Sunday, May 20, 2012

7 Easter 2012--Acting

Well, here we are on the last Sunday of Eastertide. For me, the time since Easter Sunday has passed quickly―these last weeks have been eventful, both in my personal and professional lives, especially with just finishing up the semester at Hawkeye; I had 20-some portfolios to read. I imagine you all may be feeling some amazement, too, that only a week separates us from Memorial Day weekend, and more importantly, Pentecost. The world, too, has been eventful, of course―a new president in France, the financial woes in Europe, violence and oppression still ongoing in Syria―I know that we can add more to the list. During this last week I’ve wondered whether the disciples were amazed at how quickly their time in the world went by―both their time with Christ, and afterward. Did they ever stop to notice how fast it went while they were wrapped up in the events in which they were involved?

In these last, fast-flowing weeks, the lessons have shown us some of those events in the disciples’ lives, both in readings from Acts and in John’s Gospel. The readings from Acts, especially, intrigue me as a student of narrative, because in the weeks leading up to Pentecost, we’re actually hearing of the events that take place after Pentecost, after the disciples have received the Holy Spirit and been sent out into the world. It makes me consider how we tell, and re-tell, our stories. But that, I think, is a sermon, or a paper, for another time.

What has struck me this week is Christ’s prayer concerning his disciples, which we’ve heard this morning. Twice Jesus says “they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” I’ve thought about this phrase most of the week. What did Christ mean? Part of me was thinking of being totally otherworldly, thinking in terms of the metaphysical, at least regarding Christ and his part in the Trinity. Although, in looking at some of the medieval art that I am using for my track at the upcoming ministry retreat—I have to put in a plug for that--that many, then and now, have been accustomed to looking at the disciples in this way, too. The illuminations of St. Peter, St. James, St. Matthew, and the other disciples--except for Judas--and of course, Christ, certainly exhibit human qualities, but also have that otherworldly aspect, too, most obviously seen in the halos with which they are depicted.

But part of me felt this was problematic―which amazed me, because I tend to be drawn to mysticism; or at least I felt that there was more to what John was reporting as Christ’s words to God. I knew that I was looking at the words too literally―thinking of the physical world, thinking of the planet. I was working how to reconcile those words with the actions of the disciples, with the idea of taking action in the world. After all, Christ does also say in today’s reading that he is sending his disciples into the world.

And then, yesterday at the Food Bank, I saw things more clearly folks from Trinity, St. Tim’s Lutheran in Hudson, and CenturyLink worked together to pack boxes of food for the elderly, taking time out of busy lives. We were in the world and yet not belonging to it. In the world because we were doing a physical job, and helping those in very real, physical need—facing hunger and lacking means to buy much food. It finally occurred to me that Christ was talking about the disciples in terms of the culture that made up their world, not simply their physical, general surroundings, but the social, economic, and political aspects of the Roman world. They weren’t of that world―they were counter to that culture. Because of Christ, and their belief and faith in his words, Peter, James, John, Thomas, and the others acted in ways that took them out of that large world, and also their own individual worlds―away from fishing, tax collecting, and more. 

At one point this week, I wondered what would have happened if one of them had refused Christ, but that is not part of this narrative and speculation for another time. In any case, each disciple no longer belonged to the world; Christ was sending them out. I would say this is the reading in which Christ transforms his disciples into “apostles”--which in Greek means, “envoy” or “sent out.” Christ, via the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Companion, will send them out to share God’s words, God’s testimony, with the rest of the world.

And so, let us remember that we, as followers of Christ, are not totally of this world, either. I don’t mean that we walk around with halos or an otherworldly glow, though I do think we see that glow every once in a while. I simply mean that if we follow the commandment that Christ gave us, which we heard again in last week’s lesson, we set ourselves apart, to some degree at least, from those in our world who perpetuate violence against others, who are caught up in making money only for the sake of making money, from those in the mainstream, fast-paced, secular culture. We are in the world, too, for by loving each other, we need to act and spread the word of God’s love, just as the apostles did.

My prayer is that as we approach the end of Eastertide and the beginning of ordinary time after Pentecost next week, that we take some time this summer to take ourselves out of the world to listen to God’s testimony in our hearts. Maybe take a moment for prayer at Disney World or Adventureland or while fishing or camping or before seeing the latest blockbuster movie (I plan on seeing a few this summer) and remember that we belong to Christ and to God and Act accordingly. Amen.

