Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “August, 2015”

We Must Speak

13 Pentecost, Proper 16

Sunday, August 23, 2015 – Preached from the pulpit of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Berkeley:

The last time I stood in this pulpit I invited you by way of Christ to go to a deserted place and rest a while, to pause for a bit in the ministry you’ve been given.

Did you do it?

Me neither.

Okay, not right away. I really, really, meant to go off somewhere alone in my heart and mind in order to hear that still, quiet voice, but this world of ours just begs and screams for right action and it’s hard to look a challenge in the face and back down. I think this true for me, perhaps for you as well, that this is a time when Christ speaks to us at where we are. For me, and for some of you, maybe all of you, it’s at the metaphorical barricades that is life in our country today.

In his closing remarks to the church at Ephesus, Paul gives the Christians tools to fight the darkness and inhumanity in the world: “take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

This may ring archaic in our modern ears. We’re not meant to wear a full suit of armor nowadays. Besides, it’s heavy, weighs about sixty pounds and when you fall off a horse wearing it, you’re like a turtle on your back. Paul speaks to the church in terms they know. The armor of Roman legions was familiar. We only know them from art work, museums, books, movies and video games, but the analogy hasn’t changed. These metaphorical breastplates, greves, boots, sword and shield are ours with which we can confront and take on the injustice in a that has become more cynical, more dark, than the darkest of nights. Turn on your television, tap on your tablets, read the front page of a newspaper and you can see for yourself what we’re up against.

Paul is asking us to stand firm. We are being asked to stand on our convictions as Christians against bigotry, injustice, inequality, sexism, ageism and a host of ills – we all face it daily. We’re not being asked to take on something because it’s expedient and will win us popularity. Our choices will be difficult and sometimes, near impossible. Who is able to do this? Who among us can stand on convictions when the tide of popularity turns on us? Are we supposed to be rigid, intractable, Lone Rangers for Jesus righting the wrongs in society and demanding conformity to all things Episcopalian? We can’t get our fellow Episcopalians to agree with us at times; what makes you think we can persuade people in the elevator or the checkout line to accept living out the Gospel as it has been revealed to us?

We’re not being asked to be close-minded or stubborn, nor are we supposed to be wed to one opinion, again, we are Episcopalians. But, we are Children of God, we are followers in the Jesus Movement and we are asked to stand for something that is not transient, but something that is transcendent and life-giving, and that is God’s love through Christ. This means being willing to speak the truth, risk being unpopular, and call out those who, by their actions, seek to exclude, marginalize and harm people and to destroy creation because it suits their narrow and selfish way of thinking and agendas. It means taking risks, sometimes personal, like the three young men who stopped an attack on a French train this week, or making a ‘shield wall’ of bodies, hand-in-hand to protect a mosque, to put your life in danger fighting a wildfire. Or something innocuous like, losing so-called friends on social media because they’re of a different political party and you’re not and they don’t understand why you take a particular position.

It may mean speaking out, like, I’m sorry, certain members of Congress and Fox News and everyone riding in the clown car, I’m a woman and you’re not. You don’t speak for me, and you don’t tell me what I may and may not do with my body or my life. You don’t vilify the people you’ve made homeless because of your bad or greedy decisions where it comes to housing and finance. Come live on Market Street in a storefront entrance, or sleep in the Powell Street BART corridors on a rainy night, live without a home, food, or medical care, or live a day in the shoes of a parent trying to get by on minimum wage or less and using food stamps to buy groceries, then you’ll know what many of us go through. Know what it’s like to be hated or mistrusted because of the color of your skin. I’ll love you because I’m called to love you, because you’re one of God’s children, but I don’t have to agree with you. And I do not have to keep you in your cushy office where you can fatten up your big business friends and ignore the real problems that face most of us. You may have Wall Street in your corner, but I and so many like me have God all around me.

The whole armor that is God prepares us for struggle. Standing firm gives the struggle purpose and meaning. We may ask if it’s worth it, especially when it wears down our last nerve or if we’re not seeing results. The world was made in seven days. I suspect that our struggle to give true justice and equality to all will take a bit longer.

God, however, never ceases to be with us during these trials even though it may seem so at times. It is amazing when it happens. Our efforts will show that God is with us to the most cynical of unbelievers, and that with God nothing is impossible; that the love we offer through our actions is through God and we offer it willingly and without reservation. Even if, heaven forbid, the message doesn’t get through, we will still hear, “Well done, good and trusty servant!” We will have ministered to the least of the members of the community. It is that whispering in our ears that lets us know that God is paying attention and there is hope for a better world for all.

We are loved.  Look what we can achieve with this love.

It is affirming and amazing when this happens.

And now my sisters and brothers in Christ, pray that we may declare it boldly, as we must speak.

