Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016 St Peter’s Arlington Luke 22:23-43 “Whom Do You See?”


It’s good to be back at St Peter’s. For those of you who don’t know me, this parish finally was able to get some relief from my presence by sending me off to seminary in 2006. Actually, I’m kidding -  this parish was a blessing to me in so many ways, not the least of which was supporting my candidacy for ordination.

One of the things I did while I was a parishioner here was to be a part of the icon-writing group taught by Irena Beliakova. We met every Saturday down in the old basement for a couple of hours of prayer, icon writing, and a whole lot of sighing. Sighing mostly because we couldn’t get our brushes to do as we wanted, or we couldn’t figure out the right color, or just because it was a hard spiritual discipline.

But eventually, with the help of our teacher and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we would complete an icon, and it always was greater than the sum of its parts.

Icons are wondrous things. I know to some of you they look like artwork, but they are so much more. 

First, a point of clarification: they are not meant to be a teaching tool like stained glass windows. No, they are an aid to prayer, a window into heaven. When you look at one, at first glance it looks strange – elongated limbs, no attention to Western rules of proportion, serious faces, odd symbols. You might recognize the person portrayed in the icon – Jesus, Mary, Elijah, St. Peter – but it’s hard to connect with the image at first. But when you spend some time with them, you find yourself looking through them rather than at them. You see beyond the image on the board, into a divine space.

Let me say that again. You see BEYOND the image into another space, a divine space.

I spent the past week on retreat down in North Carolina, writing an icon. Most of the icon-writing time was spent in blessed silence. Since most of my workweek is spent talking to people, silence is precious, and this week was doubly precious, because I had no phone access, no interruptions, no unnecessary conversations…just writing an icon, the one that portrays that moment when Mary Magdalene encounters the newly risen Jesus outside the tomb. Once she recognizes him, she reaches out to embrace him. He says, “don’t touch me. It isn’t the time for us to touch.” It’s a blow to her, but as she looks at him, she realizes that the man she sees is not the same person she knew. He is transformed. Not just marks in his hands and feet, but he is different. She sees beyond the image she has had of Jesus, her rabbi and friend, to what he has become, the risen Lord, and she has to accept the impossible.

It’s a powerful icon. Jesus looks at her with tenderness, recognizing her confusion. She looks at Jesus longingly, wanting nothing more than the comfort of touch after the week that preceded it…she reaches to him and he holds his hand up as if to say “don’t.”

But she sees beyond what she thought she saw when he said “Mary.” She sees a transformed person.
Mary Magdalene is not the first person to see something different in Jesus.

As we hear in today’s gospel, most everybody at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion sees – what? A loser. A failed rabbi and political provocateur who is going to pay for his transgressions with his life. His friends and followers have deserted him. Only a few women stand off in the distance – his mother and a few others. They see a beloved one whose mission seems to have failed, but they stay, watching the horrible scene, because they love him and they must bear witness.  He is still their Jesus: their understanding of Jesus, their image of Jesus.

But as he hangs from the cross, in this most ignominious of poses, there is one who sees something different. And it is an unlikely person – another person being crucified. Perhaps it is desperation, perhaps it is a revelation, but this criminal sees the man next to him as something other than another victim of Roman justice. He sees one who is truly a King – Christ the King. He sees beyond the pain and the lash marks and the blood dripping from hands and feet and sees majesty and power. He sees Christ the King. No followers, not even Peter, the Rock who would be the foundation of the church, see Christ the King in this moment. Only a criminal, a thief, the least trustworthy of persons, sees this crucified rabbi as Christ the King.

I wonder if we had been there, if we had the stomach for the spectacle, what we would have seen. My guess is that we would not have seen a king, we would have seen a failure. Now it’s easy for us to say who it is – we went to Sunday school after all – but without that, how would we have seen beyond the visual image to what existed behind it?

That happens a lot these days – we make a judgment on what we see based upon visual evidence without looking deeper, without looking at the person behind the person. It’s the sort of thing that leads to demonization – the awful language we heard in recent weeks in the political sphere. We reduce the person whom we don’t like to a catchphrase or a judgmental witticism, despite the fact that we know that we human beings are infinitely more complicated than a snarky catchphrase can convey. It gives us a feel of control, doesn’t it, this reduction of a person to a judgment?

But it denies something very important about each and every one of us, and here’s where I turn back to the notion of icons and iconography.

What is one of the first things we learn as we study our Christian faith? That human beings are made in the image of God. We humans are the closest thing we can get to what God is. We can’t imagine what God looks like, but if we look at ourselves, that’s a start.

In other words, we are icons of God. It is through us that we see God. Each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is an icon of Creator God, of Christ the King, of the Holy Spirit that sustains us. If we look at each other and look beyond our human failings, what do we see? We see our Trinitarian God. We are the icons of God.

So now that we know that, does it seem right to disrespect other human beings by calling them names, by dismissing whole groups of people as bad in gross generalizations, by classifying them in ways that meet political expediency rather than recognizing that they are icons of God, of Christ the King?

Think of it this way: if you looked at that thief being crucified, it would be easy to simply say “that’s a bad person who robbed others of their honestly earned goods.” But if you looked beyond the visual, into someone who, despite his brokenness, was an icon of God, you would see why he was capable of recognizing Christ the King.

Exteriors are deceiving. Look to the heart rather than the exterior. Look through the icon to the God who created him. Visualize every human being, even the one you disdain, as a sneak peek into who the King is who reigns among us, and then…

…treat them accordingly.


Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016 St Peter’s Arlington Luke 22:23-43 “Whom Do You See?”


It’s good to be back at St Peter’s. For those of you who don’t know me, this parish finally was able to get some relief from my presence by sending me off to seminary in 2006. Actually, I’m kidding -  this parish was a blessing to me in so many ways, not the least of which was supporting my candidacy for ordination.

One of the things I did while I was a parishioner here was to be a part of the icon-writing group taught by Irena Beliakova. We met every Saturday down in the old basement for a couple of hours of prayer, icon writing, and a whole lot of sighing. Sighing mostly because we couldn’t get our brushes to do as we wanted, or we couldn’t figure out the right color, or just because it was a hard spiritual discipline.

