29 IX 2013 Michaelmas
St. Michael and All Angels
The Rev. Canon Daniel G. P. Gutierrez
Let us bow our heads, close our eyes and open our hearts to the one who is greater than we. Lord I humbly pray that some word that is heard, be thine.
Worry. I do not like to worry. I find it draining, I am anxious, uncertain, I try to go at it alone and usually mess things up. I like security. It is comforting and liberating - it provides a sense of ease. I use the word “security” expansively be it financial, personal, safety, relational. I have found that when I feel secure it is usually because, I trust in something. When you stumble someone or something will steady you.
When you blindly grasp in the darkness there is a knowing that a hand will be there to meet yours. I was blessed to witness what I call a “blessed assurance” reflected in the marriage and last years of Arnold and Bernice Fletcher. They married young during World War II, and raised three beautiful daughters. They did not change the world with brilliant acts, yet their faith and lives were examples to many.
There were no poems written about their devotion, yet many could have been written.
Whatever difficulty that entered their lives, including the tragic death of a daughter, they faced it, trusting. They know that they were spoken for - by one another. After 50 years of marriage, a cruel thief began to steal Bernice from Arnold. Because of the disease, they moved from their beautiful home to small assisted living apartment.
Yet, they were together. From assisted living apartment to one small room in a nursing home, and they were still side by side. Bernice’s world consisted of constant care, a distant stare and arms moving rhythmically. Arnold patiently sitting nearby. Listening for her breathing, watching if she rustled, From early morning through late at night, he watched over his beloved Bernice.
One time when their only grandson came to visit, Arnold gently reached through the rails to hold her hand and spoke to her softly. Bernice, someone is here to see you. When she heard Arnold’s voice, her arms stopped moving. Her clutched fingers grasped his hand and for a few moments, she was calm.
From the recesses of her soul, a place without speech, where there was no clarity, Arnold’s voice lovingly slipped through the distance. In that instant, it was as if she understood that her love, her life, was near. Although her memory was taken, she did not need memory, like a favorite song, she knew his voice by heart.
In remembering that moment and in today’s Gospel, I thought of how Jesus is always nearby - if we realize it. The first disciples follow Jesus. When invited by Phillip, Nathaniel seems doubt that this man called Jesus is real or that he is something something special. In fact in the preceding verse - he is downright sarcastic.
When Jesus calls out to him and describes his character, Nathaniel is stunned. He asks in a demanding tone “‘Where did you come to know me?” Not “where did you see me?” or “who told you/” In an instant, he realizes that God has always been in his life, close by, watching, tending, hoping. That Jesus was in his life, long before he met Jesus. When Nathaniel comes to the realization - he is changed.
How different things must have been 2000 years ago. To question the presence in our lives and then have Jesus walk into our lives. Then suddenly, be changed. To feel trust, to be liberated, not to worry, to have a new life and new world. Imagine. But nothing has changed, it seems we have. Maybe our openness to Christ has closed over time. And I am sure we can justify the reasons.
Maybe we have a difficult time accepting that we can be loved or that God is truly capable of love. How can God love my enemy, even worse - how can God love me. It is easier and less binding to believe that God spends all eternity judging and rejecting us. Yet throughout the Bible, the Eucharist, the cross and resurrection, the message is the same. I know you, you are mine. We are spoken for by the mouth of Christ.
Or maybe we can rationalize intellectually. How can Jesus know me? Yes, these are great stories about some guy who lived over 2000 years ago, he has outstanding messages that I want to live by, great moral stories, appears in stained glass windows. Yet you want me to accept that his presence is always near? Prove it. We want answers instead of questions, understanding instead of desire, clarity instead of mystery. Yet, how do you explain the unexplainable. How do you define mystery.
I could not explain that millisecond when my breath was stuck in my chest when I understood that Bernice was grasping for Arnold’s hand and struggling to listen to his voice. I cannot explain the wonder I feel in a sunset, the feeling of holding my son in my arms, the pain felt at the death of someone we love. How do you explain love?
Maybe we do not recognize the possibility of these moments have their origins in God.
Or maybe the reason is that we are at a point in life where we just do not feel that Jesus is close or really care. The pain of illness or the cloud of depression leaves us no room to seek or feel. The world, the pressures, the divorce, the problems with the kids, the bills, they all seem to set me apart from Christ. Yet somehow, there is a calm in the storm, a sense of relief, a voice that seems to speak.
A small light that shines in our darkest night. And we cannot explain nor understand it. A favorite author wrote - Consider how the sun continually lights our daily world yet we cannot see light except in what it touches. Though the sun burns constantly and holds everything living within its pull, though it sends its power across millions of miles. It is unseen for all that way, until it hits a simple blade of grass or makes the web of a spider a golden patch of lace.
In the same way, the presence of God powerfully moves between us unseen, only visible in the brief moments we are lighted, in those moments we know as love. For just as we can look at that spider web and never see its beauty until it reveals itself in sudden light, we can look upon the nearest face, again and again, never seeing the beauty in each other, until one or both of us is suddenly revealed. It is there until we finally realize it, God is always close.
Maybe this week, let’s open ourselves to the possibility. In our private moments, walking up to communion, sitting at work or in the darkness of your night, ask God, “how do you know me?’ Sit back and listen for that silent voice, reach out your hand and grasp whatever is placed in yours. Notice the light that has traveled billions of miles to reflect on your life. God speaks to us through the heart, not only through the mind.
Somehow I have to believe that in much the same way, Bernice knew by heart Arnold’s voice, our own heart senses that God is near. That realization was ingrained inside Nathaniel when Jesus called him so that he was forever transformed. It will change each one of us in much the same way.
