Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Old Spice and Amazing Grace - Sermon May 21, 2017

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." - John 14:15-21

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I remember one of the first funerals I ever attended. 

I was small, a little kid. And SO from my height, the view was mostly of people’s wallet bulges and shiny shoes. 

From that height there was also a distinct smell—a sort of moving cloud of women’s perfumes, Old Spice, hot coffee, and flowers, all swirling together over the heads of all the kindergartners. 

I remember going up front with some relative in a line to get “the look,” up by the open casket,

and I remember standing at the casket reminded me of standing at a counter at Chuck E Cheese’s. Even when I stood on my toes it was hard to see what was meant to be on display for everyone. 

When we made it through the line I went back to my seat.

And finally there, from my seat, from across the room, 
I could actually see the body, lying there, arms crossed, 
(the way they lay bodies),
as if it was sleeping. 

I don’t remember who this body belonged to, 

I don’t remember who was the widow or the sons or the parent.

But I do remember this:

I remember fantasizing throughout the service.

I remember sitting there, staring across the room at the body, imagining;

imagining that if I just prayed enough, 
or maybe thought the exact right thoughts about Jesus or the Trinity at just the exact right time, 
that maybe if believed really hard with every muscle of belief that I had developed by age 4 or 5 or 6… 
that maybe, somehow,
if I felt and believed the right way, 
that that body that was lying there, 

all sleeping-beauty-like…

that maybe, possibly, that body would sit up, 
that it would take a gasp of air, 
and come back to life like Lazarus. 

And then maybe the funeral would be less of a sad mourning of a departure, 
and more of a happy reunion. 

It really would be the celebration that everyone kept insisting that this funeral was.

If only I faithed the faith correctly. 

And so I tried. 

I really really really tried. 

I closed my eyes and prayed with all the emotion I could muster. 

I convinced myself that it would happen. 

It WILL HAPPEN!

As soon as I’m done with this prayer and I 

open

my 

eyes

this

person 

will

sit up

1

2

3…

Amen!

++

But instead we sang Amazing Grace, we received the blessing, 

and we drove home.

No easter lillies, 

smelling only of perfumed hugs and hot coffee and old man aftershave, listening to oldies on the radio. 

+++

To be really honest, 

even to this day, 

at any funeral, 

whether I am spectating or presiding myself, 

still, 

I have the exact same fantasy.

I know it won’t happen—we’ll probably not. 

I don’t allow myself to disbelieve completely. That feels wrong, guilty… 

But I do—I get this anxious/hopeful feeling that whoever it is we are gathered around…

maybe, possibly that might actually happen. 

Maybe this person will sit up! 

Maybe everyone will feel a little better. 

And everything will immediately be good again. 

If we just faith the faith in the right way…

+++

But instead we sing Amazing Grace, we receive the blessing, 

and we drive home, smelling of perfumed hugs and hot coffee and old man aftershave, 

and listening to oldies on the radio. 

+++

Some scholars have suggested that unlike, the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)

that all of John’s Gospel, 

really, 

was written more intentionally in the light of Jesus’ Resurrection. 

What does this mean? 

It means that, perhaps, the Gospel itself, though it has Jesus addressing the disciples, though it is written kind of like a history book, 

that it is really also meant as sort of an address to the entire church who, though they lived in the light of the experience of the Resurrection (some of them, arguably, had actually experienced the resurrected Christ), 

also lived in a time after the Ascension—the anniversary of which we will remember Thursday.  

+++

Sure, Jesus was risen, body and all. 

But even so, only really long enough to share a few meals, and to once again say “goodbye.” 

Jesus, the One they left their families for, 
their homes, and their jobs, the One who healed them and fed them, 
the One they had put every ounce of their hope in without abandon, 

had suddenly left them. 

And not only was he gone, but his followers were now being persecuted. 

His followers, now, were always on edge. They didn’t know when the guards would storm in and they’d be gone, taken away… 

They were instructed (as we read in 1 Peter) to always have a defense prepared. “A reason for their hope.” Because it was that bad. Because they never knew when they’d be dragged into a courtroom or before a throne. And be put on trial. 

“Satan prowls like a roaring lion,” they said to one another. Be careful out there. It’s dangerous. 