But eventually, with the help of our teacher and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we would complete an icon, and it always was greater than the sum of its parts.

Icons are wondrous things. I know to some of you they look like artwork, but they are so much more. 

First, a point of clarification: they are not meant to be a teaching tool like stained glass windows. No, they are an aid to prayer, a window into heaven. When you look at one, at first glance it looks strange – elongated limbs, no attention to Western rules of proportion, serious faces, odd symbols. You might recognize the person portrayed in the icon – Jesus, Mary, Elijah, St. Peter – but it’s hard to connect with the image at first. But when you spend some time with them, you find yourself looking through them rather than at them. You see beyond the image on the board, into a divine space.

Let me say that again. You see BEYOND the image into another space, a divine space.

I spent the past week on retreat down in North Carolina, writing an icon. Most of the icon-writing time was spent in blessed silence. Since most of my workweek is spent talking to people, silence is precious, and this week was doubly precious, because I had no phone access, no interruptions, no unnecessary conversations…just writing an icon, the one that portrays that moment when Mary Magdalene encounters the newly risen Jesus outside the tomb. Once she recognizes him, she reaches out to embrace him. He says, “don’t touch me. It isn’t the time for us to touch.” It’s a blow to her, but as she looks at him, she realizes that the man she sees is not the same person she knew. He is transformed. Not just marks in his hands and feet, but he is different. She sees beyond the image she has had of Jesus, her rabbi and friend, to what he has become, the risen Lord, and she has to accept the impossible.

It’s a powerful icon. Jesus looks at her with tenderness, recognizing her confusion. She looks at Jesus longingly, wanting nothing more than the comfort of touch after the week that preceded it…she reaches to him and he holds his hand up as if to say “don’t.”

But she sees beyond what she thought she saw when he said “Mary.” She sees a transformed person.
Mary Magdalene is not the first person to see something different in Jesus.

As we hear in today’s gospel, most everybody at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion sees – what? A loser. A failed rabbi and political provocateur who is going to pay for his transgressions with his life. His friends and followers have deserted him. Only a few women stand off in the distance – his mother and a few others. They see a beloved one whose mission seems to have failed, but they stay, watching the horrible scene, because they love him and they must bear witness.  He is still their Jesus: their understanding of Jesus, their image of Jesus.

But as he hangs from the cross, in this most ignominious of poses, there is one who sees something different. And it is an unlikely person – another person being crucified. Perhaps it is desperation, perhaps it is a revelation, but this criminal sees the man next to him as something other than another victim of Roman justice. He sees one who is truly a King – Christ the King. He sees beyond the pain and the lash marks and the blood dripping from hands and feet and sees majesty and power. He sees Christ the King. No followers, not even Peter, the Rock who would be the foundation of the church, see Christ the King in this moment. Only a criminal, a thief, the least trustworthy of persons, sees this crucified rabbi as Christ the King.

I wonder if we had been there, if we had the stomach for the spectacle, what we would have seen. My guess is that we would not have seen a king, we would have seen a failure. Now it’s easy for us to say who it is – we went to Sunday school after all – but without that, how would we have seen beyond the visual image to what existed behind it?

That happens a lot these days – we make a judgment on what we see based upon visual evidence without looking deeper, without looking at the person behind the person. It’s the sort of thing that leads to demonization – the awful language we heard in recent weeks in the political sphere. We reduce the person whom we don’t like to a catchphrase or a judgmental witticism, despite the fact that we know that we human beings are infinitely more complicated than a snarky catchphrase can convey. It gives us a feel of control, doesn’t it, this reduction of a person to a judgment?

But it denies something very important about each and every one of us, and here’s where I turn back to the notion of icons and iconography.

What is one of the first things we learn as we study our Christian faith? That human beings are made in the image of God. We humans are the closest thing we can get to what God is. We can’t imagine what God looks like, but if we look at ourselves, that’s a start.

In other words, we are icons of God. It is through us that we see God. Each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is an icon of Creator God, of Christ the King, of the Holy Spirit that sustains us. If we look at each other and look beyond our human failings, what do we see? We see our Trinitarian God. We are the icons of God.

So now that we know that, does it seem right to disrespect other human beings by calling them names, by dismissing whole groups of people as bad in gross generalizations, by classifying them in ways that meet political expediency rather than recognizing that they are icons of God, of Christ the King?

Think of it this way: if you looked at that thief being crucified, it would be easy to simply say “that’s a bad person who robbed others of their honestly earned goods.” But if you looked beyond the visual, into someone who, despite his brokenness, was an icon of God, you would see why he was capable of recognizing Christ the King.

Exteriors are deceiving. Look to the heart rather than the exterior. Look through the icon to the God who created him. Visualize every human being, even the one you disdain, as a sneak peek into who the King is who reigns among us, and then…

…treat them accordingly.


Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, November 20, 2016 St Peter’s Arlington Luke 22:23-43 “Whom Do You See?”


It’s good to be back at St Peter’s. For those of you who don’t know me, this parish finally was able to get some relief from my presence by sending me off to seminary in 2006. Actually, I’m kidding -  this parish was a blessing to me in so many ways, not the least of which was supporting my candidacy for ordination.

One of the things I did while I was a parishioner here was to be a part of the icon-writing group taught by Irena Beliakova. We met every Saturday down in the old basement for a couple of hours of prayer, icon writing, and a whole lot of sighing. Sighing mostly because we couldn’t get our brushes to do as we wanted, or we couldn’t figure out the right color, or just because it was a hard spiritual discipline.

But eventually, with the help of our teacher and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we would complete an icon, and it always was greater than the sum of its parts.

Icons are wondrous things. I know to some of you they look like artwork, but they are so much more. 

First, a point of clarification: they are not meant to be a teaching tool like stained glass windows. No, they are an aid to prayer, a window into heaven. When you look at one, at first glance it looks strange – elongated limbs, no attention to Western rules of proportion, serious faces, odd symbols. You might recognize the person portrayed in the icon – Jesus, Mary, Elijah, St. Peter – but it’s hard to connect with the image at first. But when you spend some time with them, you find yourself looking through them rather than at them. You see beyond the image on the board, into a divine space.

