St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Albuquerque Rev. Kristin Schultz
2nd Sunday after Epiphany Jan 19, 2014
Last February about 30 youth from around the DRG gathered in Ruidoso
for what we call Snow Slam.
We went snow tubing, had a dance with karaoke,
ate and played games and watched movies together.
We also shared worship and prayer, and did skits portraying parables of Jesus.
On the way home, Father Brian Winter was driving a van with about 12 young people.
On the sidewalk next to the road, they saw a man in obvious distress –
lying on the sidewalk, shaking.
Father Brian stopped and went to help.
As the kids looked on, he spoke to the man, and used his cell phone to call for help.
Along with other bystanders, he sat with the man until help came.
When he got back in the van and they were driving away, one of the young people said,
“We were like the Good Samaritan in the story.”
She and her peers made a connection between their own lives, and the story of Bible.
That is Christian formation – the formation of an identity which sees our own lives
in the light of the larger story of God at work in the world.
John the Baptist has been talking to his followers about baptizing Jesus.
He asserts that Jesus is the Son of God,
that he saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove and rest upon Jesus.
So a few of them go to find Jesus, to see him for themselves.
And he greets them with the question:
What are you looking for?
It’s a provocative question, and one that hits close to home for many of us.
What are we looking for we come looking for Jesus?
A sense of meaning and purpose to our lives.
A sense of belonging.
A way to make sense of this story of life we find ourselves caught up in.
When Jesus invites Simon Peter to follow him, he names him,
giving him, along with a new name, a place and a role to fulfill.
Isaiah gives testimony that God chose him and called him –
that God did, in fact, form him in the womb to be God’s servant in a particular way.
Psalm 139 shares this conviction:
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
These words are a comfort and a source of empowering faith,
that we have been known and our lives given meaning in our belonging to God.
As Jesus invited the ones who came seeking him that day long ago,
Jesus invites us to come and follow.
And his gives us, too, a name and a role.
We have received our primary identity in our baptism –
we are children of God, part of the Body of Christ in the world.
We can find meaning for our lives in finding our own lives to the part of the larger story
of Creation and Redemption by God through Jesus Christ.
A part of this identity as followers of Christ is that we are in community.
Like it or not (and some days we like it better than others),
being followers of Jesus make us part of a “great fellowship of believers”
that stretches around the world, 2000 years into the past and also into the future.
When Paul writes a letter to the fledgling community of Christ in Corinth,
he begins with the words,
“I thank my God every time I remember you.”
It might sound like Paul is writing to some ideal community –
the infant church, perfect and pure in it’s closeness to Christ and the apostles.
When we read the rest of the letter, we see that is far from the truth.
Paul chides the people of Corinth for various flaws and mistakes -
for inequities and misjudgments and for outright sin.
Paul has no illusions about the problems in the Corinthian community.
But he also knows that is not the whole story.
Years ago, in my seminary class on Christian Education, my professor led us through a Bible study which I have never forgotten
He asked us to divide a piece of paper into two parts.
On one side, we were to write down how we see ourselves.
We wrote: mother, student, husband, baker, soccer player, musician . . .
many words to describe the roles we play and what we do in the world.
Then he gave us a psalm to read,
and asked us to write on the other side of the paper how the psalmist sees himself.
We wrote: Forgiven. Loved. Saved. Belonging to God.
What difference does it make, our professor asked us,
if we see ourselves as the psalmist does – as beloved of God, chosen and redeemed?
When I read the opening of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this week,
I thought again of this lesson.
Paul knows only too well the faults and flaws of the Corinthians;
and he does not pretend that they are not there.
But they are not the whole story.
Not the most important part of the story.
Paul starts with what he knows to be true of these folks trying to serve God
and follow the way of Jesus in community:
They are called by God.
They are bathed in God’s grace.
They are rich with spiritual gifts.
They are strengthened by Jesus Christ and by participation in his fellowship.
Paul knows that God has gathered the people into this community,
and that God nurtures them.
God calls them to be more than they are –
to be the Body of Christ in the world, carrying the Light of Christ within them.
So it is with the church in every time and place.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “the church is not a dormitory for saints,
but a gymnasium for sinners.”
The church is not and never has been a place where people who have it all worked out come together to rest on our laurels.
This is the community where struggling, imperfect human beings come
to be fed and nurtured and called to be something better than we are.
We come to hear that we are indeed a part of something greater than ourselves –
a part of the story of God’s saving love for the whole world.
We come to hear that we are, indeed, special and known and beloved –
made in God’s own image and invited to follow Christ.
There is a community in Denver called the House for All Sinners and Saints –
a Lutheran congregation led by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.
When Nadia has a gathering for newcomers to the congregation, she invites each of them to share – what brings you to House? What are you looking for – and what have you found?
Then she tells them: We will disappoint you.
The community with disappoint you.
I will disappoint you.
And when that happens – not if, but when – I invite you to stick around.
Because if you leave when you are disappointed, you risk missing a moment of grace.
We will disappoint you, but God will not.
That is the core of our community – not our own effectiveness or ability or goodness,
but the everlasting faithfulness of God.
As Paul says: God is faithful;
by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
What are you looking for?
