Can these bones live?

A sermon for Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

“Mortal, can these bones live?”

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, the great feast of the Church that celebrates the coming and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It is among the most important days of the church year. But this has been a distracting week for me, with all the festivities of Commencement at the General Theological Seminary, and everything associated with leaving a job after twelve years and moving my household at the same time. So I haven’t been able to focus in the kind of depth that I usually do on writing a sermon.

Fortunately, a graduating student, who is also my friend, preached a marvelous sermon last Wednesday, so good that I posted it on the Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania’s Facebook page. A part of that sermon has to do with today’s reading from Ezekiel. Here’s what Hershey Mallette has to say:

God

Is Not A Microwave

But! Slow work does not mean you can say No to the work.

“God is not a microwave. What I mean is, God seldom does anything instantaneously, rapidly or straightaway! I’m sure you know this, especially after spending any amount of time at General Theological Seminary.

God didn’t make the world in an instant.

God didn’t flood the earth, or recede the flood water the day after it rained.

God didn’t make Abraham a nation in prompt fashion

God is not a microwave

God didn’t deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh instantaneously

God didn’t deliver Moses from the wilderness directly

God didn’t make Israel, Hear O immediately—how many times did the prophets say that to the same people? And Poor, poor Job … how long did the restoration of that one household take?

God is not a microwave

God didn’t restore Jerusalem over night

God didn’t make the dry bones live in an instant … it took time!

First they rattled,

Then the bones came together

Then the tendons and the sinews attached themselves

Then the flesh appeared

And the skin covered them

That’s four or five reconstructive steps and they still had no breath!

God is not in the business of rapidly, and carelessly creating or restoring things.

God didn’t bring any of us through our respective discernment processes quickly.”

That’s a piece of what Hershey said.

The Holy Spirit does build us up, as a community, as a wider church, as individuals and families. The Spirit reassembles broken apart bones and spirits that have been discouraged and downhearted. But the schedule is God’s not ours, we have to become those patient, faithful, grown-up human beings that God wants us to be. The prophet Ezekiel wrote over 2500 years ago, and every generation has needed to hear these hopeful and challenging words, because every generation is not finished, and all of us need persistence in serious hope, not quick magic.

The description of the first Pentecost in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles is, “each one heard the disciples speaking in the native language of each.” They mention Pontus, Phrygia, Egypt, Libya and Pamphylia and other places. I had to look up Pamphylia—who has heard of Pamphylia? Anyway it was in what is now south-central Turkey. It doesn’t mention Jamaica , Antigua or Idaho. But I think they would be included if they had existed at that time. The Holy Spirit comes and bursts open the narrowness of human connections; human communities that were kept separate from one another were bound together in Christ. But look how they were bound together—it was not through magical thought transmission or a single language that somehow everyone was able to understand. Each heard the Gospel in her own language, in his own culture. In this scene in the Gospel it seems as if it was instantaneous. Who knows, maybe it was for those disciples at that time, but for us it can take time to understand those who aren’t the same as us, people with different language or customs, people who we haven’t met before, people who aren’t used to our way of worship. You see, it takes change in us, and that change is the same as the reconstruction of those dry bones into a living community of human beings. There is great opportunity for enrichment in our lives, but it is not without the pain and loss of change, and it is certainly not quick. And we embark on the adventure of becoming one with all sorts of people, even Pamphylians.

The Holy Spirit comes as a surprise, even when we think we expect it. It comes as a surprise and it changes us, and part of the surprise is that that change keeps happening all of our life, just when we think we have it under control, the spirit is there challenging us to change and to hang on and have the stamina to do it.

Because God … is not a microwave.

God is not a Microwave

A Sermon Preached at the 193rd Commencement Eucharist of

The General Theological Seminary of The Episcopal Church
Chapel of the Good Shepherd – Chelsea Square
New York, New York

by Hershey Andrael Mallette

Wednesday, May 20th 2015

 

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Hershey demonstrating thurible technique

Hershey demonstrating thurible technique

Today I stand before you with an incredible task. I am charged with bringing you all Good News when all I can think about is how I am angry, and sad.

But I am reminded of something that the beloved Professor Andrew Irving once said to me in the fall of Middler Year:

I remember coming in to class, frustrated and bewildered about any number of things that were happening in 2013 … the school had no money, my classmates were transferring or withdrawing, and there was a cookie shortage in the refectory!

I came to class and much like I did today, I announced my vexation and misery.

