Saturday, May 26, 2018

“Processions and Performances” Festival of Homiletics 2018 Washington D.C.

I was wrong.  I led you astray.  My apologies.  I blame Anthony Bailey, to be honest.  He got me riled up with the Silence that leads to Songs of Protest.  So, I told you that I was going to join in a protest march last night.  Me and a couple thousand of my closest friends.  Well, we gathered last night.  In two churches that sit side by side in the downtown area of Washington D.C.  National City Christian Church was the host site for the worship before the event - or worship as the beginning of the event.  I got there 30 minutes early, plenty of time, I thought, to find a small corner in this 1,500 seat sanctuary.  But no, I was too late.  So I and a few hundred friends I didn’t know, toddled over to the Luther Place Memorial Church across the street.  It was also a venue of the Festival and I thought I’d go the whole event without even going inside.  But there I was.  

This is the church, and this is us watching a live stream from next door.  Isn’t technology great?  It was almost like I was there.  Except when it was buffering, or the sound dropped out, or the bird in the sanctuary flew around and caused everyone around me to laugh and point so we couldn’t hear the speakers.  But, almost like being there.

After about an hour of speakers reading a part of the declarations of the Reclaiming Jesus document (Google it, it’s a powerful document about what and who Jesus is and calls us to be and to believe in and act on.  Powerful), we then prepared to march.  Except we weren’t marching, we were told.  This wasn’t a march. This wasn’t a protest.  This wasn’t a reaction of anger and frustration.  It may have been born out of that, but we were not to be about that.  Instead, we were encouraged to fill our hearts, fill our souls with love.  Love for all God’s children.  Even those we disagree with.  Even those who we believe are misrepresenting Jesus and the faith. And we aren’t marching, we were told, we’re processing.  Processing, long o.  Pro - cesssing.  Like a religious ceremony.  Like a wedding, we were the bride of Christ, processing to commit ourselves to Him again in these perilous times.  

As we gathered, my usual grumpiness came to the fore.  These clergy were loud and sometimes rude and not paying attention to anyone but themselves and their friends.  Pictures were being taken as we stood there waiting to move.  But the vast majority of the ones I saw were selfies. Not recording the event, but recording themselves at the event.  Sigh.  It was going to be a long night.

Candles were handed out, electric candles, mostly little tea lights that you float in water for a lovely table top display.  But in our hands they were signs of the Presence.  But then, in the right frame of mind anything can be a sign of the Presence.  Like a sparrow, unexpectedly caught inside because of a wrong turn and now was flitting from rafter to rafter in the old Lutheran Church.  But, of course, they ran out of candles.  So many of us didn’t have one.  We were encouraged to download a candle app on our phones and carry that.  So I did.  A flickering flame, that actually moved with the motion of the phone in my hand.  What won’t they think of? 

Finally we started, escorted and traffic stopped by the DC Metropolitan Police force, we set off from the churches across Thomas Circle Park, down Vermont Avenue to K Street, around McPherson Square on down Vermont to Lafayette Square, entering at the corner by the statue of General Kosciuszko and then through the Square to Pennsylvania Avenue.  We were stopped on the north side of street for a while, but then allowed to cross.  We were standing, actually at the backdoor of the White House.  A tour guide I overheard the day before said, not everyone realizes that the House faces south.  So we were back door visitors.  And we heard the declarations again and then prayed, individually and then collectively.  We sang the Lord’s Prayer, we spoke the Lord’s Prayer and then we sang This Little Light of Mine.

Here’s the thing.  We were told to be silent as we marched, I mean processed.  I thought, yeah, right.  But it happened.  For the most part. Quiet.  Silent even.  There were times I heard folks stumbling on the uneven pavement, tennis shoes squeaking as we walked.  It was odd. That many preachers silent.  People, tourists and natives alike, pulled out their phones and took video and photos of us.  Someone is scrolling through their phone after their trip to the Nation’s Capital and there I am.  In the crowd.  Quiet.  It was moving.  It was significant.  It was real.

Sometimes we have to put feet to our faith, to the biblical text.  That’s what Anna Carter Florence told us this morning the last speaker/preacher of the Festival.  She had much to tell us about performing the Word.  About not letting these words in the Bible be just words.  Take them out of the box, out from behind the covers and walk around in them.  She actually advocates treating them like Reader’s Theatre.  Take different parts, read it out loud.  Listen to the Word.  And all along the way, we are asking, what is the text trying to do?  Do in us?  Do to us?  

Then she took at look at the book of Job in the Old Testament and proceeded to blow my mind as how we are supposed to look at this drama.  Or at least how we are invited to look at this drama.  We still get to choose.  We always get to choose.  But some choices are more transforming than others.  Some choices get us closer to the truth, no the Truth, than others.  Dr. Carter Florence said that Job was supposed to help us watch our language.  What how we talk to others, how we share faith.  How, most importantly, we console the suffering.  That, in fact, the bulk of the book of Job is a “how not to” manual for preachers and comforters in lots of settings.  

In other words, she said, don’t console out of your certainties.  Don’t fill yourself with righteous anger.  But with love.  Process through the world, lighting a candle and keeping quiet as we move, and pouring out love on all those we meet.  

So, I will.  I’m writing this in the airport, waiting for a flight to Boston.  I’m not coming home just yet.  Conference - continuing education - just turned into a short vacation.  A holiday with my daughter Maddie.  I’m flying to Boston to spend Memorial Day weekend with her, and then I’ll drive her car home.  Because we need another car in our driveway.  No, because she doesn’t need the expense or have the space in the city where she lives.  So, I’m going to help her out.  And spend time with her.  And show her the candle someone handed me at the end of the march saying, you need a candle to hold.  

Indeed I do.  Indeed I do.


PS - I'm here in Boston, actually Brookline, with Maddie.  Needed her WiFi to post this.  Happy Memorial Weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Building Walls or Tables" Festival of Homiletics 2018 Washington D.C.

