Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Three Advents

Dear People of Christ Church,
Continued Advent blessings!

Every year we come to this season, and every year we need the Advent call to contemplation, wakefulness, and hope like the desert needs water. This year the Advent invitation to hope, in particular seems very timely. This is the one thing we are called to do in this season: to hope in preparation for the birth of Jesus, to hope in preparation for God’s presence in the world, and to hope for God’s presence in our own lives. One of my favorite explorations of Advent comes from the medieval monk Bernard of Clairvaux. He says there are actually three Advents. The first one is the one we know: the birth of God in the person of Jesus Christ, God taking on our human flesh. We spend these days counting down, lighting candles and eating chocolates, in preparation to be ready. The third Advent is the coming again of Christ, at the end of time: as we say in the Eucharistic prayer, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Those are visible, in-the-world Advents. But there’s an Advent that comes in between those two in our chronological time. The second Advent is is the Advent of Christ every day: in our hearts and in our world. God invites us to cultivate a space for Jesus every day, not just Christmas. Bernard tells us: “If you wish to meet God, go as far as your own heart.” Thomas Merton was a great interpreter of Bernard: he emphasizes that part of how we connect to this second Advent is in humility, to accept that we must receive all from Christ and not lean on our own power or ego.

One of the fruits of this kind of humble living, I think, is non-judgment. That’s one of the lesser-heard Biblical values we’re looking at in our Advent series. This week we read the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John. Trying to whip Jesus into their frenzy of condemnation, the scribes and Pharisees ask him what they should do to her. But he ignores them; writing in the sand he stays apart, silent. When they push him, he replies: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one they leave, and she’s alone. I chose that particular story because that line is so memorable, but as we read it together I was most moved by Jesus’ solidarity with her. I pictured the woman, afraid for her life, fearful that there would be no one to take her part. She’s alone; the other adulterous participant is not named, and not anywhere present. She has no recourse for justice. Jesus takes her side. Not only will he not condemn, he does so in the face of significant pressure to do so.

This Advent, here’s my wish list: to live in hope with that woman, that Jesus might come to my side. To live in trust, with Thomas Merton, that God will give me the grace to embody Jesus’ solidarity in this fragile world. To find time for silence, to find God in my heart in today’s Advent, as well as tomorrow’s.

Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Still a King, Still Vulnerable and Dying

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, I’ve been fortunate enough to take some retreat days at the convent at the Sisters of St Anne in Arlington. Rather than fill this space with words, I wanted to invite you to take a minute of prayer with an image of Jesus the sisters have in their garden. Jesus, here, is pictured as a king: crown and jewels and the whole nine yards. But he’s still on the cross.

He’s not the quarterback, not the class president, not the tycoon. There is nothing victorious about this king. That’s the point.

Where do you meet Christ on the cross, still a king, still vulnerable and dying? What ministry does he make possible in you? How can you find ways to serve that Christ in the world?

Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Midwives of the Love of God

Dear People of Christ Church,
This morning I’m writing in gratitude for the community we share, and in hope for our God who works wonders. Last night we gathered for Eucharist in the choir, about twenty of us, praying for the vulnerable and the afraid, reminding ourselves of God’s great providence and grace. The gospel text I chose for the day was of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry as told in the Gospel of Luke:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus announces that that prophecy is fulfilled in him, that as the people gather there they are seeing the good news brought to the poor and release proclaimed to captives.The oppressed are free and the blind are given sight. Jesus goes on to do those things—healing, saving, transforming. The love of God in his life was so strong, so brave, that nothing could stop it, not even death.

Hearing those words, we remembered together that the mission of the church is that same mission. Like Jesus, we occupy the place between the truth of God’s power and love and the truth of our broken and fragile world. In God’s dream of transcendent peace, Muslim women aren’t afraid to wear their veils while walking down the street. Immigrant kids don’t worry that their parents will get deported. LGBTQ people don’t worry their marriages will be dissolved. White supremacists don’t get air time next to legitimate political actors. We rest in that dream, at the same time as we live in a world where all of those things happen. One particular heartbreak and inspiration yesterday was reading the letter superintendent Echelson sent to faculty and staff of Waltham schools. Immigrant students are wondering if they should drop out of school, he said, to start making much money as they can, worried they’ll get deported. Arabic speakers are afraid for their safety. Echelson wrote, “Our students, particularly those students who might not feel safe right now because of their immigration status, perceived religion or any other variable, need us to show up for them.”

This is the transcendent, im/possible place: the place of the cross before the resurrection. The love of God is already showing up on the cross. The love of God is with the gay kid getting beat up and the woman being sexually assaulted. The love of God is incarnate in the mosque on Moody Street, at Temple Beth Israel, at St Mary’s and Sacred Heart. The love of God is showing up in Chaplains on the Way, at AA, at the Community Day Center. The love of God has always been there and will continue to be there. There are places where it hasn’t yet been born, but it is there. Our task as people of faith is to be midwives, to stand in support and accompany God’s love into the world.