Let me say that again. You see BEYOND the image into another space, a divine space.

I spent the past week on retreat down in North Carolina, writing an icon. Most of the icon-writing time was spent in blessed silence. Since most of my workweek is spent talking to people, silence is precious, and this week was doubly precious, because I had no phone access, no interruptions, no unnecessary conversations…just writing an icon, the one that portrays that moment when Mary Magdalene encounters the newly risen Jesus outside the tomb. Once she recognizes him, she reaches out to embrace him. He says, “don’t touch me. It isn’t the time for us to touch.” It’s a blow to her, but as she looks at him, she realizes that the man she sees is not the same person she knew. He is transformed. Not just marks in his hands and feet, but he is different. She sees beyond the image she has had of Jesus, her rabbi and friend, to what he has become, the risen Lord, and she has to accept the impossible.

It’s a powerful icon. Jesus looks at her with tenderness, recognizing her confusion. She looks at Jesus longingly, wanting nothing more than the comfort of touch after the week that preceded it…she reaches to him and he holds his hand up as if to say “don’t.”

But she sees beyond what she thought she saw when he said “Mary.” She sees a transformed person.
Mary Magdalene is not the first person to see something different in Jesus.

As we hear in today’s gospel, most everybody at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion sees – what? A loser. A failed rabbi and political provocateur who is going to pay for his transgressions with his life. His friends and followers have deserted him. Only a few women stand off in the distance – his mother and a few others. They see a beloved one whose mission seems to have failed, but they stay, watching the horrible scene, because they love him and they must bear witness.  He is still their Jesus: their understanding of Jesus, their image of Jesus.

But as he hangs from the cross, in this most ignominious of poses, there is one who sees something different. And it is an unlikely person – another person being crucified. Perhaps it is desperation, perhaps it is a revelation, but this criminal sees the man next to him as something other than another victim of Roman justice. He sees one who is truly a King – Christ the King. He sees beyond the pain and the lash marks and the blood dripping from hands and feet and sees majesty and power. He sees Christ the King. No followers, not even Peter, the Rock who would be the foundation of the church, see Christ the King in this moment. Only a criminal, a thief, the least trustworthy of persons, sees this crucified rabbi as Christ the King.

I wonder if we had been there, if we had the stomach for the spectacle, what we would have seen. My guess is that we would not have seen a king, we would have seen a failure. Now it’s easy for us to say who it is – we went to Sunday school after all – but without that, how would we have seen beyond the visual image to what existed behind it?

That happens a lot these days – we make a judgment on what we see based upon visual evidence without looking deeper, without looking at the person behind the person. It’s the sort of thing that leads to demonization – the awful language we heard in recent weeks in the political sphere. We reduce the person whom we don’t like to a catchphrase or a judgmental witticism, despite the fact that we know that we human beings are infinitely more complicated than a snarky catchphrase can convey. It gives us a feel of control, doesn’t it, this reduction of a person to a judgment?

But it denies something very important about each and every one of us, and here’s where I turn back to the notion of icons and iconography.

What is one of the first things we learn as we study our Christian faith? That human beings are made in the image of God. We humans are the closest thing we can get to what God is. We can’t imagine what God looks like, but if we look at ourselves, that’s a start.

In other words, we are icons of God. It is through us that we see God. Each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is an icon of Creator God, of Christ the King, of the Holy Spirit that sustains us. If we look at each other and look beyond our human failings, what do we see? We see our Trinitarian God. We are the icons of God.

So now that we know that, does it seem right to disrespect other human beings by calling them names, by dismissing whole groups of people as bad in gross generalizations, by classifying them in ways that meet political expediency rather than recognizing that they are icons of God, of Christ the King?

Think of it this way: if you looked at that thief being crucified, it would be easy to simply say “that’s a bad person who robbed others of their honestly earned goods.” But if you looked beyond the visual, into someone who, despite his brokenness, was an icon of God, you would see why he was capable of recognizing Christ the King.

Exteriors are deceiving. Look to the heart rather than the exterior. Look through the icon to the God who created him. Visualize every human being, even the one you disdain, as a sneak peek into who the King is who reigns among us, and then…

…treat them accordingly.


Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sermon for Roger Thorpe’s Memorial Service, Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Good evening. I am Mary Thorpe, Roger’s daughter-in-law. It is my privilege to say a few words this evening. Please know that the whole family deeply appreciates your prayers, your love, and your presence here as we reflect on Roger and on our faith. This has been a difficult few days, and your care has helped the family weather this hard journey.
Eileen and the family asked for two wonderful texts to be read for this service, ones that resonate as we think of this particular Christian life, now come to its peaceful end. The first is a portion of Psalm 139, the second, one of the most powerful passages from the Gospel of Matthew.  

At first glance, it might seem that these passages are not what one would expect at a funeral. Where’s the “In my Father’s House there are many rooms?” Where’s the invocation of the Good Shepherd leading the weary lamb to a place of rest? Where’s the moment when our tears are dried?

No, none of the old favorites that have been preached on for centuries as we laid our beloveds to rest. Instead, something different. Something more appropriate to this man and this moment.

Think of Psalm 139. It is absolutely clear about the relationship between the speaker and the Lord. God knows this person inside out.  The Psalmist cannot escape from God’s intimate knowledge of him – that beautiful language of being formed in his mother’s womb, of not being separated even in the darkness, because darkness is as light to God. He lists possible ways that the speaker could be far from God, and in each case, he cannot escape God. God is always present.

In some secular story lines, this might seem a frightening proposition: I cannot escape from this all-powerful being! As the Old Testament scholar Robert Alter notes, we hear the same sort of language in the Book of Job, Chapter 10. There, Job is angry and frustrated and confused and would prefer that God not be so close. But in this psalm, immediately, IMMEDIATELY, there is no fear. This speaker is absolutely delighted that God knows him: it is a marvel to him. The speaker implies, as well, that this deep and close relationship gives him a peek into the mind of God. Not all of it, of course, but glimpses : “17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” The passage closes with a request: search me and know me, and if you find anything vexing, lead me to the right path.

