Saturday, July 18, 2015

Jesus - always with us

July 19, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels, MD

In the fall of 2012 I visited Bondeau, a small and remote community in rural Haiti. I was accompanied by three nurses, a teacher and his college-age daughter and a good friend who wanted to learn more about Haiti. We had a definite goal for ourselves. We would meet as many men, women and children as possible and we would visit for an extended period of time with community leaders and learn from them what they saw as their most immediate needs.

Let me take a moment to paint a picture of the Bondeau community. Bondeau is situated on the eastern shore of Haiti about 100 miles south of Port au Prince. It is about 8 miles from the nearest town, the port city of Miragoane. Bondeau consists of a school building, a rather large guesthouse, another large house that is home to children whose parents cannot afford to keep them at home, and multiple one-room concrete dwellings where the school teachers and their families live.

The residents of Bondeau live in huts that are strategically placed in the shade and scattered around the surrounding countryside. These dwellings have no sanitation, no running water, no windows and no floors. Residents of the Bondeau community live on approximately $1.00 a day, or less. This area of Haiti is unusually arid. Agriculture is not a viable way of life. There are no stores or other businesses within a 6 mile area. Several people own small motorcycles, but aside from that community residents must walk everywhere. Some children walk up to two hours to get to school each day.

During that fall visit to Bondeau; our little group was welcomed with open arms. The hospitality of the community residents, a key value in Haiti, was so very touching. Those who had literally nothing went to extremes to ensure that we had sufficient food and comfort in a setting where food and chairs and other such amenities are far and few between.

The morning before we were scheduled to leave, the priest in charge of the church and school arranged for us to meet with about 18 community leaders. He also served as our translator, although I am happy to say that as garbled as my French is, most people understood what I was trying to say.

We talked about a lot of things and we touched on many community needs - big needs like clean water, better education for the children, reading classes for adults, ways to start small businesses but, again and again, both men and women came back to their perceived biggest need. Healthcare. We need a clinic here, they all said. We have many people who are sick, many children who die. We have no way to get to the town. We need a clinic here, they said.

Moved, but also cautious, we all replied, We understand. We will try to make this happen for you.

Six months later, in March of 2013, I returned to Bondeau with a medical team of ten doctors and nurses - that was the first of now six fully staffed medical missions, with a seventh planned for this October. To date, we have treated over 1500 unduplicated patients for a wide range of diseases and we have established a school nurse program that provides basic nursing care and medications to the men, women and children of Bondeau five days a week, year round. The people of Bondeau have a clinic.

It is on the first medical mission trip - way back in March of 2013 - that I want to focus. Naturally, we were all very nervous and totally unprepared for almost everything that happened. We were thinking America where people have had healthcare everyday of their lives; but, we were in Haiti where people had had no healthcare whatsoever.

Our biggest fear was that no one would show up. Let me just say that as we arrived at the clinic site early the first morning, there were over 100 people waiting for us, with more people arriving, on foot, from every direction.

After managing our initial shock, we attempted to strategize. Our biggest question, how would we manage patient flow? Our second biggest question, how could our pharmacy team of two possibly fill prescriptions fast enough to get everyone home by the end of the day?

Those were important questions for us to consider, but we were still totally unprepared for the desperation of the crowd. The minute we opened our doors to see patients, the crowding and the pleas for help were completely overwhelming, and at two points during the day the crowd became completely unmanageable. I found myself in the middle of at least 100 people attempting to calm them and to assure them that we would not leave until every person had seen a doctor.

I know for certain, the Holy Spirit was with me as I entered that crowd absolutely scared to death and yet able to remain calm, and to calm them.

Of course, there is a point to this story - and, that is, that the moment a frantic, pushing, pleading community member entered the doctors room and sat down, that person calmed down completely. The compassion and caring of each doctor and nurse was uniform, the care with which they examined each patient was so very gentle. A few compassionate words, a gentle touch and the anxious and frightened were healed.

