Year A Pentecost 5 Proper 10; July 5, 2020
Romans 7:15-25a: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Yesterday I had someone I don’t know very well (and not anyone associated with St. Clare’s) wish me a Happy 4th of July by texting me about four verses from scripture assuring me of God’s grace and that even though these were hard times, we didn’t have anything to worry about because the end was coming and we would soon be in heaven with Jesus.
While I agree that God’s grace is enough for us, I find that this cherry-picking of verses to justify our beliefs or actions was probably not what Jesus had in mind when he told stories and talked about the kingdom of God. We tend to lift stuff out of scripture to soothe our anxieties, and lessen our guilt, and make us out to be the best Christians in the heaven pipeline.
I struggle mightily with such elitist thoughts and such choosing of particular verses to justify our behavior. I always want to respond by asking about those who are treated unfairly and who will most likely end up in heaven well before me because they have starved to death or been murdered in body, or mind, or spirit.
I understand all this because we are often frightened, sinful, and boastful and we act out of fear and self-centeredness. If you know this about yourself, you are luckier than some. If you don’t, please read the lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans again. We do stuff we know we shouldn’t do all the time. And we don’t do the things we know we should just as often.
My faults lie more often in doing nothing when I should act to address some wrong, but I decide to stay safe even though it doesn’t line up with the promises that were made at my baptism and I hold up as the basis for following Jesus.
I have to look at my own responsibility for such things. What do I do or fail to do that perpetuates such a broken storyline of humanity and being made in the image of God?
Such thoughts lead me to God for forgiveness and the saving Grace of Christ. It is why I seek forgiveness when that knot in my stomach or ache in my heart won’t let go. The Church knows this and it’s why we include a confession when we gather to worship.
I find this prayer to be a helpful reminder that it is in Christ that my soul can be made well. When I remember it, I find it easier to say I’m sorry or try to right some wrong.
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you call me to be a servant to the world’s needs, but I do not do what you command. I am often silent when I should speak, and useless when I could be useful. Have mercy on me, O God. Forgive me and free me from sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today’s Gospel story has an example of a verse that gets picked up and repeated a lot. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It sounds so ideal and like we can just take all our troubles and fears and drop them into a bucket at Jesus’ feet and then fall into his arms and never be weary again. It would be so nice wouldn’t it?
I could probably name 20 things for which I am weary and I wouldn’t be done, and no doubt God would become very weary of my whining.
I don’t think this is what Jesus was actually talking about and if we stop with those words, we miss the best part because it sounds like we are being compared to a beast of burden.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The word translated “easy” doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to pull, but that it is a piece of wood or other material that actually fits well and doesn’t harm you when you are working. It also means that you may be paired with another to do the work.
If you were to sit with this image for a while a couple of things might come up.
First, you might see yourself under this yoke to do some work that would be beneficial to yourself or others and see Jesus taking control. To go back to Paul’s words, this would take the issue of my sinfulness away so that I might become more of who God created me to be…Jesus is saying, “hand me the reins.” That would be an amazing way to stop being weary! The putting down of a burden so great that I might actually get on with doing good.
It may also offer another image. That of Jesus being in a double yoke next to you. That offers an image of learning from him how to do things right and well with a partner who knows what they’re doing. We’d be working together at the same task. One partner being experienced, and one partner being the learner, which is actually pretty close to what being a disciple means. If we watch and learn from him we may have a better chance of getting it right more often. Of speaking up when we need to and of being useful in times of need.
When burdens are shared we find we are not responsible just for ourselves, but for each other. We find that working together makes a task easier. If we get out of line, we are brought back in quickly. One of us can ease off a bit to rest while the other works harder for a time which allows far more work to be done in the same amount of time. And in those moments when we must work harder, we become stronger.
What if instead of offering weariness in the form of my own complaints, we offered up the weariness of the burdens of our sins and heartaches?
- I am weary of hearing stories of discrimination and the brutal ways we treat people of color or gender identity.
- I am weary of learning of one more instance of gun violence.
- I am weary of the lack of honest leadership in all levels of governance.
What if our prayer became…
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you call me to be yoked with you to be a partner in healing the world’s needs, help me follow your commands. I ask to work beside you for guidance and strength when I need to be pushed and helpfulness so you can take rest. Have mercy on me, O God. Forgive me and free me from sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church
A Pentecost 4 Proper 8: June 28, 2020 Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
I have to start out by saying that in my 16 years at St. Clare’s there have been five times when the Old Testament reading has been on the story of Abraham nearly sacrificing his son Isaac. This Sunday would be that day, but as we are only using one lesson in addition to the Gospel, I am going to spare myself and you all from having to come up with one more reason why this challenging story was included in our scriptures. If you have no idea what I’m talking about I invite you to go look up the story in Genesis, chapter 22 and then we’ll talk.
We have enough going on without dealing with child abuse, human sacrifice, and trying to prove that our love for God is more than anything or anyone else.
I’m not sure talking about slavery is much easier, especially considering all that’s going on with our complicity in that, but I am hoping Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans can be dealt with.
We are all slaves to something. Sometimes those things do more to destroy our goodness and nearness to God than help us achieve anything good or useful. We all can also enslave other things or people for our own sense of entitlement. Those things usually end up destroying the essential goodness of whatever it is we’ve co-opted for our own benefit.