Ah, vexing things! My family will attest that there are more than a few vexing things about me. There are times when I mess up. I sin. And when I sin, I am ashamed. In my shame, I don’t want to be known by God, I want to hide. But the Psalmist does exactly the opposite: because he wants to be the person God created him to be, he not only accepts that God will know his flaws, but he invites God’s examination.

Why? Because he knows his heavenly Father loves him. He knows that God’s greatest desire is his striving for perfection. He also knows that it is probably impossible to be perfect, but that it is God’s good pleasure that he should want to be perfected.

Imagine a life that is based on trust that God’s knowledge of you is not something to fear, but to invite. Imagine a life that accepts that one can never completely know God, but only every now and again see glimpses of the divine, and fully believe that is enough. Imagine a life that is an ongoing intimate conversation between loving Creator and beloved Creation.

Imagine a life like that.

That was the angle of view between Roger and his God. That was Roger’s life.

So hold on to that thought. We’ll talk more on that in a minute…

Matthew’s Gospel. Chapter 25, a final teaching before Jesus’ arrest and death.  It’s an apocalyptic vision, the final judgment, the sorting. What are the things that the favored ones have done that get them put into the “sheep” column rather than tossed onto the “goat” pile? The short answer is that they paid attention, way back in Chapter 5 when Jesus taught the crowds the Beatitudes. They not only paid attention, they did something about it. They recognized that it was not enough to simply hear the Word, the Word needed – demanded -  to be acted upon. And in this apocalyptic vision, those actions were best accomplished not because followers of Jesus thought God was watching, or the world was watching.  They were best accomplished not because they were currying favor with their Creator. They were best accomplished in quiet and invisible ways, when you didn’t think you were doing it directly for Christ, but because every person in the world was beloved of Christ. Lepers, Samaritans, fallen women, tax collectors, Roman centurions, mothers-in-law, anyone…all were worthy of loving care and support, because all were loved by their Creator.

Imagine now a life where medical care was given without the eyes of the world seeing what was happening. Imagine ill people being carried for days to be cared for by the one doctor who served an area equivalent in size to Illinois and Indiana put together. Patients may have been too far gone for the doctor to do more than provide comfort, but he did that. They may not have looked like the Warner Sallman portrait of Jesus so prominently displayed in just about every Covenant Church I’ve visited, but they were cared for as if it was the Lord himself. Imagine a doctor who learned how to grind eyeglass lenses so that patients could see, and who else was going to do it? Imagine a surgeon who brought food from his own home on the mission station to patients who had no one to bring them sustenance. Imagine a life devoted to those whose need was invisible to most of the world, a life of welcoming new babies into the world and ushering dying souls to God.

Imagine such a life.

That was Roger’s life,  a life that now has come to a close.

When we come to the end of our life, there is an awareness that there will at some point be a sorting. There is a question that lingers in our hearts: will I be counted as a sheep or a goat? If God looks into my heart and at my life, will I be judged a faithful servant? We know our own weaknesses and failures, and we worry. But we need not do so. Because even if we Christians cannot fully know the mind of God, we do know two things. Our God loves us, and our Lord has saved us. We believe in Jesus’ resurrection; we believe, too, that we will be with him at the end. We need not worry about that sorting, because we have been saved. We don’t believe in works righteousness, where God ticks off all the awesome things we’ve done and weighs it against our failures, and we only get eternal reward if the good side outweighs the other, because we have been saved.

So what does this mean when we look at the life of this good and faithful Christian servant who humbly sought to use his gifts to do God’s will? We see what it looks like when we know God as God knows us. We see what it looks like when we’ve paid attention to the Beatitudes, and we realize that it’s not just the listening to them, but acting upon them. We see the joy of ever being known and ever being perfected by the one who has always known us and has always loved us. This is what it looks like to live a life of belief. Roger did what he did in his life because he could not NOT do it, because of what the Lord did for him. He is saved. So are we all. May he rest in peace; we fully trust he will rise in glory.


Amen.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 Luke 17:11-19 “Identity”


Good morning! I am Mary Thorpe, Director of Transition Ministry for the Diocese of Virginia, and it is my privilege to be here with you as you adjust to a new reality without Rev. D at the helm of this wonderful parish. It is the work of my department to support you in this time of transition. Your bishops and your diocesan staff are your resource, the folks you can lean on, as you look toward the future.

The readings we have today seem to have very little to do with your situation…and yet they do. That’s the blessing of the lectionary – it seems that every time something happens in our lives that shakes us, there is a thread in the lectionary that speaks to our souls.

So in today’s readings, we hear two stories about people afflicted with leprosy, and how they are affected by it as well as how they deal with their affliction.

Well, what does leprosy have to do with St P's? On the face of it, not much. But let’s explore a little bit and see what we can find.

Leprosy was a feared disease in the ancient world. It was viewed as a sign of being unclean. Lepers had to survive by begging, living outside the gates of the city. There was fear, too, that this was a transmittable disease – we know now that Hansen’s disease, as leprosy is now called, is not infectious in that way. But in those days, people who suffered from this affliction were ostracized, kept out of the community, were known not as brothers or mothers or children but as outcasts who must announce themselves by ringing a bell and calling out “unclean, unclean!”

In other words, they lost their identity. They became known only as their affliction.

This is not only a phenomenon of the past. When I was in chaplaincy training at a hospital in Washington, there was a tendency to refer to patients by their ailment. “The gallbladder in 4West.” “The terminal pancreatic cancer in that room.” “The teen with end-stage AIDS.” Not Mrs. Jones. Not Fred Smith. Not Angela. Their identity was subsumed by their disease.

Nowadays, they train doctors not to refer to patients in this way, but the practice still lingers. And it’s not surprising. When we are focused on our own illness, we tend to be consumed with talk about it. When a loved one is ill, everything is about the symptoms or the treatment or the prognosis. Even in referring to ourselves, our illnesses become a primary identity, and we forget how we are so much more than that. There is a loss of identity, or at the very least a shift in identity, when there is illness.

So now we turn back to the Gospel. A group of lepers encounter Jesus on the road. 
They ask him for mercy. He heals them. No big surprise there – he usually heals those who ask for his help. He doesn’t ask questions, he simply cares for them. He doesn’t sort them into good people or bad people, or Jews or Gentiles, or men or women. He sees each of them as beloved of their Creator, and heals them.