When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:54-56)

When I read todays Gospel passage, I thought immediately of that first medical clinic in Bondeau. I can just imagine the anxiety and the passion of the crowd as they see Jesus approaching them. In my minds eye I can see them rushing, crowding, pushing and pulling each other every which way. I am sure it would have been a noisy crowd with lots of shouting and angry outbursts. The children would have been frightened and started crying; the dogs and sheep, barking and bleating.

Total chaos and confusion.

Jesus, tired, ready for some respite with his disciples - some time to pray and reflect after an aggressive journey of always moving, moving forward to preach, to heal, to amaze and to bring hope Jesus is desperately needed. The people need him; to be healed; to be saved from oppression and slavery. Saved from the brutality of the Roman Empire. Saved from the greed of the high priests and the wealthy Jews. The people clamored for Jesus demanded to hear his words; yearned for his healing touch.  

And then, Jesus was among them. He was with them in every way - his compassionate gaze and the authority with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God, together with simply touching the fringe of his cloak was enough to heal them. To be one with Jesus was to be healed. To be one with Jesus is to be healed.

The other piece of Good News is, of course, that Jesus does not work to the beat of a time clock. He is not a 9-5 person who takes vacations. No, Jesus, and by extension God, is always with us - never too tired; never too busy for us.

Jesus made his presence in us and with us absolutely clear when he said in Matthew, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

However, it is up to us to reach out for the fringe of his cloak - it is up to us to cry out we need to be healed. Jesus will always respond always be in us; always be with us; always be among us, compassionately healing our worries and

our anxieties but, we need to reach out. We need to be with Jesus just as he is with us.

I am with you always to the end of the age…”

A couple of weeks ago I assisted at a memorial service here at Christ Church. The second reading was from the Book of Revelations, and as I read it I marveled once again at the powerful images of God with us set forth by the author of this
controversial last book of Scripture:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, See, I am making all things new. Also he said, Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. Then he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the

end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Rev. 21:1-7)

Powerful words from an all-loving God.  A God who gave his Son to be with us always, to the end of the age.

Just as the crowds pushed and pulled to touch Jesus, to be healed by him - Just as the residents of the Bondeau community pushed and pulled to get to the head of the long line of patients waiting to see one of our doctors - So, you and I who weep and worry in our own stress-filled lives need push and pull - to actively reach out - to touch the fringe on Jesus cloak - if we are to be healed - if we are to be one with him and to allow him to be one with us.  If we are to be truly children of God.   AMEN

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your Faith Has Made You Well

“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.” (Psalm 130, v1)

In exile, far from their home in Judah where their temple and sacred way of life had been destroyed by pagans, the Israelites cried out to the Lord - “Lord we are waiting for you to once again rescue us from slavery and oppression. We are waiting for you to save us. We know that you are merciful; we know that if we turn back to you, you will redeem us for our sins. We are waiting for you Lord - waiting more than a watchman for the morning”

How familiar are these thoughts and words written over 2500 years ago in the ancient cities of Babylonia where the Israelites, defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, waited in exile for over 50 years until the Persian King Darius invited them to return to their homeland and rebuild not only their temple but also their way of life of worshipping one god only and adhering to the commandments brought down to them by Moses, years before.

How familiar are these thoughts and words to us and to all Christians today as we struggle with horrific world events, both national and international, that target Christian men, women and children as they go about their day to day life, committed to following the way of Jesus and a life dedicated to love, forgiveness and peace.

Today’s refugees - exiled - just like the ancient Israelites. Today’s people in exile praying daily to God,  “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.”

I have to believe that no matter how terrified, how despondent, how lost in darkness those who live in exile must certainly be - no matter what their circumstance or frame of mind - I have to believe that all of these people have faith - faith that God - the Lord - will hear their cries and will redeem their souls. 

Perhaps, I believe this only to heal my own pain as I consider the mass pain of the Christian world, but I do believe it. I believe that as we face exile - no matter what sort of exile, literal or figurative - God sees us and knows us. God is with us as we face anxiety, depression, fear, discomfort, tremendous personal loss, and in many cases, death. I believe that not only is God with us, but that if only we reach out to him, the terror of our personal exile will become bearable, and a new way to walk forward in life with courage and hope - with faith - will become evident.