Bob Dylan once sang, “You’ve gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’ve gotta serve somebody.” In our reading in Romans this morning, Paul is saying something kind of like that. He doesn’t mention the devil, but he does say that we will all serve either sin or righteousness, law or grace. He says that we will inevitably be the slaves of one or the other.
I think most of us know which side we’d like to be on, but more often than not, it’s so dang hard that we make deals with the devil just this once…or twice, or try like crazy to justify our actions.
Our justification that slavery over black people was OK came out of an understanding that people of color were not fully human. It was OK to treat them like animals or to give them only 3/5’s of a vote because they weren’t like the people who were making the laws. They were set apart because they were unlike the white humans. It was OK that they serve a Master because the Bible speaks plainly about being a slave – and being a good one at that.
Our justification that making money being the sign of success has led to individual and corporate greed, economic disparity between the few who have too much and the many who have too little. Those who write the laws sustain the inequality between the haves and have nots. It’s also the cause of untold heart attacks, ulcers, divorces, and alcoholism. We are all slaves to something. We all enslave something.
How do we hear the words of the Apostle Paul and seek and serve righteousness and grace. Especially when those aren’t usually the glamorous or easy options in the moment of self-preservation.
In Paul’s world, those who followed the law could not see that there was another option. In God’s economy, the first are the last, the poor are the rich, and the law gets overruled by grace. The law is good and necessary. There is no question we need it to keep social order. Descending into chaos does not create healthy systems anywhere. But that’s not the point. I think Paul is saying to the people around him that they are clinging to the law so that they can hold up a standard to identify themselves as good and someone else as bad. In his day if you ate pork you were bad and therefore unclean and sinful, but if you didn’t eat pork, you were a good and holy person and God would bless you. And that posed a problem.
We still do this today. The law becomes a slave driver that rules over us and leads us to create more divisiveness and cruelty and more laws. We do this as individuals, groups, and institutions. The Church is as guilty of this as anyone. Over the centuries we have kept people away from the scriptures by keeping it in Latin or Greek when no one could but a few could understand those languages. We did this for centuries. It caused incredible unrest and upheaval when it finally switched over so people could read in their own language, hear in their own language, seek and serve God in their own language.
Today we keep the sacraments in the hands of the clergy only, so it becomes an exclusive activity by a select few. That may be changing as we bump up against how we do Communion.
Paul says this is opposed to the message of Jesus who offers grace so freely that we really don’t quite know what to do with it. We are afraid that if we make the law unimportant and the consequences of doing something irrelevant, then evil will take over the world. That misses the point. It seems to me that’s not a problem with evil. Evil has a life of its own. We don’t have to do anything to make evil happen. And Bob Dylan’s words come back to us. “You gotta serve somebody.”
The law doesn’t make us good. It never did and never will. Not eating pork probably kept a lot of people from getting sick. When that was no longer an issue, the law evolved into something that set people apart from one another. The law doesn’t touch our hearts to break down the laws that are cruel or divisive. The law establishes boundaries that, with grace, our hearts can come to see as unhelpful and unnecessary or even unholy. Likewise the law doesn’t call us to action or transformation. Enter Grace and the somebody you might choose to serve. And Bob Dylan’s words come back to us. You gotta serve somebody.
Jesus’ understanding of grace – and our embracing it – opens the way to being truly loving and hospitable; to sharing what we have with others – especially those who are unlike us.
Grace calls us to understand where we’ve gone wrong with the law and the best way to correct it.
The hardest part about Grace is that it’s free. We can’t buy it or earn it or barter for it. And most of all, we can’t legalize it to make it be only for a privileged few. The law would regulate Grace and dole it out like wages or payment for good behavior. In other words you get what you pay for. If you mess up, you get what you deserve. The law would say that we will earn our way to heaven. Nothing could be more wrong or deadly. With Grace you get the gift of eternal life and it is always way beyond anything we could ever wish for or dream of.
The Bible says you cannot serve two masters. In these days when we are recognizing how the law has kept us divided, I would ask that we spend some time this week seeking God’s grace. Ask for it! When you wake up in the morning, ask for God’s blessings and grace. Ask God to show you where the law has kept you from seeing this Grace. Explore ways that you can share this grace with someone who may have been subjected to laws that have demeaned or discredited or discriminated – or even held them back from being made whole in our sight. They are already made whole in God’s sight, let us give them that privilege in our society. It doesn’t take a law – it takes Grace.
And it’s free. Be filled with it, but don’t take it for granted. It may be free, but it is also free to give away and to challenge the laws that keep people from recognizing that that freedom belongs to all of us.
Bless you! Be filled with Grace!
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church
Year A Pentecost 2 Proper 7 : June 21, 2020
One of the first songs we teach our children is Jesus Loves Me. We want them to know about God’s love.
We know God loves us. We don’t always know what that means though.
Our God is a personal God. Jesus tells the disciples that God knows the number of hairs that we have on our head. This is an intimate knowledge that no one else has. I love my children, but I don’t know how many hairs are on their head or how many freckles are on their face. But God does. He knows each of us more that we know ourselves. And he loves us. Psalms 139 says that God knew us before we were born, while we were yet in our mother’s wombs. Joshua 1:9 tells us that God knows the plans that he has for us.
I think this knowledge can make us uncomfortable. So we create images of God up in heaven far away. Or as a force like nature – powerful, but distant. But God is more than that. He is here and has a stake in each of us.
