Category Archives: Rev. Lindsay

Easter 5A: I will prepare a place. (The Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Hospitals are often busy and noisy places…

all around people are moving, often quickly,

announcements can be heard overhead,

incessant beeping,

blaring alarms…

the hustle and bustle never seems to stop….

unless you find yourself into the NICU….or neonatal intensive care unit, like I did a year ago today….

At 3:30 am, after the babies have been fed and tended to,

they get tucked back into their little isolettes (incubators),

the lights are dimmed,

the nurses sit down and begin their charting….

the silence is pierced only

-by an occasional warning beep of an oxygen monitor

-the musical melody of a completed feed, by the feeding tube

-or the muffled whimper of a little one trying to get back to sleep

In this space….in this calmness…

While I sit in my rocker with a wrinkly, wriggly 8 week old laying square on my chest, hung-over on milk and tucked warmly under the hospital blankets that somehow exude the inescapable smell of maple syrup

….there is a peace which passes all understanding….

….a peace which took weeks for me to uncover in this place that so many parents worst nightmares come true.

….a place where what is often people’s happiest days of their life takes a bitter turn into a world of worry, uncertainty and heartbreak….

Surrounded by this overwhelming sense of peace…

I sat there and rocked in my chair…trying to take it all in.…..

then the pagers started going off….

and the nurses once at their computer terminals quickly jumped to their feet….

-they seemed to work almost in silence as they whizzed around the NICU….

– members of the advanced life saving team, begin to cover their navy scrubs with pull on protective gear, hair caps, and booties…

-the panda,also known as the emergency isolette, is being prepped for transport, checked and double checked, the nurse gives a thumbs up and is promptly pushed beyond the double doors by the nurses dressed  head to toe in light blue disposable gear making them appear like something from out of this world.

       -iv tubing is being cleaned and double checked

-Prescriptions are put on standby

-a surgical cart is being prepped

-ex ray machines are called in

-the heat in the incubator is turned up

-doctors start arriving

– with a sense of urgency but also an overwhelming sense of calm …everyone gets to work

I had seen this scene dozen’s of times since we first arrived weeks ago…
but this time…
this time… was different….

this time my mind wandered…..and all I could hear was this passage from John’s Gospel we heard today…. “do not let your hearts be troubled…….believe in God….believe also in me.”

It was the first-time God felt present in the midst of what had been weeks of pain, uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness…and the message was one of pure comfort….

But it was something far greater than just regular comfort.

It was as if for the first time I had received clarity about the immeasurable and unfathomable love of God that John was trying so hard to articulate, in these final moments of Jesus’ life.

Because the passage we heard today is one of the options for funeral readings, it is one I am quite familiar with, have researched and have attempted to preach on dozens of times, and yet THIS was the first time I really — felt like I understood it

After the foot washing, after breaking bread with his disciples one last time, after the departure of Judas…. Jesus’s words attempt to provide comfort to the confused and lost disciples….for only he knows the entirety of what is to transpire  in the days and weeks to come.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

While Jesus attempts to assuage the disciples’ fears, Thomas and Philip continue to be troubled…their questions reveal an almost palpable sense of anxiety.

Anxiety about being left behind.

Anxiety about loosing their beloved friend once and for all.

And yet Jesus asks them to simply trust him, pointing out what he thinks is obvious, that he and the Father — God are one…..reminding them, as John’s Gospel often does, that from the very beginning….. God changed God’s relationship with humanity once and for all, by having made Jesus incarnate… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Through this great incarnation….through his birth…life as we know it changed forever.

As preparations continued to take place all around me I realized that this is the Gospel message…in this preparation lies the hope of the resurrection…..that ultimately a place is being prepared for us, that Jesus will take us with him to that final resting place.

Before this moment I THOUGHT the hope lied in knowing Jesus was taking us with him…..but the real hope and beauty of the passage unraveled before my very eyes as all these nurses and doctors gingerly prepared the way to welcome this new fragile life into the NICU.

The promise IS eternal life….but the immense love that God shows to God’s people IS in the preparation….

I imagine that Jesus’ promise to go ahead of the disciples, to prepare a place for them…to prepare a place for us…. looks a lot like the calm yet calculated care that the NICU team takes to prepare a place for a new baby.

Sometimes they would get three or four  even five false alarms…. before it was actually time…. but they responded with the same love and care and painstaking preparation each and every time…. seemingly not out of obligation….but out a deep sense of vocation and pure privilege, because that’s what it takes to be responsible for ushering new life into the world in safety….and that is the ridiculously unfathomable love that Christ attempts to explain to his disciples, before his departure…..

