Thursday, July 12, 2018

Why engage in global mission?

Why Engage in Global Mission?

The Rev. Deacon Clelia Garrity

"Why engage in global mission when there are so many needs all around us in our local community?"

Most of us have been asked this question and perhaps have struggled to answer it. Our nation grapples on a daily basis with issues of diversity, multiculturalism, immigration, religious apathy and isolationism.

Why are intercultural relationships so essential to our Christian discipleship? Global Episcopal Mission Network has gathered ten quotes from their recent conference held at Virginia Theological Seminary and from other sources that will give you food for thought as you answer this question for yourself and for others.

Ten reasons to engage in global mission:

1. "We go into mission to meet the other, where God is present. Not because there are needy people, or to plant a church, or to teach. But we go to meet Jesus there. Thinking we are missionaries, we become disciples. We go to meet God, who is already present in the other."
2. "No single part of the world contains a complete understanding of God - only together do we have it..."
3. "It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel."
4. "We can never know how fully who God is, we can never understand the mission of God, until and unless we are able to hear it from those in other contexts..."
5."To reduce mission simply to a local or even national context is to isolate ourselves from the voice of God's grace across difference."
6. "We are looking at mission as pilgrimage - seeing Christ in the other."
7. "The 'other' is part of our family that we do not already know."
8. "To know only one's own church, diocese or nation is to limit oneself to an incomplete revelation of the vast and varied witness of the full body of Christ - gifts that we all desperately need to receive from one another."
9. "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ...the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
10. "I have gifts you do not, and you have gifts I do not. We need one another to be fully human. We lose our strength if our diversity is taken away."

A June 2018 Haiti Medical Mission Team member & her new friends

Monday, July 9, 2018

Don't Let Your Boat Rock

St. Simons on the Sound
July 8, 2018

Mark 6:1-13

Two weeks ago, I was in Haiti, where our medical team spent five days in the remote areas of Bondeau and Martel. Let me stress the adjective remote.Bondeau and Martel are not towns or villages; there are no cars, buses, motorcycles or bicycles; there is no electricity; no TV, radio, or newspaper; and, of course no Internet. In Martel there is no water - none at all.

People live in one room dwellings. Frequently they have no beds, only the dirt floor to sleep on. For the most part, people have enough food for only one small meal each day. They walk miles whenever they need to access civilization and the meager services it offers in rural Haiti. The nearest resources such as a grocery store or medical clinic (that may, or may not be open), are 10-15 miles away. A long walk in 90 plus degree heat.

The people of Martel live in a world far different than ours. One that is literally impossible for us or, at least for me - to comprehend.

It was in that world that I began the journey of writing this sermon.

We arrived in Haiti on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning, bright and early it was already 90+ degrees we attended Bon Samaritain Church in Bondeau, where I acted as both deacon and preacher. Directly following the two plus hour church service we began preparing for our three days of clinic. We sat outside in a partially shaded area packing pills and sorting through medical supplies, such as surgical trays, bandages, etc.

After lunch, I spent my time on the guesthouse porch drinking water and cooling down. I had become very overheated during church and directly after as we began the clinic preparation process. Something inside me said - “take it easy…”

As I sat in a rocking chair contemplating the trees swaying ever so slightly in a most blessed breeze and watching small whitecaps bounce on the aqua green Caribbean Sea less than a mile beyond the tree tops, I began the work of reflecting on todays Gospel reading. I felt guilty about not being with the rest of the group while they continued to prepare for the clinics. And, me, being me, - I needed to work on something. So, why not begin to sort out my upcoming sermon.

Just that morning I had been given the honor of preaching, in French, at Bon Samaritain Church. The Gospel for the day was Marks story of Jesus falling asleep in the boat as his disciples rowed across the Sea of Galilee. If you remember the reading, you recall that when a storm suddenly blew in, as so frequently happens in that particular sea, the boat they were managing began to rock wildly. The disciples were terrified. They looked over at Jesus for help and could not believe that he remained sound asleep amidst the turbulence of the sea and the howling of the wind.

In a panic they cried out, Jesus, dont you care that we may die in this terrible storm?

Once awakened Jesus calmed the sea and looked over at his disciples saying, Why are you afraid Do you not have faith?The disciples looking out at the becalmed sea were stupefied stupefied by the instant calming of the sea - stupefied by the power of Jesus.