God cares about what is happening to us. In the Old Testament story, Hagar was exiled out of the house. Sarah no longer wanted her or her son there. Hagar goes into the desert. She is sure she is going to die. The genesis account says that she set her son, Ishmael, down and walked away because she did not want to see him suffer and die. As she cried, God showed himself to her through an angel and assured her that she and her son would live. He promises her that he will create a nation from her son as well. This is the nation of Islam that we have today. God then creates a well spring so that she has water to drink. He has provided her need. He did not give her a cup of water, but a well that overflowed.
God showed up for Hagar. In the Bible, God shows up. But, for the most part, he shows up for the heroes. Right? Eliajah hears God in the small still voice. Samuel hears God call him in the night. Moses sees the burning bush. The angel speaks to Mary. But Hagar isn’t the hero. She is a slave, an exile – who was turned away from Abraham’s house. God still sees her need and answers.
The old testament is full of names for God. As Patty talked about last week. Names matter. In this story, Hagar names God El Roi, which means the God who sees me. I like that.
We have a God who sees us and loves us.
But that isn’t the end of the story. God loves us and so we are compelled to act. God does not call us to receive his love and then wait to die. God says that to who much is given, much is expected. We are called to live out this love that God gives us.
What does that mean? We are told that we are to love God with all of heart, mind, and soul and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus tells us in today’s passage that we must love him above all else. Our love for God is above our love for any person, our ideas, or our identity.
Jesus says that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. The Gospel of Jesus is not just a gospel of candle lit meditation. Jesus turned the tables over in the tabernacle and called out injustice calling the Pharasees Brood of Vipers. I think we all identify with this Jesus these days. We are filled with indignation. We want to yell at injustice that we are facing. I think that is why marching feels so right. We just need to shout out the anger. This is righteous.
Jesus did not come to bring peace and make us comfortable. He is the God who turned over the tables. He also said…
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. He told us to pray for our enemies. Jesus said that if we only pray for those who do good to us, what more have we done that anyone else. No, God’s requires more from us. He requires that we pray for those who we do not agree with, those who make us angry, those who cause injustice.
We must fight to stop injustice, and we must pray as hard as we can for the oppressors.
This is hard.
The marching, the letter writing, the canvassing for the vote are all easy work…because we feel it. We feel compelled. You almost can’t stop us.
The hard work, the take up the cross and follow me work is to pray for our enemies. To love them. How do we pray for people who hurt us or hurt other? For the people who murder innocents? For politicians we don’t agree with? For their supporters? Fill in the blank.
Yes, I think that God calls us to pray for these people. People often say that we pray for our enemies because it changes us. Well, I think that is true. And we do need to be changed. We live in a time where there is so much division. We stay connected to people who believe like we believe. We separate into small enclaves. Of course, the problem with this is that we can’t have an impact when we are surrounded by people who already get it. A sugar cube in a bowl of sugar doesn’t really make much of a difference. We have to be in the world. We have to have supple hearts. How do we respond to the co-worker who has different views than we do? The neighbor with the sign in the yard or that bumper sticker on her car. We have all had the Facebook friend who tries to needle us into a fight. One of the reasons we pray for our enemies is so that we respond with grace. With a pause. Or sometimes not at all.
When you pray for your enemy, you are praying for a fellow human being, a mother’s son, a father’s daughter, someone who has perhaps missed the path. Praying for your enemy–unconventional as the world sees it–changes your hatred to pity, and eventually you see someone who is weak, just as you are. Pity turns to compassion. This is when we can live out the command to love our enemies. It is not because we are better than they are. It is because we are the same. Prayer just helps us recognize that.
My challenge for us today is to commit to pray for our enemies for the next week. I have a prayer that I want to share. (I heard this at seminary and it affected me profoundly).. it reads “May you be happy, May you feel safe, May you be healthy, May you be at peace.” I will put this on a slide after the service and put it on FB. Pick one person to pray for this week. Pick someone you don’t want to pick. You might have someone that you think of and say, no, not her. That might be the person. Put this prayer on your mirror, refrigerator, computer monitor. Put it somewhere you will see it. Pray for your person at least once a day for a week. I encourage you to journal the conversations that you have with yourself and God about this practice. As we do this together, we come closer to answering the call of our baptismal promise – Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s Help.
Year A Penecost 2 Proper 6 June 14, 2020
A Pentecost 2 Proper 6
Genesis 18:1-15; Matthew 9:35-10:8
June 14, 2020
Who are you if you have a name?
Who are you if you don’t have a name?
In the Bible, things and people have names.
It begins in Genesis 1 when God names the day and the night, the heavens and the earth.
Adam, whose name means ‘made of the ground,’ names the animals and brings them all to life.
Abram and Sarai get re-named Abraham and Sarah and they’re told that they will have a son and name him Isaac, which means ‘laughter’ because his mother was 100 years old when she heard that she would bear a child. I would have laughed too and then opted for a stiff drink!
Jesus is named because Joseph is told in a dream what to name this son of his.
This Gospel story in Matthew names the disciples that Jesus sends out to cure the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, and raise the dead.
We name our children, our churches, our parks, our institutions, and our nations.
We name our diseases – SarsCoV2 or Covid-19.
We name our social ills too – bullying, alcohol and drug abuse, homophobia, racism. I did a quick google search yesterday of social ills or issues and among all the lists, not one of them listed racism. It is a 400 year old sickness that is so woven into our collective psyche that we don’t even name that it needs healing. Until now. Maybe.