There will be a place for you….I will prepare it….there is room for all.

As I continued to sit there, listening to his little labored breaths up and down, down and up, as he lay on my chest and seeing the doctors work on the little 910 gram girl next to us glowing bright red under the warmth of the heat lamp…..I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder knowing that when my own son was born…..

they must have taken just as good care of him….

that they had likely spent all day and several days eagerly anticipating his arrival, for long before he came screaming into the world there were several false alarms.

 

But knowing that they were prepared to receive him….

provided me with an overwhelming sense of comfort that I had not encountered in this sterile space.  Knowing that they must have cared for him the same way they cared for this little girl.

They knew he was coming here before I did.
They were ready when I was not.
They got to see his face and touch him before I could.

The little girl was quickly overcome by doctors, x-ray machines, respiratory therapists

each person carrying out their specific role

each person completing the tasks they are called to do, with very little need to communicate with one another….they cautiously and quickly go to work on the little girl

– her father looked on wide eyed in wonder and yet full of confusion at his perfect pint sized princess is poked and prodded.

And all I can think…is “do not let your hearts be troubled…believe in God”….

if only he knew how much preparation had gone in to making a place for her….

He would believe.

He would trust.

He would know that no matter what….everything will be ok….

His dashed hope would be restored.

In this place…in this moment –sterile space transformed to sacred space…and as I sat there in prayer…

I realized the perfection of God’s plan and faithful preparations….

Even though I struggle SO HARD with wanting things my way and on my terms.

On this Mother’s Day, like all Mother’s Days — many grieve for what has been or has not been, for mother’s lost and mother’s never known, for empty arms and arms too full, for mom’s that could keep it together and mom’s that fell and fall apart.  And yet others celebrate with joy and gratitude their children known and yet to be fully known…..

The tension of anxiety and hope of love and joy wrap this day up with a very, very tight bow, making it almost impossible to undo.  And yet the confluence of this fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s day and an assigned Gospel text fit for a funeral, that also can call to mind that new life, that life eternal, that shines as a bright light in the midst of darkness is both ironic and ultimately fitting.

For ultimately it is in God’s loving arms that we will all come to rest from our labors.

It is here where she has prepared a space for us….

it is here where she will nurture us….

It is here where we will be brought to new life.

 

 

 

Proper 15C: Relationship Trouble (Rev. Lindsay Hills)

When I was in junior high, the bishop came to our school. It was an important day for us…..and in my small world, he might as well have been the Pope. We had formal dress uniform that day, and were reminded to be on our best behavior. We were assured it would be mutually beneficial for us if we behaved, because ONLY the Bishop was allowed to issue days off from school. It had been rumored that if we behaved we would get Friday off!

We gathered for Eucharist, and when he preached my attention piqued when he told us he was going to teach us how to pray.

Eager to learn the secret of how to communicate to God, I hung on his every word

For better or worse some 25 years later its one of the few sermons that remains etched in my brain.

The sternness and confidence with which he delivered his directive sermon became my instruction manual for prayer… terrified that God wouldn’t hear me if I “did it wrong” I became obsessed with following the directions he outlined for us to the T….

His guidance was helpful, in that it helped me to think more critically about prayer and how I did it. But largely his words became a kin to a shackle tethering me down and not allowing me to explore the breath of prayer, the types of prayer, or develop my own way of talking to and with God…

Every time I encounter the psalms….I think NOW these people know how to pray or talk to God.

They aren’t afraid to tell God how they feel…aren’t afraid to get angry, to be vulnerable, to admit their own mistakes, to ask for forgiveness, or to offer thanksgiving. The psalms cover the breadth of human yearning, prayers for all times and all occasions, reflecting the true diversity of our hearts.

This Sunday, we recited portions of Psalm 80.

A psalm of lament, “a passionate expression of grief and sorrow”[1]….the heart of the psalmist is poured out in prose….beginning with a plea to God, almost in desperation…

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,” listen to us God, please listen to us….

This is followed by a portion of the psalm we did not hear this morning, a portion where we hear of a people desperate to be restored, longing to be saved….

For it continues:

3  

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

 
4 O LORD God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?
 
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
 
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

(psalm 80:3-7, Book of Common Prayer — Psalter)

We hear first hand a people that feel betrayed, forgotten, dismissed by their God…

a people trying to understand why God has left them….despite their prayers.

a people who have become the laughing stock of their neighbors and enemies…

a people who at times we can relate to, probably all to well….

The psalmist continues, by outlining all the amazing things God has done for them, with thanksgiving…..they continue to pray….

