Saturday, March 31, 2007

Friday/ Saturday Five: Holy Week, Batman!

OK, so I work Fridays and... it just didn't happen.

Reverendmother writes,

Well, the Clergy Superbowl is almost upon us, and so, I offer up this Friday Five (with apologies for the irreverent title):

1. Will this Sunday be Palms only, Passion only, or hyphenated?

At Big Ivy U we are hyphenating... the Palm reading will be a part of the call to worship, and then we will read the entire passion according to St. Luke. No sermon. Yippeeyiyay. Still haven't written my Good Friday sermon. Boo.

2. Maundy Thursday Footwashing: Discuss.

I like it. But there seem to be great obstacles (psychological, footwear-esque, and otherwise). And, honestly, I'm not sure it's a meaningful translation into our culture. I like what Cheesehead's doing, and I'll share here what I wrote in her comments.

I love the handwashing image. It brings in Pilate's guilt, for one thing, which, IMO, is an important corrective to the gospels saying "the Jews, the Jews" everywhere.

I once attended a Maundy Thursday service in which we washed our hands while quiet music was being played, and an actor (yes, a man) was quietly doing Lady Macbeth's speech, "Out, out damned spot," while wringing his hands.

It was powerful.

3. Share a particularly meaningful Good Friday worship experience.

Seminary. We did the Triduum in one night for a class, and we moved around the immense space of the chapel from Thursday (me) to Friday (BSFF*) to Sunday (AGSF**). On Friday we hovered... standing, as if watching, and we lived in the tension and sorrow of the moment. Oh! I miss that kind of creativity.

* Best Seminary Friend Forever
** Another Great Seminary Friend

4. Easter Sunrise Services--choose one:
a) "Resurrection tradition par excellence!"
b) "Eh. As long as it's sunrise with coffee, I can live with it."
c) "[Yawn] Can't Jesus stay in the tomb just five more minutes, Mom?!?"

The spirit says a, the flesh says c. Realistically, b, then.

5. Complete this sentence: It just isn't Easter without...

So many lilies someone has an allergy attack. And "This Is the Feast of Victory For Our God." And so many Alleluias our jaws ache. And the beauty of all God's people turning out in their very best Sunday best. And everyone's palpable pride and joy in the moment. And a nap, later.

Bonus: Any Easter Vigil aficionados out there? Please share.

Oh yes. I used to be Catholic, you know, and then Episcopalian, so I have sat and stood and knelt through many a vigil, and I do miss them so. The glory, the absolute glory of kindling, not just a candle, but an enormous, noisy flame, and watching its wildfire spread through the congregation, packed to the rafters. Oh yes.

Photo courtesy of Flickr and ACME-Nollmeyer.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Chocolate Jesus

From the Guardian... I think it's kind of.... sweet.

The unveiling of an anatomically detailed sculpture of Christ made entirely out of milk chocolate has infuriated Catholic groups in New York.

"This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever," said Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League. "It's not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing - to choose Holy Week is astounding."

The 1.8-metre-high sculpture, which depicts Jesus suspended as if from the cross, has been dubbed "My Sweet Lord" by its creator, Cosimo Cavallaro.

It is scheduled to open at the midtown Manhattan Lab gallery on Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Good Friday, with closing planned for Easter Sunday.

"The fact that they chose Holy Week shows this is calculated, and the timing is deliberate," said Donohue, whose group represents 350,000 Catholics countrywide.

He called for an economic boycott of the hotel, which he described as "already morally bankrupt".

The gallery's creative director, Matt Semler, said the Lab had been overrun with angry telephone calls and emails about the exhibit.

Although he described Donohue's response as "a Catholic fatwa", Semler said the gallery was considering its options.

"We're obviously surprised by the overwhelming response and offence people have taken," said Semler, adding that the Holy Week timing was an unfortunate coincidence.

"We are certainly in the process of trying to figure out what we're going to do next."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Magdalene Monologue I: Luke 8:1-3

I will begin today posting a series of monologues I wrote a number of years ago from the perspective of Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of this blog. I wrote these before seminary, and they were performed in the context of worship by a wonderful local actress.

I was inspired to share these by More Cows, whose beautiful monologue from the perspective of *Martha of Bethany, is here; and by Cheesehead, who has contributed her own wonderful monologue by Mary of Bethany here. So many gifted women preachers out there... does the church know how blessed it is?

* corrected post; originally I incorrectly identified the persona in MC's monologue as Mary of Bethany. My apologies!


Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Magdalene Monologue: Luke 8:1-3

They said this of me: "She has cracked," they said. Like an egg thrown at a wall. The smooth comfort of the home that was my own mind, gone. Instead, bits of what-was-me splattered, scattering, running down the wall and into the waste pile. Sharp-edged fragments lost in the dusty roads that run through my village.

I do not remember, you understand-- could not re-member my smashed and scattered self, even after I was once again, as if by the deepest magic, restored and whole. My mother had to tell me. She did not want to. "No, it is over. Forget if you can." But I demanded the details.

... lying in the alleys moaning, head uncovered, insects in my hair.

... screeching obscenities at the priests in their processions.

... following the children to their places of play, scuttling along in the dust like a crab, flinging back the stones they threw in fear.

... tearing my clothes and rolling in the dung.

... drawing a picture on my arm with my father's finest knife.

These things I do not remember. My mother had to tell me.

She told me also of the band of drifters, with their wandering sage. She told me this as the mists parted, and I awakened on her bed to find the last signs of my madness being bathed away. How he found me, frothing like a dog that ought to be drowned, filthy and grinning, chasing women from the well with my stench. How he studied me until I-- I returned his gaze, and then tried to run. How with his words-- words heard only by me, for no one else would come near-- he captured me and I paused in my flight. And how-- there were thirty or more witnesses, so this is true-- he touched me. He laid his hand upon my head and said one healing word.

Some say, I screamed a deafening scream, and they saw seven demons fly out of my mouth. Or that I writhed on the ground until they thought I was dead. Or that the old demons were replaced with a new one. But my mother tells me otherwise. She tells me that I stood still for a very long time. And people lost their interest and wandered away. And that eventually he turned back to his strange fishy smelling band and walked on through town. And that I quietly, very quietly asked a woman standing off at a small distance, "Are you my mother?" And that she, my mother, took me in her arms and led me home.