The penultimate day of the Festival.  A sad day, in a way.  Something good has been happening here.  I'm not completely sure what it was, to be honest.  The real fruit of an experience like this takes a while to ripen.  My prayer as I get ready to leave (but not for home this time - more on that later)is that the Spirit makes sure I heard what I was here to hear, the Word God has for me at this point in my life and life's journey, whether that be a Word for me as a person or a pastor, as a follower or a leader, or a Word I am called to pass on to others, to you, to my church, to my community or world.  My prayer is that this time be fruitful.  And I realize that this is in part up to me.  What do I do with this abundance of knowledge and experience, of wisdom and inspiration.  Eric Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton, said this morning that we have two options when we have an abundance, we can build a wall to protect it or build a bigger table to share it.  Personally, I believe the last thing our country needs is more walls.

But the day didn't begin with Dr. Barreto. It began with worship at Metropolitan AME with a sermon from Dr. David Lose, who is pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, formerly a teacher of preaching at Luther Seminary and the author of my current favorite book on preaching, Preaching at the Crossroads.  Dr. Lose preached from Isaiah 55 (Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat) and from Matthew 20:1-16 (the workers in the vineyard and the first shall be last and the last shall be first) and gave us ... nothing.  

Nothing?  Yeah, nothing.  But not the nothing of insignificance, but the nothing of grace.  In an era of political promises of everything, or the everything that we're told we should want or need, God tells us that nothing is enough.  Seriously.  Nothing is enough.  Read that a couple of time.  There is nothing that will be enough, to serve God, to love God, to honor God, to bribe God, to earn God's favor.  Nothing will get us that.  Read it again.  God says nothing is enough.  You have nothing, let me fill you with all you need.  You didn't work long, let me pay you as if you did.  What do you have that is of ultimate value?  Nothing?  Perfect!  God does some of God's best work with nothing.

From there I took my nothing and went to National City Christian Church, to hear Dr. Anthony Bailey preach on silence.  Hmm, I'm sensing a theme developing.  Bailey is originally from Barbados, but now pastors in Canada at the Parkdale United Church in Ottawa.  And he has a rich tenor singing voice that he used.  Which made sense since he preached from a song text.  It was Mary's song in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:46-55, we call it the Magnificat).  But he was preaching about silence, and referenced Elijah, hiding in the mountain afraid for his life when Queen Jezebel wanted him dead, and how God appeared, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in "the sound of sheer silence."  (I Kings 19:12).  The sound of silence.  Bailey went back and forth playing with the ideas of sound and of silence.  At times he seemed to be saying find God in the silence.  At other times he said out of the silence comes a song, a song of protest, a song of hope and transformation and God is in that song.  I wanted to raise my hand.  Which is it, Anthony?  Is God in the silence?  Or is God in the song?  But I was afraid the answer was yes.  

That's how I would have answered it.  Yes.  Silence, because we've said too much, been too loud, been too certain about who is right and who is wrong and who is saved and who is damned.  Silence because our shouting and speaking and posting and out tweeting hasn't brought God any closer to the people, and closer to us.  Silence.  Because God dwells in the humility of silence.  God dwells in the absence of self.  The speaking self.  We are too often Homo Loquens - the speaking humans.  And sometimes we need to be silent and let God take root, let God plant a seed in us.  Like Mary.  Let the Spirit come over us in silence and acceptance. Then we can sing a song of protest.  A song of the vision of the Kingdom of God.  Out of silence comes the bridge between this world and the Kingdom of God.

Bridge?  From songs to bridges?  Well, songs are made to be sung together.  Sure the solo is great, but the real show stoppers are the choral numbers where the whole ensemble takes the stage and brings the house down.  And even the spectators tap their feet and sing along, whether they know the words or not, whether they speak the language or not.  And that's what makes it great.

Or so says Dr. Barreto.  He spoke on Preaching and Race.  OK, he's a New Testament guy not a preaching guy.  But he could work on his titles.  Preaching and race.  Yawn.  Except it wasn't a yawner.  It was a protest song to rival Mary's song.  Why is the worship hour the most segregated hour of the week in our country?  What are we missing when certain voices aren't heard?  And how do we celebrate difference instead of asking for conformity?  The Old Testament law is a remarkable document of hospitality and inclusion, why do we focus on the things that divide us?

I know, it's more complicated than that.  But time is running out.  I am due back at National City Church for a special evening service.  The theme is Reclaiming Jesus, and many famous preachers (including Bishop Michael Curry just back from preaching at a wedding somewhere in England) and other Christian leaders are gathering for worship and then a candlelight vigil and march to the White House.  Reclaiming Jesus means that some of us aren't happy with the way Jesus has been co-opted by a segment of the Christian community that wants to emphasize difference as bad, to build walls and not bigger tables, to call some of the human community animals and to claim that things like immigration reform are not biblical issues.  We think some have misrepresented Jesus to the world at large and we want to stand against that.  So, we'll worship and pray, preach and probably sing as we march through the capital city to say Jesus is bigger than some have portrayed.  And I want to be in that number.

Why?  What difference will it make to this issue?  What change will it bring to the struggles in this country over issues of hospitality and acceptance?  Probably none.  It's a foolish act, some will say.  Heck, I'll say it.  It's pretty foolish to think a bunch of preachers ad other Christians marching through Washington singing Jesus songs will make a lick of difference in the world of politics and race.  But as Luke Powery, Dean of Duke Chapel, told us this afternoon, maybe our best bet is to be a fool for Christ.  

And Dr David Lose came back this afternoon to remind us that we like to believe we are Homo Sapiens - Humans who think.  And actually the proper scientific designation is Homo Sapiens Sapiens - Humans who think about our thinking!  But Lose says it isn't our thinking that makes us who we are.  No, he argues, we are Homo Narrans - Humans who tell stories.  It is the story we live by.  It is the story that defines us.  And I am one of those who believes that we as a nation need a better story than the one we are writing at this time.  And I just might know the story we should tell.


PS.  I neglected to give thanks to the one who allowed me to be here this week and experience all of this stuff I've been writing about.  And it is an especially egregious error because today is our 38th Anniversary.  Happy Anniversary La Donna.  Thank you for who you are and the blessing you are to me.  Love you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Demons and Praying" The Festival of Homiletics 2018, Washington D.C.

Mark 9:28-29 When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "This kind can come out only through prayer." 

Day three of the Festival began with sunshine.  The storms of the night before had cleared and the sky was almost painfully blue and bright.  But I made my way to the opening worship with anticipation and hope.  Another new venue today.  I started at National City Christian Church.  I went to hear the pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church, the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, preach.  She is the first woman senior pastor in that historic church's 200 year history.  And she represented us well.  