Thankful that God has taken them out of Egypt, as a tender vine, in need of replanting….and God’s amazing self …

replants them,

cares for them,

protects them….

taking the time to build them up and allowing them to flourish.

For it is only through the nurturing power of God that a once small vine can stretch its tendrils out to the Sea and its branches t the River.

This is the God of blessing,
the God of abundance,
the God of Love….

Their prayer of lament continues, as they wrestle with how this God they know and love could turn their back on them. how a God that once loved them and cared for them so deeply, could then make them vulnerable to attack and allow them to be devoured.

In an interesting turn of events near the end of the psalm, the people boldly demand that God REPENT….for what God has done to them…. ”Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine…..preserve what your right hand has planted.”

A final plea for God to change God’s ways and remain in relationship with them

Its almost as if they had prayed……

O God, you are amazing, listen to all the amazing things you have done.

We said we are sorry, please be in relationship with us again. We miss you.

Why did you let all these bad things happen to us.

You should say your sorry for the bad things you did.

Please make it right. We are waiting.

How refreshing.

 

-How often have you yearned to say those things to God, but perhaps felt unable to,

-or wanted to be angry at God for abandoning you in a moment of great need, but felt like to be angry at God was bad or sinful….

-or in the face of daily tragedy around the world, gotten wrapped up in the everyday lament of why God allows bad things to happen to good people….

 

In so many ways the psalmist offers language that many of our hearts have struggled to express….

And yet, while it is indeed a psalm of lament it is simultaneously a psalm of hope.

The people ask how long, how long will God turn away from them….knowing that even though they may feel estranged, God nevertheless continues to listen to God’s people, or else there would be no need to offer a public lament in the first place, no need to ask God to turn back, if they really felt that God had truly left them.

It has never crossed my mind to demand an apology from God, and yet the brazen psalmist does. Through the psalmists’ plea for God to “turn again,” or repent, and look with favor on the people once more, we see a God whose fundamental being is intimately tied to relationship. And to be in relationship calls for continual adjustment, recalibration, and evaluation…. [2] Relationships come with joy and sadness. They demand give and take, and reciprocity. A reciprocity that requires a commitment to continued conversation even when we feel betrayed or abandoned, angry or mad….a conversation that we are reminded today is rooted in prayer….

After struggling with prayer for sometime, my spiritual director reminded me that prayer….is something we practice….like anything else in our lives its not something that we do flawlessly, or comes without its challenges, or that we are even naturally good at…its something that requires our attention and faithfulness, and like all things we practice— we only get better over time….

It doesn’t have to be the right prayer…or the perfect prayer…just faithful prayer.

Prayer is not how often we sit down with our hands crossed and eyes closed —-but more about intentionally engaging with our God.

It’s not about the words we say aloud ——but how they dance in our hearts…

Its about entering into the relationship with the holy on a regular basis…so that when times get tough we can echo the lament of the psalmist….and say to God….”what?” “why?” but more importantly — “How long?”

As Christians we know relationship….

relationship is made known to us through the incarnation, through the mystery of the holy trinity, and through the communion of saints.

And like all relationships we know first hand that they have their challenges….

The psalmist offers us more then desperation and lament….

the psalmist reminds us of the hope…a hope that only comes with being in relationship with one another and with God.

And it is that hope that reverberates through the end of the psalm, that even though times are tough, even though they may be angry and sad, they choose to stay in relationship …promising to never turn away from God, vowing to continue to “call on God’s name.” And as they let out their final request, their final prayer they do just that, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts,” show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

The is the challenge offered to us this morning….that regardless of our struggles or disillusionment with God….that we too might remain in relationship with the holy….because God wants nothing more than to be in relationship with each and every one of us.

 

 


[1] Google search “Lament” Available at: https://www.google.com/search?q=lament&oq=lament&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j0l5.751j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[2] Nancy Koester, Working Preacher, Commentary on Psalm 80:70-15. Available online at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2174

Pentecost 6B: Jesus – Just in Case

Every time I hear this passage from Mark, I think back to my Spiritual Director in Philadelphia…. We had a love/hate relationship (at least on my end)….she taught me a lot but I probably would have heard her better had she not been so direct and confrontational. But when I told her I was moving and I was trying to figure out which moving company to use and what I needed to bring. She responded a bit callously in my opinion, “you don’t need a moving company. Just sell it all, leave it all behind.”

I left angry and mad….and figured I would never see her again….so there.

What I realized…is that her response to me was simply more than I could process in my naieve youth, in my pridefulness….. in my stressed out state of uncertainty

I had spent the three years prior to seminary in joyful accumulation of stuff.