To patiently await morning when we only feel the darkness. Purely Love when hate is all we feel. Struggle upright when broken. Breathe when suffocated. Or to bravely step forward in hope with Fr. Clark knowing that Jesus is near, walking this parish journey with you. This assurance provides the type of security that money, a locked door, or a closed heart will never protect.
After Bernice left his world. I sat with Arnold and we would talk about catching red fish in the Gulf, his daughters, granddaughters and the life that he and Bernice created together. When talking about his Bernice, he would get a faraway look in his eyes. “She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen.” he said. ‘She gave me 61 years of her. God was good to me, giving me Bernice. He loved me and I loved her.”
The two are buried next to each other in a small cemetery in Texas, Arnold knew that in the end he would see the two people who were always with him Bernice and God. But more importantly,, he understood that the love of Bernice and the love of Christ, although he could not see them, were still with him
So this week be silly, irrational and take one minute out of your day. Ask Jesus, “how do you know me” You may find a surprising response and as a result find within yourself something stronger, braver, trusting, kinder, and holier that anything we could have every imagined. Hold your hand out, lean against him, he knows you because he is always there. Your may never see God in the same way ever again.
 Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening
My wife and I were invited to a private school black tie fundraiser. It was held at a fashionable hotel with a themed setting, hors d’oeuvres at every corner and an open bar. The items at the silent auction left me speechless - vacations, valuable pieces of art and jewelry. The event was to raise big money from people with big money.
I am not one of those with money, so I browsed the auction, sat and people watched. I noticed that people cluster in like minded groups. The teachers were popular, everyone smiled, waved and hugged them. The head of school and development director paid special attention to the grandparents. However, the dominant group seemed to be the 20 - 30 something, rich, chic , power brokers.
They wear the expensive clothes, designer glasses, large diamonds and watches, the Hummers parked outside. It was obviously a closed group. I overheard the conversation, who would spend more tonight. It seemed like a familiar competition. Just then, a man in his mid 50’s approached. He was well dressed, yet seemed older than his years. He caught my attention because he reminded me of my father.
I watched as he approached. Maybe it was the erect bearing, or just because he looked like my Dad. That kind, gentle war veteran, who suffered through Korea and Vietnam, yet with a beautiful laugh who was loving with his children, who died much too young when his children were far too young. A man who spent his life working 18 hours a day to make our lives better, to make someone else life easier.
It was with this memory, that I heard the man ask the group “would any of you like another drink?” He was the waiter. His words hung in the air for what seemed an eternity, and no one acknowledged his presence. He asked again. One young man in an expensive tuxedo, fluidly placed his used glass on the tray, grabbed another drink, and kept on talking to the group. I watched with a sense of sadness.
I do not believe these young successful men and women wanted to be cruel. This was their world, what is expected. Survival of the riches, others are employed to make lives easier. Right in front of me, surrounded by riches, a human with dignity, was seemingly pushed to the margins of society. Deemed invisible and less than an object. I wondered how many people moved my father to the margins.
In reading the Gospel and reflecting on the events of this past week, I am reminded of how close we are to equality, yet how much work we have yet to do to bring about that Kingdom of God. We find Jesus at a fancy banquet. The attendees the power brokers and wealthy of the day. Jesus notices their positions at the party. He turns to the guests and then speaks directly to the host.
“Why are you inviting people like you, who can help you, the rich, powerful, people who will help you. Why do you invite those who cannot do a thing for you, the outcasts, the misfits, those that you cannot stand. Those you never invite. It seems typical Jesus and straightforward. The problem and the beauty of Jesus’ words is that they are disturbing and discomforting. Especially when the dinner guests are you and I. Jesus is pushing each one of us, to move beyond our own safe comfort zones, our like mindedness, our own social groups.
Yes, we volunteer at the food pantry and the homeless shelter. We write checks, yet that is only the beginning. Jesus wants more. It is easy to listen to talk radio that agrees with us, eat with friends we know, spend time at work with those we like. Work for our own families. It is easier to seek our own heaven than to worry about someone else hell. And Jesus cannot be serious, who wants to be the lowliest.
He obviously has not lived in 21st century America. Where in our society are the poor, the lowly, the sick, humble, small, invisible, or powerless exalted and valued. Only in the eyes of God. Imagine Jesus speaking to us now, change his words of poor, crippled and outcast to “invite that hispanic, black or white waitress who is wiping the sweat out of her eyes.
Invite those totally different from you - by race, social class, gender or belief. The person you cannot stand the one who screams at you because you have different beliefs on marriage, abortion, war, politics, guns, even different beliefs on faith. It is not that easy now. What does our Kingdom look like? Yet the beauty of this challenge is that Jesus always gives us a way, and that way is love.
You can change the world, you can issue any invitation. This vision of a Kingdom on Earth is a liberating vision for everyone. Nothing can make a person so much like Christ as loving, accepting and caring for their neighbors. Imagine the church of tomorrow, imagine the world today. It is radically different from the political and religious kingdoms, it is inclusive unlike the the powerful, beautiful social groups. Because no one is excluded.
Jesus tell us a new relationship with God brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, even with our enemies, those who are not in our social groups. I know we cannot possibly invite everyone to our table, but maybe we can try. Yet, imagine the possibilities if that table is not only in your home, that table is your life.
Instead of clinging to power and wealth, model the new world by putting our worldly goods at the service of others. Using our seat at the head table to challenge the structures that continue putting people on the margins. Open our lives to that person waiting on us at a restaurant, a simple I appreciate your service.