If it is a perfect community, perfect priests, perfect organization – keep going.
But if you are looking for a place to bring your brokenness and your gifts,
to share with and learn from the giftedness and struggle of other imperfect people,
you may be at home here.
I thank my God always for you –
for each and every one of you –
for the grace you show me and one another and share with God’s world.
February 10, 2013
The Last Sunday of Epiphany
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Every year on this Sunday, just before we descend into the humbling valley of Lent, we are taken up on the mountain with Moses and Jesus for a last moment of glory. There is an encounter with God, which dramatically changes how they appear to others.
Moses came down from Mount Sinai, the skin of his face shining such that the Israelites were afraid to come near him. At another time, on another mountain, while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
In our second reading today, Paul links together these two transfigurations. But he goes further. He says that all who live in Christ are also transformed from one degree of glory to another. The transfiguration of Moses and Christ becomes ours.
The Transfiguration is one of the most often-used icons of the Eastern Orthodox churches. They take very seriously what Paul said. They make no bones about it - the goal of the life of faith is to realize the glory of God. They call this theosis, or “deification,” becoming God-like.
In the West, we have taken up the possibility of transfiguration within what we call “spirituality.” In the practice of a spiritual life, we hope that over time we might finally reach a higher spiritual state, marked by true and lasting peace, harmony, and joy.
I’ve become cautious about this kind of expectation. For it has the danger of setting up a romanticized ideal which we believe to be presently inaccessible to us, but might be someday, if we were to really apply ourselves. But when it comes, it never seems to last. And so we either conclude that spirituality is for other types of people, or we try harder, convinced that permanent transfiguration is just around the corner.
I’ve become more drawn to the earthier - but no less profound - transfiguration that comes and goes in the moment. In those times when we stop our thinking, our worrying, our forward momentum, the present moment can open up. It opens not to some astounding and dazzling moment of glory, but to the simple fact of whatever it is. And that is deeply transformative.
Zen Buddhists call this “suchness.” Suchness is the concrete quality of being that can be experienced at any time: the sensory reality of light, sound, movement, and touch. But suchness also includes thoughts and emotions that rise and fall. And so the air, our thoughts, our sensations, the world around us - all of it together makes up the unique and ever-changing reality of this moment. Some teachers just call it “things as they are,” or more surprisingly, “things as it is.” For people of faith, it is a place of opening, where in the stillness, God is found.
This practice, often called mindfulness, is very simple, but very difficult. For we are a people of dissatisfaction, always striving to improve our lot, to reach what we imagine to be a more preferable state, to ruminate over the past and the imagined future. So to return to the present moment constitutes a radical challenge to all these deeply-ingrained habits. But there is also a sense in which this practice is easy. It’s so easy, we can do it right now.
Keeping your eyes open and fixed on a spot in front of you, bring your attention to your breath...Take in the sounds around you...Take in the colors you see in front of you, in your peripheral vision...As thoughts arise, let them move on... If you’re carrying an emotion today, or some kind of stress, just feel it emotion physically, without pursuing it mentally...Bring your attention back to your breath...know that God fully inhabits this moment...relax into God; let this moment be what it is - sensations, rising and falling thoughts, this room, other people...as God says through the Psalm “Be still and know that I am God...”
What we discover in this practice is that even while we humans always will - and should - strive to improve society and solve our personal problems, on another, more immediate level, life is always rich, always enough, just as it is. This is a form of faith. It is an encounter with God, for God fully infuses this, and every, present moment. And when are in this place, there is a quiet transfiguration, for God’s very presence changes us.
We are changed because it shifts our perspective. Conflicts become less loaded with danger; sadness can just be a feeling, without fear attached to it; boredom dissipates as the world in all its variety and beauty opens up to us. We are just awake, available, experiencing what is, without any need to change it or be somewhere else. And over time, we come to know that whatever might be going on in our life, this sacred and very earthy reality is our foundation, which can never be shaken.
The best part of this is that we are then more able to be of service to other people and to whatever God places in our path. This is the real benefit of transformation, or any form of spirituality, faith and prayer- it is not for our personal benefit alone.
For when we are present, we can move calmly into our activities, our relationships, our work, our conflicts and challenges without personal baggage. We become a helpful presence to others, even a healing presence, for we are empty, not bringing anything extra to complicate matters. We are in a position to serve the other, to serve the interest of the moment at hand.
In the story of the transfiguration, Jesus and his friends, after having that moment of divine encounter, go down from the mountain, down to everyday life. There they are met by a large and demanding crowd. God places in their path a man who is distraught over his son’s horrific convulsions - epileptic seizures, apparently. He begged Jesus’s disciples to help, but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do anything.
At first, Jesus shows his humanity, and expresses frustration: How long will I have to put up with this? But then he stops, takes a breath, lets go of his baggage, opens up to what is at hand, and turns to the sick boy, healing him with attention and compassion.
Jesus was only able to be a healer because he was grounded in God. Grounded in God, transfigured every time he encountered the divine in the everyday, he was in a position to be open and present to those whom God placed in his path, to serve the needs of the world around him.
In our second reading today, Paul talks about us having “unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, being transformed from one degree of glory to another.”