We can do this: to bring that love to the desolate places, to have the courage to speak love to the dark abyss. To show up. That is our mission no matter who is president, no matter what prejudice seems to become acceptable. That is our mission, too, to those who disagree, to whom we are still bound in faith and love, who no less need the gift of God’s love.

Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Showing Up, in North Dakota and the Voting Booth

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, so much on my mind. My husband, Noah Evans, left with a group of 12 Episcopal clergy and lay people for North Dakota yesterday morning to be part of an action to be held tomorrow to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe over an oil pipeline that is slated to be built through sacred lands and that would jeopardize the safety of their water. (Theirs, and everyone else who lives below them on the Missouri River.) Approved by the Army Corps of Engineers without due consultation with the tribe, the pipeline is troubling for lots of reasons—it’s not just the climate change question of pipeline vs not-pipeline. Standing Rock has a long relationship to the Episcopal Church; rather than “evangelizing” from the outside as though Native people could be forcibly claimed for the church, the Episcopal Church was actually invited to be part of the reservation by Chief Gall. So their call to Episcopal clergy has some deeper resonance. A mentor of ours in seminary worked on the reservation for a number of years and we visited several times—it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. They’ll pray and listen and support. More about their trip is on Noah’s blog. So there’s that, not to mention the presidential election and 4 important ballot questions. I voted early last night and was pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of the city and patience of those gathered—it took about an hour, possibly even more than if I’d waited for Tuesday! But I’m grateful.

Fortunately, the All Saints jazz mass is on Sunday so we remember that we are not in charge over everything. As we celebrate and sing with drums and saxophone, God’s sovereignty over life and death invites us to center in the fact that even as the stakes are high, God can still work through whatever cataclysms we bring about ourselves. Whether political or environmental or otherwise, it will work itself out. My friend David from our “Two Priests and a Rabbi” interfaith open office hours had this phrase from Mishnah Avot posted on his facebook page yesterday after he voted: “It is not on you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

In my sermon on Sunday I was thinking in a similar vein, about how we don’t have to have everything completely figured out in order for Jesus to come and be with us. He called Zacchaeus the tax collector out of a tree and told him he was coming to his house before Zacchaeus set himself straight, before promises were made to repay extorted funds and commitments made to give half what he owned to the poor. The point is this: we don’t have to have it all figured out before Jesus will have anything to do with us. God wants our open hearts, not perfectly balanced moral checkbooks.

Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Making Ourselves at Home in the Church

Dear People of Christ Church,
First, blessings to those who were confirmed and received last Saturday! Three cheers for Mary, Susan, Jackie, Sam and David. Confirmation is the big “I do” in being an Episcopalian and symbolizes the connection of the individual with the wider church (for whom the bishop stands in) as staking our faith in the Christian faith as expressed in the worldwide Episcopal/Anglican family. It is a lovely commitment to make.

I’m grateful to God for those five, and also for the beginning of our conversations about stewardship. As you’ll read in our materials, this year the vestry is in charge of it—not one individual or household, but the whole gathered body of our parish leaders. This Sunday the Jensens will offer our stewardship reflection about belonging—we are at home at church.

Home, at its best, feels safe: that’s the gauzy Thanksgiving holiday image. The truth is, we sometimes have to work at home being home; sometimes nerves fray and tempers flare. Sometimes that deep, spiritual sense of home crumbles: we hurt each other and what is broken can’t be repaired.

I’ve been thinking about that more complicated aspect of home in preparation for Tuesday’s service of hope and healing from domestic violence. In its third year, we do this in cooperation with REACH and other interfaith partners in Waltham. It is a terrible thing that the church has, historically, been complicit in domestic violence. I’ve heard too many stories about someone’s pastor saying “But I know your spouse, they would never do that.” Or “Jesus always forgave, so you should forgive, too.” Jesus did forgive, and we also are called to that. But God never calls us to jeopardize our own safety by tolerating violence. Forgiveness doesn’t happen at the expense of personal safety. The service is a quiet one: we’ll hear survivors speak and have a chance to light candles in prayer. Alison Shea will be singing, along with Rev. Matt from Agape Christian Community, a new UCC church.

There are a lot of occasions to pray together coming up—we’ll also be offering an election eve Eucharist on November 7 at 6:30pm in cooperation with Santuario and First Lutheran. Christ Church will host, Pastor Tom Maehl of First Lutheran will preach, and Padre Angel of Santuario will celebrate communion (Angel is one of my partners in crime with Two Priests and a Rabbi). We’re also considering holding the church open all day for prayer—let me know if that would be meaningful to you (and if you’re interested in helping out—we’d need to take shifts).