The point that I made in my Haitian sermon was that when we have faith, the power of Jesus to light our way, to calm our rough seas is stupefying absolutely stupefying. But, it is also stupefying how easily we lose sight of that power when, in the face of life’s challenges, our boat is rocking wildly. It is so easy to lose faith in the power of Jesus so easy. And, when we lose faith, we lose the power that lights our way, that calms our rough seas. When we lose faith we enter darkness, uncertainty, anxiety, anger we fall away from God.

So, it was there sitting on the porch, slowing rocking and cooling off, that I began to seriously reflect on the phrase - the stupefying power of Jesus.

Fast forwarding to todays gospel reading, Jesus continues to astound to stupefy.  Today, we find Jesus teaching in his local synagogue. The crowd is noisy and disrespectful. They shout comments of disbelief that this carpenters son this common person - could possibly have the authority with which he speaks and the power to heal the sick that he has demonstrated.

They are stupefied by his wisdom and his healing powers. Yet, they take offense at him - and they are threatened by him - by his power and authority. They criticize him and belittle him. They reject him as a sham and a threat to their comfortable position of power and authority within both the synagogue and the community.

Looking around at villagers that he has known all his life, Jesus also was stupefied. He was amazed at their disbelief at their lack of faith. After doing what little he could by healing the few who had opened their hearts to his power, he made the decision to move on. His mission from the Father clear bring the Good News to all. Never looking back, he moved on to other towns, other places to seek out, to teach, and to heal those who would open their hearts and their minds to his message. To the love, forgiveness, and salvation of God.

Jesuscampaign to spread the Good News the Gospel ramped up quickly. He entered many towns, teaching and healing all the way. Soon, he saw that it was time to send forth his disciples to augment his work to reach as many people as possible. Jesus understood that his own time in the world was short and his message urgent. he needed to keep moving and he needed help - he needed the hearts, hands, and feet of his disciples to participate in this mission of spreading the Good News, the Gospel, far and wide.

Jesus gathered his disciples and instructed them in their new task, and ordered them to travel light - no frills, no extras - just the bare bones of a travel kit - nothing to slow them down. He sent them in pairs so that they could support each other in this perilous and uncomfortable journey. And, finally, he ordered them not to waste time with those who had hardened their hearts to God. He commanded, "If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."

In other words, don't let your boat get rocked - stay calm, experience peace, and get on with your job of proclaiming the Good News.

The disciples obeyed. "...they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them.”

These brave souls, sent by Jesus with supplies barely sufficient for more than a day or two at a time - these brave souls, Christ’s first disciples - and Christ himself - are models - models for all of us who sit here in this church and in churches throughout the world.

We are here to follow in their footsteps - to take hold of the stupefying power of Jesus and to use it to calm the waters of a very troubled world. A world experiencing very rough seas. We are the ones to calm the sea, to bring love and peace, to support those who have no faith and those whose faith is troubled and staggering as their boat rocks wildly in turbulent times.

We are the missioners - the disciples - of the here and now.

Christian mission - the activity of sending and being sent in Christ - is grounded in the missionary nature of God as revealed in scripture. In creation, God reached out to create communities of life. With Israel and throughout history, God has moved to restore people to unity with God, with one another, and with all creation. In Christ, God is still on mission in the world through the Holy Spirit. Our call as disciples of Christ is to join God in that mission.

The central act in Gods mission is Gods self-sending in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh and dwelling among us in love. The reign of God that Jesus announced: this we are called to proclaim and enact in mission. The love of God that Jesus expressed in presence, compassion, healing and justice: this we are called to live in mission. The reconciliation that God offers a sinful and broken world in Jesusdeath and resurrection: this is the hope we offer to the world in mission.

Sitting on a rocking chair in the 100-degree heat, sipping a warm bottle of Culligan water, and looking out at a community of people who literally have nothing made it far easier for me to imagine Jesus and his disciples in the deserts of Israel.

Being with the people of this barren community as they worshipped in church earlier that day, singing and praying loudly and with such fervor. Listening each morning as our Haitian doctors together with their patients sang prayers praising Jesus prior to receiving medical care. All of this made if far easier to understand the concept of looking to Christ for calming one’s turbulent seas, for experiencing peace, and for maintaining faith that God is always present with us - always there to lean on, to be loved by, to give strength to those who suffer.