With this new table, the person cleaning our rooms at the hotel, is no longer just pushing a cart and cleaning toilets, he or she is my brother or sister. The janitor who works alone at night, “how is your family, how is your health.” Mutual dignity and love. A way of widening the circle of humanity, breaking open the walls of this new Kingdom.
And it has to be done with love. If I give to the poor and and don’t have love then who is really poor? The poverty is found within me. We need our lives to look like the love of Christ, the reason he lived and died. When all is said and done, it will not be the possessions, it will not be the status, the power, the banquets or the parties. All that will remain in that Kingdom is love.
That night, as the man wearing the nice black suit was ignored, he continued on. The slight did not seem to affect him. He had probably seen too much in his life to worry. His pains, his joys, his tears, his journey. What stories his life would tell if someone would pay attention. I wonder if he was used to being invisible. He asked another lady and she look at him and smiled, and he smiled in returned. I thought, the beginning of that Kingdom.
Maybe Jesus used that night to remind me of the places we find God. Despite the riches in front of me and models of worldly success. I have looked for God in many places, in power because I knew I could control my life. Searched for God in money and possessions - if I could make a more, I will have more. I looked for God in the admiration of others - if they think I am OK, I am OK. I found disappointment.
I have a feeling that Jesus is right. That that we need to look for him in different places and people In the shadows, in the margins, in all those places and people we just seem to pass by. Then we can stop worrying about how we look in the eyes of others and simply look in love into the eyes of those around us.
Because the poor are near or far away. In society or in our home. The poverty may be material, social or spiritual. Hungry for bread or hungry for acceptance. They may need clothing or they may need the sense of wealth that God’s love for them represents. They may need the shelter of a house made of bricks and cement or the shelter of having a place in our hearts, seated at our table, in our lives.
Yes, Jesus may be on to something, this acceptance and love thing. So for the next few months, try it, invite someone in. What do you have to lose - maybe this world, but I promise that you gain, one beautiful Kingdom.
 Mother Teresa. In the heart of the world
We're sorry, but the full text to this sermon is not available at this time.
We're sorry, the full text of this sermon is not available at this time.
Throughout my life I have the propensity of finding myself in strangest of situations. One of my first jobs out of college was working for an elected official who loved spending his evenings, drinking in bars. As not to be caught drinking while driving, his driver was this young 23 year old.
One morning about 1 a.m, I am waiting for him in a dark, seedy bar and the INS bursts in. There I am sitting in a suit and tie, 30 officers storming in with flashlights, people running out, and pure chaos. An officer comes up to me, and glaringly asks “what are you doing here?” What was I to say? I responded, “sitting here.” He looked at me in amazement and ran off after someone who was not stationary.
Another time, I was in Chicago and visited the Sears Tour. I decided I would explore, so I got off on the 60th floor. Because of my relative youth and accompanying intelligence commensurate to the years, I decided I would take the stairs. Well after 25 flights, I said enough of this stuff – I am tired.
So I walked to the door and pulled. It was locked, I pulled harder. I then noticed the sign. “No entry.” I decided to run down one floor, locked. I began to panic, running from floor to floor in that stairwell. All were locked, and I could not get back in, I felt that feeling of being trapped, worse yet of being left alone in that stair well with no way out. Each door, locked.
Finally about the 20 floor, I began kicking the door, banging on the door, screaming “let me in.” Finally, I heard a small voice saying, I here, I will open the doors. An small woman in her early 70’s swung open the door, smiled, and said “come on in.” At that moment, I felt this overwhelming sense of relief and safety. I hugged her.
As I read today’s Gospel, I thought of that time trapped in that stairwell with all the doors locked and then my thoughts turned to all those in the world, from the beginning of time until now, who have had the door locked to them. In the Gospels, the lepers, the poor, the blind and the handicapped.
And those today, locked out because they live on the margins, or those on the margins, those who do not fit into accepted standards, maybe those from other lands. All God’s children who had the door shut in their faces by the church, society, family, friends, shut out by the gate keepers.
Different people, different denominations, different places, and there they are, like I was in that stairwell; violently pounding on the door, yelling “let me in” hoping that someone will hear their cries, that the light and door of acceptance will open up for them.
The imagery of today’s Gospel is beautiful, for all those small, cold lambs shivering outside of the door, we hear the voice of Jesus calling out "Hurry, Come in, your safe – I have been looking for you.” Jesus calling us to his side, so that no one is shut out.
And as we see in today’s Gospel, he not only accepts, Jesus protects, from all those who condemn, his love protects from all who tell us what is acceptable, whether we are acceptable, protecting us from those who say we cannot join the rest of the flock.
On that Easter Morning, when that door on the tomb was opened, Jesus opened the door of acceptance, opened the door of love, and opened the door to his father in the Kingdom of God. To each and every one of you. No longer on the outside, hoping to be let in.
That open door lets us in to God’s love, peace and joy. It keeps out the turbulence of the world. The door is open for those who hurt, and for those who seek. For those who doubt, for those who believe. Open for everyone, without conditions, without requirements, only to listen for the sound of his voice.
And when we understand that door of love and acceptance has been opened for us, we can leave the past behind. We can leave behind our regrets, our mistakes, our sorrows, and our pain. We can let go of our dark cold places and we find love, we have finally found our home.
Today is a special day for the youth from the Church. For those of you that are young (and wiser in years) For each one of you, I want you to know that as you move through life; many people will attempt to shut you out, close doors. Some may try to do that in a Church structure, never allow it to happen.