In today’s Gospel story we hear about two such examples of faith. The women who has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and Jairus whose daughter was ill and on the brink of death. Both are suffering. One from a prolonged and physically, as well as financially, draining illness. The other from the very real prospect of the unimaginable - loosing a child. Both are in a state of exhaustion, anxiety, and darkness. Both intuitively know that if they reach out to Jesus, he will somehow salvage the situation in which they find themselves. Both take risks in forging the crowds of people in which they find themselves and in imagining that Jesus will actually have time for them.

The chronically ill woman, trailing after Jesus as he walked through the crowd, finally was able to grasp a piece of his robe - immediately her hemorrhaging stopped. Sensing someone had touched his clothing Jesus turned to look at the women. In fear and trembling she fell before him, confessing that it had been she who reached out to him. He said to her, “Daughter your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Your faith has made you well….

Because of the woman, Jesus was delayed in reaching Jairus’ daughter. Seemingly, in these few brief moments of delay, the child died. Jesus was advised by the crowd that it would not be worth his while to visit Jairus’ daughter who had already died, but Jesus looked around at the crowd and said, “why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” Jesus continued on with Jairus and his wife, they entered the home, Jesus spoke to the child, and she was healed.

The child’s parents followed Jesus in patience and with faith in his ability to heal.

Being in exile is not always a physical upheaval from one’s home. There are so many different ways in which we as creatures in this unstable and turbulent world experience exile. Exile is all about being separated - separated from what ever we hold near and dear - separated from God. Exile is all about living in fear and darkness.

Coming out of exile is not always a return to the home or state of being from which we were separated. Coming out of exile can mean that we enter a whole new way of life - one that we might not necessarily have chosen for ourselves.

Surviving exile is staying close to God. Reaching out to touch his presence in ourselves and in those around us. 

Surviving exile is having patience and following Jesus as he guides us through the steps of loving, forgiving and finding a new way to see how we might survive.

Surviving exile is allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire us in ways we cannot imagine, and allowing the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to do the unimaginable for ourselves and for others.

Surviving exile is ensuring that we are all members of one body - the body of Christ - and that as that one body, we are working, as Walter Brueggemann would say, “for the good of the neighborhood.”

Surviving exile is all about having faith.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stormy Seas

My father was a typical Italian man. He was an opera singer; he loved fast cars; and, he loved flashy speedboats. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of attending the annual car show in New York City where we would spend hours getting in and out of the flashiest cars on the floor, and of pounding across Long Island Sound regardless of weather predictions in our newest Chris Craft motorboat. It was all great fun, very exciting, and not infrequently a bit terrifying as we tore up and down the Hutchinson River and Merritt Parkways or raced black clouds that forewarned thunder storms and the unexpectedly strong currents and rolling waves so typical of Long Island Sound.

But for my father, the speedboat memories were not all good. In early 1942 it was his flashy speedboat outfitted with a ship to shore radio that landed him in the prison camp at Ellis Island for three months.

On that grim day in early 1942, the FBI appeared at our Westchester County home and presented my father with an arrest warrant that named him as a agent for Mussolini, and perhaps Hitler. The agents claimed that he had been using his ship to shore radio to send messages to the enemy. Within a few brief moments he was in an FBI manned vehicle and transported to Ellis Island where he was held in a communal cell, with no ability to communicate with the outside world for over three months.

His career at an ignominious halt, estranged from family and friends, and packed into an overcrowded cell with only two open toilets, my father was trapped in that terrifying no mans land of not knowing what his future held.

Still an Italian citizen, he did not know if he would be allowed to stay in America. He did not know whether if he would ever see his family again. He did not know whether or not he could survive the loneliness and the isolation. He was a stranger in a no mans land. He was in darkness, and could not find the light.

I tell this story today, World Refugee Sunday, to underscore the devastating darkness and terror that fills the world of refugees who live in exile with no assurance that they will ever return home, and the reality that refugees are not only over there, somewhere else in a far and distant country. Refugees are not only people who speak different languages or have skin color other than white. Refugees are not always unknown to us.

Refugees are everywhere. They are even members of our own families.