All this brings me to my final moment of contemplation as I sat on the guesthouse porch rocking and thinking about the uncomfortable heat and the myriad of hardships that we would all experience in the next few days. As I sat there, finally cooled and ready to rejoin our team, it struck me that Jesus never experienced the fears and anxieties of a rocking boat. And, I thought to myself - of course, that is what Jesus was asking of his disciples and is asking of us - don’t let your boat rock as you go into the world to spread the good news - be calm, have courage, experience peace, give and receive love, have faith.

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN. BCP

Monday, July 2, 2018

Quand le mer est agite

Eglise de Bon Samaritain
Bondeau, Haiti
June 24, 2018

Bonjour mes amis. Je suis tres heureux d’etre avec cette communaute de Bondeau encore une fois. Comme toujours j’ai amene de nouveaux amis d’Amerique. Sam, Michelle, Parisa et Pam. Je pense que vous conaissez tres bien Dr. Pej qui a ete ici en avance beaucoup de fois.

Bien sur, nous avons aussi nos members de l’equipe Haitienne – Dr. Rudy, Dr. Rolph, Dr. Nerly, Richard, Sissi, Jessica and les etudiants de l’ecole d’infirmieres, FSIL – Rebecca et Diane.

Nous sommes ici – l”equipe entiere – pour vous et aussi pour le communaute de Martel. Nous vous apportons des informations sure les maladies dangerouse et des medicaments pour ameliorer votre sante. Nous voulons traivailler avec vous faire des communautes de Bondeau et de Martel communautes tranquil et remplis de bien-etre.

Il n’est pas possible attiendre ces objectifs sans la foi. La foi que notre Siegneur, Jesus Christ, est avec nous toujours – toujours. Il n’y a jamais un moment de nos vies dans laquelle nous sommes seul – Jesus est avec nous – dans la jour et dans la nuit. Il marche a cote de nous pour tout notre vie.

Aujourd’hui nous avons entendu l’histoire des disciples qui sont dans un bateau avec Jesus. Jesus est fatigue, il dorm pendant les disciples font le voyage travers la mer de Galilee. Tout a la fois le mer devient tres agite. Les disciples ont peur. Il croient que ils vont se noyer. Ils l’ont reveiller et lui ont dit, “Jesus, ne vous souciez pas que nous perissons?”

Jesus s’est reveille, calme la mer et leur a dit. “Pourquoi as tu peur? As-tu toujours pas de foi?” Les disciples etait stupefies par le pouvoir de Jesus.

Pour moi-meme, je suis aussi toujours stupefie par le pouvoir de Jesus. Mais, , je suis aussi stupefie a quelle frequence nous obilions ce pouvoir. Dans ce monde qui est si fragile, si remplis avec de pauvrete et de suffrance, c’est tres facile d’oblier que Jesus est a cote de nous, pour nous guider et a nous aime. Et quand nous l’oblions nous sommes perdus. Nous marchons dans l’obscurite.

Etablir une bon programme de soins de sante dans les communautes de Bondeau et de Martel c’est un peu comme voyager dans un bateau sur une mer agite. Il y a beaucoup d’obstacles – d’argent, la distance entre les Etats Unis et Haiti, l’absence d’une systeme medical efficace pour les peoples d’Haiti, etc.

Mais, si nous pensons seulement a nos problemes, nous serons perdus. Il est tres important de reconnaitre nos cadeaux et de les utilizer a la gloire de Dieu.

Si nous nous souvenons que Jesus est toujours avec nous, si nous trailvaillons ensemble dans la foi, la lumiere de Jesus et la puissance de l’Esprit-Sante nous guideront vers le succes.

Dieu a donne a la communaute de Bondeau et a la communaute de Martel des amis qui ont aide a founir l’eglise, l’education, et une systeme de soins de sante. Maintenant ce sera tres important pour ces communautes d’etablir un systeme interne pour s’agrandir ces cadeaux.

Ceci ne sera pas facile. Cela signifie que vous devez travailler en collaboration avec vos dirigeants et Pere Phanord a apprendre bien a prendre soins a vous-memes et a votre voisin. En travaillant ensemble vous devez faire grandir vos cadeaux, quel que soit les defis auxquels vous serez confronte.     

Alors, c’est tres important de vous vous souveniez quand la vie deviant difficile, quand votre bateau bascule dans les mers agitees, c’est tres facile avoir peur – d’abondonner vos projets d’education et de soins de sante – c’est le moment de se souvenir de Jesus.