Speaking of elections—this Sunday I’ll invite some conversation on the four Massachusetts ballot initiatives after church. Where does your faith have you leaning? Have you made up your mind about them all? Christians of good faith and goodwill can always learn from each other (and disagree, too). I look forward to our conversation.

Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Blessing the Animals

Dear People of Christ Church,
St Francis Day Sunday is this week!
St Francis Day Sunday is one of the (perhaps too few) days in the church year we do just for the simple hilarity and joy of it, of blessing our pets. Whether furry or feathered (or in a photograph), we say prayers for gratitude and praise to God for the ways our animals and God’s creation bless our lives. I wrote this space last year about the woodchucks that live in our garden, and now have my own furry dog friend, North (aka Sir Snuggles aka Streudel), and offer thanks even more.

It seems to me that there is something profoundly countercultural about the way we nurture our relationships with creation and with the animals in our lives. Not just “real” animals, either; there is a yellow stuffed teddy in our household who I am sure I would leap through a flames to rescue. Both our “lemon bear” and our actual dog represent love, only love. It is unlikely that your guinea pig will ever earn its keep. It won’t pull itself up by its bootstraps and get organized. It do anything useful or inspirational or brave. It will just be there to look at you and love you, and then love you some more. Maybe then chew the carpet, but afterwards return to love. It won’t ever buy anything or sell anything or need anything other than food, water, and your company.

An animal in itself is an invitation to patience and acceptance, too. This is something we are working on a lot on in our house. Like people, animals can experience trauma—our dog wandered in the woods possibly for weeks before coming to us as a stray into our campsite in a national forest this summer. We have no idea what kind of situation he might have been in before he ended up there; his list of intolerances is long. He can’t deal with loud noises. He can’t deal with the postal service. He is afraid of the waffle maker. Until we started feeding him on a tray, he wouldn’t even eat food out of a bowl (claustrophobia?). That’s just what he’s like. We’ll do what we can to address whatever is underneath it and hope he calms down a bit, but he just might not. We have to accept him for who he is. I mean, God sent this dog to us, right? He’s not trying to change us so we can imagine offering the same grace to him.

So that’s what we do for St Francis Day. St Francis, who preached to the birds and would rather strip naked in the town square than follow wealth the way his family expected him to. Francis who gave everything he had to follow Jesus and “Lady Poverty,” and found joy and peace beyond measure beyond measure beyond measure.

I’ll close with part of Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun,” which we sing on Sunday.

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise God! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them God’s glory also show.
O praise God! O praise God! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!



Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Forgive Us Our Debts

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week my friends’ and my plot to get ourselves out of our offices—”two priests and a rabbi drinking coffee” resulted in another great conversation. Angel and David and I sat with one person who grew up Catholic and later converted to Judaism, one Christian new to Waltham in search of a church home, and one repeat customer who might call himself “spiritual but not religious.” Our word for the day: Hell.
Not usually one of my go-to spiritual concepts, but it was on my mind since it comes up in our Gospel for Sunday in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In the story, Lazarus (not to be confused with the guy who was raised from the dead) rests on Abraham’s breast, finally at peace after a lifetime sitting outside the gate of a rich man’s home begging. That rich man has also died, but he has been sent to the lake of fire in Hades. A great chasm is fixed between the two; Lazarus couldn’t help even if he wanted to.
The chasm is not, however, new: it ruptured while the two were alive, when the rich man chose not to see Lazarus. God didn’t create it as punishment: it simply was. “Hades” in the story is a nod to Greek mythology, not Jesus talking about God’s plans for us in the afterlife. But it comes with a hard question: the rich man didn’t see Lazarus. What are we not seeing? Then, as now, what does it mean to be part of a world where it’s so easy not to see?
This parable follows the parable of the dishonest manager, which we heard last week. In that one, we sit across the table from the manager who asks us: how much do you owe?
How much do I owe? Good grief, how much. A lot. Nobody is comparing me to a poisonous candy. Nobody is going to shoot me if my car breaks down (no matter where my hands are, and especially not if they are up in the air).
Why think of this as a debt? Many others do not have this thing that I have. And I certainly did not earn my citizenship or my pale skin or my access to education. My debt is to God, through those who suffer in this world. My debt is to them, through God. Easy to forget those lines in the Lord’s Prayer that really in the original language are more correctly translated as “debts.” Forgive us our debts, God, as we forgive our debtors. We say “trespasses,” which makes it a lot harder to say that as a confession.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Forgive us, God, all the things we don’t see, and give the grace and courage to open our eyes and hearts to your call.
Blessings,
Sara+