Rest and be Still.

8 Pentecost, Proper 11

July 19, 2015

I’d like to preface my thoughts today with a confession – this is my pot-calling-the-kettle-black sermon.  This is my cautionary tale.

After reading the lessons over several times, including the tempting, tantalizing, words of the prophet Jeremiah jumping out at me with it’s woe and finger-pointing at leaders behaving badly, and you know I’m up to that challenge, one point really grabbed me and illustrated life as we know it today.  My life especially.  Probably your lives.

I’d like to offer these words about weariness.

For a while there’s been fear not only of Obama invading Texas but of a “Zombie Apocolypse.”

Well, my friends, it’s happened and it’s here and now.

I see them on Market Street and Montgomery Street – people plugged in, distracted, working on the run, working non-stop, maybe getting in a five-minute breather for something to eat.  They pound away on laptop keyboards or tap iPads and Android tablets at the four Starbucks and Peets Coffees in my area downtown.  I’ve heard in elevators and on crowded trains what I think are astonishing comments akin to bragging about this work ethic on steroids.  I hurt for them and understand all too well, because a lot of this ethic comes from the top.  These kinds of supervisors and managers are the bad shepherds Jeremiah speaks of.  Rather than look after their corporate flocks, they seek the bottom line in black, a pie chart showing profit, a new book of clients.  Happiness for the sheep in the cubicles?  What’s that?  They should be glad they have jobs.  And don’t we know it.  It is expected of too many workers now to stay plugged in and be available.   Computers, which were supposed to ease our labors, have made it easier to assign more tasks in less time.  Workers are expected to churn out the paper in record time and they do and move on to the next project.

Some people may enjoy this fast paced environment.  I don’t.  I am fortunate to not have that kind of supervisor.  My secular office job is sane and full of humanity in the otherwise insane and sometimes unreal practice of law.

I am part of the problem, though.  Thank God for Jesus finally opening my eyes and my mind and telling me to slow down.

When I recognized this behavior in myself and others, I thought, “Even Jesus took a break,” and I went back to whatever I was doing with someone usually asking if I wanted anything as they headed out to Starbucks or the Seven-Eleven.  No one told me I had to work through my lunch.  I could finish what I was doing after lunch on most days.  Still, I felt I had to finish the project before I could rest.  Get one more thing done.

God rested on the seventh day.   Once in a while Jesus went up the mountain or a quiet, deserted place to get away from it all and in this morning’s scripture from the gospel of Mark, he urges the apostles to do the same.

We are told that they gathered around Jesus and told him all that they were doing and all that they were teaching, and, apparently, they were very busy. They were so busy, we are told, that they didn’t even have time to eat. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

How astonishing this must have sounded to them.  Here they were bringing more and more people to Jesus, building the community and he asks them to take a break.  He didn’t ask for spreadsheets tracking their work or timesheets with the week’s target of billable hours met.  New branding proposals and marketing tactics weren’t brainstormed.  No networking.

He told them to take a break and to rest.

Don’t we all long to hear these words spoken to us?

Jesus is speaking to us.  This is an invitation to take time, not find time, to spend time with God and him, for it is as necessary as food and drink and sleep.

Our faith requires us to undertake the work God calls us to, and to believe in Christ and follow his teaching and example.  But some of us take it to the extreme.  We work ourselves to exhaustion:  this and our never-ending to-do lists and desire to prove to ourselves and our neighbors that our value comes from how much we accomplish, and the expectation of divine favor, of God-Points, of a seat at the table.

How good is that work if we are so busy that we lose sight of why we do it?  How fruitful is our labor if it wears us out to the point of ‘I don’t want to do this anymore?’

I was, and still am to a point, the pot calling the kettle black.  It took me a while to understand that in order to use those gifts given to me by God I have to know why I have them and how to use them and I can only do that by stopping and being with God.  It was a difficult transition borne of years of conditioning by society and by what I thought was required of me as a Christian, by being told that was what I needed to do if I wanted to get to Heaven.

We are valued and loved in the sight of God.  Christ loves us because we do as we are called, because we see him in our neighbors and strangers and loved ones.  They both know what we need even when we do not, or we think we know.   Jesus looks past all our perceptions of what it means to be successful and to bear the fruit of work and he doesn’t even mention them, because if he did, he would have to remind us that all that we are and all that we do are gifts from God in the first place. Rather, he looks into our hearts and sees what we truly desire, what we truly need. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters and restores our souls. And he says to us, “Come away to a place all by yourselves and rest a little while with me.”

I intend and will strive to do just that: to go to a place all alone and rest.  I will make the time every day.  But I won’t be alone.  Jesus will be with me.  And I will be with you as you go to your deserted place.

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