I don’t think what is promised here is some special, rarified state of consciousness that happens to a very elite few after years of strenuous effort. I think our transfiguration is simpler, more down to earth.
It happens whenever we wake up, whenever we return to the divine encounter that is waiting for us within each moment. We become open - our faces are unveiled, and we see the humble glory of the Lord in things as it is. And we, too, can then be of service to this world as Jesus was. We, too, can be a healing presence for those people and those situations that God places in our path.
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church
Sermon: Jeremiah 1:4-10, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
February 3, 2013
One of the great genres in literature is the coming of age story. How many of us have been taken into the world of a young person and their journey to maturity as they encounter some of life’s harsh realities? Perhaps one of the classics had you in its grip at some time in your life: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, Little Women, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret to name just a few. This genre continues to engage people of all ages as new stories make their way to the shelves and are swept up by readers and then screenwriters who are eager to depict the unique journey of the hero or heroine. Some of the newer titles include: The Hunger Games, The Harry Potter series, The Secret Life of Bees, Life of Pi, and The Kite Runner. I am barely scratching the surface, but these titles are making their mark on our lives. Later this month, one of New Mexico’s classics will hit national theaters. Bless Me, Ultima shows how seven-year-old Antonio is changed when the curandera Ultima comes into his life. Antonio’s coming of age story is harrowing at times as he witnesses several violent acts and endures threats on his life and those that he loves.
Books have been my beloved companions for as long as I can remember. As a child, I scanned my parents’ bookshelves desperate for something to read one day. I came upon To Kill a Mockingbird and I was hooked. The world of Scout, Jem, and the mysterious Boo Radley helped me to understand assumptions and judgments I made about people and invited me to open my heart to see the goodness I might overlook otherwise. For generations, we have been swept up by stories of children growing up sometimes through a powerful encounter with a mentor and sometimes through painful experiences. These stories lead us into the world through children’s eyes and show us what awaits us on the other side of innocence.
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, some children in the land of Narnia are being led to Aslan, Narnia’s great leader. On discovering that Aslan is not a person but a lion, the children feel some apprehension.
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said
anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Part of the delight for us as the reader is that we know that growing pains are natural. It is part of life. Growing up can be painful and scary at times, but it is how we move through our lives. Many of us carry scars marking our own coming of age experiences. No one said that growing up would be safe. It is often when we stand in the gap of risk, that we discover the power of God holding us.
Our texts today have a coming of age reference. God calls Jeremiah when he is “only a boy.” He is being asked to take the big steps in his journey to adulthood and serve as a prophet to the nations. It is a terrifying journey for a young boy to undertake. Paul responds to a divided Corinthian Church with a message about love. We often hear these beautiful words about love in weddings, but Paul has something different in mind. He is calling them to be a people who understand that love isn’t just a feeling. It is a choice that we make daily and it has powerful implications. Paul’s invitation is to grow into mature love rather than hold on to our selfish tendencies. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks in his hometown and amazes everyone with words. He’s clearly growing up and just as the people who watched him grow begin to patronizingly pat him on the head, he reacts by telling them that they are not necessarily God’s chosen. There are others too. Jesus has unmasked their selfish understanding that God is for them alone and they are enraged.
No one said this would be easy. Nor did anyone say we only come of age once. I am coming to understand that coming of age is what we do over and over again. This last year, I experienced a profound coming of age through the Soulcraft program. I stepped into the program eager to take the next steps on my journey and truthfully, I was hoping for transformation. I didn’t know exactly what that might look like, but I knew that I was ready. I arrived at the first session a year ago, and through our work together, it was clear that this was what I needed. As we got ready to leave the first session, they began to talk about homework. That took me off guard. I had just begun working at St. Michael’s. I have another part time job. I have a family with a long list of commitments. I have begun the process to become a priest. I was not counting on homework. I began to think I had made a mistake. How could I pull this off? There simply wasn’t enough of me to go around and I shouldn’t have taken this on right now. There were three more sessions in Utah during the year and a good bit of homework in between. Each of those sessions took me more deeply into my journey. The work got harder and it was exactly what I needed. In a strange way, as I invested in that program, the other parts of my life came together. I did experience transformation by giving myself to the process.
It seems to me that the St. Michael’s community is at a coming of age moment in our journey as well. We don’t know exactly what that will look like or what will be required of us, but we have arrived at this moment of transition and will take the next step together. The invitation is to step in and wholeheartedly invest ourselves in the path in front of us. At the Annual Meeting, I described us as a Pilgrim Community. David Whyte said, “To set out boldly in our work is to make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task.” (Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity)
In this time of pilgrimage, our focus is not only on the road in front of us, but it is also on who we are as we travel together. We can take our cues from the scriptures and those who have also set out on an unknown road, trusting in the God who called them. Each of the texts calls us to tell the truth even when it is difficult. We can hold the words of Corinthians before us and ground ourselves in love. The pain that we experience on this journey is an opportunity for us to show compassion to one another. People taking care of each other mark stories of pilgrimage. They share their resources with each other and bind each other’s wounds. It is a very tender and beautiful expression of Christ who cared for each person he met on the way.
