Morning Prayer, 10.27.13

Matthew 25.37-40

God, you are the God of all – the God of each of us, the God of the least of these. Help us find you in every corner of humanity.

When we see you hungry or thirsty – God we know there are many ways to hunger and thirst. We know there are those Matthew+25+40among us, those not far from us, those across the world who hunger and thirst for real bread and real water. We pray for real needs to be met with real sustenance. We also know that we, too, hunger and thirst in other ways – for friendship, for justice, for peace, for comfort, for righteousness. Bless us in our own hunger and thirst, and may we, too, be present to others as they ache to be filled.

When we see you in the face of a stranger – God you are the creator and redeemer of all. And yet, we often prefer to think that you are the creator and redeemer of those who look like us. Meet us in the stranger – the outcast, the alienated, the oppressed, the strange, the irritating, the stubborn, the difficult. Reveal your spirit to us. May we have the grace to greet the stranger as we would greet you.

When we see you naked – God, there is a chill in the air, and we are mindful of those who lack the necessary means to find warmth as the seasons turn. We also know other ways that we are naked, vulnerable, afraid. May our vulnerabilities and fears be met with warmth and peace.

When we see you sick – God there are many broken bodies, failing bodies, hurting bodies, and for all those we lift them up to you. May we be a presence for healing – of mind, body and soul. For all the invisible forms of sickness and suffering among us – abuse, mental illness, paralyzing fear – we also lift these needs to you. Help us know how to show your love, grace and healing in the midst of sickness.

When we see you in prison – God help us confront the criminal, not with fear, but with courage and compassion. Help us, too, understand all the other ways that those around us, and ourselves, are held captive to things not of your kingdom – fear, anger, jealousy, bitterness. Release us from that which binds us – help us also be a force for liberation in the world around us.

For all those who face the realities of hunger, thirst, alienation, lacking clothing, medical care, and for those in prison, we also pray for the political will to challenge, shape and re-shape, and redirect broken systems and structures to more closely model justice, sustenance and care.

We pray all these things in the name of your son, our Christ, Amen.

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“Telling the Truth,” Sermon, Children’s Sabbath

Micah 4.1-5

Life. Is. Difficult.

This is one of the most enduring truths, yes? Life is difficult.

Life is difficult – in many ways it is full of stuff to endure – to ‘deal with’ – from broken friendships, to loneliness, to sickness, to grieving family members, to unemployment, to financial stress. And really, sometimes just the blunt reality of there not being enough hours in a day for all the things that must be done – let alone the things we want to do is difficult.

Life is difficult.

We know this. We live this.

And yet, it is also one of the greatest, deepest truths we prefer to conceal as much as possible.

I’d like to start this morning with some questions. I’d like to start by naming what I’d like us to wrestle with together.

Although we know life is difficult, what are we teaching our children?

Are we teaching them this truth?

Are we teaching them the grace found in the midst of this truth?

Are we teaching them to wrestle with life’s difficulties?

Today is Children’s Sabbath. For 22 years, the Children’s Defense Fund has sponsored Children’s Sabbath Celebrations, asCDF-logo-full-color “a way for faith communities to celebrate children as sacred gifts of the Divine, and provides the opportunity for houses of worship to renew and live out their moral responsibility to care, protect and advocate for all children.”[1] The Celebration is truly interfaith, “supported by Catholic Charities U.S.A., the Islamic Society of North America, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the National Assembly of Bahá’ís in the U.S., the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and more than 200 other religious organizations and denominations.”[2] This Sabbath day is a call to remember the biblical command to care for and protect the least of these among us – in this case, the youngest and most vulnerable – children.

The theme that the Children’s Defense Fund coordinators have chosen for this year’s Children’s Sabbath is gun violence. We know that we live in a culture marked by violence and revenge. We need to be willing to talk about our own infatuation with and dependence on weapons and warfare. Violence is woven into the fabric of our society. And we must tell the truth about the impossibility of squaring the Gospel’s call to peacemaking and nonviolence with our own default posture of calls for war and retribution.

But.  That’s not what I want to spend my time today talking about. It is still worth addressing, but, let’s be honest, violent crime in Lawrence, Kansas, is not exactly our primary battleground – excuse the word choice. Though, to be sure, matters of gun violence are worth addressing – and we will get there.