Bang and kick on those doors. In your personal life, always remember that there is one certainty, one constant, one truth and that is Jesus. Throughout these next few years, when you feel that no one is listening, when life is difficult, when no one understands, when all the doors seem closed. Speak to him through a silent prayer, and he will respond. You will see how life opens up.
And it does end there. The easy part of Christianity is sitting here listening to the Gospel. The hard part is actually living it. We don’t follow Christ because he makes us feel good, or because he looks good or that the bread taste good. We are not called to be simple admirers of Christ, we are called to follow him, to become like him.
And that requires actions. Just as Jesus opened the door is opened for us, we must open that door for others. When you open the door for others in the name of Christ, crazy things happen. You may find your voice, you may find your strength, and you may find your calling. To get up and open that door. Because there are so many doors are closed to the people in the world.
AIDS still exists and it has not gone away, women are still being abused and desecrated all across the world, children are forced to work in sweatshops, people are struggling to find a better life, sacrificing their lives in order to survive. Hunger is still prevalent; billions of people are without hope. Will your hand be the one that opens the door?
God is not only in here, God is out there and there are a lot of people and places that have closed doors to God’s people. The great thing about the door is that it is not only an entrance it is an exit. You open the Kingdom for others. Look around, see who is hungry, who is without clothes, who is neglected.
Imagine if the money we spent on bottled water during one year was sent to a place where it would pay to dig waterholes for children that only want clean drinking water. Imagine, 6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store.
It was when I finally realized that I had to do my part and open the door to others that if finally understood the pain of those immigrants as they ran in panic that night during the INS raid, or the realization that the reason that my former boss drowned his evenings in vodka was an attempt to alleviate the recurring nightmares of Vietnam. I had to open the door to others, before I finally understood.
Today is a mixture of sadness and joy. I will watch as my son moves from Rite 13 to J2A at St. Michael. And it is also the last time I will preach as an assisting Priest at my home. In 3 weeks, I will move through a door that has opened for me.
Brian, Mother Sandra Bess, Fr. Ken Clark, Christopher, Jan, Judith, Sandra, my surrogate dad Charles Pederson, Sam Hall, friends like Diana Haynes, Thom Andrewz, Stacie Moses and many others too numerous to mention opened the door for me, Suzanne and Jude. I am grieving the loss of this community; however, I rejoice that this community will form my son – spiritually.
St. Michael will always hold a special place in my heart because of the doors this Church has opened for all those who have been locked out. You were the door of acceptance, the door of love, the door of Christ. As I journey, I know that each one of you will step forward and open the doors for the minority, the poor, the neglected, and the handicapped, those on the margins.
If I know the heart of this community, I know that you will not only open the door, you will rip it off the hinges. If I know this community, once the door is open you will stand there welcoming everyone in, If I know this community, your voice will ring out like Jesus, calling “come in, your safe.
With that door open, with that voice, the entire world will see the face of acceptance, the face of love; they will see the face of Christ through the heart of St. Michael. Christ is calling your name, step forward walk through his door, and then open for others. God bless you and I will miss you.
The look on one’s face can express many thoughts and emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger or even love. While Deacon Judith was reading the Gospel, I watched the look on your faces as you listened to this story that has been told every year for over 2000 years. A story that is simultaneously so familiar and yet so distant.
What look comes over your face when you hear of that amazing young Jewish man, who welcomed the outcast, loved everyone he met, touched the sick, embraced the lonely, is betrayed, tortured, hung on a cross, dies slowly, and then becomes life for each one of us.
Do you look at the cross in wonder or has it become so familiar that it has become another symbol or even fashion design. We wear it on vestments, necklaces, rings and earrings. We have it tattooed; it sits atop buildings and even carved into headstones.
After hearing that story, an instrument of torture that represented a excruciating death now becomes a simple symbol of hope, a symbol of God. Think of it, how more telling can those two pieces of wood be. Two beams, one vertical signifying the relationship between God and his creation; reaching out and reaching back.
The horizontal beam signifying our relationship with one another, reaching toward the person next to you. And the bottom, the rough worn out place where the wood of the cross touches the earth and radiates out into the world. And at the center, where the two pieces converge is Christ, God and humanity tied together by love.
This realization came into view a few weeks back in a conversation with a friend. Mark prides himself in his independence, which includes independence from the Church. Yet he needed someone to talk to. I could see he had been crying. He explained that he lost the love of his life due to a series of bad decisions on the part of both of them.
He could not make sense of the pain, how something that had given him so much joy was now tearing at the depths of his being. As he was leaving, he pointed to a small crucifixion in my office and with a look of despair on his face said “and tell me how that makes any sense?” God sends his son to suffer, all you church people are happy here in church, yet there are killings, wars, discrimination, tsunamis, people out there hurting one another. I thought this was supposed to solve all that.
At first I did not know what to say, was that cross the great eraser that is supposed to wipe away all the pain. And then I thought of an article, that allowed me to remember the meaning of that cross, not as an eraser, but a healing balm.
Brian Doyle wrote about a young girl named Isabel and Ms. Doyle was Isabel’s art teacher in the hospital. Isabel was 4 years old when she got unbelievably sick. At 5 years old she stunningly wonderfully got well. When she was 6 years old she got even sicker than before and soon she died.
She was buried in a nearby cemetery so that her parents could be close. Her coffin was small and when it was lowered into the ground, one of the ropes slipped and her coffin tilted. Her baby brother burst out laughing and then he wept and wailed like a child has never wept before.