Jesus walked and he encountered people on the journey. It may be that we can best know Jesus by walking. As we make this journey, if we open our hearts, we will see Christ in those that we meet on the road. St. Augustine said, “It is solved by walking.” We cannot predict all that lies ahead of us, but we can take the next step in front of us. It will be solved as we walk into the church and as we walk back out into the world. These steps will show us where God is on our path and beckon us forward.
I invite you to let this prayer of Thomas Merton be our guide in the coming months. May it shape our understanding of who we are and help us to trust in the one who walks with us on this pilgrim road:
“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” - Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
We are on this journey together. God is with us. Our pilgrimage together will be marked by many moments we have yet to imagine. Let us walk together in faith.
January 27, 2013
Annual Parish Meeting Sunday
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today we hold our Parish Meeting, as we do every year. But this year is different. The Vestry you elect today will have the primary responsibility for carrying this parish through significant transitions in the next few years. And our finances and ministries that are reported on today are necessarily in a draft form - you’ll need to be flexible about them as new circumstances might call for different responses.
So some things are going to be different. And as you look ahead to changes and uncertainty, you might be asking yourself “What can I count on? Will what I value so much about this faith community remain?” Perhaps you fear what a priest friend of mine likes to say cynically, in order to bring his colleagues back down to earth when they’re riding high in a congregation that’s currently a howling success: “Remember; every parish is potentially one Rector away from oblivion.”
That’s not true here. And the reason I say that is that there is a secure and healthy foundation that endures beyond any one Rector. On this Annual Meeting Sunday, let me reflect back to you a few elements of this foundation.
It may surprise you to know that when I arrived in 1983, this parish had much the same personality that it does today. It was diverse, open-minded, creative, informal, and vibrant. I didn’t create it. That’s why I was interested in coming here, and that’s why they called me. We were sympatico. The character of a parish can be remarkably enduring, and in our case, St. Michael’s personality will outlive both me and all of you.
The style of worship in this parish has endured as well. My predecessor, Peter Moore, was one of the leading liturgists of his day. He brought this congregation intelligently and sensitively through the sometimes contentious years of liturgical reform in the 1970’s. He taught this parish to love worship that could be both reverent and fresh, familiar and experimental.
Then there are habits of ministry that we have developed together in these 30 years. At this point, they are so much an enduring part of this community’s foundation, that it would take a crowbar to wrench them out of you.
You generate many more opportunities for spiritual formation than most parishes do. Later, at Annual Meeting, we’ll hear about a new emphasis for spirituality in 2013 that you’re calling The Year of Pilgrimage. I didn’t come up with this - you did. But more importantly, you always maintain a palpable atmosphere of devotion, self-reflection, and prayer - before and throughout worship, in meetings and other gatherings. You create and maintain this by your spiritual authenticity.
You also continually generate new ways of serving and partnering with the poor and the disadvantaged in the wider community. Later at our meeting you’ll be hearing about a new initiative that is rising out of our year-long process we’ve called Who is My Neighbor? It will be entirely lay-led.
And we have gotten to the point where our most essential ministries are skillfully maintained by dozens of experienced and lay leaders, whether you look at pastoral care, spiritual discernment, children and youth, or communication and administration. These habits of professionalism and sensitivity have become ingrained in the community, and are not going anywhere.
But even more deeply, there is something that endures that is much more important than our personality, than our habits of worship and ministry. It is the very nature of what we are about as a faith community. It is what St. Paul wrote about in our second lesson today.
I want you to know that these are not just words. They are real, here, in this place. I don’t just believe, as a theological principle, what Paul was writing about. I experience it every day.
Paul says that the church is like the human body. Our body is wondrously made with hundreds - trillions, if you count neurons and cells - of interconnected parts: fingers, hairs, ligaments, organs, bones, ears. Paul says that every single part of the human body is necessary, and has an important function. And yet all of these diverse parts, all of these functions, are held together and coordinated in their activity by one mind, one soul.
So it is, Paul says, with the church. We are the physical body of Jesus Christ on earth. And this body is made up of many parts. Every single one of us, as individual members of the one body, is essential to the working of the whole. As Paul reminds us, none of us can say to the other “I have no need of you,” any more than the eye can say this to the hand.
For where would we be without mystics and contemplatives? What would the church be like without accountants? I wouldn’t want to be in a church that didn’t include the occasional homeless person that walks in off the street. We would fall apart without administrators. And what would it be like if there were no artists, no musicians? We even need difficult and disturbed people; they become our teachers as we learn patience, acceptance, and unconditional love.
Paul goes on with the metaphor, saying that all these diverse members share the one Spirit. We’re all animated by one spiritual force that is within everything and everyone. It’s not as if we’re all connected to God separately, sort of like individual threads that go from our heart to a common point in the sky. It is more like the interconnected parts of a human body that are all harmoniously coordinated by one mind, one soul, all at the same time. And have no doubt, this mind, this Spirit, will guide and provide for you through the months and years ahead. It always has and it always will.
These are not just words. This vision of our faith community as an amazingly diverse body whose members are animated by the one Spirit - it is real, and those of you who are involved in anything here know it. This unity within our diversity, this human variety and divine empowerment - this is precisely what gives us strength, enduring strength.