Now what happens next is interesting: only one turns back to say thank you. And in the telling of the story, suddenly there is note paid to the fact that this grateful man is…a Samaritan. Not a Jew, but a member of a sect that most Jews would view as unclean simply by virtue of his religious identity.

This is a guy who was viewed as doubly broken, doubly unacceptable, because he was first, a Samaritan, and second, a leper. His healing solves the second problem but he is still a Samaritan. Yet he crosses the boundaries, not denying his identity, not turning from someone he shouldn’t have trusted, because he sees that Jesus’ love is bigger than that. Jesus doesn’t allow the peculiarities of one person’s identity to get in the way of loving the man and healing him.

Jesus puts identity in its proper place: a facet of a person, not the whole of the person’s story. Something that is infinitely more nuanced than we usually think. By doing that, it becomes perfectly sensible that Jesus should heal a Samaritan leper. He sees identity differently, not ignoring it but putting it into its proper context.

Identity matters. When our identity is taken away from us, when we stop being Mrs. Smith and become the gallbladder in room 4West, we feel we are no longer visible. Have you ever had the experience of being the patient lying in the bed, and having doctors talk over your prone form to your spouse or another doctor? Then you know what I mean! You feel somehow lessened. Your identity is shrunk into a small box.

But identity is not a one-dimensional thing. It is complex. It evolves, just as the transition from leper to healed person is an evolution.

What does this have to do with St P's? I know of the history of this parish, that there have been times of great conflict and tension, that you have welcomed parishioners from other conflicted parishes, that there are still a range of theological points of view in this place. That is a part of your identity, one that we can celebrate because despite the struggles you are united in your love for this place and you are looking forward in hope. But the other part of an evolving identity is to say “that is a part of our story but it is not the whole of our story.” You are writing your story as a parish family with love, with spirituality, and with service.

If you simply choose to identify yourselves as your past story, you inhibit your ability to write the next chapter, with the help of the Holy Spirit. If you say “we are fragile because of the struggles of the past,” you deny the hard work you have done…and the toughness of scar tissue exceeds that of untested flesh. You are stronger than you may think.

As you reflect on your identity in this time of change, Jesus suggests that you see yourselves as you truly are: strong, vibrant, with gifts and ministries that benefit each other and the larger community. See yourselves as more than past disputes. See yourselves as Jesus sees you: healed, strengthened, beloved. And see how that shapes your vision of God’s plan for St. P's.

Your identity is even now growing, because God’s grace keeps you moving and changing, and that’s a good thing. May God bless St P's, all of you who are here and those who could not be here, and all those who have not yet found you but who belong here, and God bless the next chapter of living into that evolving identity with God’s help.

Amen.




Saturday, October 08, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, September 25, 2016 Holy Comforter, Richmond “A World Turned Upside Down”

For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing a series of teachings and parables. We’ve heard about healing on the Sabbath. We’ve heard about invited poor people to our table rather than worrying about how close to the host we get to sit. We’ve heard about how we need to turn our back on familial relationships. We’ve heard about lost coins and sheep. We’ve heard about the shrewd but dishonest manager. We’ve heard about a poor beggar at the rich man’s gate getting rewarded and the rich man having an unpleasant surprise at the other side of eternity.

A whole laundry list of teachings…what’s the common thread?

It’s a world turned upside down. That’s the thing about Jesus’ teachings. He seemingly never goes to the expected place in his teachings. He takes the conventional wisdom – even the conventional religious wisdom of the day – and upends it. Not surprisingly, that makes people uncomfortable, because we like to think we know how things work and what being a good and righteous person looks like.

I’ve had a week of uncomfortable-ness. My world was turned upside down. I was called to jury duty.

Now I know that it’s our civic duty to do it. I know that I’m not special and don’t get a bye on doing it. I know all that. But my schedule is horrific. There’s an endless stream of work in my in-box and voice mail, and I can barely keep up.

So I wore my collar to the courthouse in hopes that it would give me a pass. After all, wouldn’t the attorneys believe that I would be too bound by religious beliefs to be a good juror? Wouldn’t one side think that I would be an angel of mercy and the other think I would be an  avenging angel, so either of them might say I couldn’t serve?

You know the saying. You make a plan and God laughs.

The one trial that was starting on Monday was a civil trial. They needed nine jurors. There were almost 50 of us. “Piece of cake,” I thought. “I’m outta here.”

They called 17 people for initial screening. Not me. “Sweet,” I thought. “I’m off the hook.”

The lawyers quizzed folks. Several were relieved of duty. “Hmm,” I thought.

They called a couple of other people to be asked questions. Not me. “Thank goodness,” I thought. “That was close.”

We broke for lunch, with orders to come back at 1:30. When we reconvened, there was a problem. One of the jurors had not returned from lunch. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, they went to their list to call one more name.

Mine. Dang it!

Short story: I’m on the jury. I’ve been on the jury all week. I can’t talk about the case, but I can talk, I think, about worlds turned upside down. My world, where my schedule was blown to smithereens. The world of the defendant, who, it goes without saying, had to defend himself. The world of the plaintiff, who filed this case because the plaintiff’s world had been turned upside down and thought the defendant was responsible. The world of battalions of lawyers who have to do this for a living, and despite all their carefully constructed strategies, could not predict some of what was said from the stand. The world of my fellow jurors, some of whom were missing work, one of whom was 7 months pregnant, all of whom had other places to be. Even, perhaps, the world of the judge, whose docket of cases was interfered with by this long case – after a full week of testimony, we will finally begin deliberations on Monday – and the times when his administration of this case was interfered with by emergent needs on other cases on his docket.

But even in worlds turned upside down, there is grace. I’ve met some wonderful people, particularly my fellow jurors, who are a motley crew, but we laugh and share our stories freely in the stuffy little jury room. I’ve heard moments of tragedy but also moments of deep caring and love in that room and from the witness stand. I’ve seen experts turned to mush and ordinary folks be voices of wisdom.

You turn a rock upside down, you might not like what you see. But if you turn the world upside down, you may see things that surprise you more positively.