What’s more is….working at Crate and Barrel, accumulation of nice stuff. ….I’ll be the first to admit that some of it I “needed” and some of it I’m sure I didn’t “need.”

But the reality is that how hard I had worked to get where I was, to acquire what I had…..got in the way of me being able to hear what my spiritual director was saying….what Jesus was saying….

—-

“he ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics….” (Mark 6:8)

Huh? Are you serious?? Give the man some water, he must be dehydrated…he’s going mad….

I’d like to think that if I was a disciple and was there,

I would have listened to every single word of Jesus,

and did just what he asked…..

But given my track record of abandoning my possessions, or rather, not abandoning my possessions, I am fairly certain that if I was one of the twelve….and I was there in Nazareth….and I had just seen Jesus’ rejection, in, of all places, his very own hometown…..and saw the grumbling crowds, gossiping about the “carpenter”….and his failure to convince the crowds…..

the very last thing I would have done….was follow him….

And yet the disciples went off two by two. On their way….to preach repentance, cast out demons, and anoint the sick with oil. They had a clear sense from Jesus “welcome” in Nazareth what they were in for…..and yet they went on their way regardless…..

They responded, by what can only be described as faith.

An unbridled faith in God.

Faith that Jesus was more than a crazy carpenter.

Because

Only faith…..could lead someone to sacrifice the way they sacrificed…
Only faith….could subside their worries about what they would wear or where they would sleep
Only faith….could calm their skepticism

—–

This week as I frantically filed papers and straightened my office I came to the stark realization that if I didn’t go on vacation or take trips, my office would quickly resemble something shy of hoarders. You see, before vacation I take to cleaning pretty much everything…my home…my office…my car….its nice to come back to everything in order….like coming home to something special or new.

My desk nicely cleaned off….

I quickly set to the next task of packing….

This being my least favorite part of time away….next to the airport.

I’m not an overpacker per say….but by the time I get my 5 days worth of clothing pulled together….my suitcase is well on its way from a light carryon to an overstuffed, checked bag with one of those bright orange “heavy” or “overweight” tags on it.

No matter how much I pare down my bag for the journey….

When I get to my destination it somehow always borders on the absurd when I open it up.

Why on earth did I bring a sweatshirt to Massachusetts in the dead of the summer?
Just in case.

Or end up with 10 pairs of socks for a 3 day trip?
Just in case.

Or endless craft projects “to do on the airplane”, when I always just sleep?
Just in case.

—–

What we are reminded of in today’s gospel…

is that God is supposed to be our……..“Just in case.”

God becomes all the disciples need, in order for them to be on their way,

And for us today…..challenged to spread the Good News by what we say, and do, and how we live our life…it should be EVEN easier than it was for the disciples

….for our faith has been strengthened and solidified in the faithfulness of God made known to us through Jesus

the king born in a barn…..

the carpenter turned messiah……

the crucified and risen…..

If we are to truly understand our calling as disciples….. HE becomes all we need for our journey ahead…our journey as Easter people….our journey as Christians.

The disciples had faith……and yet when they are called to surrender their lives, they did….and they did so without having the benefit of knowing the resurrected Christ, and yet they went on their way two by two regardless.

Part of the journey of discipleship, is not getting it right or perfect ALL the time…the disciples knew the road wouldn’t be smooth…and the hospitality wouldn’t be overflowing…..but they still responded out of faithfulness.

The Gospel message is not about getting it right all the time…..or being perfect……(though sometimes we may think it is).

In reality the Gospel message is about our faithfulness….

And at the end of the day that is all that is asked of us…

It’s about how we respond to the call…to the challenge…to our commissioning.

It’s about learning about ourselves….

paying attention to when we resist….

when we question….

when we are uncomfortable…

When that spiritual director…told me to sell everything….I got so defensive and so upset….and it triggered something in me that made me feel sick inside….partly because I knew she was right…

I knew what scripture said…

i knew the theology…

I knew what it meant to be a follower of Christ…

but I was so connected to my stuff that I couldn’t help but react….

From that moment…I have never packed for anything without questioning what I am bringing with me….

From the easier questions like….
What baggage are you taking on this vacation that can be left behind???

To the more difficult questions….
On this journey of life….what is making your sack heavier than it needs to be???
How often do you rely on faith, and LET Jesus, be your “just in case”???

Don’t let me fool you by any means….i still get one of those bright orange “heavy” tags every once in awhile… but what I can tell you is that….I think twice with every single thing that goes in my bag….

The good news is that we don’t need to be perfect….just faithful.

And that is what we are invited to remember…..but more importantly LIVE into today…..