Yesterday, refugees and their supporters across the globe observed the 15th annual World Refugee Day. The United Nations General Assembly established June 20 as World Refugee Day to recognize and applaud the
contribution of refugees throughout the world and to raise awareness about the growing refugee crisis. The numbers are staggering:

          There are currently more than 51.2 million refugees  the largest number since World War II.
          In just the past four years, nearly 4 million Syrians have fled the violence in their country, finding shelter in neighboring countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt.

          Last year at the height of the border crisis in the Lower Rio Grande Valley the number of unaccompanied minors taken into custody by the Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a peak of 10,622 in June. Apprehensions of family units followed a similar trajectory, cresting at more than 16,329.

          As of August 31, for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2013, Border Patrol agents had apprehended 66,127 unaccompanied minors and 66,142 family units, the vast majority from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Compared to the same 11-month period last year, family unit arrivals have surged by 412 percent, unaccompanied minors arrivals by 88 percent.

          These children, and by now many more, all refugees who fled from the terrorism and violence of the South American drug cartels, have been resettled throughout America - some to distant relatives; some to group homes.

Refugees are everywhere. They are even members of our own communities.

For the past 75 years, the Episcopal Church, working in collaboration with Episcopal Migration Ministries and its network of affiliate offices, has helped refugees find safety, security, and hope in the United States. This weekend, Episcopal churches throughout the United States will hold events to honor and welcome refugees and to commemorate the thousands of refugees who were unsuccessful in their attempts to flee the racism, terrorism and violence of oppressive regimes and the brutal outcome of ethnic cleansing that continues to be a part of our world order.

All of these events have as an end goal awareness. Awareness of the darkness that surrounds the life of each and every refugee. Awareness of the need to bring light into that darkness. Awareness of the reality that in our various roles as disciples of Christ, and as members of our mother
organization, the Episcopal Church in the United States, we are called to bring the light of Christ to those in darkness - in this instance to refugees.

The good news of course is that Christ is always there for us - all of us - even refugees. Even when we are in the deepest of all darkness - Christ is there - in us and with us.

In todays gospel reading, Jesus  encourages his disciples to join him in a small boat in order to cross the Sea of Galilee. As frequently happens in that area, a sudden storm brings heavy winds and high seas. In the midst of the raging storm the fragile boat begins to take on water. The disciples are terrified but Jesus remains, improbably, peacefully asleep, his head on a cushion.

The disciples  cannot believe that Jesus is not awakened by the rocking boat and heavy winds. They cannot believe that in the midst of such imminent peril and chaos Jesus is not awake and caring for them. With trembling voices the disciples loudly ask, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

I am sure that we all have asked similar questions of God when the seas of our own lives have become incredibly perilous and chaotic. When the going gets rough, we all want to know if God really cares - if he is going to be there for us - or, is he asleep, unaware of our terrifying situation. How many
times have we silently cried out, God, please help me - I am so frightened - so overwhelmed.

In preaching on this text, Augustine of Hippo challenged his audience by saying that when we are buffeted by the storms of life, one has to wake the
Christ within us in order to find peace. Augustine wrote, A situation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging sea. This is the moment to awaken the Christ within you and let him remind you of these words: Peace! Be still! Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Refugees, violently displaced by oppression, terrorism and extreme violence are caught up in their own very real storm. The darkness of their storm can be overwhelming; the light of returning home a dim shadow in the far distance. To quote my fathers deepest despair while interred at Ellis Island, I no longer felt human; I was lost and did not know who I was anymore.

The question for us is how can we be the voices that calm the storm. How can we awaken the Christ within those who are strangers in a foreign land; men, women and children without a home; lost in darkness and terrified.
How can we, as individuals, and as a church, bring the Light of Christ to those who have lost all hope and live in despair. How can we restore hope and faith to those who have lost all hope - to those who no longer have any faith.

When my father was finally released from Ellis Island he believed that his career was over and that his family would probably abandon him. For several months he continued in depression and despair. It was the love and encouragement of his friends and colleagues in the music world who restored his hope and his faith. It was these same friends and colleagues who ensured that his schedule for the upcoming year was filled with concert dates and opera performances. Eagerly they reached out to him in friendship, love and acceptance, and slowly the darkness faded away, leaving plenty of room for light, and as he often said, Time to give thanks to God.