Within a day, a week, a month, I was once again smooth and round and whole, like an egg. And I collected a few things and set forth from my mother's house. I was clean and dressed as befits a woman of my station, with a bundle of large coins in my purse. And I walked down the same road, in search of the sage and his companions, so that I too might learn to heal.

"Woman, be healed."

"Woman, you are whole."

He said this to me. I say this to you.

Copyright 1995.

Friday, March 23, 2007

If you want....

... to experience a writing of great and mysterious beauty, hop on over to read "Some Questions" at the Real Live Preacher. The man never disappoints.

A small taste: ...Is goodness somewhere deep in your heart, laid in before the ages and waiting for the year of jubilee? Or is goodness a damsel locked in a distant tower, and you the prince charming who will redeem her at any price?...

Go and drink deep...

* Thank you to RLP for asking about the art... it's "Meditating" by Javier Lopez Barbosa.

Rivers in the Desert Friday Five

Courtesy of the RevGalBlogPals....

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
~Isaiah 43:19

As we near the end of the long journey toward Easter, a busy time for pastors and layfolk alike, I ponder the words of Isaiah and the relief and refreshment of a river in the desert.

For this Friday Five, name five practices, activities, people or _____ (feel free to fill in something I may be forgetting) that for you are rivers in the desert.

People... There is the friend with whom I quote movies until we dissolve into giggles. There is the friend who knows intimately my experiences of greatest joy and loss. There is the friend who was my most important mentor in discerning my call to ministry. There is the new friend to whom I turn when discerning now. There is the seminary friend (the one, the only, the unique! you know who you are...). Each of these (and they are all women) are rivers in the desert who fill me up with the joy of our connection and the privilege of knowing and being known.

PodMusic... I was given an iPod for Christmas, and I thoroughly and heartily approve of the innovation of being able to carry my entire music library wherever I go. I love in particular putting it on shuffle, and hearing, as I did this morning,

"Sick of Me" by Ani DiFranco, followed by

"I Am Hungry" by Ferron, followed by

"Red Accordion" by Patty Larkin, followed by

"You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, followed by

"Big Guns" by Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, followed by

"Me And A Gun" by Tori Amos, followed by

"It's So Easy" by Sheryl Crow, followed by

"How High the Moon" by Mel Tormé, followed by

"How Long Has This Been Going On" by Jacintha, followed by

"Smooth Rider" by the Dave Matthews Band, followed by

"On the Waterfront: Symphonic Dance" by Leonard Bernstein and the Bournemouth Symphony, followed by

"And A God Descended" by Dar Williams, followed by

"Hallelujah" by k. d. lang, followed by

"Mean Mr. Mustard" by the Beatles, followed by

"Written on the Back of His Hand" by Lucy Kaplansky, followed by

"Love and Some Verses" by Iron and Wine, followed by

"Summer Evening" by Gillian Welch, followed by

"White Ladder" by David Gray, followed by

"Skylark" by Ella Fitzgerald, followed by

"Imaginary Friends" by Nada Surf...

The unexpected music is a river into which I plunge... always completely unexpected, yet familiar to some part of me that loved the music enough to assemble it into this collection.

Podcasts... I know this sounds odd. But I subscribe to podcasts of "On the Media," "This American Life," "News from Lake Wobegon," "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly" and The New York Times Film Reviews. I listen to these as I commute (there are patches of highway where no radio stations are available), walk around campus or my neighborhood, or even as I do housework. These programs are like rivers in that they take me away.... I travel into lives and experiences and perspectives that would otherwise be unavailable to me. "This American Life" and Garrison Keillor's monologues in particular have the ability to move me to tears, to connect me to the beauty and pain and joy of other souls.

Prayer... I know, how predictable. But it is true. When I take the time to pray-- which I usually do using a resource such as Daily Prayer from the PCUSA-- I find myself immersed in the deep and endless river of scripture and tradition and the cloud of witnesses who have gone before and who will come after. So... why don't I do it more than I do?

Place... There are certain places where my pulse and my blood pressure lower, my breathing deepens, and I feel more authentically who I am. These include the ocean where I grew up and a park along the river where I live now. I inhale, in one place, the salt air and in the other the scent of the dense woods and river, and I am grounded again in the reality of this beautiful world.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


My new favorite quote ever...

“Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” ~ Simone Weil

...from a great article, No More Jesus Discoveries.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sin, Ego and Conversation

Friends, I have a few things I'd like to share this morning, one of which is the little quote in the bright blue box, if you will scroll down the page to find "Daily Quotations." 'Nuff said. *

* I have realized that this makes no sense after the day it was posted, March 20. Here is the delicious quote:

I love to sin; God loves to forgive. The world is admirably arranged. — W.H. Auden

Now put that in your Lenten pipe and smoke it!


The other thing I'd like to share, like the excellent Auden quote, stems from about a day of voraciously (compulsively?) reading blogs across the spectrum of religious and political thought. This was all set off because I was looking, for reasons of my own, for the name of a certain pastor whose church is famous for picketing funerals of gays and lesbians, as well as of US military personnel, with their extraordinarily hate-filled slogans and presence. These folks were first made famous, I believe, when they showed up at Matthew Shephard's funeral. I found his name, but I don't want Google to ever lead someone interested in him here, so I will not post it. I found his website, and read for a few minutes-- just enough to leave me physically disturbed, a little shaky and nauseous. Pure hatred is potent stuff.

Anyway, I then proceeded to troll around the web, reading lots and lots on the Anglican communion and its struggles, from both sides of the aisle, and then some about my own beloved denomination, again, from both poles of the blogosphere. All this left me pretty depleted and depressed and wondering where all this is going and what it all means for someone like me, who is hoping to do some good work in the context of this call of mine.