The author’s wife spent much of the previous year with Isabel in the Hospital. As Isabel got sicker and endured oceans of pain and grew more swollen and weary by the day, his wife, the day before Isabel died sprawled on the grass, weeping like never before. She cried out – “Isabel is being crucified. Everything they do to her hurts. It's torture. Why do they torture her so? All little crucifixions.
Isabel just accepts it. She never complains. She has that look on her face. She just stares at us with that stare from another planet. She gets crucified every day and no one can stop it. All the little children being crucified. I can't bear it anymore. They just look at me. Why does this happen? Why does this happen?”
As I told this story, Mark had this look on his face of compassion. For one instant, it seemed as if the images and pain of all the crucifixions in this world seemed to float through our collective thoughts. All these tiny crucifixions in the world, Isabel, children killing each other because of gangs and drugs, loved ones who believe suicide is the only way out, children sold into prostitution or how a precious child of close friends, is killed in his backyard this past week because he was tormented by schizophrenia.
All these tiny crucifixions. What could I say? Some theological babble or psychological soothing? Any word is insufficient. How do I explain a mother watching her son be tortured and nailed to a cross and then holding him in her arms; there are no words for what she felt. A mother watches her daughter suffer in the hospital as she slowly dies, and she holds her in her arms and there are no words for how she feels. How do I explain that tomorrow our friends will bury their precious son and as they touch his casket there are no words for how they feel.
We looked at that broken body on the cross, and the only word, the only look was that of love. Love, the only explanation for the unexplainable. This nonsensical, illogical, unreasonable, insupportable, improvable conviction that one time a long time ago a thin young mysterious eloquent Jewish man was crucified and died and then he came alive again in a way that no one understood then and no one understands now.
God looking down, not wanting us to be alone, sharing in our journey in this world. Understanding the tremendous pains and the indescribable joys of life. God’s voice whispering "You are my creation and I know you well." Because God, in Christ, not only knows us, but has lived among us—has been one of us. All because of a look of love on Gods face, hoping that the love will be reflected in ours.
And what is amazing is that if you really listen to this passion story, you will see your life reflected in that last week. In this story, God is closer to us, to our lives, than ever before, all our tiny crucifixions hung on his cross. Think of it, friends loving us one minute, like the joy of Hosanna into Jerusalem and then deserting us in our desolate gardens. Jesus life like ours, the struggle with brokenness, uncertainty, breaking bread with his friends, betrayal, jealousy, questioning God, fear, loneliness, abandonment, pain, suffering, crucifixion, darkness. Yet, always transformation and a knowing of eternal hope.
This story of a young Jewish man nailed to a cross, a mother crying in pain, an empty tomb makes sense because we are reassured that God knows what it is like to be human. The amazing, unbelievable story that we are loved by God, a loving who gave up a heavenly crown in order to wear a crown thorns. All because God wanted to see that look of love on all of our faces, for each one of us to know that Easter is coming.
There is a poem that captures God desire to see the expression on our face: Have you ever wondered why God gives so much? We could exist on far less. He could have left the world flat and gray; we wouldn’t have known the difference but he didn’t. He splashed orange in the sunrise and cast the sky in blue. And if you love to see geese as they gather, Chances are that you’ll see that too.
Did he have to make the squirrel’s tail furry? Was he obliged to make the birds sing?
And the funny way that chickens scurry Or the majesty of thunder when it rings?
Why give a flower a fragrance? Why give food its taste? Could it be that he loves to see that look upon your face.
God could of walked away and never allowed the divine to become human, Why send his son to empty himself, and die on the cross. But he did not, he loved the look on our face when we are happy, and sent his son. Mark smiled and said, I guess I cannot explain love, so I guess that cross thing kinda makes sense.
Somehow it does, because for all the tiny crucifixions, there is an understanding that a knowing God is with us, and understands. There are no explanations only those beams that reach up and out. So for Mark, Isabel, Christopher and others. We cannot explain it, all we can do is tiptoe into Isabel's room, and spread out all the holy colors on her bed, and make her laugh, and sing her grace under duress.
All we can do for Mark is walk with him as he takes those solitary steps into a new world. All we do for Christopher’s mother is hold her hand as she tearfully says goodbye to her youngest son. Because somehow, in ways we cannot explain, love conquers all. God has proven it with his son, and with Isabel and Christopher. They will come alive again, each one of us will live again, and there will be a light, the light of Christ on all our faces for which there are no words, only a look of love.
*I would like to acknowledge Brian Doyle for his beautiful article “The Terrible Brilliance for the use of Isabel’s Story and Max Lucado for the poem.
I was sitting at a restaurant in one of those long tables where everyone is packed together and you are caught in the conversation next to you. The woman sitting next to me, seemed tired and distant. In the middle of the meal she blurted out to a friend: “I do not think I can take any more.”
This woman’s family was in crisis, her 15 year old granddaughter was pregnant and the 16 year old father refused responsibility. Her 45 year old son had relapsed and was drinking heavily once again. She found that she was ineffective in addressing both situations and her futile attempts were causing further problems. The entire family dynamic was in chaos and falling apart.
I caught the reaction of friends, a few seemed surprised, a couple had that cruel look of satisfaction, the “I knew your family was not perfect” look while others were genuinely distressed. The lady had that long far away, hopeless stare, you know the one: face drawn, eyes downward, her fist clenching a tissue that had caught hundreds of tears.
One kind woman in an attempt to comfort patted the woman hand and used that old saying: “It is O.K., God does not give you anything that you cannot handle…” I had to bite my lip, I wanted to scream – no, no, no! We are not guests on Survivor, Redemption Island. God does not sit in heaven creating unconquerable obstacles courses for lives.