I got to the church early and climbed the massive stairs to the main entrance, only to find it closed.  
Those were the stairs, that guy was still sitting there as I climbed.  And there was a young woman, in pink running gear getting her steps in, up and down those stone stairs on this bright early morning.  But we were locked out.  Left waiting for someone to come and open the church.  I wasn't that early, maybe 30 minutes or so.  But still no open door.  Curious.  Finally, a few minutes before we were due to start the morning worship, someone opened the door.  We few who waited at the top of those stairs were let in.  Only to find the sanctuary and other gathering room already occupied.  Turns out, few use the front doors of this church, except those like the young woman in pink who use it for exercise.  Others come in a lower door and take the elevator to the sanctuary.

I grumbled.  As I do.  Maybe too much.  And here I decided is the time and space for my annual Festival grumble.  We clergy don't know how to worship.  We just don't.  I'm often embarrassed by the antics of "my colleagues" who stumble into worship late and then gawk around at the fancy building, even pulling their phones out to take pictures during the service, and chat with their neighbors about various and sundry, and - and this is the worst - don't just forget to turn off their phones, but will actually take a call during the sermon!  I've heard them a couple of times this week.  "Hello?," they'll say, somewhat quietly, but still loud enough to be heard by most in the room, as they walk out.  Geeze.  We're so used to being in charge, some argue, that we have forgotten how to follow.  We've forgotten how to be present.  Others tell me I'm being overly sensitive, that this is a special thing, a Festival, not their normal behavior for worship surely.  Yeah, right, and don't call me Shirley.

I did that rant because of Rev. Gaines-Cirelli.  Blame it on her.  She based her sermon on Isaiah 30, where the prophet is confronted by those who don't want to hear the truth, who don't want to hear the challenge of the faith.  They say, lighten up, preacher.  Tell us smooth things.  I love that phrase.  Verse 10 says, do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusion.  We want an illusion, we rarely want truth.  We want the easy way, the comfortable way, the way that won't make us have to change much.  Well, Ginger told us this morning, stop preaching smooth things!  We've all done it, she proclaimed, we've all softened the blow, eased up, not asked for, not expected much.  Not told the truth because it would make people mad and they might stop coming, might stop giving.  So better pander, better tickle the ear, soothe the troubled waters.  Do I dare?  Do any of us dare not preaching smooth things?  Even when we know the world is dying because of it? Because we've told them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.  Not what the Word of Lord really says.  Do we dare?

I'm not sure, frankly.  It's hard work.  From there I went back to Metropolitan AME church to hear one of my favorite preachers at the festival.  Dr. Craig Barnes is now president of Princeton Seminary, but has served various Presbyterian Churches in the East, including in Washington DC.  He was ten years in our nations capital and he told us in his afternoon lecture that there were a number of politicians who worshiped in his church, and yes, they sat on the left or on the right as befitted their party affiliation.  Seriously?  

For worship he chose Mark 9 and the story of casting out the demon after the transfiguration.  The one the disciples struggled with.  The one that they argued over, disappointed Him over.  He had given them authority again and again to help people get rid of their demons, but here they were unable.  We're supposed to help people with their demons.  It's one of our main jobs, according to Mark's gospel anyway.  Preach the Gospel and cast out demons.  That's pretty much it.  But we can't.  We struggle.  Partly because we don't believe in demons any more.  All people really need is a good therapist.  Or a life coach.  Just work a little harder, you'll be fine.  

You know who still believes in demons?  No, not the crazy people who see devils behind every bush.  Not the lazy Christians who simply want to find someone else to blame for their own sinfulness.  No, the ones who still believe in demons are the folks in AA, and other recovery programs like that.  A part of the nature of those efforts is that there is something about which I am powerless to change.  Powerless.  Many in the world, many of us, are in the grip of things beyond our control  Calling them demons doesn't empower them any more than calling them illnesses or addictions diminishes them.  Nomenclature doesn't matter.  No really.  Call it what you will.  Evil.  Demonic. Powers and Principalities.  The System.  Empire.  We are powerless before it.  Powerless.  Why can't we cast them out?  We've been trying really hard.  We've got all these programs, all these efforts.  Why Jesus.  These kind can only come out through prayer.  

See that's the only power we have over evil.  The power of prayer.  We take them to Jesus.  Those under the influence of power beyond their control.  It's all we have in the end.  Take them to Jesus.  Take them, not send them, take them.  

We weren't done with demons.  Dr Barnes was back after lunch with an analysis of Matthews version of the Temptation story.  Here the chief demon was tempting Jesus by, Barnes argues, playing on the anxieties we all have.  I fully intend to steal, I mean learn from this lecture for my own sermon series soon, so I don't want to spill all the beans here.  Except to say that Craig makes a convincing case.  The temptations play on the anxieties we all feel, especially in a world of crazy politics like we have right now.  And when we are tempted to ease our anxieties with false securities, false hopes, false methodologies, when we substitute real needs for truth and freedom for security and the comfortable lie that all will be well if we get rid of them (fill in your own them), then we succumb to the wiles of the devil and abandon the cause of Christ.  Make no mistake, what He was wrestling with in the desert those 40 days was not just about Him, but about all of us.  It was His incarnation that brought about the anxiety, His humanity which was just like ours.  Those are our anxieties, our fears, our limitations and our proclivity to settle for less than the Kingdom of God.

Which is what Father Richard Rohr came to tell us in our final session of the day.  He too talked about demons.  He too pointed out how prevalent they are in our world.  Not as imps with pitchforks and magic powers.  But as forces beyond our control.  Father Rohr reminded us of the classic Catholic moral theology that suggested that evil has three sources - the world, the flesh and the devil.  And that we have spent almost all of our time on the middle one.  The flesh.  We talk about, preach about, hold confession about, the sin of our hearts and our lives and our bodies.  Our individual sin.  And the result of that is a screwed up notion of what evil really is, he argues.  The sin, the evil of the world, is the evil that is tolerated corporately.  There are things we accept as a body that we won't accept from individuals.  An individual kills and it is evil and sin.  A nation kills and it is war and unfortunately necessary.  An individual steals and it is evil and sin.  A corporation steals and it is how business is done.  