A place to belong, filled with love and acceptance, compassion and support - a chance to be human again - that is what we as disciples of Christ have to offer to not only refugees but also to all who are in the wildly rocking boat and believe that Jesus is asleep. It is through the love of Christ offered through us and by us that will awaken the Light of Christ in others. It is through the love of Christ offered through us and by us that faith and hope may be restored to those who live in utter despair.

This World Refugee Day, let us remember in prayer all who flee persecution and suffering in search of security and peace, let us remember our baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace, and let us reaffirm our commitment to welcoming the stranger as Christ himself.

Gracious and Loving God, may we recognize that you bind us together in common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice, truth, and healing to confront the evils of racism, oppression and violence that pervade the United States and the world. AMEN

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mission is Who We Are

Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
Sunday, May 17, 2015
John 17:6-19

Last week I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to present at two separate conferences. The first conference was sponsored by the Global Episcopal Mission Network, also known as GEMN. GEMN’s mission statement proclaims, “GEMN is dedicated to the principle that every Episcopalian (and, indeed, every Christian) is a missionary.  We are committed to providing global mission conferences, global mission training, and global mission resources to all those who would like to participate in discerning where God is leading us in mission, as individuals and as a church.”

The second conference was organized by Gray Dove, Inc., an organization that I represent. Grey Dove’s mission statement proclaims, “Grey Dove, Inc. is an organization whose mission is to build healthcare capacity and sustainability in rural communities throughout Haiti. Through direct care, technical assistance, and the training and enhancement of available resources we encourage local leaders to become effective agents of change in their own community.”

You might say, Grey Dove is in the business of operationalizing the theology inherent in the mission of GEMN. Proclaiming and witnessing to the Kingdom of God in ways that bring justice, well-being and the Light of Christ into communities living in darkness.

At the close of the GEMN conference and prior to the beginning of the Grey Dove conference there was an incredibly moving noonday Eucharist service. The celebrant and preacher at this service was Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Church.

To say that Bishop Stacy’s sermon was stunningly eloquent is certainly not to do it justice. In simple words and stories he emphasized over and over again – “Mission is not what we do – it is who we are.”

Mission is not what we do – it is who we are.

Following the Bishop’s sermon there was a Hand-Anointing Litany and Blessing of the Oil. Together we prayed,

 “Loving God, we hear your call as you invite us again to share in your ministry. Our zeal in the past has not set the world on fire and our attachment to convenience shields us from the urgency of needs in our global community. And yet you call us to the work of reconciliation and justice, of equity and renewal…it is God’s purpose that we serve as a community when we share our gifts in ministry…We ask you to renew and restore us in our call to serve. We ask that you give to us faith and the confidence to bear it; hope and the openness to be continually expectant; and love, the only true beginning.”

Mission is not what we do – it is who we are.

So, you may be asking yourself…what exactly is mission? What does Holy Scripture say about mission? The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut and one of the four candidates in the upcoming election for a new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, says about mission:

“…it must be pointed out that the word mission, per se, is not found in the Bible…The reason we do not find the word mission, as such, in the Bible is…that the whole Bible, Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, is a revelation of God’s mission in the world…God’s mission, not our mission…ultimately, it is God’s mission that our Lord Jesus Christ came to bear witness to, it is God’s mission that the Church proclaims in the world today, and it is God’s mission that we share by virtue of our baptisms.”

Douglas speaks at length about God’s mission and God’s missional efforts to rebuild the bonds of love which are continually severed through human sin, or falling away from God. God’s mission was always, and still is, a mission to reconnect humanity and to heal the divisions that separate us. The central mission of God is to restore to unity that which has become broken; to reconcile a divided world.

Throughout history God has chosen particular people as the entry point into the world: Abraham and Sarah; Moses; the prophets, perhaps especially Elisha and Isaiah; and finally, of course, Jesus Christ.

Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets were called by God to direct people to him – to be the vehicles, the mechanism through which all the nations could be joined to the almighty Creator and to each other.  Israel’s role in God’s mission was to serve as the central force that would pull all humanity back into relationship with God.