One of the things I do is to serve on a design team for an annual conference for new clergy in my denomination, in my geographic region. We are having the first year clery read a book by Susan Howatch, Glittering Images. Here is a sentence from a Publisher's Weekly review:

The "glittering images" of the title are those we present with pride to the world; in this case, the cherished images of charismatic, successful churchmen, elegant in their clerical robes, whose congregations are moved by their sermons.

By asking the newly ordained participants to read this book we are hoping to spark a conversation on what it means to be a minister in the church, how the images we hold of those who have influenced us shape our image of ministry, and, mostly, how we can remain aware and vigilant about the images we put forward of ourselves, the tension betwen the pastoral "role" and the authentic expression of ourselves as human beings.

It seems to me that much of what passes for debate on the great issues of our day (and in the church that has chiefly to do with the interpretation of scripture and what constitutes "real" Christianity) is actually very heavily intertwined with our images of ourselves, both as Christians and as ministers. I wonder how many of us (and please understand, I ask the question of myself) are locked into our positions, not by sincere intellectual and spiritual inquiry, but by the images we hold and cherish and will die defending.

At least one reader of Susan Howatch's novels has described the wisdom found therein as follows.

In his reflections on Susan Howatch's "Starbridge" novels, Lawrence Farris lists a number of "absolute truths" about clergy that impress him, truths that Howatch reinforces in her newest novel. (About clergy) she shows us:

-that we are often tempted, and do our greatest harm, through our gifts and strengths rather than our weaknesses;

-that much of the good we do is done despite our shortcomings;

-that evil is real and cannot facilely be explained away;

-that the communion of saints includes and sometimes confounds us;

-that the spiritual disciplines offer us safety and comfort, and restrain our egos;

-that we can make an idol of almost anything and deny that we have done so;

-that we need people with whom we can be utterly honest if we are to be honest with ourselves;

-that we can take an interest in our families' spiritual welfare, but we cannot minister to them;

-that separating the psychological and the spiritual imperils the self.

from an article in "Books and Culture"

What do you think?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Lent 4: My Brother, Myself: A Sermon

I am not preaching tomorrow. However, I preached this sermon 9 years ago (while I was still a Director of Christian Education), and I still like it. It is a first-person sermon, from the point of view of the older brother.


My Brother, Myself
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Lent 1998

They are all in there—I can hear the music from here, the stamping of the feet, the voices as they raise the cups in toast after toast. They are celebrating as if it were the harvest, or a wedding. I can’t go in there. I can’t go in there. If you had seen what I have seen, you would understand why.

A year ago my father was an honorable man, with not one but two sons to share his good fortune. As the oldest, naturally I had a place of honor at my father’s table, and beside him at prayers in the synagogue. After all, I would inherit the lion’s share of his estate: two thirds, as it is written, a double-portion for the firstborn. My father never had a moment’s anxiety on my account. I was there, by his side, every day from the time I left my mother’s care, learning from him: the land, the accounts, the servants. I learned how to manage his estate by his wisdom, and I gave him the honor he was due as my father. And I ate my daily bread by the sweat of my brow.

But my brother… from the day he was born you could see that his eyes never properly focused n what was right in front of him: his family, our honor. He walked about as if in a dream. Far off lands. Exotic tales of strange peoples. He saw no good in the bread that was before him on his plate, but longed for strange and alien feasts.

I remember well the day he left. He stood in front of the house, in broad daylight, in front of the hired servants, and said, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” He stood there with no shame on his face, and all but told our father, “Your only use to me, old man, is as a corpse.” With his words he wished our father dead. The servants hid their faces and scurried away, so as not to look upon their master’s shame. And, in truth, something in my father did die that day… I could see it in his eyes. His younger son had killed him just as surely as if he’d driven a knife into his breast.

My father walked slowly away from the house, and gestured to a parcel of land. “There. That is your third. The servants will draw up the contracts. So be it.” And then he took his tunic between his great hands, and I thought, for a moment, he was about to tear it. And I thought, “Ah, he will tear his garments to show that this son of his is dead to him.” At least, that is as a man of honor would have seen it. But my father… he did not tear his tunic. It fell from his hands, and hung limply about him, and he shuffled back into the house.

No one said good-bye to my brother. He took his deeds and a parcel of clothing and he disappeared over a low hill.

So. Now I too was a landowner, and not just the oldest son, for my father had divided his property. The servant had handed me a deed of ownerships just as he had handed one to my brother. My father left his place as head of the household, preferring, for some months, to sleep beneath a shade tree in the garden. His ceremonial robes hung unworn inside the house, and he never left to go to the village to trade or to the synagogue to pray. He ate only such food as would sustain a child, and so took on the lean look of a hired man, even though he did no work. And I… well, I was put in the most impossible position of all.

I became the head of the household, but my father lived on. I had accepted my inheritance while my father still breathed! How could I sit in the place of honor at the table beside my own father? How could I wear his robes and trade with the merchants who knew that he had been shamed by a vile, ungrateful child? The other men of the village—they knew as well as I that my brother had marked our family as disgraced. I heard the plan they had for my brother should he ever dare to show his face again in our village. My brother would be dead inside the hour he reappeared, they said. What was the alternative? That their sons be permitted to think a father could be so misused and his wicked son live on?

So my brother was a dead man. And my father was a dead man. And I was a man half-alive in my own home.

After a time my father roused himself from beneath his shade tree. He washed his face and put on a clean tunic. He stood out in front of the house, staring off at the low hill. And then he began to walk. He would set out early, before the heat of the day, and usually return in time for the meal, though not always. He would take his staff and walk in the direction of the low hill over which my brother had disappeared. When he returned, he would take his meal, saying little, but eating more now that his body was working again. And then he would sit on a little cushion outside the door, and watch. He sat there watching the horizon, the servants coming and going, every day. The sun hardened his skin, and he had only the occasional clouds for his shade.

I ask you, what am I? I am a child who has done his duty towards his father, no more and no less. If I had taken my pack and followed my brother, would my father’s grief have led him to hold this vigil for me? If my brother was dead—and the men of the village vowed never to let him return alive—why did my father hope for his return? Did he not have a son who loved him, who showed him honor? What am I?

