Sunday, March 30, 2008

Doubting Thomas

Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today. --Verna Dozier

Susan Russell has reminded me of Verna Dozier’s book the Dream of God which I read some years ago. It is an important quote that speaks so clearly to what is happening in the church today as well as today’s readings on the second Sunday of Easter.

I have always admired Thomas. I think I considered taking Thomas’ name when I entered religion. Thomas was not about to be a second hand witness to the resurrection. He was fearless when others were locked in rooms for fear of religious authorities. He said he would not believe until he had touched the wounds of Jesus’ passion.

All too often we are afraid to speak the truth—afraid of what will happen when we doubt the easy messages of those who live frightened in their hothouse churches that do not address the difficult issues such as war, human sexuality, same-sex marriage, rabid capitalism, poverty and globalization. We are willing to tell stories of those who have not seen and who say they believe but don’t live by faith. We have many churches that are uncomfortable and not at peace, but who are unwilling to address the difficult issues of life in faith.

Thomas’ was willing to say that he would wait until he knew that resurrection was the renewal of the heart. His is the most powerful statement of faith “My Lord and my God” in the Gospel. It is the statement that all followers of Christ are called to make. But that statement can only come when one acknowledges the pain, the scars of the passion that makes faith something other than just assent to some pious thoughts. Faith is bound up with the willingness touch others’ passions. To do less keeps the faithful huddled in their locked rooms unable to spread the true message of Christ.

Today I have heard of one congregation who has finally said that it is their building that is the root of all the acrimony within the parish. They have decided to see if they can sell their building and do something different. Now THAT is thinking outside the box! Who know what will happen in that congregation, but they having enough faith to rethink their whole mission and ministry. It is an Easter moment for that parish. They refuse to stay locked in their room. They have flung open the doors of their minds to remember what their mission and ministry in Jesus Christ. I hope they rename themselves too—perhaps St. Thomas. They have a story to tell—they have touched their own woundedness and have said it is time to embrace those wounds rather than ignore them. That is healthy living indeed. Alleluia, He is risen. The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is an interesting day in the Three Days or Holy Triduum. In the convent Holy Saturday is a day of silence and cleaning. The Stripping of the Altar has allowed all those things that have been out of reach all year on the altar to get a good polish, the wax removed. Nooks and crannies are attended to that have been ignored since Christmas. All is done with loving care and in silence.

Christ is entombed and so is our hope—put on hold to burst at dawn with Mary’s encounter in the garden.

Today is a beautiful day here in upstate. I can hear the robins declaring the spring. I am cooped up knowing that I cannot go greet that spring that has not yet come. I hear that some of my Midwest friends are digging out from under a foot of snow. It probably won’t be long before it arrives here. We have not seen the end of this winter, I fear. And despite the spring-like trapping advertised for Easter, the tomb is still cold. So I wait….

The thoughts of Good Friday are still in my head. Susan Russell, president of Integrity and assistant priest at All Saint’s, Pasadena, CA shared in her sermon

“Twenty years ago I got questions from a child wanting to know what’s good about Good Friday.

Today I get emails from children of God wanting to know what’s good about a church that chooses bigotry over the baptized; a communion that places its institutional preservation ahead God’s inclusive love; that seems to fall so short of being Body of Christ it was intended to be. It seems to many that we stand at a Good Friday moment in the church, as we watch those with dogmas they’re willing to kill for focus their resources on schism and division.

My answer is God is not finished with the church yet … or with ANY of us. But just as the dream of God could not be killed on Good Friday, the dream of a church where ALL are fully included in the Body of Christ is still alive and well in the hearts, minds and ministries of countless faithful witnesses throughout the Anglican Communion and beyond.

I continue in the tomb, knowing that God is not yet finished with me, with the Church, the parish yet. Yes, the dream is still there. The hope is still ready to spring forth. Yes, the parking lot will dry up. Yes, there is life after Lent. And most likely there will be more snow. Sping may not come as quickly as I hope but it will come. "The strife is o're and the battle is won." --But not just yet. That is the sentiment of Holy Saturday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maudy Thursday--the sermon I wished I could have preached

Maundy Thursday: First Eucharist

My friend Elizabeth Kaeton, is a priestly colleague. We met at seminary almost 30 years ago now when I was a senior and she came to scout out which seminary she wanted to attend. I must admit I was taken with this woman even then. She was a precociously “out” lesbian with a partner, raising seven children between them at a time when I was still trying to figure out who or what I was. We have gotten back together during this time of the “Great Schism” of the Episcopal Church and I count her as one of my dear sistahs of the faith.