What I want to wrestle with together this morning is the call to protect our children. I want to spend some time asking what it really means to protect our children.  We know well the call to protect – as parents, as mentors, as teachers, as a community of faith. We understand that this is something we are commanded to do, and something we want to do.

And yet, what we often confuse with protection of our children is no protection at all. In truth, if many of us tend toward anything, we tend toward overprotection. I want to wrestle with the idea that overprotection really may not protect our children at all.

We often understand the call – the motivation – the desire to protect our children as a call to remove all hardship, struggle, or pain from their lives.

And yet – that is not all that helpful is it? Is it really helpful to them in the long fun? Even in the short run?

There’s a Jewish teaching, from the Talmud, that says, “A father is obligated to teach his child to swim.” We are not entrusted with children to keep them close, keep them from pain and struggle – because that deprives them of life.  But rather, we are entrusted with children in order to raise adults.

Our job is to raise and nurture children that they might actually leave us. At least, in our Western idea of child-rearing we believe this to be true. Theologically speaking, we certainly ought to view nurturing, raising children – and not just as parents, but as mentors, extended family, the faith community – as guiding children to become mature, functioning, contributing members of their families and communities. We want to help them, guide them, nurture them, shape them with a faith that will not be shaken when inevitable hardship and tragedy strike. We want them to be able to work through and live with pain and grief without losing or leaving their faith behind.

Think about how much we deprive children when we think it is our job to get them to the ‘other side’ – to adulthood – smoothly, without bumps. Especially when we know the reality that living without bumps is not feasible. We know from our own lives that it is impossible to avoid bumps, hardships, struggle.

And, if we are honest, we know that out of those bumps, hardships, struggles, we have become the people we are. This is not to gloss over grief and disappointment and darkness – but it is to acknowledge the struggle. We want to protect our children so much we desire to take these things away – as though we could actually do so – as though it were appropriate to do so even if we could.

Think about how this works even in seemingly innocuous ways: when a child’s parents seek out special treatment – questioning teachers instead of encouraging children – they give them unrealistic expectations of the world. When we don’t talk about death, or when we seek to shield them from illness and suffering, or even disappointment or failure, we subtly teach them that these things are anomalies rather than part of what it means to be finite beings in a finite world.

I grew up with some unrealistic expectations of the world. I was a smart kid – a bookish kid – successful at doing school. And part of doing school well was having the kind of parents who didn’t mind contacting my teachers to clarify or advocate on my behalf.

Clarify.

Advocate.

Sounds innocent enough, right? I maintain that my parents didn’t badger my teachers. Even though my parents were decidedly not helicopter parents, I had to deal with the unintended consequences of some unrealistic expectations when I left home for college. I remember feeling overwhelmed and dealing with the unfairness of collegiate academic life, (meaning I was getting B’s), and calling home to talk to my dad about it. Or probably more accurately whine to my dad about it.

When he not only didn’t whine alongside me, he also didn’t offer to call up my professor to, um, remedy the situation; I couldn’t believe it. It was my situation to deal with – and if I couldn’t resolve it with my professor, dealing with it would mean dealing with the fact that sometimes – maybe even often – life would not work out to my distinct advantage.

In some ways this is a harmless example – but it speaks to the disadvantages we pass along when we jump in to fix things, or our version of protection is to remove all risk, hardship, or pain from our child’s life. In reality what we do when we do so is to deprive our children. We deprive them of the opportunities to mature, to develop into resilient, self-reliant adults, and to develop their own strength, maturity and wisdom.

Where does this impulse come from?

The other side of over protection is, of course, fear. And our fears are worked out in constant worry. And aren’t we awfully creative and loyal in our worrying? Our children catch onto this. Our children are keenly perceptive, aware, and susceptible to our fears. Worrying begets worrying, which ultimately communicates to our children that the world is an overwhelming, threatening and an inhospitable place.

We have to tell the truth.

We have to confront our fears.

When we overprotect our children we enslave them not only to their fears, but we hand down our fears.

One of the primary ways we can start to reframe our ideas of protection (as opposed to overprotection) is to start telling the truth.

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Morning Prayer, 10.13.13

God you are the Author of Life – from before our birth and beyond our last breath – you know us and call us by name.