Today my father went out for his usual three hours of walking. We had our meal together, as always. I saw nothing unusual—just some vagabond child off in the distance, coming over the hill as my father sat upon his cushion. No one worth noticing. I went out into the field to supervise several men who were digging a drainage ditch. I did not return until the sun had sunk low over the horizon.

When I returned I could smell the aroma of veal roasting, and I could see that the house was lit with lanterns, and I could hear the music that was playing, and the sound of the stamping of the dancers’ feet, and the voices as they raised their cups in toast after toast. I called a house servant to me and asked him to account for all these goings on.

“It was the most amazing thing master! One moment your father was seated, as always, on his cushion. And in the next he was up and running towards some beggar who we could see coming up the road! Yes, running, I tell you, his robes flapping about him! And still we had no idea what or who it was all about. And then we could see that he had embraced this beggar, and kissed him, and that he was bringing him back towards the house! And then I realized who it was. Master. It is your brother.”

My brother?

So. He has returned. And apparently the men of the village have not stoned him to death or cut his throat. Of course, once my father had kissed him, they could not. It appears that my father has taken his place once again as the head of this family, and that he has taken my good for nothing brother under his protection. So the men of the village are now raising the glass with him instead of describing his death in detail to their sons. So this is how it is.

Why is it that my father, who was so shamed, can forgive? And why is it that I, who have never shamed my father, find myself now standing outside the great feast, looking in? How can I go in?

And yet, there is my father, and he looks altogether unfamiliar to me, as if he were a stranger! Why is that so? Is it that the expression on his face is so alien to me I do knot know him when he wears it? He is smiling. He is smiling so broadly his eyes have disappeared into the deep creases on his face. He looks utterly at peace, completely happy.

And there is my brother. He looks like one who has been imprisoned, like a child who has been released from a prison. He looks as if he had suffered, truly. Gone is the face of that arrogant young man who demanded his portion of the inheritance. What remains is the face of a child. And he too is smiling as if the joy within him is too great to be contained.

My father came to me, just now, and he asked me—he pleaded with me—to come in, to raise the cup for my brother as well. “My son,” he said, “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.” All that is his is mine? Including this lost-and-found child, my brother?

Oh my father… your heart is so deep, so wide! Is that because it has been broken? Can a broken heart love all the more? Then let my heart stop its straining and break so that I too might come into the fold of your love again. Can I come in? Can I let my heart break once and for all so that I too can yield to love?


*Information about social customs and family relationships was taken from Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels by Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg/ Fortress Press, 1992), 370-373.

Dear Anonymous

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids, and never wanted them. Can you explain this post to me? It's beyond my understanding. I'd really appreciate it.

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment on my previous post about "Mom stuff." I will try as best I can to explain what I mean when I say the "mom stuff" fills me to overflowing.

I have always wanted to be a mom; my own mom struggled with infertility and finally adopted my brother and me, and she loved us fiercely. I suppose my desire and hope for motherhood had its origin there.

When I met ex-Mr. Magdalene, our relationship began with an acknowledgement that we would have children-- that they would be one tangible expression of our love and commitment.

Being a mother has been one of the hardest and most rewarding things in my life. I have not been a perfect mother by any stretch of the imagination. My son, Larry, has heard me refer to him as my "experimental model"-- my lame attempt to acknowledge that, when I was first a mother, I stumbled quite a bit. I was overwhelmed. I was scared. I loved him, I was terrified of my love for him (Tolstoy talks about the advent of a baby bringing "new worlds of possibility for pain;" that is profoundly true). After my daughter Petra was born, I felt the difference in myself, growing in confidence, patience, gentleness. I believe, both to my relief and my sorrow, that I was a better mother for her than I was for him.

I have learned things about myself as a mother. I have learned that I am not an earth mother with endless patience and goodwill and ability to cook every meal from scratch or to vacuum in pearls. I have learned that I do need other relationships and work in my life to be fulfilled. But I have also learned that I have a fiercely protective nature where my children are concerned, and that I will stop at nothing to keep them safe if I think they are at risk. I have learned that I have pretty damned good instincts where babysitters, teachers and dentists are concerned. I have learned that I have nearly endless energy for certain things, while not much for others: sewing fun, creative Halloween costumes? Yes. Papièr Maché? You bet? Homemade chocolate chip cookies or brownies? In a heartbeat. Homework? Sure. Video games? Not so much. I've already mentioned the cooking thing...

I'm probably not answering your question so far. I wanted children for reasons I probably will never be able to fully articulate: the desire to pass along a part of myself to another generation, the desire to "see myself" in those children (naricssistic? sure), the desire to create something out of my love for my husband, the desire to have someone in my life who would depend on me and love me the way little children instinctively love the ones who care for them (selfish? probably). But the rewarding parts of being a mom have been the unexpected parts-- the surprise of who my children are as they grow, and become truly themselves and not simply an extension of me; the thrill of getting to witness all the rites of passage of their lives; even the vicarious pleasure of watching my son as he navigates the first year of college, a time I loved in my own life.

And this: the joy, the indescribable happiness, the privilege of knowing someone and being known by them, the gift of navigating life's circumstances with them, the pleasure of loving them, and knowing that my love marks them, powerfully, the way my parents' love marks me, the way God's love marks me, marks all of us.

I have dear friends, Anonymous, who, like you, have never wanted children and who have made that choice. I respect and admire those who have that knowledge of themselves; I do not believe people who have children are "better" than other people. But I know that, for me, being a mother has been one of the deepest joys of my existence. I am so glad I made this choice, and I am so glad I was able to live it.

Photo courtesy of csm 0426 and Flickr.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sometimes, it's just the mom stuff...

May I just say here...

I am so thrilled to have my son home for spring break.

I am so tickled to watch him gobble up my cooking and say, "Is there any more? Of that rice stuff?"

I am so enjoying snuggling on the couch between son and daughter and watching-- anything, who cares? Tonight we watched our TiVo of the new series The Riches (fabulous...bleak... bursting with sermon fodder!)