Quand nous tenons Jesus dans nos coeurs, la foi gagne. Nous sommes en mesure de reussir tous les projets sur lequel nous tralvaillons – meme le projet pour l’education et de soins de sante a Bondeau et a Martel.

Quand je suis chez moi aux Etats Unis, je pense a vous tout le temps. Vous etes dans mes prieres constament. Chaque foi que je rentre a Bondeau et a Martel je suis si heureux.

Aujourd’hui je prie que nous tous – tout le monde, moi aussi – souvenons toujours du pouvoir de Jesus et gardez notre foi dans ce pouvoir dans nos coeurs pour le courage - toujours. AMEN

Monday, April 30, 2018

An Open Heart...Abundant Love

April 28, 2018
Ordination to the Holy Order of Deacons
Five Candidates
Christ Church Cathedral, Mobile Alabama

Ryan, Sara, Alice, Forbes, and Josh, this is your day – it is a day that will change your lives forever. It is glorious day, and it is an absolute honor and privilege for me to share a small part of this day with you. I will treasure these few moments, always.

You may be thinking, or at least I hope that you are thinking – “Wow, I made it.”  Without doubt you are saying to yourselves, “I can’t believe it – thanks be to God for this glorious moment.”  And, you would be extraordinarily unusual if you were not feeling nervous and anxious and if you were not wondering “What Now?” Now that this sacred transition has taken place, who am I – how do I proceed according to my newly declared vows. What does God have in store for me?

You have arrived, after many months, perhaps many years, of discernment, meetings, study, and a host of other challenging tasks – and probably some nail biting - you have arrived at a most sacred moment in your lives.

Today, with our consent, by our prayers, and with Bishop Russell’s actions of laying hands on you and petitioning the Holy Spirit, by the power of that same Spirit, you will assume the outward expression of your inward, invisible reality. You will be ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons in Christ’s one holy and catholic apostolic church. You will receive the sacrament of ordination.

That’s what ordination is - a sacrament. A sacrament that gives outward and visible expression to an inward invisible reality. Your invisible reality – your call to become part of the ministry of servanthood of our church. Your desire to, in the name of Christ, serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick and the lonely.

A little over eight years ago, I was sitting just where you are sitting – in the pews listening as my friend and mentor, Bishop Chip Stokes preached my ordination sermon. My journey to ordination had been a long one, filled with many challenging moments.

It began in Harlingen, Tx, a tiny town in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The year was 1992 and I had been appointed Executive Director of an organization providing services for people, mostly Mexican-Americans, living with HIV/AIDS.

It is important to remember that back in 1992 people living with HIV/AIDS were seen as lepers. And, Mexican-American migrant workers with HIV/AIDS – well, to put it bluntly, absolutely no one wanted them around – No one. My appointed task was to find a way to bring health care and social services into their lives – to relieve their suffering; their pain; their isolation.

I arrived fresh from New York City where I had been part of the AIDS activist group Act UP and all the sophisticated political shenanigans that went with that movement, and I set down roots in dusty, hot, and very primitive Harlingen, TX.

To my surprise, my staff, all Mexican, had created a beautiful office space for me, complete with a huge mahogany desk. That first day, I was treated like a queen. However, my second day on the job took a very different direction. About 10 in the morning a small Mexican gentleman rushed into my office, announced that he was Deacon Albert, and said, passionately, “Ma’am you can’t sit there behind that desk. Not if you want to help the people in the Valley. You need to come with me. You need to be where the people are, not behind a big fancy desk.”

That was my introduction to Deacon Albert, an incredibly passionate and energetic Catholic Deacon, who as it turned out was also a member of my staff.

After informing me that I needed to get out from behind my desk, Deacon Albert loaded me into his ancient, non-airconditioned, Toyota pick-up along with bags and boxes filled with food and other household items, and off we went – literally in a cloud of dust.

I have no memory of how many people we visited that day. I only remember that we were gone for hours and hours, until dusk really. We visited mothers whose sons were dying of AIDS, we visited mothers who had AIDS and whose babies were also HIV-infected, we visited young men who were dying of AIDS – we visited lots and lots of people, all of them touched by HIV/AIDS and all of them living in the colonias, or slums of an already impoverished Texas town.