The statement is like saying God knows that I can swim, so for the fun of it, he will just throw me overboard and for the fun of it, hang a 200 lb weight around my neck. Yes, for many of us, for some, right now, there are times when life seems burdensome. Money is short and you cannot pay the bills.
You cannot seem to make your bosses happy at work, they pick constantly, you have made bad choices that affect you today, children and grandchildren engage in destructive behavior. You cannot take it anymore; you are carrying far too many burdens. Like that woman at the Flying Star or the women carrying the water jug to the well.
Today’s Gospel offers a different glimpse of what God gives us. An unnamed woman, going through her daily routine, who carries the burdens not only on her back, but on her face and through her life. She suddenly learns something about herself and more importantly, something about God. It is interesting that through the centuries, she has been portrayed in the most negative of terms.
Some have insinuated she was a woman of loose morals, married numerous times – imagine big earrings, heavy make up, skimpy outfits – she was socially unacceptable. The text emphasizes that she probably lived on the fringes, not only because she was a woman, and a Samaritan, but because she was at the well in the middle of the day.
Most women of the village draw water first thing in the morning, while it was still cool. She was out alone in the heat of the day. Was it because she had a checkered past, or was it because she was living a sinful life. Even among outcasts, this woman seemed to be an outcast.
We often form instant opinions of people, we read a few lines and determine she was morally corrupt. But we do not really know her life, what caused her to come out in the middle of the day. Maybe she endured a terrible life because of her birth, her status, she never had any options.
Could it be that because she was poor, and a woman, she was doomed to victimization by a social system where she could not be nothing more that an object that served the needs of the males of society?. Possibly like many of us, she did not want to be alone. Or she endured the life before her because this was the only path to survive. And when you live only to survive, you are not living, you are just surviving.
Tired she bumps into Jesus. On that day, with all her burdens, maybe she spoke to Jesus because he was the only one who cared, who would listen. You wonder, why today, why this man. And how does Jesus respond to this outcast?. Jesus talks to her, he accepts the woman as she I, with all the worries on her face. He looks into the eyes of the individual and meets her as she is—refusing to give into stereotyping or judgment or expectations.
Jesus does not tell her, you know life is rough and that pitcher looks pretty heavy, God wants you to carry it. That although her life is terrible, God will only give her what she can handle - so deal with it. Jesus sees something more beyond the obvious.
He knows her life, her pain, her missteps, her tears, her life, her desired to be loved. Jesus sees her, not as the world sees her, but as God see’s her. Jesus in essence tells her – “I know exactly who you are and it is ok. I know you, you are a woman, you are a Samaritan, I know your past and know what you are going through and you know what, it is going to be ok, I am here.
He then tells her I am the hope you are looking for. You are important, despite your situation, despite your past, you will always be a precious child of God. I am here for you, and you will be O.K.
It must have felt like heaven. The one who knows all she ever did, all that she is, and all that she can be, let her know that she was not alone, that she could go forward. Jesus probably performed one of his greatest miracles, no, he did not move his hands and immediately changed her condition.
He made her realize her importance to him, to God, and that realization assured her that she could face anything. She became new, filled with hope, filled with strength. She could walk away from the well. This tired woman, runs off in such excitement, she leaves the heavy water jar at the well.
We often face that glaring midday sun, when we go through the day carrying our burdens, wondering how we are going to make it. Waiting for us is Christ. Christ, the one that renews and gives hope. When we feel that we cannot take it anymore, when we feel like that weight is too much to carry, Jesus looks for us and assures us that it will be o.k. And when we approach him, like that woman, there is acceptance, not embarrassment, nor judgment.
We are more than a collection of deeds and misdeeds, our lives are more than a life full of burdens that we have to shoulder. When we feel that we cannot take it anymore, God is there to help us, not to burden, not to judge, not to create obstacles.
This knowing relieves a huge burden; we are secure with our past and confident in our future. Jesus loved everybody he ever met as if that one were the only person in the entire world. He loved all as He loved each. Every person who looked into the eyes of Jesus found an affection looking back at them which said in powerful ways, "What happens to you makes a difference to me."
Jesus knows each one of us, our past, our troubles, he sees our butterfly inside of the cocoon, the robin inside of the egg, the forgiven within the sinner, the spark of life instead of darkness of sadness. A plain, everyday woman who struggled, who cried, went through the endless cycle of hurting, realized that she could walk forward.
Today that greatest of miracles still occurs, because what happens to you, makes a difference to Christ. No, our burdens will not magically disappear, but knowing that we are not alone and that we will make it, allows us to leave that 200 lb weight at the his feet. The love of God known in Jesus Christ is not one filled with “God only gives us what we can handle.”
The love of God is a love that meets us where we are, that speaks to us in the glaring midday sun, a love that eases the burdens when we cannot take it anymore.
Jesus speaks to each one of us, like he spoke to that woman at the well: “I know who you are, I know what you are going through, I am here and it will be ok. When we realize this, you we can leave it at the well, and go forward, knowing. Because there is only one thing that God gives us more than we can handle, and that is - love.
One of the great blessings and joys of my life at St. Michaels are the friendships I have made. One of the most personal and moving has been my friendship with Kenny. For those of you that do not know Kenny, he attends the 7:30 service with his mother Carol. At times he serves an acolyte or he brings the gifts.
I can always count on Kenny to be one of the first to greet me in the parish hall after the service. I keep a gift that Kenny gave me one Christmas, an ornament that plays “O holy night” in one of our rooms. I see Kenny as a member of the servant of worship, a devoted member but more importantly, as a friend.