Finally, I want to say something about our gospel today. In it, Jesus goes into his own congregation, the synagogue in Nazareth. He opens the scripture and reads to them. They are nice verses from the Bible, and everyone smiles approvingly.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
They nodded their heads, comfortable at the sound of these familiar, pious words. And then Jesus said something that shocked them all. Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, too, St. Michael and All Angels. Today, we bring good news to the poor in the North Valley of Albuquerque. Today, we proclaim release to the captives and freedom to those who have been oppressed by homophobia, fundamentalism, isolation, or the stale emptiness of secularism. Today, we bring sight to those who have been spiritually blind, opening their eyes to God’s love and the riches that come with faith. Today, the scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing.
This is what endures. Christ is here, embodied in you. You are his hands and feet and heart and mind. He is infinitely varied in the diversity of his members, and all of you are needed. The Spirit is your common breath, your heartbeat. The Spirit is your shared wisdom and intelligence, your inspiration and creativity, your love and your soul. And all of this works together for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s people.
These are the things you can count on, and they will endure long beyond both me and you in this place.
So long live Christ, whom you embody!
Long live the Spirit, who animates your common life!
And long live St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church!
WEDDING AT CANA SERMON JANUARY 20, 2013
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
A little more than a year ago, I climbed off the bus with a group from our diocese, in what is now the modern town of CANA of Galilee. Everywhere along the street were signs: Here is where Jesus performed his first miracle. Come and buy wine here!!!
I have to admit that standing in the streets of Cana was not as memorable as seeing one of the very early (probably even from the time of Jesus) stone jars that was used to keep water for ceremonial purification purposes. This was an immense vessel, ABOUT THE SIZE OF AN AVERAGE 30 GALLON GARBAGE CONTAINER. The religion of the day held that the faithful, would be cleansed, ritually speaking, by pouring water over their hands.
These huge stone jars, in our gospel lesson, become a symbol of HOPE, of God’s abundant grace and transforming love and most certainly a sign of NEW BEGINNINGS FOR JESUS' MINISTRY.
What we know from our gospel reading is this: here was Jesus, his disciples and his mother …. all at a wedding. And weddings in the first century typically lasted at least seven days. This wedding may have been in its third day – so there were a number of days left for celebrating….. and most embarrassing for the host and hostess, THEY HAD RUN OUT OF WINE!
Jesus may have told his mother something like this: ….”Now mother, don’t drag me into this mess, I didn’t have anything to do with it, and this isn’t my time right now.”
Put yourself in Mary's place. Some scholars think that Mary may have been related to the wedding hosts. SO WHAT COULD MARY DO? There were no grocery stores or Coscos down the street in which to run in and choose from shelf after shelf of various wines. Instead, Mary puts her hopes on Jesus, as she says to the steward, "Anything at all that he tells you..do!"
We are told that the stone water jars are empty; and Jesus directs that the jars be filled with water, which they did…..TO THE BRIM…..and the jars, once filled, turn into wine. Jesus substitutes the legal function of purification in order to save a bridal banquet.
Then our gospel says: “ and his disciples believed in him.”
The writer of the gospel emphasizes the large water jars and their ritual function, which is of the Law, and the unexpectedness of the transformed water, which we recognize as a sign of becoming something new. All this as a beginning – not an ending!
The Miracle at Cana points to a new day: Definitely a “transformation”. What Jesus ushers in is something miraculously new and different from what anyone might have imagined. The Cana miracle and the multiplication of the loaves early in church history... become symbols for the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
At any wedding, then as now, there are bound to be tears of sadness and joy. After all, there is a change of status and new relationships about to take place. We are approaching a time as well…. at St Michael’s, when we will be experiencing a change … a time to experience new relationships and a change in status of a long time relationship with our rector. And of course there are tears of joy and sadness all mixed together.
I think our gospel story might move each of us today, in this very important time of transition, as well as the time of discerning how we are to proceed with the “Who is My Neighbor” ministry. Just as the abundance of God’s grace and love is a theme that can flow out of these huge stone jars, so too can an abundance of God’s grace and love flow from St. Michael’s in the coming year. It's a time as our rector minded us last week: a time to say YES to NEW BEGINNINGS!
We aren’t called to try and keep our frame of reference in terms of how things always are, or how things have always been done, or even whether we believe what things become possible with God ……rather we are called to recognize how active the holy presence of God is when we are open and willing, as Mary says, to do whatever he tells us. This means to move forward!
I absolutely love this quote by Valentin Tomberg that Cynthia Bourgeault quotes in her book “Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God.”
Hope is not something subjective due to an optimistic or sanguine temperament, nor a desire for compensation in the sense of modern Freudian or Adlerian psychology. Rather, it is a light-force which radiates objectively and which directs creative evolution toward the world’s future. It (HOPE) is the celestial and spiritual counterpart of terrestrial and natural instincts of biological reproduction…In other words, HOPE IS WHAT MOVES AND DIRECTS SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION IN THE WORLD.
As Cynthia reflects on this concept of hope she says:
“the nature of hope is to move, and to move forward. “ As we let ourselves yield and go with the current flow of hope, it will open us toward the authentic unfolding of our being. The opposite is also just as true; any form of resistance, be it nostalgia, clinging, bitterness, self-pity, or self –justification, will make it impossible to find that current of hope, impossible for hope to carry us to our true becoming.”