Ostensibly, our goal was to deliver food, but Deacon Albert delivered a lot more than food. He delivered the love that Christ asked us to show towards one another when in John’s gospel he says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Through conversation, prayer, and all forms of generosity, Deacon Albert brought love to all those we visited. That first day with Albert was a day, like today, a day I will never forget.

After that, I never missed a week of delivering food and love with Deacon Albert. And, I never ceased to be amazed at the power of his love. Mothers were reunited to sons whom they had rejected, dying infants were baptized, infants who died only a few short months after being born had glorious funerals, parties were given for those living in deep sadness and isolation.

There was always enough – enough love for everyone – there was always an abundance of love.

I could go on and on but suffice it to say that for almost four years I worked by Albert’s side and that work – Albert and his work set my heart on fire. My heart was burning with the power of love. And, it was then that I knew that God was calling me to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church.

When I remember this time of my life, I like to believe that Luke’s gospel in which Jesus commands us to “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” is fair warning to all of us who sense the call to ordination and who are ultimately ordained in Christ’s one holy and catholic apostolic church.

Unlike Peter who fell asleep in the garden, as deacons, priests, and bishops it is essential that we stay awake. We must never be too tired, too benumbed to hear Christ knocking on the doors of our hearts. We must not allow the din of our lives and the turmoil of the world to drown out God’s voice. God’s voice always present within our hearts and our souls, always – never ceasing, never too tired.

With burning hearts, we must have the courage to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things. As Christ’s servants, we must be passionately active in the servanthood of all the church. We must always be ready for him when he comes; when he knocks.

No easy task this business of always being dressed for action, lamps always lit. Bishop Dan Edwards, the bishop who ordained me, said to me just before we processed down the aisle the day of my ordination, “If you think you’re busy now, just wait. You will be even busier after today.” Well, his remark was “right on.” No different than any of my other clergy colleagues I am busy, very busy.

But, and this is a big “but”, we must never be too busy to rest, too distracted reflect, to pray, to study – to listen for and to God. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians writes, “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, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Eph 1:12-20)

“…so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…”

If we are unable to listen for and to God with the eyes of our hearts, we will never know the hope to which he has called us. If we are unwilling to follow Jesus’ commandment given to us in John’s version of the Last Supper “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”, we will fail mightily in providing an abundance of love to those whom we have vowed to shepherd.

Open hearts and abundant love – essential tools of the trade for all clergy - deacons, priests and bishops alike.

This is your day to be ordained a deacon of the church. I pray that in the few short months prior to your ordination as a priest, you will find a Deacon Albert, jump into his, or her, ancient pick-up, and embark on a journey into the world where an open heart and abundant love are so desperately needed.

I pray that your life as a deacon will be deeply ingrained in your hearts and in your souls. I pray that whatever your title you will always be deacons – servants of Christ sent into the world to love abundantly -to heal and to ensure justice for all. I pray that you will never forget these first few months of your lives as ordained clergy and the sacred nature of your new lives.


Ryan, Sara, Alice, Forbes, and Josh, God has led you on an extraordinary journey and now calls you into an extraordinary ministry of service. We all give thanks for this day and for God’s call to you and I am thankful for the privilege of being present with you on this day. In closing I offer to you this prayer so beautifully expressed by St. Paul.

“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. AMEN. “(Eph 3:13-21)

Monday, April 9, 2018

You Do Not Know...

St. Simon’s on the Sound
Maundy Thursday - 2018

John 13:1-17; 31b-35

A few weeks ago, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I preached to you about the Light of Christ and the challenges we all face in letting that light shine into the darkness of our lives. Darkness based in our self-centeredness, our need to “be right” about everything, and our inclination to deny the humanity and needs of “the other” – the needy, the poor - those who are considered outcasts from our shiny, fast-moving, technological world.

Darkness that creates a comfortable space for a system of denial that obscures painful truths about ourselves and about the world around us. Darkness that creates a barrier between ourselves and God and eclipses the love that he has for us, and the love that he demands that we show “the other.”

In that sermon I also spoke of the challenges that we all face once the Light of Christ has finally broken through our darkened world. Challenges based in having the will and the courage to stay in the light – to stick with the demands of the light – to not scurry back into the comfortable darkness of denial, self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement.

Since that time, many things have occurred -of course. Life moves so very quickly these days. But, one event – or ongoing series of events, I might say, has brought me to a place that sheds light – a new light – on both my comments of several weeks ago and on tonight’s gospel reading from John.