And Professor Irving said, “Hershey, Jesus did not promise you happiness.”

With that, let us return to the text:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

After reading this again and again a little something stuck out.

And when I say a little something, I mean a very little something.

It’s that comma in the very last sentence of the book of Matthew that literally gives me pause. The comma or pause used in this last sentence sets off what is formally called a parenthetical element, but most of us would just call it extra information. But in this case, this added information adds focus to the original idea.

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I once had a conversation with Mother Mitties about this comma, and she pointed out that in Greek there is no punctuation but since I don’t read Greek, I’ll trust the good Holy Ghost-filled people at the NRSV that they used a comma for a reason.

Either way, I offer you my own translation …

The Hershey Mallette Community Colloquial Version of Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus says, “Go out into the streets, hit the blocks, every ghetto, every city, every sleepy suburban place; live with the people as you work to bring God’s Kingdom. Baptizing them, bring them into the familial bond of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teach them about the freedom in God’s love. And know, I got your back, cause it just might take a while.”

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

***

If you leave here today, and remember nothing else that I have said, remember this!

God

Is Not A Microwave

But! Slow work does not mean you can say No to the work.

God is not a microwave. What I mean is, God seldom does anything instantaneously, rapidly or straightaway! I’m sure you know this, especially after spending any amount of time at General Theological Seminary.

God didn’t make the world in an instant.

God didn’t flood the earth, or recede the flood water the day after it rained.

God didn’t make Abraham a nation in prompt fashion

God is not a microwave

God didn’t deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh instantaneously

God didn’t deliver Moses from the wilderness directly

God didn’t make Israel, Hear O immediately—how many times did the prophets say that to the same people? And Poor, poor Job … how long did the restoration of that one household take?

God is not a microwave

God didn’t restore Jerusalem over night

God didn’t make the dry bones live in an instant … it took time!

First they rattled,

Then the bones came together

Then the tendons and the sinews attached themselves

Then the flesh appeared

And the skin covered them

That’s four or five reconstructive steps and they still had no breath!

God is not in the business of rapidly, and carelessly creating or restoring things.

God didn’t bring any of us through our respective discernment processes quickly.

Emily Beekman and Kim Robey can testify that God has not inspired me to move speedily to submit any of my forms through out this entire three years!

And God must be taking a sweet time fashioning every heart and mind in this room to know what it means to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God.

I could go on and on and on about how slow our God is … but you get my point. God takes God’s time. So, knowing that we serve a God who will outwait us, and in our rush to smooth over, cover up and justify the pain of the past year, we cannot fall victim to the temptation of what theologian Dorothee Soelle calls Christian Sadomasochism. Christian Sadomasochism looks at any situation where God’s people are getting hurt, people are suffering, and say that it’s all for the best, because we’ll grow from the pain. We want to justify suffering so fast that we’ve almost already convinced ourselves that what that the events of this past year have actually made us a better General Seminary.

We’re almost convinced that the catastrophe that stunted the spiritual and material work of our community this year has been in our best interest. There are such things as growing pains. But there’s also unnecessary suffering that God did not intend for us. There is avoidable, worthless, man-made suffering. We’ve had our share of that this year. We cannot claim to be disciples of Christ and twist man-made pain into God-ordained suffering on a redemptive cross.

Friends, we now must make up for lost time!

Can you imagine a time in history when the world needed those of us who call ourselves disciples more than in this the past year? More than it does now? Social movements, resistance and revolution are erupting all across the nation and world. The people in the cities are crying out to God and to the church. And while cities and hearts were on fire, we have been stuck here in Chelsea Square wasting time trying to detangle ourselves from the webs of privilege and patriarchy that strangles the love of God.

James Baldwin writes, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced.” If we try to write the history of the past year as something we went through together and have now emerged on the other side as a stronger community and school, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

God is not a microwave.

I am not precluding personal growth out of adversity. Lord knows, I wouldn’t be standing here on the shoulders of my ancestor, if I didn’t believe in that. There are no limits to God’s redemptive powers. But that doesn’t let us off the hook.

To love this school, to love this church, to love ourselves, we have to tell the truth about ourselves. The only hope we have is in God, who promises to outwait us. In Jesus, who came on Earth in solidarity with the marginalized, to make the dream of God known, and in the lavish gift of the Holy Spirit that fortifies us to fight structures of power, principalities and the spiritual forces of evil.