I believe that this is not the time to be skeptical about the hope of new beginnings, but rather a time of celebration with the community... in a continuing transformation of ourselves as St. Michaels'.
Hope, like the Greek word “arche” used in the gospel, (meaning a beginning) reminds us that HOPE lies at the beginning as we are to move forward; and it does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome.
Hope is not imaginary, or illusory, any more than our gospel story of turning water into wine was an illusion. Like the steward who tasted the “new wine” and said…”Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” I don’t think the steward had any idea where the wine came from, but the reality of it was he recognized this as being new wine!
What we are called to do and to be in these months ahead is a willingness to focus on our continued journey of transformation. Our lives, the life of this parish, is to be like the jar of water transformed: Each of us, this parish, unique, yet the expression of becoming ALL that we are called to become.
There is an old Hasidic tale that reminds us of how things are able to happen when we open our hearts.
The pupil comes to the rabbi and asks "Why does Torah tell us to place the wisdom of these holy words UPON our hearts? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words IN our hearts? The rabbi answers, "It is because as we are, our hearts are too often closed, and we cannot yet place the wisdom of these words IN our hearts. So, we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until the day our hearts break open, and the words of wisdom, fall in."
As we open our hearts, we too will discover the spirit and wisdom of BECOMING who God has called us to be. The huge stone jars, EMPTY, BUT WAITING, a symbol of HOPE AND TRANSFORMATION, …ARE most certainly a sign of NEW BEGINNINGS for us this day and in the days to come.
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February 14, 2010
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today we conclude the season of Epiphany. We began this season with light, as the star of Bethlehem guided the Wise Men to the light of the world, to the holy child in the manger. And today we end Epiphany season with light, as Jesus’ face and garments become dazzling white on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Like Moses before him, Jesus ascended a mountain and there, he met God. Like Moses, Jesus was filled with divine light. And as with Moses, the vision was too much for others to bear: Moses’ shining face had to be veiled; a cloud overshadowed Peter, James and John, and they were terrified. Glory, dazzling brilliance, and awe. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory; hosanna in the highest!
The transfiguration is perhaps the most central symbol of the Eastern Orthodox churches. In it they see the ultimate transfiguration of all creation in Christ, where every living thing will live in harmony, shining like the sun. In it they also see their own personal transfiguration, the glory of God manifested in each believer. They make no bones about it – the goal of human life is to realize the glory of God. They call this a process of “deification,” becoming God-like.
That’s a pretty bold claim. We westerners tend to put God’s glory off a bit, at a distance: in the sunset, in heaven, in the second coming of Christ. We may catch glimpses of glory here and there, but after all, we’re only human. God is God and we are not. In fact, western theologians have always told us that we are completely sinful, utterly alienated from the divine. I don’t buy it. I think deification is close at hand; transfiguration can happen any time, to anyone.
In Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark, an ambitious young girl in a small town in Colorado named Thea dreams of moving to the big city and becoming an opera star. She says to her friend, the wise old Dr. Archie “Living's too much trouble unless one can get something big out of it." When Dr. Archie asks her what that something big might be, Thea answers “I only want impossible things. The others don’t interest me.” Thea dreams of transfiguration.
For several years, I’ve been involved with an Episcopal clergy renewal organization called CREDO. One of CREDO’s suggestions for clergy renewal is for them to pray and dream about what they call a BHAG – a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. A BHAG is something that is clear and compelling, difficult, almost impossible, requiring many years to achieve. One person’s BHAG was to compose choral settings for all 150 psalms. Another’s was to climb Mt. Everest. Another’s was to create a rural center for retreats and interfaith dialogue. Mine? I’ll get to that.
Praying and dreaming up a BHAG can transfigure one’s life. It can come out of the realization that living’s too much trouble unless one can get something big out of it, perhaps even an “impossible thing.” And it can take one into uncharted territory, full of great risk and great potential.
Maybe you have such a dream about your life. Do you ever think about what you would do, if you could do anything, and money or other practical considerations were swept aside for a moment? What do you imagine? And what makes you think that you couldn’t do this?
I feel as if we here at St. Michael’s are in the process of living into a BHAG that has been years in the making. The flowering of ministries we recently witnessed at annual meeting, the tearing up of our parking lot to construct a $2m Ministry Complex, an 18-month process called ReImagine St. Michael’s – these are Big, Hairy, Audacious things! We are seeking a transfiguration of sorts, so that we will live into our full potential, shining with the glorious light of God.
But as we dream, and as you dream about big things in your life, I want to remember something. Transfiguration isn’t just all about externals. Transfiguration isn’t just about climbing the Himalayas, developing a wealth of church programs, and constructing big buildings. After all, we know that it is possible to gain the world and lose our souls.
Transfiguration can also be internal. Perhaps your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal is to become filled with the light of God, as Christ was: to walk through your days in simplicity, with purity of heart and clarity of mind; to see God everywhere; to love without reason. Living is too much trouble unless we get something big out of it, but that something big might be an internal spaciousness and the ability to really feel life, in all its beauty and pain, and give yourself to it without reserve.