Certainly, your ears are burning. You are waiting with baited breath to hear what this series of events that brought me to my “aha moment” are. You are just yearning to ask –“Clelia – what has happened to bring you to this new awareness?”

Well, here it is. As many of you know since the end of January my husband has been in a skilled nursing facility. This means, among other things, that I visit him regularly, and that while visiting I cannot help but be among and observe other residents, the staff and the many types of interactions that occur between residents and staff.

I can assure you that visiting skilled nursing facilities is nothing new for me. I have visited many people in numerous skilled nursing facilities over the years in both my role as a social worker and as clergy. But until now I have never really looked at what was going on around me. I would just rush in with tunnel vision, my focus targeted on finding the room and resident that I was visiting, and after my visit rush out, most usually with my nose pointed downward as I read messages on my cell phone.

You might say, I visited these facilities in darkness.

This new way of visiting the facility – forced, as it were to be among the residents and the staff - not rushing through the halls with blinders on, has been a truly eye opening and unbelievably humbling experience.

You might say, the Light of Christ has broken through my darkness.

Let’s not kid ourselves, caring for people with advanced dementia, end stage Alzheimer’s Disease and a host of other disabling medical conditions is an exceptionally difficult job. A job comprised of many demanding and sometimes unpleasant and demeaning tasks. It is a job, quite frankly, that I could never do.

So, when I say that I have observed the love and the Light of Christ at this facility – I mean it. I really mean it.

Each resident is lovingly known and cared for. Each resident is respected and assisted no matter what their medical or physical need. Each staff member, many clearly exhausted, makes every effort to be present when a resident expresses a need, a concern, a fear.

Being among these residents and their caretakers these past few weeks and observing their actions and interactions has made Jesus’ statement, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” stand out for me in a very new way.

It has also brought new meaning – new and powerful meaning to tonight’s gospel reading and foot washing.

John begins tonight’s passage saying, “…Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Jesus knows that this is his final hour with his disciples. He knows that a humiliating and painful death is just hours away. Yet he does not focus on himself, he continues to focus, in love and with love – agape - on the other – on his disciples.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

When Jesus says, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” he is referring to what happens next – the foot washing. In washing the disciple’s feet Jesus is establishing for the them an example of sacrificial love – of service, of humility, of an upside-down kind of understanding of God’s love – God’s grace, and salvation. A love that is based in humility and salvation.

“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand”

Jesus in his love for his disciples is not frustrated by their continued lack of understanding of who he is and what his message is. Despite the many signs that he has given them - No matter what he says or does, they just don’t seem to get it – not even Peter, who seems completely mystified by what is happening. The disciples continue in darkness.

No, Jesus is not frustrated, but he is determined. Determined to continue through love, sacrificial love, agape, to demonstrate what he means when he says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

And, Jesus is determined to show the disciples how his love is manifested in the world. He washes their dirty, ugly feet. He performs the work of a common servant – not by commandment, but out of love.

The foot washing is also symbolic. In the foot washing the disciples are cleansed, perhaps we might even use the term baptized, by Jesus so that they may also cleanse, heal, love others. Jesus demonstrates so powerfully that after his death and resurrection the disciples’ authority will come not through displays of power, but through acts of sacrificial love, servitude – the servitude modeled by Jesus in the washing of feet.

This poignant last supper scene, Jesus’ last moments with his disciples, Jesus’ acts of humility and sacrificial love immediately precedes the moment of absolute darkness that occurs at the end of tonight’s service – the stripping of the altar, the chanting of Psalm 22 with its haunting refrain,

My God, my God why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress...They stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them; they cast lots for my clothing. Be not far away, O Lord; you are my strength; hasten to help. My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

The gradual darkening of the church – darkening that continues until there is no light. The Light of Christ eliminated.

Yet despite the grief that we will experience as the light dims, leaving us in total darkness, Christ gone, this night needs also to be a night of thankfulness.

Unlike the disciples in the upper room who are left in complete darkness at the close of this evening, we are a people who have experienced the resurrection. We know the rest of the story, Christ crucified on the cross in humiliation; Christ risen in glory, our sins washed away through his sacrificial death.

