up for. But here is my question: how many of us can say our hearts are that good soil, healthy soil, all the time? What about all the people I love who are like the hard-packed path: people who just never grew up in church and never quite get what’s so good about Jesus or church or the Bible? Or who did grow up in church and were treated so poorly by people calling themselves Christians that they just cannot let those seeds take root? Will they remain that hard-packed path forever? And what about those times I myself feel like the rocky ground, that all the goodness God has showed me withers under the bitterness in or busyness of life? Can I and people like me never become good soil again? Sometimes when you start asking questions of scripture, you begin to wonder if it really is such good news after all.

But then I remembered standing on that mountain in Venezuela listening to a guy talk passionately about worms. Before learning about vermicompost, I assumed the quality of soil was fixed. Rocky soil will always be rocky. Certain weeds or thorns can never be gotten rid of. Missing or depleted nutrients can never be reintroduced. The soil was created that way and thus it shall always be, right? Wrong. Soil can be transformed. Adding compost to soil, fertilizer, or worms--- you can buy thousand-count red wrigglers in packs for vermicompost in case you were interested--- these are ways you can add nutrients back into tired or thin soil, give it a boost to help nourish healthier plants. Can all soil become good soil? Probably not, and definitely not without time or work. But soil quality can be improved. Just as our own love for God can grow and transform us.

So there is good news in this passage. It’s just such news involves work. We can become good soil through the simple acts of being in community, praying, reading scripture, and serving one another in mission. It may be a long process, even worms cannot transform soil overnight, but it can be done. And then that soil that may have been too inviting to the birds, or too rocky, or too thorny, might slowly be transformed until it can bring forth grain, growing up and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.

Remember who the sower represents, after all. Sowing seeds is an ancient way to farm, but people hearing Jesus tell this story would not be picturing a rich person but rather a poor farmer, a tenant farmer who can only eke out a living. Such a person would want to sow wherever the best possibility of a harvest would be, not on a path where birds could eat the seed, or on rocky soil, or somewhere where there was a weed infestation! But the sower did sow seed all over those places, extravagantly, as though there was an unlimited supply.1 Do you know anyone so extravagant? Jesus, perhaps. You know, the guy who fed five thousand people with some bread and fish, who could heal people if they just brushed up against his clothing, who stood up to the might of Empire and the power of evil to show us the way of love.

If this is the one who sows the seeds, then this one can help us transform our at times thin and pitiful soil to reap a harvest that you would not believe, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Jesus’ audience that day, would consider a twofold harvest to be a good one. And instead their ears hear a story about a sower who throws seed and reaps and abundant harvest. It was yet another story that reminded them and should remind us that, with God, all things are possible. Maybe that first time we hear the word, it will not take root in us. Sometimes we have to talk about it, share it with others, pray about it until we finally get it. But God can help transform the kind of soil we are, so that we will bear fruit of the kingdom of God, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.

I want to end with a prayer written by a pastor on a beautiful blog called Unfolding Light. Let us pray:

Sower God, what hard-worn paths of habit, what packed-down roads drivennness have we trod out across our lives, ruts that do not receive your seed? Soften them.
What birds of desire snatch up your seed before it roots in us? Calm them.
What shallow, rocky soil lies in our hearts, what refusal to open our depths and surrender? Loosen us.
What thorns of bitterness choke your grace? Let them wither, all of them.
And where is your lovely soil in us— humble, human hummus— thick with holy rot and death, rich with all that has failed and fallen, crawling with the secret worms of grace that give life in the dark earth that we are? 

Find those places, fall upon us, sink in, and flourish. Amen.2

In this time of dedication, pray on those worms of grace.


1Some of this was inspired by Sarah Dylan Breuer, “God is a Foolish Farmer: A Farewell Sermon for St. Martin's,” Proper 10 Year A, 6 July 2005, Sarah Laughed: Dylan's Lectionary Blog, accessed 11 July 2017, http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/07/proper_10_year_.html.


2Edited for first person plural rather than singular. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Sowing,” 12 July 2017, Unfolding Light, accessed 15 July 2017, https://www.unfoldinglight.net/reflections/2232pzkreec8354mnsjkp99ywa9bg6.