She has not had an easy time of it, but she has become one of the eloquent voices for LGBT folk in the Episcopal Church, but more importantly, as Rector of the large Episcopal Church in Chatham, NJ she continues to be pastor and priest to a whole bunch of folks. I share this story with you hoping you will get the meaning of what Eucharist means. It was the sermon I wanted to preach tonight, but as I am voiceless, I must resort to posting.

The Radical Orthodox Rabbi by Elizabeth Kaeton

I was asked to go to a local facility - one of those "one-stop-shopping" Residential/ Skilled Nursing /Rehabilitative / Alzheimer / Hospice facilities that are flourishing here in the Northeast corridor - to do the baptism of a 75 year old woman who is a resident there, who had recently been transferred to the Hospice Unit.

Her deceased husband had been Roman Catholic and had insisted on proper instruction and baptism for their two children - one now a Presbyterian and the other an Episcopalian.

She had always refused Communion because she had never been baptized. As she has been preparing for her eventual death, she asked that she be baptized because, she says, she is now ready. At the age of 75.

"I'm doing it for me, not for anyone else," she said. "I'm doing it because I want to, because I want to see Jesus when I get to heaven."

I've visited with her a few times to make certain she understood what was being offered. I didn't want her to think this was some kind of "Magical Mystery Tour" but to be fully cognizant of the Sacrament of Baptism and Eucharist, and the grace being offered to her through them.

We decided to do the Baptism this morning, when her daughter and son and grandchildren could be present. It was a joy and an honor and a privilege to baptize her and then preside at her first reception of Holy Eucharist. Some readers of this Blog will be relieved to know that at no time were any rubrics or canons injured, violated or compromised. All the 't's' were crossed and all the 'i's' were dotted.

As I was leaving her room, I came upon a most amazing site. An orthodox Rabbi was heading into the Dining Room - his seven children and wife in tow - immediately recognizable as orthodox by his beard, fedora, tzitzit or prayer tassels, tallit or prayer shawl and teffilin or phylactery (I think I spelled everything correctly. If not, you should excuse me. I am 'goyim' - non-Jew - after all.)

Curious, I followed him in and saw the dining room filled almost to capacity, with others lining up to enter. As I looked around the room, I recognized many there who were not Jewish. The Rabbi saw me standing at the door and said, "Come in, come in. Welcome!"

"Good morning, Rabbi," I said as I smiled.

"We're about to start the Shabbat," he said, "Come!"

He noted the look of hesitancy and surprise that crossed my face as he glanced at my clerical collar and the cross on my neck. "It's okay," he said. "Do you know someone here? Would you like to sit next to them?"

"No," I responded, more curious now than either hesitant or surprised.

"Still, come in. It won't take long before everyone knows everyone."

His wife came to my side, their seven small children came too, like baby ducks following their Mama. "There's plenty to eat. Come," she said with a beautiful smile.

"Let me guess." said her husband, "You're Rabbi is the one from Nazareth. Jesus, right?"

"Right." I said. "Ah, and a good, orthodox Jew he was. He knew Torah and the Shema. But, you know that, right? You have studied his teaching?"

"Yes," I said, surprised if not taken aback.

"Then," he said, "only one question remains: Are you hungry?"

"A little," I offered sheepishly, "Yes, I suppose I am."

"Ah, good! Wonderful! Come, come! Ruth! Ruth! Make a place for our guest. There, can she sit next to you? There you go," he said as he seated me next to Ruth, adding to the rest of the table, "Isn't this wonderful? The whole family is gathering from near and far and we are going to share a most wonderful meal in the name of our most abundant God."

Then, he leaned and whispered into my ear, "You know, like your Rabbi, I have a little bit of the radical in me, too. In Rabbinical School, they tried to teach it out of me, but as you can tell, it didn't work." He laughed and then he and his wife made themselves busy seating the rest of their guests and finishing the preparations for the service.

Before we began, the Rabbi stood at the table and formerly welcomed us to the Shabbat service by first apologizing for conducting the service in Hebrew - "It's the only way I know how to say it," he said while some giggled and others murmured assuringly, "It's okay, Rabbi. You just do your best."

Ruth touched my arm and whispered, "Did your parents teach you Hebrew?"

"No," I said, "I'm sorry."

"Ach!" she said, "Such a shame! I don't know what's wrong with parents today! Tsk! Tsk!"

The Rabbi explained that what we were about to do three things: First and foremost, we were to remember the gift of our freedom, our liberation from bondage, gained for us by the Great Prophet Moses in ancient Egypt. "Such a gift," said the Rabbi, "should always be remembered, always celebrated."