On the other end of the scale, the devil, Rohr argues that the demonic is sin that is worshiped.  The Old Testament is pretty clear that sin is at heart all idolatry.  And yet we seem to be encouraged to worship our nation, worship our family, worship our way of life.  

Too big to fail is an act of idolatry, Rohr argues.  Clarity is the opposite of truth, often the enemy of truth, says Barnes.  Stop preaching smooth things, says Gaines-Cirelli.  Frankly, I'm not sure what to do with all of this.  Except that it seems true that a casual approach to worship and to prayer is not the solution we need.  These kind of demons only come with prayer.

Pray with me. For our church caught in a struggle with demons.  For our nation, all to willing to succumb to the easy lure of the demonic.  For our world, powerless before that which will consume us all.  For us.  All of us.  Each of us.  Me.  You.  Pray for us.  It's the only way out.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Meat, Story and Thunderstorms," Festival of Homiletics 2018, Washington D.C.

Day two of the Festival brought rain.  A light drizzly rain that didn't really soak you, yet dripped and dropped on you every time you went out.  A little messy, a little humid, a little inconvenience, but in the end it didn't dampen the spirit.  And today was full of the Spirit.  Maybe it was because all the sessions I attended were held at Metropolitan AME Church near the corner of 15th and M Street, a few blocks north of the Washington Monument.
A historic building and community of faith.  The pastor who welcomed us said it was the oldest property and business continually held by African Americans in our capital city.  Frederick Douglass was a member there.  Many famous African Americans and other notables preached there, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.  The Rose Window at the front of the building, or the back of the sanctuary, depicted many significant events in Black Church history, not just the AME tradition.  But Richard Allen who walked out of St George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia when we wasn't allowed to preach and free black slaves were not allowed to receive communion with their white brothers and sisters, is depicted in that window as the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  But the oldest date in the window references a different event that helped shape the consciousness of the AME style of worship and preaching.  
You can't make it out in this picture, but it is 1739, when John Wesley on Aldersgate Street in London felt his heart strangely warmed and realized that salvation was not just a head thing, but a heart thing too.  Today was heady, to say the least, but heart warming at the same time.

We began with Walter Brueggemann, the 85 year old professor of Hebrew Scriptures and irascible prophet of the whole church.  I guess at 85 you can be as irascible as you want.  And he came, as his introducer said, to trouble the waters of complacency in the church. His sermon was titled "Meat, Anxiety, Injustice" and he took as his text the story in I Kings about Solomon and his excesses when it came to feeding his entourage.  The numbers of animals it took to feed the royal party was staggering.  And it was also clear that this largess didn't trickle down to the hungry ones underneath, or even the workers who slaughtered the herds of oxen and hunted the flocks of sheep and game birds.  And then Brueggemann flipped the script on us and told us about Jesus' depiction of this story in a little parable about building bigger barns and the fool who only wanted his own happiness.  He was going to share, perhaps, he was going to do good, possibly, as soon as he had enough, as soon as got more.  But then he died.  The quest for more is bringing this country to a ruin, he said, even as it brings each citizen the anxiety of wanting.  Get out of the anxiety game, Brueggemann warned, it will kill you.  And, when we are anxious and greedy, we can't do justice.

His words rang in the rafters of that old church.  And echoed in the souls of all the hearers.  We were unsettled, to say the least.  To pick up the refrain and sing the next verse, Walter was followed by Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, founding pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia, a church built on the foundation of social justice, working with the marginalized in housing and healthcare and education.  Hale brought us a familiar word delivered with passion and power and more unsettling: "What Does the Lord Require of Us?" based on Micah 6.  The answer wasn't a surprise, to us or to Micah's initial hearers.  Yet we still want to ask.  Maybe we're hoping for a different answer.  Something easier.  Something simpler.  But Hale, after cataloging a nation off the rails in so many ways, she held that answer before us.  And even reminded us of Micah's exasperation in presenting it.  He has told you, o Mortal.  Human person, He has told you, and told you and told you.  Do justice.  Love Mercy.  Walk Humbly.  Yet we prize the self-centered and arrogant.  We cast aside the hurting as being too uncomfortable for us.  And we wait for a better time to talk about justice.  What does the Lord require?

I know what the Lord requires, but what we required after such an intense morning, is a last word before lunch that was a word of grace.  Grace Imathiu to be precise.  Grace is originally from Kenya, and yet has been a United Methodist Pastor in the States for many years.  There is a sense of wonder and humor about Grace that is infectious.  And more than that, it is transforming. In her way Grace was as insistent on doing justice as both Walter and Cynthia.  But she did it while making us laugh and telling us stories.  Stories, she says, can redefine, can marginalize, can reduce people to animals.  Or stories can include and redefine and transform.  But only when we tell the whole story.  Who's story is left out was the question she asked us.  As we tell our own stories, as we tell the stories of the nation, who is left out of the telling.  What stories, she asked us, have we forgotten in order to perpetuate the lie that fits our broken story and our broken history?  What stories of pain are ignored, what stories of suffering are overlooked, what stories would make us rethink who we are if they were told?  And how can we hear and then tell those stories?

There was much more to this day.  Walter was back with more after lunch.  The Rev Otis Moss III came too, to challenge us to make gumbo in our preaching, to bring from other traditions, other stories to enrich the broth and feed the people.  We had visitors from the Hill.  Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren came to encourage us to not give up on the call to justice, to not give up on the brokenhearted, and to not give up on them, those who want to represent the best of us, the highest aspirations of God's people  and to call us to continue to preach justice for all.

It was a long day, an intense but spirit-filled day.  And I am now sitting here in my room listening to the thunder roll across this city.  And I wonder if we are getting an Amen from above.  

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.  Amen and amen.


Monday, May 21, 2018

"Evensong and Tricycles" Festival of Homiletics 2018, Washington D.C.

Our nation's capital is the venue for this year's Festival of Homiletics.  So of course the theme would  be "Preaching and Politics."  It's a treacherous road to walk, full of pitfalls and quagmires on every side.  And yet, how can we not?  Politics - not the partisan muddle that we find in this place all too often, but the ordering of the polis - the people and how their lives are lived out day by day - is the subject of preaching.  It's about connecting and opening eyes and revealing the relevance of Word and life.  Nothing is more political than the gospel.  Nothing is more needed in a world of bad politics than preaching that reveals truth and considers grace.  