Mary Oliver, a New England poet, is, for many of us, one of the clearest voices for this kind of transfiguration. She writes:
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
We can find this amazement, this spaciousness and feeling for life, this vibrant awareness. All it takes is a prayerful life. And as I’m fond of reminding you, Thomas Merton said, “If you want a life of prayer, you must pray.”
And what is prayer? An ongoing desire for the goodness that surrounds and fills us; a tendency to open our heart to something beyond our little life; a willingness to trust and surrender into the presence that will always remain a mystery.
For each person, this takes place in very personal, very unique settings. For some, it may be a walk in the bosque with your dog; for others, a conversation over tea with your best friend; or it may happen anytime you close your eyes, still the world, and feel your breath. Connection with God has the result of putting our forward momentum on hold, and opening us up to the beauty of life.
When we do this, the ordinary is revealed as quite extraordinary. No matter what is going on, no matter where we are, the world lights up in front of us. Food becomes miraculous in our mouth; we see our companion as an incarnation of Spirit; and how did the sky ever get so blue? There is no need to look further for meaning. Everything is revealed.
When we are reverently present, we get something big out of life. We are transfigured then and there - not in some ultimate, permanent way - but for that moment. The more we do it, the more familiar and accessible the route to this place becomes. Over time, we develop more space within us for God’s light.
On this Mount of Transfiguration today we perch above the valley of Lent, which begins on Wednesday. Down there, we will soon recall our imperfection, our mortality. We will be invited to face into the personal and very specific obstacles that keep us from a prayerful life: shame, addiction, stubbornness, fear. In the valley of Lent, we will slowly clamber through, over, and around these obstacles, pausing along the way to bring awareness to each of them. We then give them to God as a humble offering, and open to the grace that will help us move beyond them.
We need a vision before we begin this difficult journey, a vision of light and glory, so that we remember why we’re on this pilgrimage in the first place. We need the vision of the transfiguration. And in this vision, as St. Paul said in the second reading today, we see “with unveiled faces…the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror.”
The glory of the Lord reflected in a mirror? How amazing - it turns out that you are the one who is transfigured on the mountain top. That is your purpose in this short and precious life, your BHAG - to be a bride of amazement.
St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sunday February 7, 2010 Epiphany 5C
Preacher: Christopher McLaren
Text: Luke 5:1-11
Title: The Deep Waters of Following Jesus
This past week I had the deep privilege of speaking on the Senate floor to the joint committee on Public Affairs in support of the Domestic Partnership bill SB183 that is struggling to make its way into law in the State of New Mexico. If you have been following the news you may know that Fr. Brian wrote an editorial in support of SB183, Fr. Daniel spoke at a rally in Santa Fe, Deacon Jan has been to Santa Fe and many of our members here at St. Michael’s are actively involved in the support of this legislation. It was a moving experience for me as I sat in the chambers listening to heartfelt testimony about the struggles that my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters face in a society that has institutionalized discrimination against them and their families. As I listened to the stories, the pain and vulnerability of their lives overwhelmed me. I found myself crying in the Senate chambers, overcome by the real human struggle that shapes their lives. Just across from me sat a Catholic priest and a Monk in his habit who were both there to speak in opposition to the bill. It was strange, almost surreal to be sitting so close to people with whom I share a common story, many core beliefs, even a priestly profession, but to be so far away from their way of seeing the world, their understanding of the compassion of Jesus. I found myself smiling a lot thinking of what a good laugh God must be having. Look at my people, my friends, look how hard they work against each other, look how much energy they are wasting trying to keep the circle of the Kingdom small. The kingdom is meant to be growing, expanding, gathering more and more people into its loving and reconciling embrace and they keep drawing the circle tight.”
My mind wandered to the genius of C.S. Lewis’ book the Screwtape Letters in which a senior devil gives instructions to a devil in training about how to distract and ruin well-meaning Christians from really following Jesus. I thought of how perfect the debate on Senate Bill 183 would fit into Screwtape’s advice. Get those Christians fighting and arguing about almost anything, especially sex and they’ll be so busy bashing one another, loading up buses with protesters, splitting theological hairs, and denouncing certain human beings as unworthy of certain rights that they will forget all about the Kingdom of God.
When it came my turn to approach the microphone I did something that I suppose you might think predictable. I talked about Jesus. I didn’t want the religious right to claim Jesus for their own, for he belongs to us as well. I told the members of the Senate that I was a follower of Jesus and that I believed that if Jesus were there he would be asking them to act out of compassion rather than out of fear. To have compassion means to literally suffer-with. It means to recognize and pay attention to the pain and suffering of others and to do something to alleviate it if possible. I told them that I believe that the pain and hurt of the LGBT community is close to Jesus’ heart and that Jesus called them to a costly compassion. That he called them to make the beautiful choice of giving same-gender families their rightful legal protections rather than the ugly choice of fear and injustice.
As the day’s debate ended we learned that the SB 183 had in fact passed out of one committee only to be referred to two more committees including finance, evidently the kiss of death in a 30-day legislative session. One Senator on the committee shared that she had heard bills like this 19 times in her 20 years in the Senate and that she hoped we would finally do the right thing and pass the bill.