But God is not a microwave…

I think that is why Jesus says at the commissioning, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Yet! God’s slow work does not mean no work. The fact that God is slow, does not absolve us from the mission Jesus has given us. In fact, it means that our work is all the more urgent! We have no time to waste. We must listen to Jesus:

Go!

Make disciples,

Baptize believers,

Teach people to love God, and each other,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This commissioning, is hard work, it is challenging!

How do we make disciples? Making disciples is more about what we are doing, than about indoctrinating, selling or convincing others that we have a good thing that they needed or should wanted.

We make disciples when we discipline ourselves to honor the particularities in the lives of all people in which God has entrusted to the care of community and hold their stories with reverence.

We make disciples when we welcome LGBTQ folks in our churches as family members and siblings and firmly and in love challenge those among us who seek to put limits on a limitless God.

We make disciples when we work for the freedom of the oppressed. When we personally and as an institution attend to the ways that racism, sexism and homophobia have weaved their way in to the fabric of our Episcopal Church lives.

I know we all think we are way too learned and sophisticated to ever be racist, sexist or homophobic. But before you tune me out listing in your brain all the black folk, women, queer folk and poor folk in your churches, stay here with me. If it were true, if we were too evolved to be racist, sexist or homophobic, then we wouldn’t need to proclaim good news to the hearts broken by the misuse of power and irresponsible exercise of privilege in this room, in this Church and let alone in this world.

This is not political work. This is spiritual work. If you leave saying you heard a political sermon this morning, you’ve missed the point. This is a matter of the soul, yours, mine, all of us here today.

The truth is, when we engage in the beautiful chaos of community, people will want to be with us. We will baptize them to welcome them to this family, making its slow dirge through time and space toward the Kingdom of God. We baptize in the name of Love that created all things, in the name of the One who embodied Love and in the name of the One who is the presence of Love in our everyday life. The thing that is so important and so incredible about baptism is that it is an experience that bonds us forever in love to God, and we have absolutely no idea what that means!

That is when the hard work of this mission continues…

Teaching disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How do you teach this countercultural, non-instinctual, unpopular way of existence?

I have no clue. But here is what I have learned about love. I have learned, love is uncomfortable. And trying to make love comfortable is what makes it even more uncomfortable. Planning every outfit for dates with coordinating makeup and accessories. Trying to be on your best behavior and practicing your lines to make sure that what said is exactly the right thing in every situation. The desire for perfection, the desire for perpetual prettiness is what makes love unbearably uncomfortable. In fact it is a lie and there is no love in that.

I learned that meeting the uneasiness of connecting is love. That involves always knowing you could be wrong, lots of listening and knowing when you have said enough, and importantly, knowing when you need to take a break. Ultimately loving requires great amounts of self-awareness and honesty. It’s tedious, and it’s tense but it’s true.

I think teaching people about God’s love is all about the way we understand love in our closest relationships. Perhaps one way we embrace and teach Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor is through the super-slow work of creating trusting relationships in Church and community. This totally axes the top down shallow model of corporate church growth, where politics and proclivities are taboos. The love I think Jesus commands his disciples to live values mutuality, relationship and shared experience.

This love requires us to be in continual prayer to be delivered from the love of comfort; from pursuit of fortune and fame; from the fear of serving others; and from the fear of death or adversity. I believe, that is why at the end of the commissioning in Matthew, Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is hard, messy, slow work!

I am with you always, to the end of the age is the assurance that our marvelously, meticulous God is working through each and every one of us. With great care, and painstaking strategy, the God of providence is fulfilling the ultimate meaning of existence, within every eon, every era, and age.

The Good News is this—God has made provision for each of us, in the person of Jesus Christ. We approach this altar perhaps for the last time together, to present ourselves, our souls, and our bodies, to be made one body with Jesus in prayer so our habit becomes righteousness and our instinct kindness. So that with Jesus at the head our work may continue to bring the Kingdom

We disciples make our sacrifice of thanksgiving not just this graduation day, but daily. So, Let the spirit in you baptize all that you encounter in every ghetto, every city, and sleepy suburban place. Proclaim the freedom of our God in Jesus to every language, people and nation. And model the saving possibilities of following Jesus’ commandment to love in every situation.

That is our mission!! And it ain’t for the faint of heart, or for the compulsively tidy. And frankly, some days you just won’t be feeling it!

We go back to the text for help, the commissioning begins, “When [the disciples] saw [Jesus], they worshiped him, even though some doubted …” The disciples worshiped Jesus, even though some doubted. Our call is to do the same, knowing that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus!