You have created us uniquely and amazingly in your image – the power that each of us bears your mark of grace and love and faith is often too much to bear, too much to understand. If we are honest, if we were to embrace fully the truth of this – we are, truthfully, afraid of what might happen. Forgive us for our reluctance and our fear to take care of, to take responsibility for, the least of these among us. Forgive us for our inability and our unwillingness to love our neighbors as ourselves.

You have created us and called us to your work: an unceasing call to build your Kingdom – to be agents of your love, mercy and justice in the world.  Unsettle us, awaken us, for-least-of-thesedisquiet us to see ways in which we would do your work.

We ask for your blessing this day, but not for blessings of comfort or of complacency. Rather bless us with new sight and new perspective:

Bless us with discomfort – may we not be satisfied with easy or simplistic answers. May we not be content with empty truths or superficial relationships.

Bless us this day with anger – with righteous indignation at all the ways that injustice, oppression, exploitation seem to tell a greater and more powerful story than your freedom, justice and peace.

Bless us this day with deep grief – grant us tears to shed on behalf of others who suffer. We honor the physical wounds of domestic violence, of warfare and of abuse. We honor the suffering caused by famine, starvation, drought. We honor the mental and emotional anguish of mental illness – suffering that often goes unnoticed and unspoken.

Bless us this day with the audacity to believe – the audacity to have faith in your Kingdom, believing, standing on your promises that your peace, your mercy, your grace is big enough, deep enough, wide enough to cover and consume the whole world.

For those among us who continue to seek your healing, we pray.
For those among us who continue to wrestle with the hidden and yet powerful companion of grief, we pray.
For those among us who suffer – silently or otherwise, we pray.

Likewise, O God, we recognize that we struggle to love our enemies – individuals, institutions, other nations, political parties. We pray for the enemies we wrestle.

We pray all these things in the name of Jesus, our Christ, Amen.

World Communion Sunday

Last Sunday (October 6) was World Communion Sunday. Prompted by logistical constraints, though perhaps serendipitously, we didn’t have a sermon. Or at least we didn’t have world communion sundayonly one sermon. We asked a handful of members to share a story, or thoughts, or what-have-you based on the idea of Sharing at the Table. We also did something a little different (careful, there) with Communion. The table was decorated with textiles attempting to represent as much of the world as possible. The table held a variety of breads and grains available during the breaking of the bread.

Here is my Invitation to the Table – the Bread:

Christ shared so much over meals. He shared forgiveness over dinner with Zacchaeus.  He looked sinners – broken and arrogant – in the eye and pronounced them whole. He broke bread with strangers, outcasts, alienated and alone. He changed them to friends, welcomed, and members of his body.

We celebrate communion differently today – in several ways. First, we will take the bread together in a few moments, and later in the worship, we will share in the cup.

You will notice the table is covered in textiles and in cups and plates and bowls and many kinds of breads – representing our brothers and sisters around the world.

We join with them today in celebrating Christ – his life, death, and resurrection – in our own shared meal – a meal we share in this place together, and a meal we share with those near and far. We celebrate the great spiritual mystery that out of such diversity, we may find communion in the common table of Christ.

In a few minutes I invite you to come forward, row by row, and choose a piece of bread – from any of the options you see – and return to your seat. We will eat together once everyone is seated.  The cup will be passed later in the service.

Let us pray –

Bless now, O God, this table, this bread, this meal we share together. Keep us mindful of those with whom we share this bread in spirit – down the street and in far-flung corners of our world. We celebrate the diversity of your world – from the rocky west coast to our own plains and prairies, to the warm sands of the East Coast. From the dusty desert of Africa to the tallest peaks of Asia. From the cobblestone streets of Europe to the outback stretching across Australia. We thank you that your hands created it all, and that you care for and love it all. With many tongues and yet one voice, we honor you in our thanks and our meal today. May this bread connect us more closely with you and in relationship with your children. Amen.

 

Here is my reflection on Sharing at the Table:

This all started with the Presbyterians, this World Communion Sunday business.

Think of the 1930s – economic turmoil, wars and rumors of wars. In the midst of that context, Hugh Thomas Kerr – a Presbyterian pastor urged his fellow Mainliners to join brothers and sisters around the world at table of Christ – the table of grace – as a gesture of solidarity. It was and remains a day where we – in our words, our worship, our meal – celebrate the unity out of diversity wrought by the Spirit in Christ.