We Have to Start Somewhere (The Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Image

I don’t think Jennifer Whitney, photographer for the New York Times, realized the profound nature of the image she took this photo this week, when she pressed down on her camera to capture the events unfolding in front of her.

At left, a tall, crew cut, man dressed in a head to toe forest green uniform, with a gun and baton strapped around his waist……stands in stark contrast to the small Honduran boy who stands at the center of the photograph.

The Border Patrol agent is writing on a clipboard..

the little boy, his eyes looking wistfully up at the man….are marked with hopeful anticipation.  In his hands he holds a frothy bottle of ice water.

All captured in a single snapshot.

The boy, Alejandro, Age 8, was illegally trafficked into the US by Mexican Drug cartels, for close to 8,000 dollars.  He told the border patrol agent that he came by himself in search of his parents in Texas or his Aunt in Maryland.  He carried no addresses or phone numbers…..just a copy of his Birth Certificate in hand.

As Californians, we are well aware of immigration both legally and illegally.

For better or worse, it has been part of our story, as a state where people come from all over the world with a “strike it rich” mentality that harkens back to the Gold Rush…..

In 1983, the groundbreaking film El Norte, captured some of the harsh realities of immigrants in search of a new beginning.  Mayan Indian peasant, brother and sister, teenagers, are caught in the thick of the Guatemalan Civil War, where they barely escape massacre as the Guatemalan army destroys their village and family…..they escape knowing that their only hope may be California…..the journey ahead of them  is marked by abusive and shady Coyote’s who rob them and leave them for dead….in perhaps the most dramatic scene in the movie and the one that has been impressed in my head since I saw the movie in high school, is the siblings crawling through the sewer pipe laden with rats….[1]

Some 30 years later…..not much has changed.

The public narrative until recently…..has focused primarily upon adults entry into the states….while recent reports about detention facilities filled at capacity has brought public attention back towards children caught in the middle of a messy system of despair, violence, poverty and hope.

Since October more than 52,000 minors have been apprehended at the border without their parents.[2]  These children are fleeing from the gang violence that plagues their countries…. primarily from central America – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala….not Mexico as we often are lead to believe….

In Nogales Arizona, a 120,000 square foot warehouse sits, where hundreds of children are housed “in holding pens….with barely room to walk, as mattresses line the concrete floor, which also has long bleachers bolted to it….” as they wait for processing.

“the logistical challenges of caring for children are clear.”[3] Border Patrol agents once responsible for capturing and deportation are suddenly serving as babysitters….for countless children….awaiting reunification with family members,  and if they are arriving from Mexico immediate deportation.

Anyone who has ever worked with children….knows the challenges of “entertaining” a dozen kids let alone a thousand of them….combine that with meeting their basic needs, of food, shelter, and safety and its not surprising this influx of unaccompanied minors has been labeled a humanitarian crisis

Robin Reineke, a classmate of mine and the founder and executive director of the Calibri Institute, a border agency committed to identifying the remains of those adults and children that haven’t made it to el norte and informing their next of kin,  points out that while the hipe around children in detention facilities is immediate, pressing, and pulls on our heartstrings….the larger issues revealed in this influx is the role the US plays in foreign policy, and acknowledging the role we may be playing in the economic instability of these countries in the first place….leading to increased levels of violence within the country and the eventual push north.[4]

And then there’s the challenge that many Christian’s face this Sunday….when they hear the Gospel message…., a continuation of last weeks Gospel, Jesus continues to offer the disciples direction and guidance as they embark on this new journey of discipleship.  Last week we heard about the likely struggles and challenges that they will face, while this week we almost hear exclusively about the rewards of discipleship.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;

The rewards of righteousness, the prophet’s reward all for welcoming the outsider.

Welcoming….is not always easy work, even though we sometimes think it is….

We THINK it is easy…. because we do a good job welcoming our friends and family into our homes, into our lives…and building relationships with them….

When the reality about Welcoming…

is  that it is often controversial, political, and challenging.

Welcoming often divides families, communities, neighborhoods, countries…..

Basic human impulse for self protection often kick in….making the act of welcoming an incredible vulnerable act….

Welcoming while not always easy, it is something that we can work at….

Welcoming is about finding that perfect balance….

balancing personal safety, common good, and radical hospitality all at the same time….

“While operating with a clear awareness of power and patterns of inclusion and exclusion.”[5]

While in our human-ness we struggle with welcome…..
The truth remains that God does not….

God’s welcome is all encompassing, it reaches beyond anything we could possible imagine, it stretches beyond all borders…..

In the act of welcoming…..the transitive property plays itself out….

If we welcome the outsider, we welcome Christ, and if we welcome Christ we welcome God….