Sometimes the joy of the mom stuff fills me to overflowing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Everything Old

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Tonight I moderated a session meeting for a little church that has recently parted ways with a pastor (with some rancor). They are struggling financially, cannot afford full-time or even half-time pastoral services at present, and are needing to think very creatively about how they will be church together. As we met together, the session became mired in a conversation about a closet. In this large walk-in closet there are sewing materials and sewing machines. A member of the church sent a request to the session that we designate this a sewing room, and declare it off-limits to other uses. Is there a sewing group in the church? Not any more. Is anyone planning to re-start a sewing group? Not really. In dealing with this request it became clear that there are many rooms in the church that have been declared "off-limits." These rooms contain the historic detritus of 150 years, nothing of much value financially, an antique here and there, but mostly, junk. The church has rummage sales, and when they are over, the unsold junk is returned to the storage rooms.

As I sat back and mostly listened to the discussion, which became rather heated rather quickly, it was so clear that the accumulation of useless junk-- physical, emotional, historical and otherwise-- is a major obstacle to the growth and health of this church. At a certain point the room became very quiet, and as the echoes of the voices died, I heard-- I believe-- the sound of people "getting it." They quickly voted to 1. have a rummage sale to empty out all the upstairs closets (and agreed that everything must go, no returns allowed), 2. to designate the original room a sewing and craft area, and 3. to restart their sewing circle. Thanks be to God for the old passing away and everything being made new.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

3rd Sunday in Lent: Bottomless: A Sermon on Isaiah 55:1-11

Nota bene: I owe the good Mad Cows a debt of gratitude for this sermon; that may mean I've stolen from her, I'm not sure. It's always dangerous to hear someone else's stuff before mine's finished!

I finished this at 1:30 AM old time, 2:30 AM new time. Remind me, dear readers, not to do that again. I forgot the stuff for coffee hour, I forgot the printed directions to the Retirement Village for their afternoon service... I need a nap. Right now.


Isaiah 55:1-11
March 11, 2007

I grew up on the water—really, in the water. My mother claimed to have spent the entire summer the year I was two jumping, fully clothed, into swimming pools, the ocean, just about every body of water we encountered, because, apparently, if I could see it, I was in it.

I grew up at the Jersey shore, so my first experiences of water involved the ocean, which was too cold for the normal, average swimmer until July. However I, known in my family as a polar bear, went in, occasionally, as early as late May. The water drew me like a magnet. I loved its grey-blue steeliness on stormy days, I loved its blue-green clarity at the height of the summer. I loved the way it thrilled me as I walked deeper and deeper into it, and I even loved the way it picked me up and threw me around. I loved the great breakers on which I learned to body surf. I loved the surprise of sandbars—fleeting islands that arose and disintegrated in a few hours, allowing me to go farther and farther from shore, and to play a dangerous game of trying to predict when they would disappear.

In the water I had my deepest experiences of play and fantasy. I was a mermaid, I was Peter Pan and Wendy flying. In the water I felt free, I felt whole, I felt. When I read Kurt Vonnegut in high school, I immediately fell in love with him, thanks to a tiny confessional statement he makes in the preface to one of his books: “In the water, I am beautiful.” I know exactly what he means.

In the water I had my first experience of eternity. I was held in its vastness—I knew I was immersed in the very same water that extended across the ocean, wrapped around the planet. Even though I could still place my feet on the bottom, feel the sand in my toes, I understood it to be, truly, bottomless. It held me up. It buoyed me. I was suspended like a child in a great womb. I was also held in something that contained fearsome power. The ocean could feel womblike, but it could also smash me to the ground, grind me into the sand. And it could drown me. I learned at age nine (when I was pulled out by an undertow and had to be rescued by an off-duty cop who happened to be at the beach with his kids) that the water was stronger than I was, that I went into the ocean both to my delight and at my peril.

All these associations I have with water have one thing in common. They are all the experiences of someone who has not been dying of thirst. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but think about it. Our bodies, like the planet, are made up of more water than anything else. Our need for water is absolute. We can go a month, some of us more than a month without food, but just a few days without water and we become dehydrated, our systems begin to fail, and we begin the process of dying. We need water, but it’s not simply a matter of joy and beauty and play and delight: it’s also a matter of life and death.

Our passage this morning begins with the invitation: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” Those of us whose experiences of thirst have to do with how it feels to play hard at a game of basketball, or to climb the Cornell hills to our classes or dorms or cars, even how it feels to have a stomach bug that won’t permit us to take in the fluids we need, probably don’t have the appreciation of thirst that the original hearers of these words had. If you live in a largely desert climate you come to have a great appreciation—no, a reverence for water; it is a commodity, literally, more precious than gold. I know we have people in this community whose vocation is to work for solutions to what is now a grave international crisis, in which one in five people around the world do not have access to potable water, now, today. For the prophet to say, “Everyone who thirsts…” is a little invocation of the life and death nature of our need for water, spoken to people who understand that need very, very well.

Isaiah was speaking to a community that had begun the arduous process of putting their lives back together after a long and heartbreaking catastrophe. When the Babylonian empire invaded Judah, it destroyed the magnificent Temple built by Solomon. It also engaged in a policy known as “decapitation.” By means of imprisonment or exile or both, the people were separated from their leaders—political, religious, and royal. All were sent off into Babylon for a period that lasted about forty years. An entire generation of the children of Israel arose without the Temple, their most sacred place; without religious leaders to hold the stories of the tradition in safekeeping; without the monarchy, who had been believed to be God’s anointed on earth, the true shepherds of God’s people. Imagine their sense of disorientation, their sense of complete and utter loss. Imagine what it was like, both for those who had been taken away and for those who were left behind. Psalm 137 conveys just a taste of the exile’s anguish:

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down
and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
~ Psalm 137:1-4

And then, it was over—in a way. Trading one occupying empire for another—Persia for Babylon—the people were offered an opportunity to go home, to begin to reconstruct their lives in their homeland. They built another temple, though one so modest by comparison that many wept in disappointment upon seeing it for the first time. They tried the complicated process of making themselves at home in a place that no longer felt like home, either to the newest generation who never knew it, or to those who remembered things as they used to be and were embittered by what they saw. It is to this population—these people caught between exile and true homecoming—that Isaiah speaks the words of our passage this morning.