However, when I see the true Kenny are those instances, when he comes up to me, his face lights up and he tells me where he placed in the latest Special Olympic event. It could be bowling, skiing or swimming, it does not matter. He is transfigured, there is a sense of purity, a sense of perfection, a sense that God is near.
When he recounts his story, for a moment I am speechless. I do not see the Kenny as the world sees him, I see the person Kenny was born to be. It transcends words or simple explanations. The same feeling when I see a horse run at a full gallop, an eagle soar among the cottonwoods or when I hear my son sing a solo. There is purity, a knowing, they are fulfilling what God has placed within them.
I cannot help but close my eyes and attempt to visualize that scene on the mountaintop, Peter gazing with wonder at Jesus touching the divine. When the Apostles walked with Christ, they knew he was special, they knew there was something about him, but it was there at that mountaintop where they began to see Jesus in a new way.
Peter, James and John got a brand-new insight into this Jesus, who really was — transforming, consuming, literally enlightening. He appears with Elijah and Moses, yet not the same, something new, unique and life changing. Not Moses the lawgiver, nor Elijah, the prophet. Jesus, the Son of God. And then the words, "This is my beloved."
It is no longer just a rumor, God is validating why Jesus walked this earth. A poor young carpenter, who preached, who loves the poor, heals the sick, welcomes the outcasts, this radical, this Son of God. The outcast now has a place in the heart of God; living what God called him to do. Peter in wonder says, "Lord, it is good to be here."
Few would have believed that this poor revolutionary from Nazareth would change mankind, yet he lived into his life. And he asks us to do the same. However much easier than it sounds. We have a tendency to fight against our true calling.
We often create images of who we think we are instead of living into our true selves. I know people who have a wonderful capacity to create art, who are truly artists, but they do not trust themselves to live into their creative beauty, into their true lives. Or the feel that there true calling is silly and put aside the silly dreams and toil as everyday workers secretly yearning for the brush.
Or we do other things like purchase stuff, material objects, we work in unfulfilling jobs, stay in abusive relationships, follow certain cultural expectations all because we believe that is what is expected of us, and our light is diminished. Forgetting that mountaintop, where God is validating our purpose, why we walk this earth.
Last week Fr. Christopher wrote a beautiful sermon as to why we fill ourselves with stuff and become things we cannot recognize. He said “it is the treasure that no one can take away from you of realizing that the gifts and resources you have are gifts from God and you can use them to care for people, you can hold them loosely enough to be used in ways that bring glory to God.” That treasure includes who you are and what God has called you to be.
I believe that story tellers at Walt Disney had an amazing capacity of describing to both children and adults the capacity to transfigure, to live into who you were called to become. Think of Pinocchio, Tarzan or Beast in Beauty and the Beast. One of my favorite is The Lion King, maybe because I remember watching the story with my son.
The young lion cub named Simba makes a few bad choices that result in tragedy. He then lets the evil Scar define him so he flees from his community and lives in the shadows far from what he truly is meant to be. Eventually someone who knows him finds him and asks him to return to his community, which is in peril, and live into his calling.
While wrestling with a decision about whether or not to accept that challenge, Simba is led to a pond. Poised before the water, Simba watches a reflection of his own image mysteriously transfigured by the presence of his deceased father. He sees who he his, what he was created for and then understands his purpose in life, he finds the freedom to shed the chains of the past and present behind and to be himself. He becomes original, unique, he becomes himself. And we all must do the same.
The transfiguration is not a complicated story. St. Matthew reminds us that the Transfiguration is a glimpse of glory. At the mountain height we are allowed to see Jesus as he really is and where he is ultimately headed. By implication, we can also see ourselves for who we really are.
When we view others without expectations, when we allow ourselves the freedom to be completely free, to what God has called us to do, to be God’s children, we find out not only who we are, we find that Christ reveals who he really is in our lives.
We see that in unexpected places. An infant can only be an infant, no assumptions, no facades. When we look into the eyes of a child, they look back with trust, amazement and you in turn are filled with awe. Or for those of you that are teachers and that moment when a child gets it, and you know that that child’s life will forever be changed because of you, and you understand why you put up with the pressures and low pay, you understand that God has called you to live into what you were meant to do.
You are in an intimate moment with the one you love, and realize happiness; you realize that God has you living into your calling. You wonder where this happiness comes from.
Or you stop in this journey and finally come to the realization that you need to live the life that God created for you. That you need to be you, and not a recreation, not a portrait, not an expectation, not an image and when you do so, there you will find peace, you find a light, living what God has called you to be.
Look around, when we people live into their calling, it seems that they are bathed in this light of joy. We began this season of Epiphany with a brilliant light of a star leading three wise men to Christ; it continues this week with Peter, James and John bathed in the brilliant radiance of Jesus on a mountaintop. And it will continue, in Christ as we walk through lent to the great light of the resurrection on Easter.
Perhaps the story of the transfiguration simply helps us see God revealed in a new and re-creating way. Maybe we can catch a glimpse of how He knows us and how we ought to respond in our knowing of Him. Maybe it will allow us to see ourselves for who we really are – God beloved, to become who we were meant to be.
So there is a knowing, when I listen to Kenny speak of his bowling score, when I hear you tell me why you worship at St. Michael, how you fixed the door at the food pantry, when you gently reach over and grasp the hand of the one who brings you love and joy. I see a special light, I watch in wonder at you being you and like Peter say “Lord it is good to be here.”
A few weeks back, I was introduced to a Lady who was active in her Church. Within a few minutes, the woman informed me that she was an attorney, who graduated from Harvard, lived in High Desert and was a devout, traditional Roman Catholic. I did not know how to respond.