In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God entered the world anew and took the responsibility for God’s mission directly upon himself. In Jesus, God created a new way through which the world could be joined to the Creator.

As the human form of the creator God, Jesus’ mission is one and the same with that of the Creator. His mission is God’s mission. Jesus demonstrates in word and deed that the Reign of God, made real in the sending of God’s son, must continue to expand, to move out to the ends of the earth. Jesus sends out his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be the bearers of his mission, of God’s mission, in the world.

The ultimate act of Jesus’ participation in God’s mission is his sacrifice upon the cross and his victory over death. The joining of Jesus’ pain and suffering with our pain and suffering upon the cross is where we are passionately connected with God, with one another, and with all creation.

In Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given the means by which we become one with each other and with God…the divisions between God and humanity are overcome, and the promise of reconciliation is made real.

In his book Transforming Mission, David J. Bosch elegantly summarized these concepts when he wrote, “Mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to believe. It is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world. This is the deepest source of mission…there is mission because God loves people.”

Mission is not what we do…it is who we are.

Jesus High Priestly Prayer draws to its conclusion in today’s gospel reading from John. As Jesus prepares to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world, he intercedes on behalf of his disciples.

Jesus prays, “I am asking on their behalf…Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one…I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they may also be sanctified in truth.”

Jesus prays that we may go forth into the world with a unity of heart and purpose. He asks God to sanctify us – to make us spiritually whole – holy. Jesus lays the groundwork for his disciples – Jesus lays the groundwork for us – for all God’s children to carry forth his incarnational ministry of bringing the world into relationship with God.

Mission is not what we do…it is who we are.

In a sermon preached at the Trinity Institute in 2006, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, and also a candidate in the upcoming election for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, proclaimed,

“…the reconfiguration of the nature of life by God was what Jesus was talking about--that anyone in Christ is a new creation, and that "he [God] has given us the ministry of his reconciliation."

"This mission of reconciliation is about God's reconfiguration of the landscape of our realities. From the nightmare that it often is into the dream that God has intended for the foundation of the world."

"The ministry of reconciliation is about participating in God's work of reconfiguration. The work of reconfiguration is calling the creation back to itself, to its origin, to its momma, to its roots, to God, to each other and when that happens, life can flourish."

"Reconciliation is about the very life of the world," said Curry. "As the world and the creation lives into the loving purposes of its creator [and] as we live in the communion and love in relationship with God and with each other, we will discover that that is the context for life that not even death can destroy."

Curry ended by saying, "this mission, this work is the difference between civilization or mutually assured self-destruction."

Mission is not what we do…it is who we are.

Participants in last week’s two Atlanta conferences, 80 people in all, heard these and similar messages over a somewhat exhausting three-day period. A three-day period during which we all struggled with how best to be, not do, but be missioners in this complex and troubled world.

We participated in wonderful conversations, rich worship that frequently brought tears to our eyes, and we all grew a little in our spiritual formation as Disciples of Christ, knowing that there was a lot more work, a lot more growing to do.

As I sat in stunned silence after Bishop Stacy’s sermon at the closing noon-day Eucharist, I wondered how in the world I had ever gotten into the space in life that I currently occupy. The blessing and the privilege of being among so many spiritually whole – and holy – fellow missioners literally took my breath away, as did Bishop Stacy’s closing remark, “As you go out into the world, take care. It is not your world, it belongs to God. He has charged you with its care.” AMEN

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Alleluia. He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia

Easter Vigil April 4, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish

Alleluia. The Lord is Risen. The Lord is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

What an incredibly complex and rich fabric of our Christian heritage fills this holy evening on which we celebrate The Great Vigil of Easter - the first service of Easter Day.

As you may know, the Great Vigil is actually a four-part liturgy. We open with the Service of Light – the Lighting of the Pascal Candle. The term "Paschal" comes from the word Pesach, which in Hebrew means Passover, and relates to the Paschal mystery of salvation, the Divine truth and life to which God through the Church - the sacraments, the Word of God, and faith - makes himself known to those who choose to follow him.