Isaiah is speaking to people who no longer know what or where home is. He is speaking to people whose longing for that home is so acute that he uses that loaded word, “thirst,” to describe it. Come, says God. Come, all you who are thirsty. Come to the water. And Isaiah’s God then proceeds to offer a vision of what that water would taste like… and the taste is very, very good. The water God offers is both water that will fill that life-and-death need and that will satisfy and delight, give joy and gladness. I am reminded of the woman at the well, who wonders at Jesus’ description of “living water,” this stuff that seems just too good to be true, and who finally says, “Give it to me. I’ll take it.” Yet, one gets the sense that the people are hesitating, that they are not prepared to take God up on this delicious offer. There is some barrier.

When they were in exile the people lost touch with their religious traditions. It stands to reason. They were strangers in a strange land, surrounded by alien gods and practices; and with no spiritual home, they made do. Perhaps they practiced the local religion, tried their best to blend in. Perhaps they felt so devastated at their loss they turned their backs on their faith entirely. They would not be the first nor the last people to react that way to catastrophe.

Almost 20 years ago I was in graduate school pursuing an MA in pastoral ministry, and I had a field placement as a chaplain at a rehabilitation hospital in Boston. I visited one woman—I’ll call her Mrs. White. She was a very pretty, older woman—by which I mean, she was probably about as old as I am now. She was recovering from surgery on her knee. “Hello, Mrs. White,” I said, in my cheeriest chaplain voice. “How are you today?” “Fine, thank you,” she replied. She was very soft-spoken, with fair skin and dark hair and lovely blue eyes. “My name is Pat, and I’m the chaplain. I was wondering if you’d like to talk today.” Mrs. White smiled at me. “No, thank you, I don’t think so. I don’t believe in God any more.”

You know, for the life of me, I never expected anyone to say that. It’s probably a sign of how young and clueless I was. I think I must have stammered something idiotic, something along the lines of, “Really?” Mrs. White explained. “Three years ago, in the middle of the night, a police officer came to my door to tell my husband and me that our 19 year old son had been killed by a drunk driver. I decided then and there that, if God could let that happen to us, I had no use for him anymore.”

At age 28 I had a hard time grasping Mrs. White’s story. I was shocked, and I was upset, and I spent the next several days visiting her room, apologizing for bothering her, and fretting to my supervisor that I just couldn’t let her go. I wanted so badly to fix it, to help Mrs. White to see that God did love her, despite the appalling and unacceptable thing that had happened to her son, to her life. I wish I knew then what I know now: that I didn’t need to worry about Mrs. White, or at least that I didn’t need to feel responsible for her. Because the truth is this: God’s offer of bottomless and soul-quenching love is open, it’s unconditional, it’s ongoing, and God is prepared to wait for the Mrs. Whites of the world. Even though the prophet says, “Seek the Lord while God may be found,” it’s also clear that that offer stands open to the broken-hearted, the outcast, the sinner, the wayfarer, whoever they are, whatever their condition.

There may well have been many Mrs. Whites among God’s people in exile. They may well have said, “Our Temple, God’s home on earth, destroyed? Our homes lost? Our families lost? Our leaders lost our national identity, lost? Thank you, that’s enough pain for one life. We are done with God, who has let us down so horribly. We have no more use for such a deity.” But God was not done with the children of Israel, any more than God is done with the Mrs. Whites of the world, all the hurting, sad people for whom life has robbed them of a sense of being at home in the world. God is not done with us, we who have suffered terrible losses, we who have lost a parent, a child, a marriage, a cherished relationship, a dream. God is not done with us, though at times we may have felt like we were done with God. God says, Come.

Our need for God, for the living water, is absolute. We can go forever and a day without the substances and trinkets and things we think we need desperately, but just a few moments without God and we become depleted, our souls begin to falter, and we begin the process of dying. We need God, and it’s not simply a matter of joy and beauty and play and delight: it’s a matter of life and death.

And so God says, come. You who are so thirsty you are fainting for the lack of my presence, come. You who forget what delight is, come. You who forget what play is, what joy is, come. You who are spending your lives on things that do not give you true satisfaction, come, come to me, come to the living water. Dip your cupped hands, drink a long time. Taste the stone, the leaves, the fire of my love. Feel it fall cold into your parched body, waking your bones. Hear them, deep inside you, whispering, oh what is that beautiful thing that just happened? You who long to be held, in the vast, bottomless eternity of my love, come. Come. Amen.


Photo courtesy of richbrenner and Flickr.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lent Day 14: Wading in...

For all my ponderings on water and such, I still feel that the "go-to" message of this passage (Isaiah 55:1-11) is comfort and assurance. There is a call to repentance that is woven in, to be sure, but there is also, IMO, the assurance that all are called, all are welcome.

Here are the hymns we're using. (We have those mega-licenses that allow us to use virtually anything from any hymnal. It's awesome.)

Come to the Water (John Foley, SJ)

O let all who thirst, let them come to the water
And let all who have nothing,
let them come to the Lord
Without money, without price,
why should you pay the price
Except for the Lord?

Let all who seek, let them come to the water
And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord
Without money, without price,
Why should you spend your life
Except for the Lord?

And let all who toil, let them come to the water.
And let all who are weary, let them come to the Lord
All who labor without rest. How can your soul find rest?
Except in the Lord.


Wade in the Water

Wade in the Water
Wade in the Water, children
wade in the Wate
God's gonna trouble the Water

Who's that yonder dressed in red
Wade in the Water
Must be the Children that Moses led
And God's gonna trouble the Water


Who's that yonder dressed in white
Wade in the Water
Must be the Children of the Israelites
God's gonna trouble the Water


Who's that yonder dressed in blue
Wade in the Water
Must be Children coming through
And God's gonna trouble the Water


If you don't believe I've been redeemed
Wade in the Water
Just see the holy ghost looking for me
God's gonna trouble the Water


I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

(lyrics Horatio Bonar; music Kingsfold)

1. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,
Thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

2. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

3. I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's Light.
Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise
And all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of Life I'll walk
Till traveling days are done.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More Water Musings: Mary Oliver

At Blackwater Pond

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

~ Mary Oliver

Lent Day 13: Water Musings

I grew up on the water-- really, in the water. My mother claimed to have spent the entire summer the year I was two jumping into swimming pools, the ocean, etc. fully clothed, because, if I could see it, I was in it.