Throughout our conversation, she alluded to her identity. Intentionally or unintentionally, she defined herself. I wished her the best and moved on. Later, as I reflected on her words, I could not decide if she was attempting to impress me, promote her image or if it was her way of social interaction.
Yet somehow I knew that her insistence on emphasizing her identity spoke to something deeper. She was telling me not who she was, but what she believed others were not. I wondered, if I did not go to the same Ivy League school, did I meet her intelligence criteria? If I did not live in the same neighborhood – would I fit into her social class? If I did not believe in the same theological doctrine – could we share the Eucharist?
The answer is no. The sadness is that we are breathing the same air, living in the same community, sharing the similar journey. Yet she had built this set of walls that separated us. And she had placed me within one set of walls and placed her within a different set of walls. And walls are dangerous.
Closed walls inhibit fresh air and this leads to oxygen deprivation. You do not think clearly, you act strangely, your judgment becomes cloudy. If you close yourself behind walls, nothing new comes into your life. In our Gospel Jesus speaks of the dangers of closing yourself to others.
He is not only speaking of forgiveness, he is speaking of inclusion. He is telling us to love, asking us to accept, to break barriers and create openings in our lives. He wants his light, our light to penetrate all those dark recesses of our hearts.
Most of us have the natural tendency to spend time with those we know, those that we are most comfortable with. We share with people from our same social class, race, country or Church; and while this is o.k., if we never move beyond that circle, we unknowingly inhibit our Christian outlook.
We become comfortable and comfort limits our vision. We begin to see others through the same lens, our world becomes one-dimensional. And throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells us his Father’s kingdom is multi-dimensional. Move beyond our comfort zone and reach out to those who we normally do not let in, those we do not know, and those that are different from us. If we love only those who love us, how do we show Christ’s love?
I have a Christian family member who constantly uses the phrase “I am an American” or “love it or leave it.” I also notice how easy it is for him to categorize people as Muslims, Homos or Illegal’s. No understanding that many of God’s children live beyond his walls or the walls of America. The barriers he creates, makes it simple for him to see people as objects, different, easy to categorize, easy to discount, easy to ignore.
We are Christians and it is hard to imagine God placing a wall between divine love and humanity. God is constantly welcoming, inviting us into the divine presence. No secret knock, no special requirements for entry into his Kingdom. Only openness and a willingness to love God and love one another.
In this journey, most of us stumble into the Lord’s presence. Much like the story when one the most famous European orchestras played an outdoor concert. Elegantly dressed, world class musicians take their places. They precisely tune their fine instruments. The conductor strides confidently toward the podium; raises his baton, lowers it and then Beethoven’s Third Symphony.
The music is majestic, the notes join together to create beauty. Suddenly, a brown curious dog prances on stage toward the Orchestra. The mutt moves between the violins and the cellos, tail wagging in beat with the music. The dog weaves in and out as he looks at the musicians, the musicians in turn look at him, and they look at each other, as they attempt to continue with the next measure.
The dog stops in front of the Cello, and then continues roaming, listening and wagging. Finally, the music stops because the musicians and audience are laughing. The dog stops at the conductor’s feet, looks up and pants. A world class orchestra brought to a stop by a wayward dog. The conductor lowers his baton. There is quiet as the conductor turns; everyone is anticipating his fury.
He looks at the dog, looks at the audience and shrugs his shoulders. He steps off the podium and scratches the dogs’ ears, a tail starts to wag. The maestro speaks to the dog and the dog seems to understand. They visit for a moment, the mutt sits at the feet of the conductor, the conductor returns and the music begins once again. Life moves forward beautifully.*
Each one us are like that stray, and God is leading this divine symphony. In our journey, we walk onto God’s stage; and none of us want to be kicked off. We want to sit at the feet of God and listen to the song. If God had put up walls, we would never be able to walk among the music. Jesus is asking us to do the same with one another.
When Jesus left Nazareth, he did not take friends; he invited others into his presence. He had no barriers or preconceived ideas of who these strangers were, only that they were welcome. Come, follow me, and let me show you the openness of my father’s love. Everyone is invited into our lives and God’s stage. We break down the walls that separate us. We do not look at that maid as a simple worker, she becomes my sister.
We do not look at the Muslim as a foreigner, we look at him as a brother who seeks the same peace and happiness, we do not look at those who are ill as a burden, and we take them in as part of our family. Just as we are invited to remain guests on God’s glorious stage, we must invite others onto the same stage, into our lives. It is there that we feel the goodness of humanity.
We do not change the world by going out and moving millions, all we have to do is reach out to the person next to us in love. It is from the length of an arm that we change the world. Jean Vanier wrote the following: The openness to and respect for other implies a belief in our common humanity, in the beauty of other cultures, and in God’s love for each person. We are one human race.
We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We are all people with vulnerable hearts, yearning to love and to be loved and valued. This openness, which brings together people who are different, is inspired by love, a love that sees the value in others, through and in their differences and the difficulties they might have.
A love that is humble, vulnerable and welcoming. Peace comes as we approach others humbly, disarmed from a place of truth, not from a place of superiority. Not from a place with walls. What good is it if we only love those who love us, if we only care about those who care about us?
Open your heart; break down those barriers. Let’s sit together, on God’s glorious stage, strays of different colors and backgrounds, listen and prance around to the music of our mutual lives and mutual loves. When we dance together, when we sing together, when we sit at the maestro feet as one, we know love, and in doing so, we know Christ.
*Thanks to Max Lucado for the use of this story that is in his book: “When God Whispers Your Name.”