Jesus shared this meal first with his friends – his disciples – and he instructed them to do the same – “Do this in remembrance of me.” “This” refers, of course, to the meal we share – the bread and the cup – but also to his entire life of ministry. Jesus calls us to his entire life of teaching, healing and welcoming all – and we do this especially at our table. Jesus’ welcome was a radical, scandalous welcome. We are called, too, to open wide our table, open wide our welcome to convey God’s grace, love and forgiveness for all – all corners of humanity in every corner of the world.

Which brings me to Sara Miles – if you’ve paid much attention, you’ve heard me mention her several times before. But here goes again: one Sunday she was walking home, up the hills of San Francisco, after hitting the weekend market, and something compelled her enter the doors of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. She wasn’t seeking religion, she wasn’t aware that she was seeking God or Jesus, and yet, she found herself in the sanctuary, struck by the fragrance of incense and beauty of the iconography. When it came time in the service for the celebration of the Eucharist, she hesitatingly cupped her hands and received the bread that was offered her. Likewise, she received the sip of bittersweet communion wine (this is the Episcopal church we’re talking about!). Everything changed for her in a few chews, sips and swallows.  She writes, “Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and world I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized that what I’d been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.” (xiii)

She goes on to write beautifully and simply about Jesus’ call on our lives to feed one another, and to be fed, both with him and through him. We are fed in both literal meals and through the food of God’s mysterious grace.

What she felt called to do – almost without thinking – what she knew to the core of her being she was supposed to do was to feed people. Not feed them spiritual platitudes, or bible stories, or even a warm handshake. Or at least – not to feed them these things only.

She heard in Jesus’ words, in the mission of the church, a distinct call to feed people – real food to real people with real hunger.

So she started a food pantry – a food pantry that literally takes over the altar space of St. Gregory’s sanctuary.

It is a place where over 1,000 families receive food – fresh food, and leftover bread from some of San Francisco’s famed sourdough bakeries – literal tons of food move in and out of the sanctuary.

I have had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at the pantry on more than one occasion. And the experiences there have challenged my idea about God’s family. Not everyone who receives food is kind. Not even every volunteer fits my idea of hospitality – colored, of course, by my genteel Southern grandmothers. Not everyone fits the mold of sweet and compassionate volunteer.  But people get fed.

There is room enough for all.

Sara’s story also changed my idea about communion. I grew up taking for granted that communion was for those who had passed through a specific rite – for those who somehow understood more than other people. Reading her book opened up a new appreciation of the mystery – after all, for those who venture to name communion a sacrament, we are essentially naming it a mystery – how is it we encounter the risen Christ in a simple meal. How is it that ordinary bread – and an ordinary cup of juice – can become for us more than literal food? Who are we to put limits or boundaries on the ways that God can reach human hearts, minds and spirits through the sharing of a meal?

There is room enough for all.

Indeed, as we spoke together at the beginning of the service – the table will be wide. And may our welcome, too be wide.

 

Morning Prayer, 29 September 2013

Many and great, O God, are your works.

You have created the heavens and the earth.
You have created earth and all stars.
You have created all the animals, and birds, and fish, the plants, the trees, the fruits.
You have created us. You know us each by name. You know the hairs on our head.rocks and path

And you have called it all good. You have called it all very good.

Many and great, O God, is your goodness.

You seek to lift up the lowly.
You seek to fill the empty with good things.
You seek to unleash the great power of your mercy and justice on the earth.
We are, in truth, terrified at what this might do to our ideas of justice, our ideas of right, our ideas of comfort and fulfillment.

Many and great, O God, are your works of reconciliation.
Small and puny are our works of restoration.
How powerful are the works of peace and love at your hands.
We ask this day that we might bear a bit of your power to sow peace and love.

You have told us not to worry – you have told us not to be anxious. God, if we are honest, we do not know how not to worry. We have difficulty shutting off our anxious minds and hearts. Perhaps it is our little faith – give us faith enough to quiet our worries. Perhaps it is because there really are so many things to worry about – so much to lose sleep over. May your peace that passes all our humanly understanding find us in these moments and carry us with calm into our unknown futures. Perhaps we worry and rest in anxiety because we want to control our world – ourselves – other people and we know, deep down that we cannot and we should not. Grant us the grace to let go. Grant us the wisdom to trust your goodness and your justice in place of our own broken vision.

Many and Great, O God, are you works.
Fill us, redeem us, sustain us.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.