Second, said the Rabbi, we were to remember the gift of the Sabbath, a time of resting from our labors to remember and give praise to the God who created us, who also rested from his labors. "Work, work, work!" said the Rabbi, "Sheesh! We could work ourselves to death and never enjoy the fruits of our labor! That's not what God wants, does he?" The congregation shook their heads collectively as negative responses filled the air.

Finally, the Rabbi told us that we will have a taste of the Messianic times, when God will send "An Anointed One" to bring true shalom - true, lasting peace, without poverty or war, disease or famine - to the whole earth. That will be a most wonderful time, won't it?" "Yes!" shouted one of the Rabbi's children joyfully as everyone chuckled.

He said some silent prayers, as his wife lit the candles and then he said the kiddush over the wine and the prayers over the bread. I got "Barukh ata Adonia, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam . . ." (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe . . .).

And you know, nothing else really mattered.

I found myself weeping (I know. I can be such a girly-girl). Never had I experienced such radical hospitality in any religious service. My gender, my sexual orientation, my clerical collar, not even the small cross which hung from my neck had kept me from fully participating in that service.

I felt my heart pounding wildly in my chest and a surge of joy that must have been like that felt by the tax collectors and women caught in adultery, the widows and orphans, and all the other sinners when invited to Table with that thoroughly orthodox rabbi who didn't have his radical nature "taught" out of him.

I also understood at a deep level in my soul why that ancient "woman of ill repute" anointed the head of her Rabbi with expensive perfume, and wept at his feet and wiped them with her hair.

I didn't have much time to think on these things at the moment because, almost immediately the Oneg Shabbat Service began, which followed by a wonderful Shabbat luncheon of fish and salad and challah bread and the wine which had been blessed, all lovingly prepared by the Rabbi's wife.

Then, we sang songs."Take Me Out To the Ball Game." "My Wild Irish Rose." And, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Oh, and someone insisted on singing "The Dreidel Song." We all joined in the singing and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Someone else did a solo of "Sunrise, sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof, accompanied by someone who played the sadly out of tune piano in the corner. When the man who sang it, a big, strapping Irishman whose red hair had turned to silver, finished, he apologized because, he said, it was the only Jewish song he knew. It brought both the Rabbi and his wife to tears as they thanked him.

We talked with each other and some of us danced with the children, and an absolutely marvelous time was had by all. As we left the dining room, I heard the Rabbi and his wife and some of his children say to everyone, "Thank you for coming. We'll see you next month. You'll come? Good! Stay well."

You know, something happened to me in that service. It was transformational. I do believe Jesus was there and fully approved. I saw his joy reflected in the eyes of that orthodox, slightly radical Rabbi.

I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room where we did, in fact, experience a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet, where true Shalom, was present.

This morning, none of us was poor. None of us was hungry. None of us was sick. We ate and drank until we were full. When we danced, we forgot our aches and pains, our age and even our diagnosis or that of our neighbor. We were one. We were reconciled with ourselves, our God and each other. We were at peace.

That's what is supposed to happen at our Eucharist. Be honest. Beyond the personal, individual sense of spiritual satisfaction at the altar rail, when is the last time you felt like that in community?

Okay, we've got our rubrics and our canons. I get that. But, surely, as followers of the orthodox, radical Rabbi Jesus, the Christ, we can do better than rubrics and canons. Surely, our Eucharists, when we remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and He is truly and fully present, can be a place were, in His Most Precious and Blessed Name, all are welcome, all can sit at table, all can hear the ancient words of prayer and not understand with our heads, but know them deep in our hearts and souls.

What evangelism! What a way to transform the world!

Then again, isn't that more nearly the orthodox, radical Way of Jesus?

I came home and, as I went about my weekend tasks, I found myself weeping again. I wept for the woman I baptized this morning - for the years she was kept from the fullness of community and family because of rubrics and canons.

I wept that some of my 'radical' nature has apparently been 'taught out of me'.

I wept because when Jesus, The Messiah, The Anointed One, comes again to bring true Shalom to all the world, I will have some explaining to do.

I wept with deep joy and gratitude for the simple question, "Are you hungry?" followed by the simple invitation to "Come."

I wept because I'm ashamed to admit it: I didn't know just how hungry I've been.

I wept remembering these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right."

Shalom, chaverim. Shalom, my friends.

Comment: As a called pastor in the ELCA, I do follow the rules and rubrics of the Church. It is my job. I do respect the contingencies of both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. But at times one must return to the radicality of the sacrament, to that incredible wonder of being one. Jesus invited not only his friends but his betrayers and those who would reject him too. They knew the radical sense of welcome on the first Maundy Thursday so long ago.