This is what Jesus has been talking about these past few weeks. If you are stuck in one view of the way things are supposed to be, whether it’s that the poor get a lousy deal because their parents sinned, or that the conniving manager gets a bye for his cleverness (remember that one line in last week’s gospel that says “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” – we’re supposed to be less shrewd, not more)…if you’re stuck in one view of the way things are supposed to be, you aren’t looking at the whole picture, you’re missing something.

Jesus turns the world upside down so that we can see the whole of God’s love for us, the whole of the dark and the light of the world. We are intended to look for the places where we can be bringers of light by seeing things differently. We are not intended to simply move through the right-side-up world like zombies following rules without thinking.

Here’s the thing: it’s easier to keep the world right-side-up where we think we know what we’re supposed to do. It’s easier to follow a recipe. But if the only recipe we receive that truly matters is “Add love,” it requires that we look in all aspects of the world to see where we’re supposed to add it. If we turn the world upside down, we may see all sorts of places where behaving differently from what our right side up world means that we are the love-bringers. And those who bring us love may be the ones we least expect. It is, after all, upside down world!

I don’t know what our jury will decide on this case we’ve been hearing all week. I don’t know what the impact of our decision will be on all who are involved. But I do know this: it turned my world upside down and I saw things I didn’t expect to see. I felt God’s love in our work and in my personal reflections. There was a moment here or there when I may have been a symbol of God’s love – I hope I did that as God would want. As disorienting and disturbing as being in upside down world this week has been, I’ve learned something of what Jesus asks of us: look and really see. Don’t simply follow rules blindly.  Questions are not bad things, they are critical. Look for the love. Look for the light. And trust that you will know, through God’s Holy Spirit, what you are to do. Both sides of the world need it. Both sides of the world need you.

Amen.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, September 25, 2016 Holy Comforter, Richmond “A World Turned Upside Down”

For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing a series of teachings and parables. We’ve heard about healing on the Sabbath. We’ve heard about invited poor people to our table rather than worrying about how close to the host we get to sit. We’ve heard about how we need to turn our back on familial relationships. We’ve heard about lost coins and sheep. We’ve heard about the shrewd but dishonest manager. We’ve heard about a poor beggar at the rich man’s gate getting rewarded and the rich man having an unpleasant surprise at the other side of eternity.

A whole laundry list of teachings…what’s the common thread?

It’s a world turned upside down. That’s the thing about Jesus’ teachings. He seemingly never goes to the expected place in his teachings. He takes the conventional wisdom – even the conventional religious wisdom of the day – and upends it. Not surprisingly, that makes people uncomfortable, because we like to think we know how things work and what being a good and righteous person looks like.

I’ve had a week of uncomfortable-ness. My world was turned upside down. I was called to jury duty.

Now I know that it’s our civic duty to do it. I know that I’m not special and don’t get a bye on doing it. I know all that. But my schedule is horrific. There’s an endless stream of work in my in-box and voice mail, and I can barely keep up.

So I wore my collar to the courthouse in hopes that it would give me a pass. After all, wouldn’t the attorneys believe that I would be too bound by religious beliefs to be a good juror? Wouldn’t one side think that I would be an angel of mercy and the other think I would be an  avenging angel, so either of them might say I couldn’t serve?

You know the saying. You make a plan and God laughs.

The one trial that was starting on Monday was a civil trial. They needed nine jurors. There were almost 50 of us. “Piece of cake,” I thought. “I’m outta here.”

They called 17 people for initial screening. Not me. “Sweet,” I thought. “I’m off the hook.”

The lawyers quizzed folks. Several were relieved of duty. “Hmm,” I thought.

They called a couple of other people to be asked questions. Not me. “Thank goodness,” I thought. “That was close.”

We broke for lunch, with orders to come back at 1:30. When we reconvened, there was a problem. One of the jurors had not returned from lunch. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, they went to their list to call one more name.

Mine. Dang it!

Short story: I’m on the jury. I’ve been on the jury all week. I can’t talk about the case, but I can talk, I think, about worlds turned upside down. My world, where my schedule was blown to smithereens. The world of the defendant, who, it goes without saying, had to defend himself. The world of the plaintiff, who filed this case because the plaintiff’s world had been turned upside down and thought the defendant was responsible. The world of battalions of lawyers who have to do this for a living, and despite all their carefully constructed strategies, could not predict some of what was said from the stand. The world of my fellow jurors, some of whom were missing work, one of whom was 7 months pregnant, all of whom had other places to be. Even, perhaps, the world of the judge, whose docket of cases was interfered with by this long case – after a full week of testimony, we will finally begin deliberations on Monday – and the times when his administration of this case was interfered with by emergent needs on other cases on his docket.

But even in worlds turned upside down, there is grace. I’ve met some wonderful people, particularly my fellow jurors, who are a motley crew, but we laugh and share our stories freely in the stuffy little jury room. I’ve heard moments of tragedy but also moments of deep caring and love in that room and from the witness stand. I’ve seen experts turned to mush and ordinary folks be voices of wisdom.

You turn a rock upside down, you might not like what you see. But if you turn the world upside down, you may see things that surprise you more positively.

This is what Jesus has been talking about these past few weeks. If you are stuck in one view of the way things are supposed to be, whether it’s that the poor get a lousy deal because their parents sinned, or that the conniving manager gets a bye for his cleverness (remember that one line in last week’s gospel that says “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” – we’re supposed to be less shrewd, not more)…if you’re stuck in one view of the way things are supposed to be, you aren’t looking at the whole picture, you’re missing something.

Jesus turns the world upside down so that we can see the whole of God’s love for us, the whole of the dark and the light of the world. We are intended to look for the places where we can be bringers of light by seeing things differently. We are not intended to simply move through the right-side-up world like zombies following rules without thinking.

Here’s the thing: it’s easier to keep the world right-side-up where we think we know what we’re supposed to do. It’s easier to follow a recipe. But if the only recipe we receive that truly matters is “Add love,” it requires that we look in all aspects of the world to see where we’re supposed to add it. If we turn the world upside down, we may see all sorts of places where behaving differently from what our right side up world means that we are the love-bringers. And those who bring us love may be the ones we least expect. It is, after all, upside down world!