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Jesus tells the disciples this is the work they are given to do. It is the same for us. In other words, we are to be first and foremost healers. The gift and blessing of this is that in doing so we are also healed because God knows you and I are in as much need of healing as anybody else, and healing and being healed go hand in hand. Jesus knows we have our own demons to be cast out, our own sicknesses to be healed.
Whatever it is that needs healing can be almost anything. It can be a physical disease, a spiritual emptiness, a mental breakdown. These are often the things we pray for. Please God cure me from – whatever keeps me from being whole, at peace, or sane. There is nothing wrong with these prayers. We pray them for ourselves and for others. God invites us to do so and hears these prayers.
I and many others have been raised from such hurts and traumas, which is another way of saying that more than a few times in my life I have been cured from sickness or raised from the dead – a death of the spirit anyway, a death of the heart. Almost every time that healing came in the form of another person who somehow cared for me and loves me back to life. Jesus calls us to heal others which then allows us to be healed ourselves.
When we do these things we are following Christ. That’s loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we’re not doing those things, no matter how many other good things we do, we are not doing what Jesus called us to do. We are not being named disciples.
Whatever it is that needs healing can be almost anything. It can be homelessness because of poverty, an aversion to the other because of fear, the endless cycle of drug abuse, or a sense of entitlement due to skin color. These are not as often the things we pray for. Please God cast out the demons from these scourges that separate us and tear down the walls that keep us from respect and dignity and justice and your love – all those things that keep us from being whole, at peace, or sane. There is something needful about these prayers. And God hears them too.
God sends us out to do this work because God knows, we are all in need of healing. Doing so will cleanse us from the untouchable disease of not caring or loving as Jesus loves. From death of the body, death of the spirit, death of the heart – by the healing power that Jesus calls us both to heal with and to be healed by.
When we do these things we are following Christ. That’s loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we’re not doing those things, no matter how many other good things we do, we are not doing what Jesus called us to do. We will not be named Disciples.
If we will stop and listen, what we are hearing right now is the deep pain of God who weeps with the broken and broken-hearted. Stop and listen to the cries for mercy, justice, freedom, peace, acceptance, love. These are the very things that the disciples hungered for when they first heard the Good News about Jesus. That’s why they followed him.
That is why the disciples went out and spread that Good News, cured the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead. They felt a deep pain within themselves and that allowed them to hear the cries of mercy from the people they found on the streets around Galilee.
How do we listen to those cries today and respond? How do we listen? How do we respond? This is the time to be sent out to listen to the sick, sit with the leper, comfort the demonized, and bring the dead the life they deserved. It is the time to respond. It is the time to be named Disciple.
Four years ago Friday was the Pulse massacre in Florida. Forty-nine people were murdered. We put the names of those people on the altar and tied ribbons on a grid of metal to remember. I have kept the name I picked up. Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo. He was only 20. To remember him and the others makes it impossible for me to just relegate his death to just another person who hated gay people. He had a name.
Sandy Hook was eight years ago. The children who were murdered would have started high school this fall. Olivia Engel was one of them. She had a name so I will not forget that school gun violence is a malignancy in our country and the voices that cry out must be heard to be healed.
And then there is George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Travon Martin, and on Friday, Rayshard Brooks. They all had names. To not remember them or not respond to the distrust or hatred that murdered them is to acknowledge we are perpetuating the crime of failing to do what Jesus asks us to do, and thus failing to be named Disciple.
Why does Jesus ask so much of us? Because so much was given. Given on the Cross, given in life, given in love, given for our own healing. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it means confronting our own participation in the things that separate us from each other and God’s love. But if we are to be named disciples and follow Christ, it is part and parcel of the promise we made at our baptisms.
In baptism we are named. We are made one with Christ and in Christ.
Our response; what we bring will heal those who cry out. It will also heal us and our world. Clearly, we are in need of such healing and cleansing, and release, and life.
Who are you if you have a name?
Who are you if you don’t have a name?
© The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church
May 31, 2020 Pentecost Sunday
A Pentecost Sunday
May 31, 2020
It is not often that I come to a Sunday morning and have nothing to say. Or rather I have much to say and cannot say it. And, probably I should not say it. I have no right to. I have not been sick. I am not out of work. I am not a front-line worker in a hospital emergency room. And I am not black. Anything I might say smacks of my white privilege – staying safe inside my comfortable home in my safe suburban neighborhood. It keeps me from getting Covid-19 and it keeps me safe from rubber bullets and tear gas.
But to stay silent is as criminal as those who threw bricks in the windows at Nordstrom and lit police cars on fire. It is as criminal as the cop who killed George Floyd. It is wrong to riot and cause mayhem in our streets. But it is equally wrong to let our attention get drawn away from the first crime because no one wants to deal with it.
The people who are burning down our cities have no desire to participate in a peaceful protest to stop the insidious and interminable virus of racism. They are just out to cause trouble and eat cheesecake. It is evil. Racism is evil.
Today we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples as wind and flame and birthed the movement that became the Church. I find it hard to celebrate much of anything this morning. I am instead livid and heart-broken. So, my words come, not from me, but from the broken-hearted and the angry.
In a few minutes we will renew our baptismal vows. I want us to think about them a bit more than usual.
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Theologian Gordon Lathrop says, “we should yearn for the assembly (or gathering), but not at the expense of those who are in harm’s way.”