At least that's how I understand it.  I'll let you know what I hear this week.  We began tonight in the National Cathedral.  We were welcomed by the Dean of the Cathedral and the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, welcomed to "your cathedral" they said.  The nation's church.  A beautiful place, still recovering from the earthquake of 2011.

It is awe inspiring.  The evening's events began with Evensong.  The choir was made up of young women from the Cathedral School and they sang like angels, filling the large Gothic nave with voices raised in praise to our God.  The sound reverberated, giving the impression that heaven was echoing the praise, adding to, enhancing what we mere mortals could provide.

There is no sermon in Evensong, just prayers and scripture and singing, choral and congregational.  Perhaps an odd beginning to a preaching conference, but appropriate nonetheless.  All of us preachers need to be quiet before we speak.  We need to listen, we need to be lifted, we need to be reminded that the church doesn't rise and fall on our words, but on the Word of God.  So we listened.  And we sang.  And a little bit of the Spirit crept back into our souls.  Well, mine anyway.

Then we began worship as a Festival.  Another procession, this time no choir, but lots of celebrants, and preachers and liturgists.  And three Cathedral school youth, carrying the candles of the light of the Spirit and the cross that led the procession.  I sat on the aisle and saw them pass.  Their faces were serious, almost grim.  Perhaps drilled in the proper respect to the august occasion.  Perhaps burdened by the weight of the objects they carried, candles and holders taller than that little girls carrying them, and a processional cross that seemed to weigh more than the slightly taller young man who carried it confidently.  Or perhaps they had a sense of the need of the world that had gathered there that evening.  1700 preachers from many mainline denominations across the country and the world, had gathered to listen, to learn, to be inspired, transformed, healed perhaps.  There were more casts that I remembered seeing in previous years.  Crutches and canes, walkers and wheelchairs; we are the wounded preachers, it seems.  Some of our wounds weren't so visible.  But deep hurts, tender hearts bruised by the rough and tumble of leading the church, vocations stretched to their limit and even beyond; all in need of healing.  All in need of encouragement.  All needing convinced that we can climb into that pulpit, the one we left behind to come here, one more time.  

The preacher was Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Biblical Preaching and Chair of Homiletics at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, and one of the sponsors of the event.  Maybe that's how you get to go first, run the thing!  She preached on "The Politics of Pneuma."  The Spirit is political, she argued, no sense trying to keep her out.  The Spirit goes where it wills and we would do well to follow, to listen, to speak where the Spirit speaks.  A risky thing, letting the Spirit lead us.  Who knows where we might end up?  Who knows who we might end up including?  Who knows what we might become?  

Dr Lewis was accompanied by a Gospel trio.  Striking black women who sang with power and presence, sang with the Spirit.  I love African American gospel singing.  They sang some familiar songs, and some I didn't know.  Accompanied by the powerful gospel piano and the voice from the bench, they filled the room with praise and challenge.  But it sounded different in that vast space.  It didn't lilt like the Cathedral Choir at Evensong, didn't float in the spaces breathlessly.  Instead it rang, like a bell, bouncing off the stone, ringing in our ears.  It had an edge to it, a challenge.  These angels were there to trouble the waters, not soothe them.

We concluded with Communion.  And once again I was reminded that clergy are better at giving instructions than following them.  It was chaotic, to say the least.  It required a little patience for all to be readied for a crowd this size.  And patience was in short supply.  Lines formed and then unformed, some went one way then rushed back the other way, stood and then sat and then stood again, as if waiting for a bus coming through the traffic to bring them home.  I sighed and shook my head, wondering why we have such trouble sitting and waiting.  Why we want to press into the flow and not let it come to us.  But the elements waited, were made ready and all were eventually served.  There was grace enough for all.

The evening concluded with a lecture from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.  And a favorite of some in my congregation at Southport.  He spoke about authority in the grand Episcopal Cathedral in the city of political power for the nation.  But he spoke humbly and with humor and gentleness.  He asked us to reconsider our considerations.  He asked us to think again about what we stand on.  What we say we stand on and what we actually stand on.  He pointed out in the politically confused point in history that saying you stand on the Bible as your foundation doesn't actually mean you've ever read it.  

Father Rohr pointed out that Jesus went out of his way to avoid binary thinking.  Binary thinking - this or that, right or wrong, black or white.  Every time Jesus was cornered and forced to give an answer is it this or is it that, He always found another thing.  Or a way of saying this and that, or neither.  Binary thinking, says Rohr, is the limitation of grace.  He encouraged more contemplative thinking.  

Then he challenged us Wesleyans.  Saying he had great respect for Wesley, considered him something of a mystic.  But chose to ride a three wheeled tricycle instead of a four sided quadrilateral.  What he wanted to leave out was reason.  Reason is what leads to binary thinking.  He would rather lead with experience.  It's what we all do anyway, he claims.  We say we're based on our thinking and deciding, when in fact we go with our experience.  With what we live, what we feel, what we take up in our being.  Let our experience lead the way, but be guided and shaped by scripture and tradition.  That should keep us on track.

I find myself leaning into this way of thinking.  And want to know more about a center of action and contemplation - that sounds fascinating to me.  But I need to think about it some more.  Need to reason?  Maybe.  Or need to live it for a while.  Dwell on it.  Grow with it.  

Lots more to come over the next four days.  I am anxious to experience more.

God's Shalom,

Saturday, May 19, 2018

When You Walk

I’m excited.  I’m excited that it is time for my favorite continuing education event of the year.  On Monday morning I fly out to Washington DC for a week of preaching and preachers.  I know, right?  It’s called the Festival of Homiletics and the event gathers together some of the best preachers and teachers of preaching from the mainline traditions of the Church, along with about eighteen preachers like me from all over the country and the world.  And for a week or most of a week, we worship and we learn and we hear preachers from morning until evening.  Four or five sermons a day, along with three or four lectures on preaching a day.  Can you imagine?  Aren’t you envious of me?  Wouldn’t you like to come along with me and listen to preachers all day long for five days?  

I’ve been going to this event for many years, almost twenty years by now, and I haven’t found very many lay people who think that even sounds interesting, let alone consider for a moment that they would go along.  Maybe one that I can think of.  But most consider it something akin to torture to image listening to sermon after sermon for a whole week.  