It is too easy to forget the meaning of what that first Eucharist was all about. There is such a temptation to try to “protect” that wonderful feast from those who would not respect the event.

Just last Sunday, I turned over the job of distributing the bread to one of my deacons because I was coming down with a cold. My youngest member comes to the altar rail in the arms of her mother and has just begun to reach out for the Sacrament. But because there are still problems with adoption procedures, she has not yet been baptized. The deacon [and adopted grandfather of the child] promptly gave the host to the child. “Yes!” my radical self said. May she never remember when she was not welcome at that altar rail—her home before her baptism, her home before she was born.

May you live in the radical hospitality of the Eucharist liberated by love, nourished in love and radically one! Amen

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Week

I have not been writing much. I haven’t had the time--too many funerals, programs and such. And the time between Christmas and Easter this year has been the shortest in years with too many things to cram into it.

I am down with the local crud that is infecting the area. I don’t want to get too far away from my Kleenex box or the bathroom. I visited my doctor today to get some magic pills to get me through the week. My doctor is very active in her Episcopal parish where I once worked. We have sung in the same choir and we know each other’s lives fairly well. She greeted me with “So this is Clergy Hell Week, isn’t it?” And while it might be a bit irreverent, she is so right! There are more services in church this week than at any other time of the year. And invariably I get a cold or loose my voice this week. Hopefully, I will be back in order by Maundy Thursday—and more importantly, not contagious.

But with close proximity to Kleenex and laptop, today does seem to be a time when I can stop and contemplate what Lent has been for me. I took on a couple of disciplines that I rarely do. I gave up sugar –at least the sugar I could control. I was beginning to have the feeling that sugar was becoming addictive for me. I have lost 10lbs since I was last at the dr’s 8 weeks ago. That isn’t half bad. I was surprised that I didn’t have a harder time of it. The only problem is that I was beginning to get a bit cocky about it, which of course, defeated the humility that giving it up was supposed to engender in the first place! The purpose was not to lose weight—the purpose was to offer the gift to God. Oh, well. I love being a Lutheran at times like these—being simultaneous saint and sinner. And Luther did say, “Sin boldly.”

The other thing that I did was to take on the voluminous Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll. I found it more formidable that I had expected because he has so captured much of my own era and development as a Christian. It made me uncomfortable reading it. I am still only a quarter into the book but I am determined to read the sucker.

This book forces me to look at what I have learned over the years as necessary to the Christian message. He shows how the gradual separation between Judaism and Christianity led to the kind of antipathy that has grown into the anti-Semitism that resulted in the Holocaust. And while I not willing to give up all that history or tradition, I have to be very careful how I use the New Testament and the early fathers of the Christian tradition to tell the message of Jesus.
Yesterday, when this malady was still at the drippy nose stage, I had lunch with my rabbi friend. I needed his compassion during Holy Week. I needed to hear that the message of Jesus is still the message that he and I share. It is the message that Jesus came to show us the Father. And when we lose that vision of God we forget why Jesus came.

Both Christians and Jews sinned—we both closed our doors to one another. Through history we found reasons to say that we are not alike, that we don’t want the same things for our children or for our eternal reward. We closed up ideas into dogmas and excluded one another from our hospitality. They accused us of worshipping other gods—we accused them of killing God. And so we continued the scandal of the failure to love.

I was scandalized by Roman Catholicism’s recent return to the Tridentine Reproaches for Good Friday that were jettisoned at Vatican II. They are prayers that Jews may become Christians even though our Lord was a Jew. It is a failure to respect the faith of Jesus—the rabbi, the one who taught a radical hospitality in the name of his Abba—father.

Do I ignore 2000 years of Christian history? Not for a moment! But I do have to challenge that history in the name of God. I must be willing to note that we Christians have been sinners as well as my Jewish brothers and sisters. We have not treated each other well in the name of the God we share. And the time for refocusing our efforts on the split that has alienated one from another is here.

I must be willing to look carefully at the theologies that I have always touted because so many touted them before me. I must be willing to look for the ways that we can share each other’s faith respecting the histories that stand between us. And we must be willing to look with hard eyes at the kind of inhumanity that the failure to do so engenders.

Yes, there have been other attempts at genocide other than the Holocaust. We need but look at Darfur, the Tutsi and the various tribal wars since WWII, but none are done in the name of the Cross as was the Nazi attempt at extermination.

Yes, this Lent has been a changing one for me. I pray that I will be able to live up to the new person that I have become.