Monthly Archives: November 2015
My opening prayer from last evening’s 33rd Annual Thanksgiving Ecumenical and Inter-religious Service at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, Idaho on the theme of thanksgiving (to be sure), but particularly for welcome and refuge.
O Holy God,
We gather here in this space in response to the way each of us has heard your calling in our life. A calling from a power greater than ourselves. You have created space for us: a foundation of life, a sustaining breath, a nurturing presence, a healing peace. In your awe and mystery you yet condescend to know, to love, and to care for us – and for this we gather in thanksgiving and praise.
You also challenge us to live by the model of your welcome, refuge, and grace.
We share a common bond that all our ancient stories, and too often our contemporary journeys, have included exile, persecution, disestablishment, and wandering. We have all been stranger. We have all been the outsider. We have been the dispossessed. And yet you found us – you welcomed us – you resettled us – you gave us peace.
Have we done the same to one another?
Have we recognized the life and dignity of all people no matter how different than us they may appear?
Have we claimed ownership and responsibility within our family and within our community to not stop at pointing out problems but becoming a participant in the solution?
Have we sought to recognize the consequences of our decisions, our comforts and our fears, on those who live near us, and far away?
Have we been a voice of accountability to the systems and structures of power in our world – speaking the truth in love for the common good of all peoples?
Have we sought out to learn from the poor and vulnerable in the world that our voices be used to make their voices heard?
Have we nurtured the goodness of creation and lived as steward of the resources of our world recognizing that we have no primary claim on them but rather we are caretakers of blessings meant for all people – those living, and those yet unborn?
Grant, o Spirit of Love, that we may examine ourselves with these questions with the same spirit of mercy with which you inquire of us. And may the revelations we gain not be a source of guilt but an empowering passion that emboldens us to dare to change the ways of this world to conform to your ways and your spirit of creative and redeeming love.
From the beginning to the ending and in each moment in between we give thanks to you – our guiding light and inspiring life – may it ever be so, Amen.
This week’s sermon teaser where Christ the King Sunday’s “I am the Alpha and the Omega” meets the Great Commission’s invitation to “go forth making disciples,” which meets an early start on Advent as we are called to “advent-ure” in the world to seek, and be, the word made flesh and dwelling among us.
(But perhaps what we learn is that I need to wash my car windows.)
A while back a couple come into our church. They wanted to get married. You are thinking, ‘okay Andrew that isn’t weird – you’re a church. You do that.’ Let me clarify. They came, marriage license in hand completely unknown to me and our congregation, to see if we would marry them right at that moment. We were the second church they had visited.
Now it was a busy day for me. I groaned when I got the call from the office manager… my head was spinning in that moment. They asked if I would do the marriage and I saw an easy out. Our polity and practice says no. You have to do premarital counseling and often even be a member of the congregation. I could have said no and been done right there and they would have moved on. I could as easily have said yes, had a 5 minute ceremony blessing something they were going to do anyway, and they would have moved on down the road.
I could have… but I couldn’t – I’m really not wired that way. So I told them why the answer would be no or could be yes… and then I came back around to, “However, if you would be willing to sit down with me for at least a one hour conversation, and then see about having the ceremony at the beginning of the next week, then yes, I will do that.”
Fancy this? They said yes. And right at that moment worked for them for the conversation. (groan) Okay, let’s do this. We talked. They talked actually, I listened. I steered now and then, I backed up the conversation a couple of times… and then a moment came when I was able to ask a question about whether they really wanted their life-long covenant to begin in a rushed moment like this?
They looked at me surprised…. and said no. And they walked out of the church not getting married, they walked out thanking me for helping them see that this wasn’t the way to write the beginning of their marriage story, and they went out happy to be told no.
Now… I don’t know what happens in the next chapter of their story. It’s not mine to share anyway. Maybe they went right on to the courthouse and got married anyway. Maybe they held on to the couple “awakening” moments they had in that conversation with me and worked out some matters before getting married… maybe I will meet them again someday. But what struck me about all that was two things important to remember for the ministry of being a faith community: the power of not answering but listening to people first. And the power of place.
Marjorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast and wonderful spirit-filled soul, led a guest speaker series at one of my former congregations and she shared the idea of “listening people into transformation.” She felt we cannot speak people into changing but we can listen to them long enough and deep enough that we open a place for them to change in their own heart from their own words and feelings. Congregational consultant Susan Beaumont will share that same idea from a different perspective when she says that while interviewing people in churches she often finds at the end of the interview they exclaim how wise she is and how much she knows and in truth she hasn’t even said a thing. They simply listened to themselves saying what they already knew but hadn’t taken the time to hear. Listening is a powerful gift we can give people. Stopping our “stuff” and empowering someone with your time and attention is perhaps the best gift any of us have to offer.
I was reminded about all this again last night Investiture of one of our congregation members as a district judge. In his remarks at the end of the ceremony he said that he believed the courtroom in which he presided needed to place where both sides were heard. If a person felt heard, that he had listened to their argument and understand what they wanted to convey, than whether he agreed or not in the end with them they would walk away at least knowing they were heard… they were known. Its a powerful gift, and he is a powerful witness to the gospel at work in our every day lives – thank you Michael Reardon for your ministry and vocational faithfulness.
This is what reminds me of the second point, the power of place. A judge makes his courtroom the right kind of space to be heard. In this way maybe its not so strange that a judge’s robe looks so much like clergy! Similarly, the church in that walk-in visit story was a “set-aside” place, a holy place. That story was a unique one for me, but it wasn’t at all unique. There are many stories like this – I wish I could share them not for those stories’ sake but just to show the amazing depth and breadth of random that walks into our building off the street – but they aren’t my stories to tell. Trust me on this, I could almost spend my day doing nothing other than walk-in visits with people I don’t know. Maybe that’s part of being a downtown church right on State Street… but I don’t think that is all there is to it. I think part of it is in the nature of church. People know that places like this are supposed to listen. They are supposed to care. They are supposed to offer forgiveness and grace. We don’t always. I have failed many people. I wish I could always be the “hero” who chose a person over my busy schedule but I’m not and I don’t and I need grace too… I’m as broken, self-oriented, and finite as the rest of us. But sometimes… sometimes it works exactly according to plan: according to our mission. We act into our vision to be holy space that helps people encounter gospel good news∗.
This is one reason that for all the changes that are happening in the Church and in the push to remember the Church isn’t a building it’s a people (and even to get out of buildings that often weigh down our mission and purpose)… I also hope that we don’t lose all our buildings. Because this building is an important place. It isn’t true that the “mission field” begins only outside our walls. It cannot, conversely, be true that it only happens within them either. But our buildings still stands as a reminder to people that this is a different kind of space. You don’t have to belong to get heard. You don’t have to give to receive. We will listen here. We will endeavor to listen you into our story and be listened into your story.
Spaces like that are hard to come by and while they do not require buildings there is something to a building that stands as clearly identifiable marker that says: we are exactly that kind of space, and you are welcome here. May it always be so, thanks be to God and to the people and buildings that bear the love of God in the world. Holy, set-apart, spaces, in lives far too often over-crowded.
∗There is a great reflection from Martin Marty I reflect on here about hypocrisy as a dramatic term in which we “play a part” that isn’t true but we hope will one day be true of us. We aspire to be better and healthier people than we are now. I love this idea of hypocrisy – and I am exactly that type of hypocrit!
Angels in the Bible almost always appear saying, “do not be afraid,” presumably because encountering an angel in the midst of ordinary life is scary.
But the world is scary.
Perhaps the biggest message heaven has for earth is this: do not be afraid.
The pathways fear makes for us leads almost inevitably to violence. Emotional, Spiritual… and physical. Directed inwardly and outwardly. No one wins in a world driven by fear.