Understanding the full meaning of the foot washing is central to our journey from darkness into light – to our journey as servants of Christ. Jesus’ command to love, love sacrificially, translates to love dirty, deformed feet, love the outcast, love all those who suffer. The command to love one another just as Jesus loves us means to love as a servant washing each other’s feet, not as a king sitting apart and aloof. Jesus’ command mandates that our love is directed to the least of these, the lost, the needy, the poor – those in darkness.

Servant love – agape – is not easy. No matter how deep we believe our faith to be – no matter how frequently we proclaim our intent to serve according to God’s will – this agape servanthood role is not an easy one to carry out. That was my “aha” moment this Lent. Watching the skilled nursing facility residents and staff interact I continually thought of the foot washing – of Jesus washing away the pain and the suffering of those in darkness.

Perhaps most importantly, it became so very clear to me that being a servant – God’s servant – following the servant model given to us in love by Jesus, is very, very hard. It is something that requires continued humility, and a deep commitment to the other.

It requires us to love the other as Christ loved us – all of us, all of us who are a very broken people – you, me and everyone else.

As you come forward to participate in tonight’s foot washing, I pray that you will meditate on John’s haunting phrase, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” I pray that as your feet are washed you will imagine Jesus kneeling in front of you, washing your feet in tenderness, in love. And, I pray that as you wash the feet of the other, you will see Christ in that person, and you will experience yourself washing the feet of Christ who loves you to the end.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Out of the Darkness

St. Simon’s on the Sound
March 11, 2014

John 3:14-21

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.”

In the last few years I have refrained from “giving up” something as a Lenten discipline – you know something like chocolate; chardonnay; carbohydrates, or any of those other delicious niceties of life that give us great pleasure and offer comfort in times of stress and challenge.

Rather than “give up” something during these brief 40 days I have committed myself to a discipline of identifying ways of thinking and ways of being that have led, or are leading me into darkness, away from light – away from God.

My Lenten discipline has been grounded in an intentional and continual reflective and prayerful examination of my life’s past and current events. A frequently painful journey of seeking God’s light to illuminate areas of darkness in my life. Darkness that creates a barrier between me and my God who so clearly wants to be my light – my way – my life.

Put simply, through prayer, reflection and spiritual guidance, I have asked God to shed light on ways of thinking and ways of being that either have carried or are carrying me down a road away from God. A road that leads into the pit filled with biting serpents. The pit so vividly described in today’s reading from Numbers.

In my conversations with God I have asked God to give me new lenses through which I can take a good look at myself.

This Lenten discipline of mine has always been a resounding challenge and most assuredly a transforming struggle.  I am always astounded at what I uncover – or, perhaps I should say what God helps me to uncover. It never fails, I always discover that, quite literally, I was completely in the dark about many aspects of my life.

Usually, God’s light does not immediately penetrate my darkness. I suppose that would be too simple, too easy. No, at first the light flickers on, and I most usually, turn it off – very quickly.

But that darn light is so persistent – crafty and persistent. Gradually, the light seeps through the cracks of my darkness. Soon the darkness is not so dark; there seems to be no clear boundary between the darkness and the light. And then, suddenly there is no darkness at all. The light shines continually and my new lenses are polished and working. My interactions, reactions, my ways of being are clearly illuminated in a new way – a way that is far more congruent with a true relationship with God.

Seen through new lenses my life is illuminated in a new, frightening and yet incredibly exciting way. Perhaps most important of all, my new way of being infuses me anew with the depth, the strength, the power of God’s love. My new way of being allows me to offer that love to others; allows me to bring the gift of God’s love to others – those who are still in darkness.

Then, of course, comes the struggle of staying in the light – of not returning to the darkness – the pit.

This week’s Lectionary readings are one of the few occasions in which all of the appointed passages from Scripture, including the psalm, come together to form a powerful, painful, and yet love-filled message for those of us engaged in a Lenten journey of reflection and repentance – one that leads us out of darkness and into the light.

First, we heard an Old Testament story filled with vivid and frightening imagery of poisonous serpents biting people – killing people. Punishing people for their complaining and whining – for their looking away from God to find an easier, more convenient way to live their lives. And then, unexpectedly, this terrifying account of writhing, venom spitting serpents ends by becoming not a story of pain, suffering and death, but a story filled with the hope of salvation.

In today’s passage from Numbers, God sent poisonous serpents into the Israelite camp as punishment for the people complaining against Moses and God. Through this frightening siege of venomous serpents, the Israelites recognized that they were being punished for falling away from God; the God who had promised them salvation from slavery and suffering. In haste, they went to Moses and repented saying, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.”