I grew up at the Jersey shore, so my first experiences of water involved the ocean-- cold until July, but I went in as early as late May. The water drew me like a magnet. I loved its grey-blue steeliness on stormy days, I loved its blue-green clarity at the height of the summer. I loved the way it thrilled me as I walked deeper and deeper into it, and then I loved the way it picked me up and threw me around. I loved the great breakers on which I learned to body surf. I loved the surprise of sandbars-- fleeting islands that allowed me to go farther and farther from shore, but which always went away.

In the water I had my deepest experiences of play and fantasy. I was a mermaid, I was Peter Pan and Wendy flying, I was Pixanne (anyone from Philadelphia remember Pixanne?). In the water I felt free, I felt whole, I felt.

In the water I had my first experiences of eternity. I was held in its vastness-- I knew I was in the same water that extended across the ocean, across the planet. It held me up. It buoyed me. I was suspended like a child in a great womb.

And I haven't even gotten to thirst...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bible Study (cont.)

Pastor Peters remarks on the image of Jerusalem coming so close on the heels of Jesus' lament last Sunday, and I agree. The texts seem to be lingering there.

Here is my synopsis of the intro to Isaiah 55:1-9 from the Jewish Study Bible, with a little of Mags thrown in for good measure:

They call our passage (actually, all the way to verse 13) "An invitation to redemption." This passage differs from other deutero-Isaiah stuff that precedes it because it is moving away from language specifically about the return from exile, and towards broader terms that are less anchored in the specific historical situation. This tendency increases the further one reads in Isaiah. Also they note the appeal for repentance, which is less common in early deutero-Isaiah and more common as the book goes on.

1-5 God's invitation. Unclear as to whether this is directed specifically towards Judeans, or towards anyone who wants to recognize the one God.

OK, drum roll please, and I quote: Water, understood by rabbinic commentators as a metaphor for Torah.

Um, how did I get to be as old as I am and not know that?

"The enduring loyalty promised to David" (or, "my steadfast, sure love for David"-- NRSV) is extended to the whole Judean nation. All the people will have royal status.

6-7 A call to repentance. (This is Mags, not JPS: this section is recommended as a morning canticle during Lent in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship. FWIW.)

8-11 The trustworthiness of God's words. Unfortunately our lectionary cuts this section off at the knees before another beautiful water metaphor returns. Here are the last two verses of our passage plus the two missing ones that complete the thought:

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Here is where, IMO, the idea of Torah as water comes full circle: as the rain and snow come to earth and bring forth life, so shall God's words... they will make all sorts of things grow.

I think I'll be reading through verse 11.

Photo courtesy of Cayusa and Flickr.

Lent Day 12 (really): Bible Study

One of my most valued resources when it comes to first Testament texts is the Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh translation, put out by Oxford University Press. I find the notes so useful and I have a bias towards Jewish scholarship where OT texts are concerned. I cannot tell you how dismayed I was, for example, to read the Christocentric analysis of the prophet Joel in the New Interpreter's Bible-- otherwise a really stellar resource. It felt, well, disrespectful, among other things. I think scripture analysis and sermons are two different things, and that particular author confused them, to her discredit. End of sermon.

Here's a quickie from the introduction to chapters 49-57:

The second of three sections within chs 40-66 seems to have been written in Jerusalem after the first wave of exiles returned there from Babylonia. Like chapters 40-48, it consists of several long speeches, each of which attempts to convince the city of Jerusalem (usually referred to as Zion) or the returned exiles that their current wretched state will be transformed into a glorious one...

... one finds stronger emphasis on Zion and the servant of the Lord, and one can sense disappointment at the reality of conditions in the restored Zion...

p. 882

More later...

Photo courtesy of Flikr and XOZ.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lent Day 11: Water

First, an explanation about the anomalies in the titles of posts. Yesterday was day 12 and today is day 12... huh??? I realized this morning that I have been counting the Sundays, which, if I do that, will result in a 46 day Lent. And we cannot have that. So... today is day 11.

We are going to be all about water this week. I am preaching next Sunday on the passage from Isaiah that melts me, makes me swoon, makes me remember, again and again, who and what it is in which I profess my faith:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while 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. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
~ Isaiah 55:1-9

Everybody-- everybody-- into the pool.

Photo courtesy of Flickr and a06987.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lent Day 12: On Mother Hens and the Not Yet: a Sermon

“On Mother Hens and the Not Yet”
Luke 13:31-35
March 4, 2007

I read an article about Britney Spears the other day. It’s not what you think. This article came out at a moment in which our media seem particularly saturated with celebrity meltdowns of all kinds, and it is sobering rather than prurient. The piece, by journalist Rebecca Traister, made one simple point: “Maybe it's time to realize that Britney Spears is actually a human being for whom things aren't going very well.” This famous and wealthy young woman is clearly at a low point, she’s going through whatever it is she’s going through under the harsh glare of the media spotlight, and the whole thing is far more tragic than entertaining.

I guess, we might say, Britney has her issues. But all that tells us is that she is a member of the human race. It is easier to give Britney and Mel and Tom and Katie our rapt attention than it is to do our own hard work of opening up to transformation. But that is precisely what we have been invited to do in this season of Lent: to acknowledge our common humanity, and therefore our common need for the transforming power of God in our lives. We have been invited to pause, and reflect, and to invite God in. We have been invited to begin a journey of transformation.