                                          --given at Trinity Episcopal Parish, Waterloo, Iowa
                                         Today's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary:
                                         Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Sunday, May 13, 2012

6 Easter 2012--Across the Universe

Happy Mother’s Day! What a lovely day this promises to be, though we really could use the rain.

I was fortunate enough to have spent time yesterday in Steamboat Rock with my family—my mom’s side—my aunts and uncles, cousins, my grandmother, my parents who came down from Wisconsin, and my middle child, who is my first daughter and mother to two of my grandsons. All told, we had FIVE generations present, and I feel grateful that my grandsons have gotten to spend time with their great-great grandmother. I feel thankful to God for the time spent with my family.

On my drive home, my thoughts ranged from my family (and friends) to this week’s lessons, upon which I’ve been meditating all week, especially the Gospel and the reading from 1 John. As you may or may not have figured out about me as I’ve been preaching among you for the last few months is that one of my passions is looking for the spiritual in pop culture and literature sources. And so, being my parents’ child and a product of my time, lyrics from a Beatles’ song popped into my head after reading the Gospel, which uses the word “love,” a total of nine times and contains Christ’s greatest commandment to his disciples, and through them, to us, part of which is to “abide in my love.”

Now the Beatles’ song that popped into my head is not the one that you might think is the obvious choice: “All You Need is Love,” though a line from that song has been in my head for other reasons that I won’t go into today. No, the lyrics I’ve been playing, both in my head and on my car’s CD player, are from “Across the Universe” and they go like this: “Limitless undying love / which shines around me like a million suns/ and draws me on and on / across the universe.” As this song was written while they were in their Maharishi phase, John Lennon, who wrote the lyrics, quite possibly was not thinking in Christian terms. But he captured, for me, a large part of the essence of the words Christ uses: “abide in my love” and “love each other as I have loved you.”

And so this week, I’ve been amazed by the intensity of this love and how many ways in which it manifests itself—echoing over and over. When I first listened to this song a couple of months ago on my trip to Texas--I actually hadn’t been really familiar with it prior to then other than knowing it was a Beatles song; the cover of it I’ve been listening to is by Rufus Wainwright, who has a marvelous voice. But I digress. When I listened to these lyrics, I thought in terms of that all-encompassing love from God, but a higher, abstract love—an epic love, if you will. However, over the last months, including yesterday, I considered all the more concrete, down-to-earth examples I’ve seen recently: a friend who is busy, stressed, angry, and tired from the situation in his department and on campus at the university where he works and from an intense job search, yet willing to answer texts sent at inopportune moments and to “scheme” (his word) in order to help me see a way along the next stage of my path; parents who show their love and support, even offering to come up and help me go through all my stuff—a daunting task; children who take the time to worry about and support their siblings; cousins and parents who drive five hours ONE way just to spend a few hours with family. I hope and pray that you are all finding examples of this in your own lives as I’m speaking. THIS is limitless undying love shining around each of us, in so many little ways; that in which God, through Christ, is calling for us to abide. In one of this week’s meditations in the Forward Day-by-Day, the author noted that the word “abide” (a word we don’t use much any longer) is not quite the the best translation of the original Greek word, which apparently conveys a sense of intertwining, of intimate connection.

I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with Julian of Norwich, whose feast day was this past Tuesday (and I’m sure I’m not the only one referencing her in a sermon today). She was a fourteenth-century mystic and anchoress, who was possibly the first woman who wrote a book in the English language—I love her. I think she got it right in many ways when she expanded on others’ ideas of Christ being as a mother to us. I’m still working on understanding her writings, but I believe that she could see, using our limited language and ways of seeing, that the metaphor of motherhood made for an excellent, easily understood way of sharing her vision of our relationship with Christ, with God—that limitless, intimate connection that we share with our mothers. Julian was a wise woman—I would highly recommend reading her work.

As we consider today’s Gospel and Christ’s command to love one another, as he has raised us to be friends, brothers, sisters to himself and to each other, as we go forth, let us remember this joy. This faith in God’s love, that he is father and mother to us all, is that which helps us to conquer the world, not in terms of violence, not in epic ways, but by conquering our own little and big fears with that knowledge of God’s love, shown in so many aspects through those who love us. Then we can carry that love forward to others, whether biologically related to us or not; this is what draws us on and on—across the universe. Amen.

                                           Given at St. James Episcopal Church, Independence, Iowa
                                            Readings from the Revised Common Lectionary: 
                                            Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17