As they began their cry of repentance, God commanded Moses to make a poisonous serpent out of bronze and to lift it up on a pole – high up - so that anyone bitten by one of the serpents could look up at it and live. The Israelites grateful for this life-saving serpent lifted on high said that it was not the sight of the bronze serpent that saved them, but that looking up to it, they looked up to God as the Lord who would heal them. They renewed their promise to follow God.

Psalm 107 opens with the powerful verse, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.” A hymn extolling God’s mercy to those who, “were fools and took rebellious ways,” but who also “cried to the Lord in their trouble.” God “sent forth his word and healed them and saved them from the grave.”

Yet another version of people lost in darkness crying out to God for light, for salvation. And, as always, God there – right there. Ever present, ever loving.

Fast forwarding to today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus almost 500 years later tells his disciples and the surrounding crowd, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

The term translated “lift up” (hypsoo) can also mean “exalt,” and John uses that double meaning to communicate the theological paradox of this story in which Jesus is both physically lifted up onto the cross as punishment, and at the same time lifted up on the cross in exaltation by God.

For anyone in first century Palestine, Jesus included, being nailed to a cross and then lifted up for public display was a moment of profound humiliation and defeat. But John describes Jesus’ crucifixion as collapsed into a single measure of divine action: Jesus crucified by taking on man’s sins; Jesus exalted by God as our savior.

Just as the Israelites were required to look upon the very thing that brought death in order to receive life – the bronze asp lifted on high by Moses, so we are asked to look upon Jesus lifted up on the cross in humiliating crucifixion in order to understand the concept of Jesus taking on man’s sins in order to offer salvation to those who follow him. Follow him to the cross and beyond; always looking up – always looking for the Light of Christ.

In John’s passage Jesus continues, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Beautiful and comforting words. But, in this context of serpents and crucifixion crosses how are we to interpret them? How does a loving God act out of such anger and cause so much pain? If God loves us so much why should we struggle, why should we suffer?

If we listen carefully we hear Jesus say, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

God’s grace has no meaning in isolation from God’s judgment. If we believe that we have no sin, we have no need for forgiveness. If there is no judgment, we require no grace.

The question for all of us is very clear. During our Lenten journey do we have the courage, the discipline, the insight to look up and allow the light of Christ to shine on the darkness in our lives and in the world around us?

Do we dare to have a look at our own lives – our own ways of thinking and our own behaviors, so frequently less than admirable. Our own thoughts and behaviors that with regularity are in direct conflict the great commandments that we affirm each Sunday during Lent”

“Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Do we have the courage to change our ways of being; our behaviors. To cease thoughts and actions that trigger the arrival in our lives of venomous serpents and to look up to Christ lifted up high on the cross for a better way; a way filled with the Light of Christ? Do we have the courage to Repent and Return? Can we find the humility and bravery necessary to repair relationships gone awry and deeds left undone out of fear or apathy?

Are we daring enough to face the difficult truths of a world darkened by the astounding challenges of complex political and social justice issues” Are we brave enough to face everything from personal transgressions, however, small or large, to mass shootings and other acts of violence and hatred; and to do something about these things?

Are we courageous enough to act as Christ’s disciples and seek justice and peace in our own lives and in the lives of those who live in darkness throughout our community and the world?

Perhaps most importantly, can we stand firm in the light? Or, once we see the light do we scuttle off, creeping back into the comfortable darkness of denial? Experiencing the salvific power of the light and seeing clearly that we have fallen away from God, do we look upwards – on high – asking forgiveness and seeking ways to keep the light shining, as a guide, as an advocate, as our Savior- however painful the ensuing steps we must take might be?

Our message today is that God is indeed the God who so loved the world that he gave his Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. But that, that same God is also a God who places on our shoulders the expectation of actively seeking the light, actively seeking His salvific gift – His Son, Jesus – and following that light, not the darkness of a deeply troubled world, but in the way of the cross – a way strewn with love, encompassed by grace; and based on faith.

The face of God in today’s readings is of a God who is ever present -ever ready to forgive. But, it is also a face of God to whom a turn must be made. A God of demand always ready to be a God of grace. Grace and demand, the way all serious relationships work.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him when he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have
mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

            Isaiah 55:6-7