Jesus is going “through one town and village after another,” our gospel passage tells us this morning, “teaching as he [makes] his way to Jerusalem” (13:22). It is fair to say that Jesus has some thoughts on transformation. At one point in his travels and teaching he has a question thrown at him by someone in the crowd: “Lord, will only a few be saved?” It’s an understandable question. Here is Jesus, offering a startling message of radical reversal, in which the poor and the outcast are suddenly the heirs of the very reign of God, and the people at the top of the power pyramid are dismayed to find themselves, according to Jesus’ reckoning, at the bottom. It is the complete opposite of what Jesus’ audience has been schooled to expect from life.

Jesus answers the question—“Lord, will only a few be saved?”—by offering a parable about narrow doors and people standing outside knocking. All sorts of celebrity insiders will be kept out, but then “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed,” says Jesus, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (13:29-30) Jesus states the radical, upside down reign of God, and then states it again, just in case anyone’s having a hard time following.

At that very moment, the gospel says, when Jesus has pronounced judgment on the powers that be, some of their ranks send him a message: Get out of town. Now. Herod’s after you. And really, there’s no surprise there. Who stands to lose the most in the scenario Jesus has just painted? Jesus sends back a message so sharp and challenging, it undoubtedly increases the danger he’s in, perhaps even sealing his fate. Look, he says, you tell that fox—a characterization that will not be lost on the subsistence farmers in the crowd, Herod the sly, Herod the cunning, Herod who goes after the defenseless and devours them—you tell that fox, Jesus says, that unlike him, I am engaged in the business of healing and making whole. While he devours I nourish. While he preys upon people as the predator he is, I lay my hands upon them and pray to God for them to be made free. I am not done with this work. And I am not on Herod’s schedule, but on God’s.

Then Jesus begins a lament, so poignant you can almost hear the tears in his voice.

“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!” (13:34)

Jerusalem, Jerusalem. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of Jerusalem in the lives of the children of Israel. By the time Jesus says these words, Jerusalem has been at the center of the sacred geography of the Jews for nearly 1000 years. More than simply being the capital city of the kingdom from the time of David, Jerusalem is understood, by virtue of the temple, to be the home, the literal dwelling place of the presence of God. Jerusalem, also called by the holy name Zion, is celebrated in psalms:

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:

“This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.”
~ Psalm 132:13-14

By the time Jesus weeps his lament over Jerusalem, it has been occupied, defended, and occupied again. Solomon’s original magnificent temple has been reduced to ashes and replaced with a far less impressive specimen. David’s line has been replaced with the pretender Herodians, who have killed and purchased and married their way to the throne. And yet, through it all, the prophets and the people still retain a vision of how Jerusalem could and should be. When Jesus laments over Jerusalem he is weeping for its past glories, its devastating losses, and even the hopes he still has for it. Jesus is both lamenting what is, and praying for what is not yet. In the course of his lament he is offering an image of himself, his relationship to Jerusalem, as a loving, suffering mother—a hen, hardly the most regal or stately of birds—sheltering chicks under her wings. A hen, who, when attacked by a fox, will surely lose the fight, but may yet preserve her children’s lives. Even in his lament, even in his naming his sacrificial love for Jerusalem, Jesus is holding out hope for its transformation.

The already and the not yet. The temple no longer stands in Jerusalem. All that remains are the outer walls. Some Jews still hope for a third temple to be built, but many no longer focus their worship on this one location. For Christians, the idea that God resides primarily in one physical space on earth has been replaced by the understanding that, in addition to transcending all places and times, God resides in each one of us, that our own bodies are God’s temples. In that sense, we are Jerusalem now.

The already and the not yet. It is the second Sunday in Lent, and I am here to tell you that many, many of us, like Jerusalem, are but remnants of our former glory, our daily Lenten disciplines foundering on the seas of our good intentions. We’ve got issues, often having to do with the difference between where we are and where we wish we were—whether we would like to be lighter or heavier, graduated or back for a fresh start in freshman year, in a relationship or out of a relationship… you get the picture. We tend to believe we only have to accomplish this or achieve that or eliminate the other thing, and voila, there will be our happiness, there will be our joy. The celebrities whose issues we follow in the tabloids might have a comment or two on how that particular plan has worked out for them. We begin to have a creeping suspicion that, perhaps, achievement is not the path to happiness we thought it was. We begin to suspect we haven’t figured it out yet. We are still holding out for transformation.

The already and the not yet. We can feel so stuck, so mired in our issues. But sometimes we catch glimpses of the not yet, even in our own lives. We take time to meditate or to pray, and we are astounded at the consolation and connectedness we feel in those moments spent in God’s presence. We take time to read scripture, and we are amazed at the ways in which a mirror is held up to our own lives. We step out of our privileged place to serve at Loaves and Fishes or to donate our perfectly good clothes to those who need them desperately, and we are convicted, if I may use a good, old-fashioned Christian word, convicted of our need for one another and our need for God’s grace in our lives. We begin to suspect that transformation may be more about letting go than anything else. This is the journey of Lent: a letting go, little by little, of our conviction that we know best. Our letting in, little by little, the powerful reality that God is with us already.

The already and the not yet. This is the view of reality that lies at the heart of our table celebration. Jesus tells us in our reading this morning that “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” As we gather around this table and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we enact here and now a vision of a day that hasn’t entirely materialized. In our celebration of this meal, we show a unity we often don’t feel, and we act in hope of a community we fall short of living out. And by the power of the sacrament, the “not yet” seeps backwards, by the grace of God, into the here and now.

The already and the not yet. The quote on the cover of our bulletin tells how, in Lent, we’re “encouraged to befriend our brokenness, acknowledge that all is not well with our souls, and identify with the hurt of so many people in our world…” I know, it feels a little silly to dwell on the problems of incredibly wealthy celebrities in the face of millions dying from starvation, or as a result of war and political conflict, or from preventable diseases. We would do well to ask ourselves why certain stories get all the airplay. Our common humanity binds us to one another, around the table and around the planet, and the faces that loom large on our televisions as well as the ones we never see, the faces lost in the shadows, are all in this human dance with us, here and now. It is the “not yet” we yearn for, the time when God will be at home among mortal women and men and children; that time when God will wipe every tear from all our eyes; and all the world—everybody, every body, will be the pristine, new Jerusalem. Amen.