To each their own, we say, one person’s meat is another person’s poison.  Yeah, I get that.  The idea of spending an afternoon watching fast cars drive in circles doesn’t really excite me at all.  But this city is pretty stoked about it.   It takes all kinds to make a world.  That’s another thing they say.  We say.  Because it is true.  Because there is so much variety in the world.  So much difference in preference and behavior, in ways of walking through the world.  It’s a wonder that any of us get along, frankly.  Yet we do.  Somewhat.  And we need to more than we do.  We need to be bound up.  We need to be one heart and one mind, as the church was, once upon a time.  

I’m excited because it is Pentecost again.  It is that time where we remember that what we are is not just what we see.  When we are reminded that the real power we have to do anything as the church is not our own power, but God’s power poured out in fire and wind.  And we are reminded that the first thing that happened was that bridges were built.  Barriers were overcome.  By the power of the Spirit, on Pentecost, the followers of Jesus spoke in other languages.  They could have said, no, if they are coming here, these foreigners, they have to learn our language, they have to be like us, speak like us.  But they didn’t.  They spoke to them in their language, crossed that barrier of separation and told everyone they could the good news that had saved them from despair.  

It’s about a church coming together.  Recognizing that they can only be the church if they are together.  That their doubt and fear and despair had driven them apart.  But when they came together, that’s when the Spirit came.  That’s when the power came.  That’s when the hope came.  Despite their differences they came together.  

I’m excited because this Pentecost we will welcome some new members to the church here at Southport.  A group of young people have walked a path of learning and growing that we call Confirmation, and on Pentecost Sunday will say yes to the church.  They’ve already said yes to Jesus, and to the faith.  Some of them years ago.  But now they will say yes to the church.  They will acknowledge that if they are going to walk in the way of faith it will be better to do it together.  

Because not every step will be an easy or a certain one.  Not every turning will be a helpful one.  We need each other if we’re going to walk in the way.  We need the family, the body of Christ.  If only to remind us that there is One who walks with us always.

Isaiah 43:1-3a  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 

This has always been a favorite passage of mine.  Favorite from Isaiah, certainly, favorite of the whole Bible.  Partly because it is so brutally honest.  When you pass through the waters, Isaiah says God says, when you walk through fire.  When, you notice, not if.  When.  It’s going to happen.  It is part of life, this wading through the waters of doubt and despair, this plunging into the fires of suffering and sin.  It is just as certain as your next heartbeat, as that breath you just took.  Anyone who tells you that a life of faith is a life of safety and security is lying to you.  Anyone who says Jesus promises a protective bubble around you, health and wealth and prosperity, is not telling you the truth.  

So, what’s the point, you might ask?  And many do ask.  Even those on the inside, those who are walking.  We all ask from time to time.  Why bother?  Why not just make your own way.  You are as likely to be as happy following your own nose as you are trying to keep up with Jesus who insists on walking through some rough neighborhoods and over some dangerous terrain.  So why bother?  The young people in the Confirmation class asked that.  Why bother with the church?  Why bother standing up and making these vows, these promises?  

I’m excited because we’re all going to say yes again on Pentecost.  We are engaging in a renewal of baptism ritual all morning long.  A chance to say yes to walking in the way of Christ, the way of faith, the way of grace.  We are remembering that we made a choice at some point in our journey.  Maybe a long time ago.  And maybe someone made it first for us, but then we said yes, ok, I’ll claim those promises, I’ll confirm those vows.  It’s now my choice, my decision.  I’m going to walk through the waters, I’m going to stride through the fires.  We may forget from time to time. We may want to follow our own way, our own desires, our own laziness or sinfulness or just stubbornness.  Or we may think we’ve got a better idea, one of safety for me and those like me, those I can love easily.  And we forget that we said that we wanted to walk differently.  We wanted to walk hand in hand with the One who loves us more than we can even imagine.  

We forget.  So we’re remembering.  On Pentecost.  Wind and fire, water and covenant.  We’re remembering together.  And that’s precisely what we’re remembering.  That we’re together.  That for us, it isn’t all about me.  It isn’t just what I want, what I earn, what I deserve.  Because when we decide to live by that accounting, we will come up a lot more short than we realized.  What we deserve, what we’ve earned, is a lot less than we imagine.  Our eyes are truly bigger than our stomachs.  Our glorification of self is bigger than our reality, than our influence.  Until we decide and remember we decided to walk in the way of the One who was glorified in His suffering, in His surrender, in His dying, and by His living we are made more than we could possibly be on our own.  

And no one is going to remind us of that but the community of faith, who knows us in our weakness and loves us in our hope.  No one is going to keep us alive in faith than the partners on the journey who remind us who we are.  And that no matter how deep the water, no matter how hot the fire, we come through because we are surrounded by those who have walked this way before and are walking it again with us.  That’s why we bother.  Not to protect us from this life, but to help us experience it with hope.  Not to shield us from pain but to help us let that pain transform us into something more, something better, something more alive.  

I’m going to the Festival by myself, but not alone.  There will be many others there, most of whom I don’t know but yet am indebted to.  And I get to extend the event this year and go spend a few days with my daughter Maddie in Boston, that’s a bonus I give thanks for.  But more than that, I go with you.  The family of God.  Not to drag you along to something that just might bore you to tears.  But to carry you in my head and my heart as I continually ask what can I share from all of this that just might make a difference to my brothers and sisters at Southport and beyond?   How can I walk with them through their waters because they have walked with me in mine?   I’m excited about finding answers to those questions.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fitting for the Saints

Landmine Day.  No, not an official event on the calendar.  Rather it is a reference to the delicacy of this day.  An indicator of how it just might go wrong.  Mother’s Day.  A day worthy of honor, certainly.  A subject worthy of recognition.  More than Shrimp Scampi Day, at least as much as Nurses Day, or any other day of honoring. Yet, a difficult day, nonetheless.  What might start out as an attempt to give honor ends up with hurt feelings. And the potential for hurt seems so vast. Not out of maliciousness but out of unknowing.  You didn’t know how your story of a mother’s selfless love rubbed against the one who lived under the thumb of a domineering mother, or endured a lifetime of neglect from a mother ill-equipped for the task thrust upon them.  You didn’t know.  You didn’t know how your little story of how becoming a mother changes a person inside and out and makes you a little more aware of the power and presence of God broke the heart of the woman who ached to have a child and yet seemed unable to the increasing frustration of the family as whole and stretched the marriage to the breaking point.  You didn’t know.  