Today we must refrain from in person gatherings – the fellowship we all want, the Communion we all want, the prayers we all want to hear each other pray aloud. It is hard and we long for things to go back to the way they were. And it is dawning on us that we will not go back, in fact, cannot go back to the way it was before.
But we are not left hopeless. We are here together today. The Holy Spirit has given us the means to stay connected and to fast for what we cannot have so we might learn what it is like to be truly hungry and respond. I know people who are praying today who have seldom prayed in the past. And they are not just praying for themselves, but for others who are in harm’s way and for leaders to emerge to guide us on this fearful journey toward health and wellness.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Rap artist Killer Mike says, “So, I’m duty bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. Now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs.”
We all sin, we all walk away from the love of God.
It tells us we have work to do
to rout out the evil that lives around and in us.
But we are not left hopeless. We are all welcomed back into the Presence of the One who breathes life into us and makes us whole. We can, with God’s grace resist the evil that runs deep in our institutions and in ourselves. We can repent of the sin of racism and violence. With the Presence of the Holy Spirit we can find the courage to fight the evil and not each other.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “Love looks like making the long-term commitment to racial healing, justice and truth-telling — knowing that, without intentional, ongoing intervention on the part of every person of good will, America will cling to its original, racist ways of being…Love looks like all of us — people of every race and religion and national origin and political affiliation — standing up and saying Enough! We can do better than this. We can be better than this.”
And we are not left hopeless. The breath of the Holy Spirit blows through us with love to birth something new, not just on this Pentecost Sunday, but every day that we remember what Christ has done for us. It ushers in the strength we need to proclaim God’s love for us this day and always.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Kaitlin Curtice is a Native American Christian author and speaker. She Prays for our Violent Nation…
We are so troubled.
We are the ones in denial of our violence
and we are the ones who are crying out for justice.
Can you feel us shaking?
We are spiraling in despair.
We are looking to the ancestors
who teach us how to pray
and we are calling out the ancestors
who handed down their violence to us.
Can we be different?
We cannot fathom wholeness
because, maybe, we don’t really want it.
Teach us to want it.
Can we want it?
We cannot go on this way,
with broken bones and unhealed wounds
and people screaming in the streets
We are trying not to give up on each other.
We need to remember our way home.
We need to learn to believe in Us.
Can we believe in Us?
Help us remember what it means.
Help us name and honor those who are killed in our streets.
Help us name our white supremacy.
Help us hold one another in Real Love.
Help us deny systems of whiteness.
Help us de-center hate.
Help us find the wounds.
Help us heal the wounds.
We are not left helpless. When we remember it is “us” who are each other’s neighbors. We, us, who are images of Christ we yearn for. We who heal each other when we see and acknowledge the first breath that brought us life and the new breath that helps us see each other as equals.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says, “Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.” And he says, “What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.”
We are not hopeless or helpless. We can be the ones who shine the light in the darkness and bring about the change that’s needed to end this scourge. The dust in the air, from virus particles to racism is what keeps us from peace. The flame of the Spirit shines its light everywhere that anyone who carries it goes. We who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit have a power and a call to push for a world where are are one and all are made whole.
Now, will we with broken and even angry hearts, hear theses vows again and ask God to help us live into them with the wind and fire of new life, new courage, and new hope? I pray so. Amen.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church
Gordon Lathrop – I have searched everywhere to find this quote and can’t! If I find the source I will correct this notation. By I know it was made by Lathrop.
Kaitlyn Curtice – A Prayer for a Violent Nation https://sojo.net/articles/prayer-violent-nation
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry – https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/black-man-i-understand-anger-our-streets-we-must-still-choose-love/
May 21, 2020
A Easter 7
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, John 17:1-11
May 24, 2020
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time…Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”
I find those words from 1 Peter this morning to be so comforting. Perhaps a non-biblical rendering of those words might be “Hang on. Have faith. The only way out is through.” No matter the translation I also find the words hard to live into. They require a level of trust and vulnerability. We don’t easily let go of the things we worry about, to trust that God will take our fears and hurts and brokenness and turn them into healing and blessing. It may be our deepest hope, but it is seldom easy to be so humble. We think we have to control things instead of offering them up. It often takes an overwhelming level of upheaval or despair to get us to that point.
But this is exactly where we find Jesus in our Gospel reading today. As we near the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter we get a flashback again to the night before Jesus dies. We hear part of his prayer to God in front of his disciples at the Last Supper. It is the the last image of their friend before he is taken from them. It is the first part of a very intimate prayer – totally humble, totally vulnerable, and openly in front of his friends.
Some people might say it was because he was modeling something for them so they would learn how to pray. Perhaps it is a good example. I wonder if it was because Jesus was at his most human – there was nothing left for him to do other than to cast all his anxieties and his deepest hope and faith in the one he called Father? The One he knew cared for him more than anyone.
I am struck by Jesus’ humanness here. We so often assume him to be divine and all powerful all the time. But here he is just like you and me, terrified of what is to come and realizing the only thing he can do is ask for God’s protection and healing grace. The only thing he can do is ask for protection for the people he loves. No one cares more than his Father. There is nothing more to do but have faith and keep moving through what is to come.
Jesus has taught his disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. They are to be the healers the world will need when he is gone. And because God knows they are also in need of healing, both things happen. I know how often I pray for someone’s healing and find myself realizing that my prayer is doing something that heals some misguided thought or broken part of me. I have no idea how that works, but I’ve had it happen enough times to know how true it is. When we cast our anxieties on God, we find we the relief and healing that God offers us. We become wounded healers to steal the phrase from Henri Nouwen.