Returning to Albuquerque knowing that we had worked, and prayed and fought hard to respect the dignity of every human being, I couldn’t help but think of the phrase from this story of Jesus today that comes from the mouth of Peter, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” It is a phrase I had not really ever focused on as descriptive of the deep struggles of our lives. “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” How perfect that phrase is for big challenges that we face, battles that cannot be won quickly, struggles that do no yield easy results. There are times when we just have to admit the difficulty of our lives, to come clean about Love’s labors lost. There are moments when we have to face the immensity of the struggle in front of us.
What follows in this passage is worth lingering over. The second part of Peter’s answer is something I have always heard as a reluctant giving in, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” However, from Peter’s reluctant yes comes a miraculous catch, nets alive with so many fish it seems as though the boats may be at risk of sinking.
With the catch secure Jesus and Simon Peter are left alone in the boat full of fish. (This of course is one my seven year old son’s dream experiences). They have shared an experience that has created a special bond between them, the kind of friendship that is discovered in the midst of accomplishing something difficult together.
In the quiet and exhaustion of the moment, Peter begins to recognize something extraordinary in his new friend. This young rabbi, has just bested him in a fishing contest. Peter’s response is un-nerving, he falls to his knees as a deep sense of humility overcomes him. He feels as though he is unworthy to be with this man, but at the same time he knows he would not want to be anywhere else. “Go away form me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” he exclaims, sensing the holiness of the moment.
Jesus’ response is compassionate, “Do not be afraid.” Yes, something new is happening to you. you are changing, alive in a new way, but don’t fear, welcome it, don’t let yourself be paralyzed. A clear invitation comes, follow me for I have bigger things in store for you.
This story is a word picture inviting us to follow Jesus. But what does following Jesus really mean? In the story it means doing what Jesus tells you, even reluctantly. It seems to mean that Jesus knows more about your area of expertise than you do. It means that in order to follow Jesus you must actually have the humility to follow. It means that you must trust that Jesus has more for you to learn by following than you have to learn by going your own way. It also means that you must see the attractiveness in following, that the beauty of Christ and the vision of God’s Kingdom are compelling.
The trouble with this story of course is that it is about following and we have made such a god out of leadership and our own personal agency that following is somewhat suspect. We treasure our self-initiative, our self-confidence, our self-promotion so much, that following seems like an admission of failure. I’m not sure that I can soften the blow. I can’t tell you that God wants you to be your own free agent. For following Jesus involves the considerable risk of binding yourself to Christ, as the baptismal rite says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Does that mean that Christ owns you? Well, yes it does and you can try to say it in softer more acceptable ways but it means that you belong to Christ, not just to yourself. Perhaps it is helpful to put it in more everyday ways. I hear people say things all the time that amount to following a person: “You know I really trust her,” or “She is such a good person I would do almost anything she asked me to do,” “After all they’ve done for me I wouldn’t think of letting them down,” “Working for him isn’t work it is chance to really contribute and that makes it fun,” “I’d follow him into any battle he chooses because I know his heart is in the right place.” All of these ways of expressing loyalty or a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of another illustrate something of what it means to follow Christ.
This past week in Santa Fe I stood in the halls of power and told Senators and the public of New Mexico that I was a follower of Jesus. I have never done such a public thing in all my life, to proclaim in the public square that I am a follower of Jesus. You may think that walking around with a plastic dog collar around my neck makes me a follower of Jesus automatically. But I am not talking about implied following or guilt by association. I made the daring claim that Jesus was right there with me in the room, cheering me on, telling me not to be afraid, and urging the Senators to live lives of compassion rather than fear.
To follow Jesus means that our lives are animated by Christ’s life, teaching, and ways, and perhaps most importantly by the Holy Spirit at work within us. It is a necessarily humbling path. There will be times when we have been fishing all night and caught nothing and Jesus simply tells us to “put out into deep water and put down your nets for a catch.” This is a beautiful image of the Kingdom of God. For the work of the Kingdom is not our idea, it is not our initiative, but it does invite us to do what Jesus asks, even if it is reluctantly. In all honesty our following of Jesus it is not about the results, for those we cannot be responsible, but we can take heart and put out into deep water and prepare for a catch.
Sometimes following Jesus is really difficult. Sometimes it is hard to see clearly enough to really know you are following Jesus. The whole enterprise requires humility, discernment and a supportive community. That is one of the key reasons we are part of a community of faith. Each Sunday you are surrounded by others who are in their imperfect and wonderful and hilarious ways trying to follow Jesus. Each week we come here and read selections from ancient biblical texts that we believe the living God uses to speak to us, to grab hold of our lives, woo us into friendship, and claim us for God’s work and purposes. Each week we open ourselves up to God’s voice and prompting through prayer and song and Eucharist. Each week we launch ourselves on a journey toward the Kingdom God, hoping to catch a glimpse of the glory and follow it.
And that is what following Jesus really means, getting in over your head with God. Daring to go deep, so deep you will need to depend on God to get you through, because you’re your own resources are simply not enough, only God will suffice. Following Jesus comes in all shapes and sizes, it certainly is not always a large public proclamation, in fact it is more often the simple everyday demonstration of love and care that the saints all around you are up to each day of their lives. But what is certain is that following Jesus will lead you into deep water and in those waters the abundance of the Kingdom of God awaits.