Some might think this is just “political correctness” run amok.  That people shouldn’t be so sensitive.  Can’t we just recognize the institution of motherhood without all the tears and hurt feelings?  Probably not.  These are deep matters, things that strike at the very core of our being.  Mother, like father, isn’t something we do.  It is something that we are.  It is the essence of the self.  Or, it is the primal need we are each born with, created with a need to be nurtured, cared for.  Oh, I know we value the rugged individualist who carves his or her own path through the world, not dependant on anyone for their sense of worth and value.  But, frankly, it’s a lie we’ve bought into.  That we don’t need anyone.  That we don’t need to be mothered.  To be tended, supported, loved.  That’s not a flaw to need this, it is part of the design.  It is how we are made.  

And God wants to be our Mother.  Wants to be the One who comforts us in our distress, who encourages us when the winds of opposition blow so hard we can barely move, who directs us when the clouds of doubt obscure our path.  God wants to be the One who takes us by that hand and teaches us how to walk.  Hosea told us that.  Poor Hosea who was asked to live an impossible love so that he could bear witness to a mothering God who won’t give up on us no matter what we do, where we go, who we hurt.  And the One we hurt is usually the One who loves us most. 

God is our mother, care-giver, nurturer.  This is a biblical image as meaningful as the father image.  And in such an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture, it is even more significant that God as mother images appear at all, let alone with such poignancy and power.  We struggle with the language sometimes, assigning gender roles to God, but it is our limitation, not God’s.  It is our hesitation, not God’s.  Our inability to see God at work in the best of us regardless of gender.

See, that’s how this works, this nurturing thing, this caring for thing, this mothering thing.  It’s God, the model, the vision, the hope.  But since we have trouble dealing with things beyond our reach we need intermediaries.  We need those who stand in the place of God.  Not limiting access, but opening doors.  Not gatekeepers, but windows into a deeper reality, a higher plane.  God designed life in such a way that we have these contacts.  We have access to the divine through the community that surrounds us.   We find our way into the Presence of God by staying close to the people God puts in our path.  

Romans 16:1-16  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother-- a mother to me also. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

What an odd passage to read on Mother’s Day.  Or any day for that matter.  It’s a list.  Just a list.  We’re not going to get a lot of inspiration from the list.  From this list.  Or any list, come to think of it.  We’ll be preaching from grocery lists next.  From inventories.  From the table of contents, or the index at the back of the book.  What’s with the list?

I like it.  I suspect Paul does too.  He likes it because it is his.  His list, his memories, his family.  Did you hear it?  In the recitation of the unpronounceable?  Tucked away in the funny names, and the formal mission oriented language?  There is a heart here.  Paul’s heart.  Which is surprisingly like our hearts. 

Of course I honed in on verse thirteen.  Rufus.  Greet Rufus.  Chosen in the Lord.  Chosen for what?  We don’t know.  Chosen how?  We don’t know that either.  Did Rufus know he was chosen?  Was this the big reveal?  Did Rufus read this and slap his forehead?  OMG, he says under his breath, Chosen?  I was chosen?  For what?  But, if Rufus was surprised there was one who wasn’t.  His mom.  Right there behind him.  She knew a good thing when she saw it, and her Rufus was a good thing.  She was his cheerleader, his main support, the one who believed in him when he forgot how to believe in himself.  She knew he was chosen before any Tarsus born Saint came along to name him as chosen.  She knew.  But she also knew who would help her boy find himself.  So when Paul showed up, looking like something the cat dragged in because he’d been running for his life, she made up the guest bed and showed him where the towels were and what time breakfast was served, and if he knew what was good for him, he’d wash his hands before he sat down at her table.  Paul says, with a smile, she was a mother to me also.  Got his elbows off the table and told him to sit up straight and he wasn’t going out preaching wearing that, was he?  And yeah, ok, he could raise the dead, but maybe he should cut his sermons short anyway, so another kid doesn’t doze off and tumble out a window.  

I don’t really know what she did to get this mention in Paul’s magnum opus.  No one knows.  Except Paul, and Rufus and his mom.  And that’s the story behind all the names in this list.  Somehow they made a connection.  Epaenetus, he was the first one who thought maybe Paul had something to say, not just a crazy preacher with an odd accent, but a Word of life somehow.  He thanks the workers, Mary and Persis and Urbanus, and Prisca and Aquila who not only worked but went out on a limb with him, strayed into the wrong part of town because folks there needed Jesus too.  Oh, and Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord, Paul says.  They have to be twins, with names like that.  And you know Paul kept getting them mixed up; called Tryphaena Tryphosa more than once and while anyone else made them mad when they couldn’t see that in their own eyes they were as different as night and day; when Paul did it it only made them giggle and shake their heads at him.  Then he greets his cell mates, Andronicas and Junias, the ones who helped him with the third verse of the hymns he tried to sing when they were locked away in the dark.

There are two he doesn’t greet directly, but greets their family.  Greet the family of, he says, Aristobulus and Narcissus.  Maybe they were traveling, and Paul wanted to thank their families.  Or maybe they had died, gone ahead into the kingdom, and Paul wanted to tell them he remembered them, they were part of the family, numbered among the saints.  That they too, through their loved ones, were windows into the grace of God.  All these windows that Paul mentions and the ones you’re thinking of right now and the ones on my list they don’t replace God in my life, but they help make God knowable.  The invitation this holiday is to give thanks to all those who have nurtured us, all those who have mothered us, all those who have helped us know God our Mother.  Happy Mother’s Day. 


Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Leaves of the Tree

One of the most definitive sounds of spring assailed our ears early this morning - lawnmowers.  Everywhere, everyone.  Some have been mowing for a while now, but most have waited.  But the recent warmth and the rains that fell last week made even the most reluctant finally decide to break out the mower and get to the work of taming the unruly lawn.  And getting an early start is the prudent approach, despite those who might have thought sleeping in on a Saturday was a precious gift.  Serious sleepers could pull the covers over their heads and ignore the drone of the neighborhood.  But it was inevitable, persistent.  First one a block away or more, then another, an antiphonal sound from a perpendicular street, then more, a different pitch, more insistent, nearer then farther.  Soon it was a chorus, a lawn maintenance choir singing full-throated praises to the green of spring.  