Anar Yukhayev, a New York OB/GYN was severely ill with covid-19 and was hospitalized five floors above the maternity ward where he usually works. He watched his symptoms with a growing sense of dread. His whole body burned with fever. He had to gasp to get air. He tried to tell himself what he usually tells his patients: Hang on. Have faith. The only way out is through. A friend reminded him of a teaching from the Jewish Talmud: Sickness is an opportunity to recognize what sustains you — the loved ones who surround you, the strength that runs deep.
I am quite sure this man’s prayers were for God’s protection and healing grace. I don’t think he knew yet he was asking for protection for the people he cared for.
After a week he was offered the chance to be part of a clinical trial. Being a scientist, he agreed. The next day he was so sick his doctors determined that he needed to be intubated. Just as they prepared to put him on a ventilator – they stopped. His oxygen levels started to go back up and his body began to heal.
The next day, he felt so good he was able to shower and eat a meal. “To anyone who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, “I want to spread a message of positivity.”
Hang on. Have faith. The only way out is through. Humble yourself before God. Cast your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
About a week after Yukhayev was discharged from the hospital, he learned one of his patients required an emergency C-section. Since she had tested positive for covid-19, she would be giving birth in isolation. Yukhayev hadn’t planned on going back to work so soon. He was still weak from his illness; his uncle had died of the virus just days before. But a test showed he was not contagious, and he wanted to be there for his patient. He understood what it meant to be sick and alone and frightened.
A few hours later, Yukhayev was holding a tiny, healthy baby girl. The surgery taxed his wounded lungs, leaving him winded and weary, but he felt happier than he’d been in a long time. The newborn reminded him that, “there are good things around us continuing to happen. It gave me a breath of hope.”
1 Peter goes on to say that, “your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” Nothing could be more apt on this Sunday in this world when numbers are still skyrocketing and the New York Times has 1000 names of the dead in America on its front page. There is so much to grieve and there are so many prayers asking, pleading, for our fears and anxieties to be taken from us.
As we wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost we can look at how Jesus prayed and we can look around us at the people who show us what it’s like to do God’s work in the world today.
I invite you in this next week to immerse yourself in prayer. Ask for it for yourself. Be humble, you need it. Ask for it for others. Trust in it, they need it. We can do no other thing because God wants to heal us and then make us healers. In those moments, we will finally become One like he and God are One. Amen.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare’s Episcopal Church
May 17, 2020
A Easter 6
In a nutshell, this Gospel promises us that the Spirit of Truth will live in us as we love and follow Jesus and his commandments. If I said that again and we lived into it, that would be the end of my sermon for the day and I could go sit down…perhaps for the next several weeks. We are promised that the Spirit of Truth will live in us as we love and follow Jesus and his commandments. Amen.
OK, perhaps that needs a little unpacking…
This story is about a gift. One that was being given to a group of people who found themselves unprepared for the experiences they were about to face. They were obviously frightened, and they also didn’t feel qualified to take on the leadership that was being asked of them.
Unlike the readings early in this Season of Easter, this one doesn’t happen after the resurrection, it happens the night of the Last Supper. The disciples have had their feet washed, eaten their meal, seen Judas run off into the night, and heard that Peter will soon deny he even knows Jesus.
Jesus must be scared himself. He knows that what’s coming isn’t going to turn out well for him. His friends are frightened for him and for themselves. But he keeps on encouraging them that there is hope and support and they should not fall into despair. He promises them that they will not be left alone when he is gone. Another helper will come.
The most literal translation of “advocate,” is “the one who pleads your case, who takes your side, who intercedes for you, and who stands up for you.”
We sometimes listen to this part of the gospel story by itself and what we hear is that God is providing this advocate on our behalf so that God can be convinced that we need help or mercy.
I think God already knows this. It’s probably safer to say that God already knows we are in need of mercy and forgiveness and even an occasional swift kick in the rear.
But that doesn’t jive with what Jesus is saying to his friends on this frightful night.
I wonder if we would be better served by thinking about it the other way around. We need an advocate who will represent God for us. We need to hear someone plead God’s case and who takes God’s side. When we are in trouble or about to fall into the abyss, it is good to have the Spirit’s presence to remind us we have immense value in God’s eyes. Or when we are convinced that we know what’s right and what’s best that we might hear that God has a better idea.
What if the Advocate, or Holy Spirit, is for us to hear God’s case for loving us? What if the purpose of the Spirit is to help us know that God is on our side and isn’t constantly trying to find ways to trip us up or send down judgmental bolts of lightening?
God has no need of anyone trying to make a case for us to be forgiven. God knows full well who we are and what we are up to. God does not need to be persuaded to love us. God cannot not love us, even when we are at our most nasty and cruel.
What if instead, the Holy Spirit comes to remind us and encourage us that if we would just stop occasionally and listen, we might make choices that point us toward things like compassion and reconciliation and justice.
Mostly I wonder if the Spirit comes to remind us that the commandment to follow Jesus is to love one another. That’s the commandment he gave his disciples just before he offers them this Spirit. Love one another as I have loved you.
We also get hung up on that part. We don’t have this advocate to keep us in line or to grit our teeth to love someone else. Jesus isn’t interested in us trying to be good. He is interested in our love. He wants us to follow him into a love and hope that has been freely given – something unearned, undeserved, and totally transforming.