The community that Jesus had taught to love “the least of these” had become, in a sense those very “least of these.” They had become a persecuted minority. They were in hiding. And because of that they were in close quarters—they were struggling not only with Jesus’  command to love, but also trying to figure out how to keep loving one another without much personal space.

+++

How difficult it must have been to have seen and touched Jesus, or even to have come to follow Jesus after the Resurrection, 
to find hope in Jesus and his message of love and liberation from all that would deal death, 

and to also be the target of violence and hate. 

It certainly must have felt, from time to time, 
like these followers had been abandoned,

like their mother, who longed to gather them under her wing and comfort them, had gone away. 

+++

And so these communities, in light of the Resurrection, and in light of Jesus going away, write the gospel: 

“I will not leave you orphaned.”

“I will send you an advocate.” 

“You will have a sure defense.” 

“The same Spirit that raised me from death now dwells in you,” your Advocate, your Comforter.  

“I am the Resurrection and the life.”

“Those who live in love live in God.” God lives in you. 

The Spirit is with you. 

“I am coming to you.” 

“Have good courage.” “Be at peace.” “Peace be with you.” 

+++
In the midst of the trials of everyday life, 

I imagine the early disciples wished and prayed and hoped and faithed with every ounce of faith they thought they had that 

“Please, God, send Jesus back.”

To feed us and to heal us. 

To love us. 

To gather us as a hen gathers her own. 

Let us touch his hands and feel his side. 

Let us eat with him and laugh with him and dream with him his beautiful dreams. 

+++

But they didn’t get that. 

Instead they got a promise: 

Things will be different,

and

you won’t be alone. 

+++

Though they longed for Jesus,

and celebrated at every gathering a meal of communion and community in remembrance of him, 

though the presence of his absence loomed heavily in their memories and in their hearts, 

Jesus promised not a return to what was, a Paradise-Place or a Golden-Day, 

but only strength and accompaniment to endure what is now, 

and hope for the future, for what might yet be to come. 

A reunion. A celebration. 

“I am no longer present, in flesh of my own,” he seemed to say.

I am no longer a particular, individual, human body. 

But I am present. 

I am present in your body. 

I am present in every act of love, in every movement toward liberation.

I am present in every attempt toward healing, feeding, and community. 

In all these gestures of love, I am there. 

For I am love. When you love, I live in you. 

+++

The body might not sit up in the casket—not right now. 

Nonetheless, 

We sing Amazing Grace. 

We receive a blessing. 

And we carry on, called to Christ’s mission of liberating and reconciling love, clinging to the promise

that those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 

Amen. 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Jesus, Mother, Machismo

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” -Matthew 23:37-38

From the First Mother's Day for Peace
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! 

In the United States, the origins of Mother’s Day can be traced back to 1870, 

(five years after the end of the civil war, 
and, incidentally, 5 years after the founding of this congregation) 

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe – an abolitionist, a devout Christian and missionary, and also a Suffragette,

(who was also very well known for writing 
the “Battle Hymn of the Republic, ” by the way) 

began working to establish what she and her friends would refer to as a “Mother’s Day of Peace.” 

Howe’s agenda for her Mother’s Day for Peace celebration 
was, as she said it, “the full eradication of war.” 

For a large portion of her life, she organized festivities around this ambitious vision. 
Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910

Three years before Howe died,  

In 1907, as a result of a lot of organizing by 

one of her friends (who also held many women's and mother’s events), Anna Jarvis, 

Mother’s day gained some renewed momentum.

As a result,  in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson “made it official,” proclaiming Mother’s Day a national holiday set aside as a “public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.”

(You may have noticed that Wilson did not include the bit about peace). 

+++

Throughout the years here at First Trinity, we have read from Howe’s speech, which came to be known as “The Mother’s Day Proclamation,” and was first titled “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.” 

And we’re going to read from again this year, this Mother’s Day. 

It is worth noting, I think, that in her Appeal, Julia Howe, raises something sadly similar to what Jesus raises in today’s Gospel. 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus says this morning, 
Jeru-shalom, Jeru-shalom,
“City of peace, place of peace,”
“How long will you kill? How long will you destroy God’s angels and prophets?”
How long will you silence those who come to you 
with cries of Justice and declarations of Love? 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, People of God, Children of Peace, 
How long will your cities be the birthplaces of war? 
How long will you say “safety, safety,”  in one breath, and “war and prison and punishment” in another? 