The flame of the Paschal candle – the Light of Christ - symbolizes the eternal presence of Christ’s light of the world in the midst of his people. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians described this mystery when he wrote, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” (Eph 1:17)

Tonight as we entered the church, darkness engulfed us. A fire was kindled – the Paschal Candle was lighted - the Light of Christ appeared, and a lone voice bathed in the new light proclaimed, “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout salvation for the victory of our mighty King…This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life…This is the night that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

Powerful words – extraordinary images – passionate prayers in which we yearn to burn with heavenly desires so that we may come to know the divine mystery of salvation.

After the Service of Light, we moved into the Service of Lessons in which we heard the beloved stories from Scripture that tell of God’s saving deeds in history. Stories that remind us of the power, the scope, and the beauty of God’s creation.

The testing of Abraham who was blessed by God and whose offspring would be a blessing to all nations. The compassion and love of God as he delivered his people at the Red Sea. God’s plan of salvation for the whole word as described by the prophet Isaiah. And, in Zephaniah, God’s dramatic announcement of a time in which God would act decisively to re-establish justice after the exile.

Through stories and psalms we heard in one way or another, and over and over again, comforting words that assured us, “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he will be my Savior.” (Canticle 9; vs 1-2)

After the Service of Lessons came the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, a time in which we renewed the solemn promises and vows of or Baptismal Covenant. Vows in which we promised to love our neighbors as ourselves and to serve God faithfully – without hesitation – always.

And then, finally, we arrived at the Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion. The Altar candles were lit from the Paschal Candle – The light of Christ burst forth, and we proclaimed: Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The Light of the resurrected Christ shines out of the darkness; our hope is restored. Our Easter opportunity to leave behind an old way of life – a way of life beholden to distraction and self-involvement – stares us straight in the face – challenges us. Are we ready for this new life, once again given to us through God’s grace and love?

Once again this Easter we have the Easter opportunity to be renewed both in body and in mind to a way of life that brings Jesus the Christ front and center in our lives. Jesus Christ as the way – our way, the light – our light and the truth – our truth– all that we need, really, to live into the Baptismal vows that we have just renewed.

With candles lit and joy in our hearts we listened, once again, to the Gospel story of Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Salome who, with spices in their hands, approach Jesus’ tomb. They are there to anoint his body, as was the custom; to ensure that he receives the compassionate care and love that he taught and so profoundly demonstrated. They go to the tomb to honor their beloved teacher.

The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there. Instead, they see a man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side of the tomb. He speaks to them saying, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mark  16:6-7)

Mark tells us that the women fled – they were seized by terror and amazement. Terror and amazement – powerful and graphic words that remind me of Luke’s shepherds who were terrified when the angel of the Lord shone around them bringing “good news of great joy,” and, then amazed when they saw the baby Jesus lying in a manager surrounded by the angel and a multitude of the heavenly host, who were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Lk 2:13)

As we experience this incredibly rich Great Vigil of Easter liturgy are we not filled with terror and amazement? Is it not frightening to consider the power of God as he reigns over his Kingdom? Is it not amazing to consider the benevolence of God as he continually bestows grace upon us – both sinner and savior?  If you were at the tomb, would you, like the two Marys, not also be filled with terror and amazement?

What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you? When you contemplate the gift of the resurrected Jesus in your everyday life, are you not both terrified and amazed?

Sister Joan Chittester, a Benetictine nun, author and lecturer writes: “To say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ... who rose from the dead then, is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever. Every time Jesus rises in our own hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again. Every time we see Jesus where we did not recognize him before — in the faces of the poor, in the love of the unloved, in the revelatory moments of life, Jesus rises anew. But that is not all. The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.”

That is to say, we also are resurrected tonight, and through the resurrected Christ, God has given us the gift of continual resurrection. Along with Jesus, we become a new people. A people who know the darkness, and a people who continue to walk through it because we are assured that the Light of Christ shines brightly, guiding us in our journey…healing us in our pain…and bringing us into the eternal Kingdom of God’s grace and salvation.

“This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life…This is the night that Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave…How blessed is this night when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”