I don’t know what our jury will decide on this case we’ve been hearing all week. I don’t know what the impact of our decision will be on all who are involved. But I do know this: it turned my world upside down and I saw things I didn’t expect to see. I felt God’s love in our work and in my personal reflections. There was a moment here or there when I may have been a symbol of God’s love – I hope I did that as God would want. As disorienting and disturbing as being in upside down world this week has been, I’ve learned something of what Jesus asks of us: look and really see. Don’t simply follow rules blindly.  Questions are not bad things, they are critical. Look for the love. Look for the light. And trust that you will know, through God’s Holy Spirit, what you are to do. Both sides of the world need it. Both sides of the world need you.

Amen.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Sermon for Sunday, August 7, 2016 Trinity, Little Washington, Luke 12:32-40 “The Call”


Good morning! It is good to be back with you all on this wonderful day when you welcome your new rector, Miller Hunter. You all should be feeling very good: your leadership has completed its work in seeking your new rector with prayer, integrity, and alacrity. You had time to reflect properly on all that had gone before, most particularly the long and faithful tenure of Jenks Hobson, and to begin to imagine what the future might hold with your interim, the Rev. Bill Queen. And now you are here, and the wait is over…
…and we could not have asked for a more appropriate gospel reading for today.
We begin where we ended up last week, with the reminder of the proper role of that which we have – our money, our goods, our skills – in God’s economy. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Hold on to that thought, because I’ll be coming back to it.
We move from the guidance about disposing of what holds us back to guidance about how we should be ready at all times. This is not necessarily about being ready for the end times, as some evangelical commentators have suggested. It is, at its heart, about vocation, about the way we should look at our place in the world. Be ready, just as the staff in the ER at the hospital in Fauquier or Winchester is prepared for not just the broken bones or cut thumbs, but also for mass traumas.  Be ready, just as a teacher is ready to explain a new concept in more than one way so that the student who is having difficulty understanding will be able to grasp the idea of it.
Be ready, because you never know what’s coming your way and you had better be prepared to step up and do what is required in that moment.
I focus on this notion of “be ready” because, as you know, it is at the heart of the priestly vocation. We never know when we will get a call in the middle of the night telling us a parishioner is taken ill and is near death. We never know when someone walks through the door and says “I’ve discovered my spouse is having an affair. What do I do?” We never know when we will be faced with two weddings and three funerals in the same week, and the copier gives out. And yet our vocation requires not that we handle it all perfectly and with great aplomb, but with as much grace as we can muster even when we are feeling overwhelmed, as much attention to detail even when we feel we’ve run out of energy, as much care for those involved as we can offer, even or perhaps especially when they are not the nicest of people. That’s what vocation means for us folks with the collar.
But you folks without the collar have a vocation in this faith community as well. You are called to be ready just as your priest is called to be ready.
What does being ready look like? It means saying “yes” when your priest asks you to help out with something. Church is not the Inn across the street, where the professionals hand you up a delicious product on a silver platter. You are not only a diner at the table. Church is more like the Thanksgiving dinner where one person cooks the turkey, others bring vegetables and other side dishes, and still others bring the pies. You dine, but you serve others at the same time. And if there is an unexpected guest, you welcome them as if they were another member of the family, with joy and generosity.
I know it’s a little odd to be talking about Thanksgiving dinner in mid-August, but I think it is worth staying with for another minute or two. Here’s the one thing I know about the 63 Thanksgiving dinners I’ve participated in: there is always enough for everyone. IN fact, there is usually more than enough – who hasn’t had that turkey sandwich the Monday after the big day, or had containers of soup made from the turkey carcass in the freezer. Who hasn’t had pie for breakfast, one of the greatest of guilty pleasures?
If you remember only a few of my words this morning remember this: God gives us what we need to do what needs to be done. God is abundant, and expects us to use that abundance to bring a little heaven to earth, especially to those who don’t have as much as we do. And when we have abundance, whether it is in pies or money or talent, our response must be to always be on the lookout for ways that we can use that which we have – God’s abundant gifts to us – to make the church, the community and the world a better place. That is OUR vocation. It is not the job of the priest, although gifted priests are the best of coaches in this work. It is not the work of the government, although there are times when the government has resources we do not have, especially in times of crisis. It is our work, our vocation, our calling to always be awake and aware that we may be called upon by God at any time to help change the world – each and every one of us.
And Miller’s vocation? To help us discover within ourselves the resources that God has already given us to do this.
So don’t be surprised if your priest pushes you a little into uncomfortable places, into doing things you didn’t expect. Don’t be surprised if you discover you can do more than you ever did before.
That’s when you know what is truly a treasure, and where your heart truly lies: in your vocation, in his vocation, and in God’s abundance. You can change the world, if you’re paying attention when God calls.
Answer the call, challenged by God and your new rector, and you will be a blessing and you will be blessed.

Amen.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sermon for Sunday July 31, 2016 St James, Richmond, Luke 12:13-21 “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”


Good morning! I am Mary Thorpe, Director of Transition Ministry for the Diocese of Virginia. It is my privilege and pleasure to work with your leadership as you begin the journey toward your next rector. I have met with your vestry and your staff, and once the search committee is commissioned, I will work with them in this holy and joyful work. Consider me your tour guide on this pilgrimage to the future! It is our hope that this will not be a time of anxiety but rather a time of spiritual exploration and transformation.  The process of transition is done a little differently these days from when you called Randy Hollerith, and that is because the world is a little different than it was sixteen years ago. In fact, you know that the world is very different.  The ubiquity of internet, the loss of the assumption that everyone goes to church on Sunday mornings, the culture that seems to devalue our Christian beliefs – all of these are shifts that were not present when you called your last rector. Time, too – we are so much more impatient than we were before! Remember faxing things? Now that isn’t fast enough – they must be transmitted in nanoseconds. And so with a changing world, our work together in parish transitions has changed as well, more oriented to the unique qualities of each parish, more flexible, with more parish input in the design of the process. Our new approach has been used successfully in many parishes in this diocese, from Christ Church Alexandria to Christ Church Glen Allen, from St Paul’s Hanover Courthouse to St Paul’s King George, from St James the Less Ashland …now…to St James in Richmond. We look forward to sharing the work with you all.