And yet in the midst of our own hopelessness and sometimes-even to the point of paralysis to the many in need of welcoming we often find ourselves wondering where are we to begin?

And that’s where the gospel continues

whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

A cup of cold water…..to someone in need,,,,a simple gesture….

A bottle of water….to a boy tired from a long journey…. a simple gesture….

 

And yet Jesus reminds us there is no such thing as  a simple gesture…..

“anything done in faith and love has cosmic significance for the ones involved….and indeed for the world God loves so much.”[6]

It is through that snapshot…..that single photo, that the depth and profundity of the Gospel is made clear……

Alejandro, is one of many children caught in the midst of a global system of violence and foreign policy, and yet he seeks something so basic.  His big eyes staring at the Border Patrol Agent…..drinking the cold water…cold water that made him feel welcome….that gave him hope…..

 

Immigration is a huge…messy….big…..issue…..

Foreign Policy is a huge…messy….big…..issue…..

52,000 children misplaced is a huge…messy….big….issue….

 

it seems like there really is no good place to start…..

but maybe….just maybe…..….it is starting with that single cup of water.

That single bottle of water……and seeing where that simple yet life changing act leads us…….


Sermon preached for Proper8A:  

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Norte_(film)

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/us/us-plans-to-step-up-detention-and-deportation-of-migrants.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/us/border-centers-struggle-to-handle-onslaught-of-children-crossers.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robin-reineke/the-urgent-humanitarian-c_b_5531512.html

[5] “Radical Welcome”

[6] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3265

Easter 7A: Finding Our Place in Sacred Story (Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Perhaps more than anything….Storytelling is at the very root of our religious tradition…..

The stories are told….

The stories are heard…

The stories are passed down from generation to generation….

The Old Testament reveals to us the stories of our past, where we come from…and the unfolding relationship between God and God’s chosen people….

As we begin this season after Pentecost, we begin to realize that these stories begin to unfold from the beginning…..with the creation account we heard last week, the story of Abraham this week…..and will continue to carry us through this season all the way up to All Saints Day,  chronologically following the story of God’s people…..from Genesis through Deuteronomy.

The New Testament writings reveal to us how people lived in the time following Jesus’ death and resurrection….how the newest “Christians” made sense of it all? How they lived out their faith in conflict and peace, struggling to make sense of the Resurrection and their call to discipleship.

During the season of Pentecost, these stories unfold in fourteen weeks of rather uninterrupted accounts from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  In which Paul, reveals that he is set apart by God for preaching the Gospel, he also seeks to encourage and assure them about those things that God has given to them.  Aware of the unfolding conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the Roman Church, he then proceeds to offer support and guidance to the early church. (Wiki “Paul Letter to the Romans”)

Then there is the Gospel.  Where, after a brief stint in John, we return to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, as is generally characteristic of lectionary year A.

And it is hear where we encounter the reality of fear.  In this portion of the larger missionary discourse, Jesus offers direction to the disciples, telling them several times about the terrible things they will encounter as disciples, and then as if to sugar coat it he quickly tells them, to have no fear…..to not be afraid….. before he continues to tell them all the bad things that might happen to them…..

this passage might also invoke a sense of fear in us….

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace , but a sword.”

the seemingly mild mannered Jesus, born in a manger among animals, halo above his head……is held in stark tension to the Jesus we hear about in todays gospel.

This somewhat sharp tongued Jesus, declaring that he has “come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against his mother” reminds the disciples that while they shouldn’t be afraid, they should also know that Jesus seeks to offer radical shift in social relations, power and authority, that will not always be well received….and that at times might cause conflict even among family members.  That the road to discipleship will both destroy and create new relationships……

Jesus seeks to teach the disciples that through discipleship they too will fall subject to the same pain and discomfort that he is exposed to in his ministry…but at the same time they will also experience the joy and rewards of following him.

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These stories along with those told in the psalms…help guide us through our worship and our common life together, reminding us of where we are from and where we are going…

Sacred Scripture becomes the way in which we as Christians understand

who we are,

why we are and

who we are called to be……

these stories are the fibers that knit us together both as individuals and communities of faith, but also bind us to other communities of faith…

I’d like to invite you to close your eyes for a moment…..

think about where you find yourself today…..in the great stories of our faith…..

what story from the bible jumps right into your mind…..

what story can help guide you during this particular season of your life….

Maybe you find yourself on the road to Emmaus, at the well with the women…..or maybe you find yourself in exodus struggling to find the promised land……

where does your personal story meet our sacred story?

wherever you find yourself…be there….pray from there……

PAUSE

And if you couldn’t think of it right away…I encourage you to think about that question in the weeks to come….