Sometimes the word is for the Holy Spirit is Comforter. For those who are living in fear right now, maybe there is an opportunity to hear the voice of God speak words of comfort to ease their fear. Perhaps the Comforter comes to us to help us remember that Jesus is always with us. As near as our next breath – even when those breaths are filled with terror.
It is we who need God’s advocate to come along side us and remind us that we’re going to be OK, that we are loved, and that we too can love others. Because if we have this Spirit of Truth with us, then we can reach out to those who are frightened too.
David Lose* says, “the Spirit invites us “to be a legion of advocates helping, comforting, encouraging, counseling, and lifting up others.” No one he says, “can hope to love others as Jesus did apart from the advocacy, help, comfort, consolation, counsel, and encouragement of the Spirit.”
So where does this leave us today? One of the best parts about the Resurrection of Easter is that this Holy Spirit is always with us. I would invite you to take a few minutes this week to do two things. First, listen! Open yourself up to God’s love and care for you. Especially if you are frightened and alone. Second, how can you share this love of God with someone else this week? Who will you see, talk to, be with, who needs to know this love is also for them, this comfort is for them, and this helping is for them?
Be well and be filled with the Spirit of Truth who lives in us as we love and follow Jesus and his commandments. Amen.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church
*David Lose, From his blog, “…in the Meantime, Dear Partner dated May 14, 2020.
May 10, 2020: Mother's Day
A Easter 5
Did you know that this reading in John’s gospel happens right after the Last Supper.
Think about that for a second.
Taken by itself it’s easy to imagine this reading as another one of Jesus’ parables from when he & the disciples are walking around the wheat fields in Galilee.
No. The disciples have just had their feet washed in a humbling way; they have just eaten a holy meal; they have just seen one of their own take off to turn Jesus in to the authorities and another told he will betray him. Finally, they have just heard Jesus give them a new commandment, to love one another just as he has loved them.
And Jesus finishes off the evening by saying now they can’t even go with him to where he is going. The disciples often seem confused; now they are confused and terrified.
And Thomas is like, “Wait! What! You’re not going to leave us here! Where are you going and why can’t we go with you? Show us the way. Things are about to get totally out of hand and people are going to die!” And Jesus says, “Yes they are, and I am the Way.”
And Philip is like, “Show us God and we won’t be afraid. All we want is to know God and feel that Holy Presence.” Jesus says, “You already know God because God is in me and I am in God.”
Honestly, I wish Jesus had then said, “You will be afraid and it will be hard,” before he says, “but you will do things in my name that you never thought you could do and that is what will matter.”
I think it was a mistake by those who put the lectionary together to not include the words just before this part of the story… “Love each other as I have loved you.” Without that, you will lose your way and you will never know God.
I am finding it hard lately not to have my heart be troubled. It grieves all that is lost! It is angry and frustrated. And I often don’t know the way.
Where is God when people of color continue to be gunned down for no reason other than they are black and therefore someone to hate and destroy?
Where is God when the people most at risk from this virus are the least and most vulnerable among us? The elderly, who are the wisdom holders, need to be protected as treasures. Or the immigrants who find menial labor in meat-packing plants and farm work, because that’s the only place where they can find work?
Where is God when only the privileged can self-isolate and ride out this scourge when the homeless and hungry can’t find shelter and food?
And where is God when so many people have lost their jobs and are so distraught they are willing to risk opening things up too soon because they have nothing left to lose.
In so many ways these two disciples speak our own thoughts today. “Show us the way. Help us see God.” We have no idea where we’re going and no idea how to find God in this mess.
It is OK to cry out in distress. In fact it is probably a healthy response to what’s going on around us. We are frightened and we are wanting God to be near us – in fact we want God to fix all this. We are grieving the loss of so many things and so many people.
Fear and grief and anger are difficult emotions. But they are real and valid and worth giving voice to, and actually the Church can be very good at helping us express them. And Thomas and Philip can be role models for us.
“Jesus, show us the way,” is a legitimate cry for help.
“Show us the face of God” is a legitimate cry for help.
What is it that you are grieving right now?
Who is it that you can love unconditionally right now?
Where is it that you can find the face of God?
I would encourage you to do these things. In those moments of deep pain and deep love, you will find the way to God’s love. It will likely be hard and there will be moments when you want to give up, but there is really no place to go that God is not already there waiting for you.
If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then that way is through love. In John’s gospel the commandment is simply to love one another as Jesus loves us. Doing so will show us the way, impart the truth, and give us life. And loving others as Jesus does will show us the face of God.
When Jesus tells Philip and the others, “you will do things in my name that you never thought you could do and that is what will matter,” he offers them hope and something to do. Those words are just as valid for the first disciples as they are for us today. We don’t find God by sitting around waiting for a bolt of lightening to flash. God finds us in the messiness of our lives and gives us work to do. That work is what will matter and to do it in Jesus’ name will bring God close.
What you are being called to do may not be what’s needed right now, perhaps you are being prepared to do what comes next, or even what comes after that. Perhaps what you are being called to do is grieve or be angry and ultimately seek compassion and justice for others.
I have always loved a prayer Thomas Merton prayer…
God, we have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do we really know ourselves,
and the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.
But we believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.
We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.
And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road,
though we may know nothing about it.
Therefore we will trust you always though
we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face my perils alone. Amen.
We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us. That is how we will know the way, the truth, and the life. And it is how we will see the face of God.