As I find no words today and no ways forward for peace – any words I offer feel too hollow, too little, and too late. So I will quote the only words that have made sense to me today and I will try to begin them in my own heart: do not be afraid.
Our church has started putting out 1 – 2 minute videos each Wednesday as a sermon teaser for Sunday. Here is this week’s which is the poem Ozymandias as we prepare to hear Hannah praying to have a child in 1 Samuel 1:4-20 and Jesus predicting the temple being torn down in Mark 13:1-8.
You can follow all our teasers, sermon, and anthems each week at our YouTube channel here.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells those who would follow in his way that the “Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus is without place. Placeless. Landless. Stateless. Homeless.
Walter Brueggemann, in the book Obedience as an Act of Interpretation (p. 295), offers about the quickest definition of what it means to be a stranger as one without place.
I suggest now a third dimension… strangers are those who do not have land, who are not judged as entitled to it, and who have no chance of acquiring any of the land… It is not accidental that strangers in our society are often experienced as dis-placed persons, that is people without a place. They have no place because the social system with its capacity for inclusion and exclusion, has in fact assigned their place to another and so denied them any safe place of their own. Strangers are often those who are cut out of the history of the land…
Jesus ultimate act of solidarity may well be a God-forsaken death. But right under that is that Jesus takes on the mantle of stranger. Outsider. Jesus is a person without place. And as those who would follow in his way he makes it clear: we too have to be willing to give up our place and follow a way. We give up the status of entitled insider to show tangible solidarity with the placeless outsider.
I have spent a lot of time lately thinking on refugees. This last Sunday there was a rally a block from my church to speak out against welcoming refugees to my state of Idaho. It’s a conversation that figures into today’s mayoral election. It’s a live conversation for affordable housing and schooling and what it means to not only welcome but integrate and become “one people (under God).” And I am helping to plan an Ecumenical and Interreligious Thanksgiving Service which is on the theme of welcoming refugees this year because all our histories have stories of a time when we were refugees. This isn’t today’s problem. This isn’t someone else’s problem. This is about all of us, all the time.
I also spend a lot of time in conversation about helping eliminate the systemic causes of homelessness, and – in the meantime – how to limit homeless episodes in the lives of my neighbors. And the people experiencing homeless are refugees of another type. Or that is refugees and people who are homeless are both of the type “stranger” as Walter has defined it. They are people without place… and seeking it.
I am a placed person. And people of place have a natural tendency to defend that place. It is natural as placed people to see dis-placed people as a threat. They will want my place. Their desire for place is a threat to the safety of my own. And I naturally become caught up in a way of being that is defined as protecting my place and its value to me…. or really the way it adds to the value of me and my social standing and power within the social system.
But Jesus says…. You want to follow me? Give up your place.
What if this is about more than solidarity? What if It’s about denying the whole system of place. The only way we will ever have room for the stranger is when we all take on the status of stranger. We cannot neighbor our way to world community because so long as we are all seeking the best place we have to limit our neighbors. The only way to make room for all is to give up place entirely.
I have none. You have none. And then, and only then, can we all have some?
In the end, when I’m willing to give up place entirely, I’m drawn back to the words: inclusive and exclusive. Somehow our notions of place always become about exclusive place. This is mine. That is yours. You are allowed in under these terms and conditions. You are not allowed here, but maybe over there. Exclusive place will always value people differently. Jesus values people equally. Our places must be inclusive, permeable… open.
Places that do not dis-place… but re-place all who come.
This leaves me swirling with questions:
- Who is stranger to me, and what am I doing to offer them a place in my life?
- What ways am I defensive of my place (and “place”) to the exclusion of others, and am I able to open that place up… or do I need to give it up?
- How am I working to make a society that doesn’t dis-place people? I mean actively and tangible doing so???
And… well I could go on and on. You get the idea… now connect the idea in your own life. We all want place. Work to make it so that we ALL do. In the wide and wonderful world we call home there isn’t any viable reason that we shouldn’t all have a place at the table.