Like any volunteer chorus, there is a pull to join in, to get up and add your voice to the choir.  Our lawn mower sleeps in on Saturday though, but he’ll get to it, eventually.  Maybe a solo, an aria to signal the second movement of singers, those who wait until later, until the grass has awakened to the percussion of the symphony of spring.  Some of this second wave are the sleepers, but some are those who have to prepare the lawn for mowing.  Raking last season’s coat from the edges and the gardens.  We live in a wooded older neighborhood, with trees hemming us in on every side.  As the grass grows green and lush and tall, so too the trees clothe themselves in the beauty of the new season.  The old brown leftovers from a colorful fall are replaced by the fresh green foliage of spring.  

Leaves.  If mowers are the unmistakable sound of spring in our communities, then leaves are the sight that tells us it is here at last.  Here is fullness, here to stay.  The trees fill out and muffle the sound of the interstate down the hill, and the very mowers singing this Sabbath morning, making it a sweet reminder of spring rather than the irritation of suburbia. The leaves on the trees convince us that we live in nature not in a human construct of concrete and asphalt.  The old leaves are bagged up and carted away or mulched into the ground to feed the next generation of grass and weeds of various kinds.  They are sustenance for what is to come.  The foundation for what will grow and thrive and then feed what follows.  

There is something of the work of creation around us today.  Indeed it is around every day, but we manage to ignore it most of the time.  We are more focused on our own creation, our own efforts, than on the workings of what God has put into place.  But some days it just seems to leap to our attention and demand that we take notice, demand that we remember we are but a part of all God has put into place, a cog in the machinery of creation, a cell in the organism that is our cosmos.  And rather than grumbling that it isn’t all about us, that we aren’t the center of all that we see and all that we know, we can instead rejoice that we were given the great privilege of partnering with the Creator of all that is in building the Kingdom, the true face of Creation.  We can help realize what God intended in how we choose to live, in what we choose to offer, in the way we walk through this world and this life.  We don’t have to accept what is, what has come to be because of sin and brokenness, because of greed and suffering.  We can claim something else as definitive. We can reject walls and build bridges.  We can turn away from oppressing, from hating, from wounding and killing and embrace healing.  God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s realm is about healing.  God wills healing and wholeness always.  Always.

Rev. 21:22-22:2 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day-- and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.  22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Revelation: that most misunderstood, terrifyingly misused manifesto of God’s sovereignty.  We’ll tackle the whole at another time (Join us this summer for our “Meet the Bible” series beginning May 31st and June 3).  But for now we take a look at the final statement.  The final image, the description of all that is right, all that will be right with what God has made.  I just took a snippet of that image for this message.  Just a glimpse around the corner of what is coming.  

And what we see is light.  Light and life.  That’s what marks the Kingdom of God.  Light of such a power and presence that the lights of this world no longer are needed.  There’s no temple in the city of heaven, notice that?  The temple, the churches, the place of worship and of faith that have been the only light in a dark and distant time are no longer needed.  Because light permeates the place.  Light is everywhere and everyone.  You don’t have to seek God, God is among us, God is in us.  We don’t have to point out God, God is the air that we breathe in heaven.  We don’t have to bow to remember the light, we are lifted up by the light.  

So, if there is no temple, no place of worship, then will we not worship in heaven?   Of course we will worship!  Worship will be our main mode of existence.  The difference is there won’t be a place and a time for worship, because life will be worship.  Living and breathing and moving and speaking will be worship.  And any earthly thing that we once thought worthy of worship, like position and power and wealth and accomplishment will pale in that light, the light that encompasses all.  And we will worship not the human things any of us have done, but the divine spark that dwells in each and all of us, in all of creation.  And that which will inevitably seek to pull us away from that light will not find a place in the city of God.  We will live in, we will be beings of light.  The light we are now but cannot see because of the smudge of sin that clouds our vision.  But creation waits for the revealing of the children of light.  We will see it.  We will live in it.  God will be among us and in us and around us.  In the light.

And we will be alive.  That’s the other part of this vision.  Life.  The Evangelist is shown a river.  Because rivers are alive.  They run, they flow, they speak, babbling words of praise as they run from headwaters to delta.  A river that is life.  Because the kingdom is a place of life, a place alive.  A river running down the street.  Or maybe, the river was the street.  The means of locomotion, of transportation, from one end of the kingdom to the other.  We will move by life, travel by life, and live not far from life for eternity. 

The river isn’t the only representation of life, however.  There is the tree.  One tree notice.  Not trees, but tree.  Lots of fruit, twelve kinds of fruit from one tree.  Fruit that feeds and sustains.  Fruit that builds up and creates community  and gives order to life in eternity.  Fruit that is no longer forbidden, but encouraged.  Eat and let your eyes be opened.  Eat and let your life be sustained.  Eat and live in love.  Eat.

But, this isn’t about the river or the tree.  It isn’t about the light or about the fruit.  Surprised?  This is about the leaves.  It’s all about the leaves.  Sunday, May 6th is National Nurses Day.  We’re celebrating healing.  And healers.  We are saying thank you to those who partner with God in helping make our lives in this life more like the life in the next one.  The leaves are for the healing of the nations.  Peacemaking, to be sure.  Building of bridges and burying of hatchets.  But also healing.  Making well, patching open wounds and setting broken bones.  Have you thanked a nurse lately?  They are doing God’s work.  God is about healing.  Always.  Always.  

I know, I know, healing doesn’t always happen.  Actually it does.  It always happens.  But not always in the way we want.  Not always in the way we can see.  But sometimes, thanks be to God, it does.  Maybe it was a seeming miracle, maybe it was just the course of things.  But when healing happens we get a glimpse of eternity.  We get insight into the will of God, the plan of God, the promise of God that we will all be healed one day.  By the leaves.  The leaves of the tree that stands by the water of life.  The leaves that we rake and mulch and gather and give God thanks for are but precursors to those leaves that will heal us.  Remember that as you tend your yard this spring and this fall.  Remember the blessing and the promise.  And the leaves of the tree.