If you are not called to respond now, you very well may be the gift needed later.
Take care of yourself now, so that you will have a chance to care later.
Call friends and family. Pray because it will open you up to the Source of Life.
Sit, rest, learn, prepare. God will need you to love deeply.
You will be needed because this is a long-term journey and if all of us are going to rush into the fire like Bishop Greg said I do last week, then there won’t be anyone to do the clean up, or the reconstruction, or sit with the grieving, or restore what was broken.
For those of you who are seeking the Way, it is Jesus’ love. For those you who want to see the face of God, it is through loving each other as Jesus loved us.
May we grieve, and may we be frightened, and may we know the work is hard. But we will have to know, need to know, and can know that our God loves us deeply and will never be far from us as we do the work we are called to do.
In Jesus’ Holy Name,
© The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church
May 3, 2020 Good Shepherd Sunday
A Easter 4
Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. After all kinds of talk about sheep, shepherd, gates, & thieves, the last sentence is the phrase I kept coming back to this week. “I come to bring you life…abundant life.”
Living in isolation from almost everyone, sometimes forgetting what day it is, working from home in our pajama bottoms, or taking our lives in our hands to go out to work or buy groceries doesn’t feel abundant. There is fear in much of what we do lately from catching the disease to losing our jobs to our children falling behind in school, to our very way of life.
Perhaps there is no better Sunday than today to read Psalm 23. Very few of us have encountered such a shadow of death in our lifetimes. The number of people who have died in Washington is now over 800. In the world it is about a quarter million. I guess that’s one way to talk about abundance.
But it’s also about the death of other things: many would say our freedom, for some, financial security, for most of us, the loss of human touch, for those of us in the Church, not being able to gather for worship & share communion. We are all dealing with an abundance of grief. This is hard and in many cases we are having to grieve alone which adds to our despair.
Death is not the abundance that Jesus is talking about, but it is something that we need to recognize and work through. It’s hard work, but we are not alone in doing it. The Psalmist promises that we will be comforted and cared for.
It would be so nice to go back to January and live that former life. It was abundant then. We got up every morning and went wherever we wanted, ate out, shopped, saw friends, hugged grandkids, shared bread and wine on Sunday. But we also got up every morning when the alarm went off, toiled away to buy more things, and went to bed at the end of the day exhausted – and then couldn’t sleep.
I don’t know a soul who doesn’t want this quarantine lifted and the coronavirus to go away so we can go back to the way it was. We won’t, but as I sit with the words from John, that’s not the definition of abundance that Jesus is offering us either. Jesus offers more life than most of us can imagine. It’s counter to everything that robs us of life, steals our goodness, and gets us totally and miserably lost.
“I bring you life! in the fullest, richest possible way!” It will be flourishing, with purpose, and filled with joy. That’s the Easter message. That’s the voice to listen to. There is a rhododendron that has taken over much of our front yard over the years. It’s not my favorite color and the blooms are small, but there are hundreds of them. That’s abundance. I wonder if Jesus’ message is like that. What if he means not just having abundance, but being abundant. Maybe that would be getting closer to his message.
We are always saying there’s not enough. And if we don’t say it, we live it. We buy up stuff we don’t need, hoard things so we won’t run out, and make sure we protect our interests so they don’t get taken away from us. When we live in a state of scarcity all the time, we actually deny these things from others.
Jesus is saying something absolutely contrary to that. Life is abundant…it’s filled with 300 blooms on a rhodie because that’s what’s rhodie’s do. Just because they aren’t my favorite doesn’t mean I can’t find joy in them. This is what we’re called to.
Even in the midst of this disaster we are called to live into abundance. There is usually something to be grateful for and if not, maybe we are called to look around to create it in someone else.
If we don’t hear the shepherd’s voice call us to look around and follow him and to do what he does, then perhaps it is not the shepherd’s voice we are listening to. Perhaps were listening to thieves & bandits who are trying to steal from us.
Abundant life is an invitation to discover life right now by sharing it with those around us. That means we have to pay attention to what is robbing others elsewhere and then offer them the means by which they might have, not just life, but life in abundance. Because the gift just isn’t to get abundant life and to hold it like we’re going lose it. The gift is to spread it around. Because when we do, the blessing comes back to us. No one can truly have abundant life if it is denied to someone else. If some of us live with the world’s sense of abundance and everyone else around us lives with nothing, then Jesus’ abundance is a mirage. Until everyone of us knows abundance, none of us will.
This pandemic is teaching us that. The disease takes more lives from those who are living in poverty and racially and ethnically discriminated against. The virus runs rampant through communities that lack basic needs and/or live and work in crowded areas.
There is nothing we really need that is in limited supply. Love, grace, acceptance, hospitality, mercy, understanding, humor. Nobody else’s possession of these things threatens or limits our access to them. God pours them out in outrageous abundance. If they seem scarce or limited to us, it is not because they are, but because we are so conditioned to believing that everything is measured out in meager handfuls that we have to fight for, that we have fallen for a lie. It doesn’t necessarily mean health or wealth and it has more to do with what’s in our hearts than with what we possess in our hands.
So what is abundant life for you? Imagine it. It looks different in different places and to different people, but it always shows up – even if only as a hope or a dream. It is rich and it brings joy, not just to you, but to all those you offer it to.
The disciples broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. That is our goal. That is the abundant life we truly hunger for. Let it be so.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
©The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church Snoqualmie Washington