But in the meantime, we are still the church in this community and in this beautiful building. We are still the church in the spiritual formation programs, in the music, in the worship, in the incredible outreach to help others. And the Gospel still speaks to us as it has across the centuries. So let’s turn toward that Gospel we just heard and spend a few minutes with it.

I’ll begin, though, with something that is not in the Gospel. It has been a surprising phenomenon over the past two years: a thin little book, written in whispery little girl prose by a Japanese woman named Marie Kondo, has been sitting on the New York Times best seller list for a year. Its name? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

In it, Kondo lays out her organizing plan, decluttering your home by the removal of all things that do not spark joy. You’re supposed to gather all your clothes in one gigantic pile, and go through them one by one. Touch each one. If it doesn’t spark joy, toss it, either by donating it if it is still usable or by consigning it to the dump if it is too ratty.

The underlying thesis is one that we probably could all admit: we have way too much stuff. And every day, we are encouraged to acquire even more stuff. I will own that I like retail therapy as much as the next person, and if I’ve had a hard week, I’m tempted to go shopping, especially if there are sales in the stores I most enjoy.

I’d like to think that I keep my clothing, at least, at bay by sorting through them with each change of seasons. We live in an old house with small closets, so come spring, I put the winter clothes in storage and hang the spring and summer ones, and in the fall, I put away the lightweight garments in favor of the woolens. Anything I haven’t worn gets donated or tossed…mostly. I have a hard time disposing of shoes and scarves, and unfortunately my closet looks like it. So maybe I’m a little like the acolytes of Marie Kondo, imperfect at tossing my excess stuff, but working on it.

You’re also supposed to do that with books, which to me is like getting rid of children, and kitchen gear, which to me is like lopping off a limb, and so on, decluttering your house until it achieves an Orientally spare and spacious aesthetic. Good luck with that.

We do have a rule in our house that nothing comes in the door unless something else goes out, be it a new small appliance or a pair of boots, but the rule seems to be ignored on a regular basis, which is why my stash of yarn continues to grow and my husband’s collection of tools seems to be procreating in the basement.

Stuff. We do love our stuff. It’s comforting, having that stuff. For my mother and other children of the Depression, it could rise to near hoarding levels, because they suffered through the time when they had next to no stuff. They would no more throw out a rubber band as spend money on a book they could borrow from the library, because that would be wasteful! We of younger generations, though, want what we want when we want it, and  my goodness, we do accumulate it and want even more. We’re blessed with the abundance of being able to get even more stuff.

And that is not only a 21st century phenomenon: look at the Gospel. A man asks Jesus to tell his sibling to share the family inheritance with him. In that culture, the eldest inherits it all, so younger siblings must fend for themselves or rely on the generosity of the eldest son to help them. And apparently this man’s big brother is not inclined to share. We don’t know the backstory here: was the younger sibling a wastrel or a jerk? Was the elder brother always the greedy one?

We’d like to know the whole of the family story, but we don’t get that. We get a parable from Jesus instead: a rich landowner has an abundant crop, and rather than giving his abundance away, he builds bigger silos so he can hold onto his surpluses. He’s feeling very pleased with himself, isn’t he. But God comes to him in a dream and says “you think you’ve got it all figured out, but you die tonight and you can’t take that surplus of crops and goods with you. How did that whole plan work out for you?”

In other words, the follower of Christ can’t hang on to stuff, particularly the excess stuff. Whether it’s clothing, money, or privilege, God demands that we share, that we declutter our souls of that which distracts us from the one true thing: Almighty God. Stuff isn’t true comfort. Only God is what salves our souls.

Now, I imagine that this makes many of us a little uncomfortable, we people who live comfortable lives and who have retirement plans and a few too many pairs of shoes. What are we supposed to do? 

Well, if I’m more worried about the year over year growth of my 401K or whether I can afford a trip to Europe next year than I am worried about young people in Gilpin Court who think the only option for success for them is through illegal activities, I’ve got some soul decluttering to do. I’ve got excess baggage to get rid of. And that is never easy to do, just like jettisoning my extra scarves and shoes. I’ve got to force myself to let go of the things that distract me and focus on that which God requires of me. I’m still working on that.

There’s another kind of excess baggage that is even more difficult to release: the past. In many parishes in transition, the past is the golden memory of simpler times or the rector we all loved best. 

We rarely remember some of the challenges of the past. And I expect even here, in the marvelous parish where so much has been working so very well, the one or two memories of a time when you were unhappy with something Randy Hollerith did is rapidly fading into the most distant corner and he is rapidly achieving saintly status. Not the he’s not deserving of praise: St James, under his leadership, has become an iconic faith community which lives deeply and richly into its name, a place of Doers of the Word.

But Jesus calls us to live forward to bring God’s reign to earth, and the doing of the Word is not a one-time thing. So as St James prepares for the next chapter in its existence, part of our work is to name what of our possessions and traditions we carry forward, what we build upon into something fresh, what we honor and lay to rest as part of the past. There’s no room in the closet for that new pair of shoes if we’re not willing to give away or throw away the ones that have no more life left in them.

So the challenge is the same one that Our Lord made to the complaining sibling: your stuff is only stuff, after all. Your baggage weighs you down. What are you willing to discard? What are you willing to repurpose in fresh ways? What are you going to build upon, so that you can continue to be what Randy helped you become, and who will the person be who will bring different gifts so that you might do that? That’s not just hiring any person with a collar and a warm smile, it is the hard work of discernment and prayer. Your Search Committee will do that work, but they will not do it alone. Each and every one of you who loves St James will be called upon to share ideas, hopes, dreams, and worries. Each and every one of you who loves St James must soak this process in prayer. If it is simply an exercise in hiring it will fail. But if it is a spiritual journey to seek God’s will – and make no mistake, God already knows whom your next rector will be – you will discover what God has in mind, and all will be well.

Know that your Bishops pray with you and for you in this time of change, and your diocesan staff stands at the ready to assist you. We bring our expertise and experience of supporting more searches than you can imagine – forty, currently. You bring open minds, keen ideas, and discerning and prayerful hearts. God is waiting to show his rich love for you if you listen, tidy up,  and keep at being doers of the Word.


Amen.