Where does your personal story meet our sacred story?

The practice of being able to find ourselves in scripture is not one that necessarily comes naturally to us….

we often listen to the stories cerebrally understanding their meaning or studying them….

…but when we are able to extrapolate from our own daily lives…..and begin to weave ourselves back in to the sacred story….

 

We are able to see both scripture and our lives in a new way….. that is where the magic truly happens…..that is where grace is born.

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What about St. Matthew’s?

What is our story?

What is our communities story in the larger story of this block, this deanery, this city, this diocese……

Where does our community sit in the larger survey of sacred stories….

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Although I have not been a part of this community very long, I got rather emotional this week, seeing the back hoe take out the plants outside my window and the parking lot…

in my sadness I turned the corner and there were a couple families outside the Baldwin entrance with preschool and kindergarten age children….looking at the back hoes….sooo excited because they had never seen one sooooo big before…..and the parents were eager to learn what was going on here……

I saw a man driving down El Camino with a look like “oh my gosh I didn’t know there was a church there, Where did they come from?”

I overheard to passerby’s on the street corner wondering “what was going on?” and “how beautiful that church is”

All around us the story of St. Matthew is shifting….

In the midst of this shift……where do we find ourselves in scripture…..

Are we the parish in exile, feeling dry and parched as we travel through the dessert looking towards the promise land, wondering if and when we will ever make it there?

Are we the parish at the Wedding Feast in Cana, where though we think we have run out, we realize that God continues to provide from God’s abundance?

Are we the parish listening to Jesus, assured by him telling us to not be afraid, but reminding us that things will not always be as they are….or as they have always been.

What is our sacred story?

And where is it leading us?

What will it teach us about God and about ourselves, and about the community around us?

Easter 6A: A Lost Generation (Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Last fall, I was invited to participate in an online bookgroup by an old classmate from high school and middle school.  I had never done one of these online book groups….but was touched by her personal invitation to be apart of the group.  The text had been chosen “You Lost Me:  Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.”  By David Kinnaman.

I grew a bit anxious when I heard the book selection…because I am clearly on the other side of that threshold…..I know why I left the church… in college.

But I know that my friend, unlike myself never came back to church….and now identifies as somewhere in the agnostic – atheist spectrum.

The two of us were raised in nuclear Roman Catholic households….both of us with parents married for almost 40 years…

And yet we have gone very different directions in relationship to Church. Making the invitation to be in an authentic dialogue about our experience with the church so refreshing..

The premise of Kinnaman’s book weaves together both quantitative and qualitative findings about youth dropout rates in a way that seeks “to explain the next generation’s cultural context and examine the question How can we follow Jesus —And help young people faithfully follow Jesus –in a dramatically changing culture?”(Kindle -location129)

Unfortunately the book does all to good a job painting the reality of youth ministry in America…”.beginning with the dropout problem that hinges on two simple facts”

1)   teenagers (13-17 year olds) are some of the most religiously active Americans.

2)   (while) American twentysomethings are the least religiously active….

The ages 18-29 are have become the black hole of congregations….and are often missing from churches….reflecting a 43% drop off between the teen and the early adult years in terms of church engagement….an overwhelming 8 million twenty somethings who once were active and invested teenagers…..gone from our communities before their 30th birthday,” becoming what has been coined unchurched (Kindle location 243)

What often happens with this missing group…..is rather than ask questions, seek information, or learn about the cultural shift……

we sit back and WE make excuses for why they aren’t at church….….

-”they are just too focused on their careers”…..or

-“its ok they will come back when they have to baptize their children.”

These, among others, are common “outs” offered by well meaning church-goers to help make sense out of their absence…

but its often those very excuses that help keep us in denial about why they are really gone….and why they won’t come back.

While the book is not perfect, and definitely leaves room for discussion, it does,

I think….get a lot of things really right about the lost generation and how and when we fail them….

It also does a great job of outlining how we, sometimes unknowlingly, KEEP the lost generation….just that…..lost

And while I must admit….it sounds like a depressing read….its actually not as depressing as I may make it sound, namely because it addresses the common reasons for departure from church, and how we might begin to think about meeting the needs of this growing generation and of the generation following them….

Less one feel totally helpless at the end of the book, it also includes a helpful “50 ideas to find a generation” which were generated by congregations attempting to “cultivate a new mind for understanding and discipling the next generation.”

Another thing that makes this feel hopeful….is that we aren’t alone in this exodus phenomenon.  .

We often think that the missing generation is something unique to mainline Christian denominations…..but a recent documentary titled “Un-mosqued,” highlights that it is no longer just a Christian phenomenon.