Do you not know that bodies contained and bodies at war are not safe, and are not at peace? 

Do you not know that God is Parent of us all? 

I long to be your Mother, says Jesus, to gather you up, to care for you, to give you true peace and warmth beneath my wings. 

+++

It is still true today, as it was 2,000 years ago (and 150 years ago): that men take pride in their ability to harm others, to fight, even to kill. We call it “tough” and “manly” and “macho.” We brag about physical and sexual conquests. 

And not only in locker rooms.  

The Spirit testifies through this nonsense, and God speaks to us in human flesh, confronting us, turning us, admonishing us that such glorifications of abuse and conquest make no one more human, and certainly not more of a “man.” 

In the midst of all of the machismo and violence, Jesus, fully human,
says he’d rather be like a Mother. 

Like a grandmother. 

Even like a bird. 

Jesus says he’d like to gather the brood. To gather us in. 

He’d have us not to stone the prophets, 
but listen to them. 

+++

So Jesus says today: 

Love one another. Lift one another. Be fully human. 

Yet most often it has been women who proclaimed this Gospel of peace and abundance for all. 

Imperfect though she was, Howe was one of those women with a vision of a just world at peace. 

+++

Thank God for mothers in whom we have seen God, 
and mothers who have taught us what it means to love
and to give life, mothers who have kept us alive when no one else would. 

Thank God for women who have imagined a world at peace, and named their desire in the face of oppressive structures and violent men. 

And thank God for our Creator who gave birth to all that is, 
and calls us to into a future of peace and love. 

May we learn live in that love, and to dream their ancient dreams of a peaceful tomorrow. 

Amen. 

+++

I’d like to invite Mary Dungy and Alicia Ibarra to read Julia Ward Howe’s “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” first delivered as an “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe. 

ALICIA I: 
Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of 
two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again 
have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to 
the fatal mediation of military weapons. 


MARY D: 
In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers 
has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the 
bloody exchanges of the battle field. 
Thus men have done. Thus men will do. 


ALICIA I 
But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill 
the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical 
force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the 
sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be 
heard, and answered to as never before. 


MARY D: 
Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of 
water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by 
irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with 
carnage, for caresses and applause. 

ALICIA I: 
“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been 
able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one 
country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to 
be trained to injure theirs.” 

MARY D: 
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It 
says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does 
not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession. 

ALICIA I: 
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of 
war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and 
earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and 
commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each 
other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, 
each learning after his own time, the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of 
God. 

MARY D: 
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a 
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed 
and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period 
consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different 
nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great 
and general interests of peace. 

+++

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

+++

Song: Redemption Songs 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mother's Day Scriptures and Prayer of the Day

I had trouble finding alternate Mother's Day texts (or prayers), so I assume you might have too. Here is an alternate prayer of the day I wrote up. Use it as you will. And here are some texts that I know will fit service at our congregation. I also always encourage the reading of Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation. You can find it here

Peace, all.  -Tom

PRAYER OF THE DAY
God before all gods, our source and our destination, you are the presence of grace and truth among us in the kind touch of love and the healing embrace of liberating solidarity. Through the eternal dance of Beloved, Lover, and Love, in Trinity you give birth to all creation, calling us good, gifting every creature with the mutual enjoyment of every good thing and commissioning us to show mutual care and lovingkindness to one another. Be with us in our struggles and in our doubts. Where love has expired and hearts desire only rest, give us healing. Hide us beneath your wings. Be our rock. Give us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. May we find in the presence of one another a foretaste of your feast to come, through Jesus, our Resurrection and Life. Amen.


READINGS


ISAIAH 49:8-15
8 Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
   on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
   as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
   to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
   to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
   on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
   neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for the one who has pity on them will lead them,
   and by springs of water will guide them.
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
   and my highways shall be raised up.
Lo, these shall come from far away,
   and lo, these from the north and from the west,
   and these from the land of Syene.
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
   break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted the people,
   and will have compassion on all who suffer.
But Zion said, “God has forsaken me,
   my God has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
   or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
   yet I will never forget you.


1 PETER 2:1-5
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 Come to the living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.


MATTHEW 23:37-38
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate.[h] 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”