In a recent NPR story,[1] they explored the new documentary and why it is causing such a stir.

The film “depicts a younger generation of American Muslims, drifting away from Islam and while Christian churches haven’t generally accepted their responsibility in pushing young Christians away…, UnMosqued, goes straight for the jugular and is not shy in blaming the current Mosques for their failure to meet the needs of young adults.

I was enthralled as the story unfolded….talking about so called “third spaces” emerging where young adults are trying to gather outside the mosque to form new Muslim communities….similar in many ways to what Episcopalians often refer to as “fresh expressions.” Examples of dinner  “churches” or dinner “mosques,” congregations meeting in coffee houses or in the fields of farms, communities of faith reclaiming an earlier “house church” model of worship where people can worship God free from the burdens of our physical buildings and all that so often comes with them.

In a time when Christians and Muslisms are at war with one another around the world….there was something refreshing about the story….in that we aren’t the only ones that have screwed up…. And we really aren’t as alone as we think….

other organized religions are struggling the same as we are….

Struggling to make sense of a changing world….

Struggling to understand the mystery of God in the midst of that changing world.

And

Struggling to help others…understand that mystery.

On his second missionary Journey, Paul travels from Philippi, to Thessalonica and finally to Athens.  In the portion we hear from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles today in our first reading, we hear Paul’s sermon to the Athenians.

In his exhortation to the people of Athens, he brilliantly introduces the gospel in a way that is accessible for the “unchurched” to hear….he begins….with what on a first read might seem like flattery….”Athenian’s I see how extremely religious you are in every way.”  But what is most important is that Paul acknowledges the holy among them, acknowledging first the spiritual nature of their beliefs…even if they might just be superstition.

He meets them where they are.

And it is from that point that he seeks to teach them about  the mystery of God.

Paul skillfully introduces his hearers to Christ by teaching them about God’s interrelationship with humanity.

“God is creator of the universe, such that humans find their being in Him –we are created in the image and likeness of God. He is the sustainer of the universe –we are dependent on Him and He is independent of us. The purpose of God’s creating and sustaining role is that we may know him—enter into relationship with Him” [2]

and it is that link to humanity that Paul then uses, with a splash of familiar Greek poetry to illustrate his point…

28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 

Paul’s message was a message to the unchurched….to those who had no connection with Jesus Christ….

And from the portion of the reading that follows, that we didn’t hear today, we know that some were converted through their encounter with Paul and his sharing the story of the resurrection with him.

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘we shall hear you again concerning this.’  So Paul went out of their midst.  But some men joined him and believed…among them were Dionysius…and a woman named Demaris….”

Perhaps the success of Paul was his ability to honor the truth about people’s experiences with the sacred.

I know I have talked about chapel several times this year, and one of the exercises that we have been doing this year is to answer children’s questions about God, faith and life, in the context of our Episcopal identity.  This past week, Chaplain Amber was faced with the question, “why do we have so many different religions?  Why isn’t there just one religion?”

I thought her approach to this very difficult question was particularly refreshing….she talked about how in the beginning of time the mystery of God was born throughout creation, and then how people from the very earliest cave dwellers….to Hindus, jews, Christians, and Muslims all really sought to make sense of that same “mystery of god” in their own unique way….often times drawing on the traditions of the past, but creating something new for themselves….and how at the end of time, on the opposite side of creation, that we might understand end times, as a time in which, all our ideas of the mystery of God will coalesce….

24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands

but rather it lives inside each of us….from generation to generation….

Paul grappled with Mystery of God…

the Athenians grappled with the Mystery of God.

 

Just as we grapple with the mystery of God… in the midst of our changing world….

Just as our Muslim brothers and sisters grapple…

And it seems like perhaps one of our greatest challenges may be to remain open minded to the ways the mystery of God, reveals itself to us in the midst of this changing world…

but perhaps more importantly HOW we respond to that Mystery….to that Spirit?

how we can make that mystery be known to the lost generation in a way that honors where they are…or even prevent generations from being lost in the first place?

If we don’t carry on the important work of Paul….who will?

If it is truly In him we live and move and have our being,  we have no choice but to respond prayerfully and powerfully to the changing world around us, attempting to make sense of the mystery of God in the midst of us, in a way that seeks to transform our relationship with God, one another, and the unchurched….authentically, faithfully and lovingly.

[1] NPR “Unmosqued”  http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/05/23/314867358/unmosqued-examines-muslim-variant-of-unchurched-youth

[2] “The Areopagus Sermon,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Includes detailed textual notes.  Available:  http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyot/easter6aaot.html