We worship Jesus, even though we doubt

We worship Jesus, even though our school is in turmoil

We worship Jesus, even though it seems no one will come to our rescue.

We worship Jesus, even though our friends, mentors and colleagues are moving on.

We worship Jesus, even though you may not have a first call or a job.

We worship Jesus, even though our debt to income ratio is nuts!

We worship Jesus, even though black women and black men are being slain in the streets by state violence.

We worship Jesus, even though women make 80 percent of what men make EVEN in our Church.

We worship Jesus, even though there are those among us in the Church who wish for the return of the “glory days of the 1950’s”

We worship Jesus, even though justice seems far off!

We worship Jesus, even though…

We worship Jesus, even though our mission is hard, painful and grueling.

We worship Jesus, even though we may be sad and angry.

We worship Jesus, even though we have seen the worst and the ugliness of Church institution.

We worship Jesus, even though we doubt, and we make disciples, we baptize, and we teach love.

We worship Jesus, as we participate in the slow, attentive and compounding work of Love

This is our mission!

And this mission should give us pause…

Only because stopping is not an option.

God … is not a microwave

A Sermon Preached at the 193rd Commencement Eucharist of

The General Theological Seminary of The Episcopal Church
Chapel of the Good Shepherd – Chelsea Square
New York, New York

by Hershey Andrael Mallette

Wednesday, May 20th 2015

 

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

—Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Hershey demonstrating thurible technique

Hershey demonstrating thurible technique

Today I stand before you with an incredible task. I am charged with bringing you all Good News when all I can think about is how I am angry, and sad.

But I am reminded of something that the beloved Professor Andrew Irving once said to me in the fall of Middler Year:

I remember coming in to class, frustrated and bewildered about any number of things that were happening in 2013 … the school had no money, my classmates were transferring or withdrawing, and there was a cookie shortage in the refectory!

I came to class and much like I did today, I announced my vexation and misery.

And Professor Irving said, “Hershey, Jesus did not promise you happiness.”

With that, let us return to the text:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

After reading this again and again a little something stuck out.

And when I say a little something, I mean a very little something.

It’s that comma in the very last sentence of the book of Matthew that literally gives me pause. The comma or pause used in this last sentence sets off what is formally called a parenthetical element, but most of us would just call it extra information. But in this case, this added information adds focus to the original idea.

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I once had a conversation with Mother Mitties about this comma, and she pointed out that in Greek there is no punctuation but since I don’t read Greek, I’ll trust the good Holy Ghost-filled people at the NRSV that they used a comma for a reason.

Either way, I offer you my own translation …

The Hershey Mallette Community Colloquial Version of Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus says, “Go out into the streets, hit the blocks, every ghetto, every city, every sleepy suburban place; live with the people as you work to bring God’s Kingdom. Baptizing them, bring them into the familial bond of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teach them about the freedom in God’s love. And know, I got your back, cause it just might take a while.”

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

***

If you leave here today, and remember nothing else that I have said, remember this!

God

Is Not A Microwave

But! Slow work does not mean you can say No to the work.

God is not a microwave. What I mean is, God seldom does anything instantaneously, rapidly or straightaway! I’m sure you know this, especially after spending any amount of time at General Theological Seminary.

God didn’t make the world in an instant.

God didn’t flood the earth, or recede the flood water the day after it rained.

God didn’t make Abraham a nation in prompt fashion

God is not a microwave

God didn’t deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh instantaneously

God didn’t deliver Moses from the wilderness directly

God didn’t make Israel, Hear O immediately—how many times did the prophets say that to the same people? And Poor, poor Job … how long did the restoration of that one household take?

God is not a microwave

God didn’t restore Jerusalem over night

God didn’t make the dry bones live in an instant … it took time!

First they rattled,

Then the bones came together

Then the tendons and the sinews attached themselves

Then the flesh appeared

And the skin covered them

That’s four or five reconstructive steps and they still had no breath!

God is not in the business of rapidly, and carelessly creating or restoring things.

God didn’t bring any of us through our respective discernment processes quickly.

Emily Beekman and Kim Robey can testify that God has not inspired me to move speedily to submit any of my forms through out this entire three years!

And God must be taking a sweet time fashioning every heart and mind in this room to know what it means to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God.

I could go on and on and on about how slow our God is … but you get my point. God takes God’s time. So, knowing that we serve a God who will outwait us, and in our rush to smooth over, cover up and justify the pain of the past year, we cannot fall victim to the temptation of what theologian Dorothee Soelle calls Christian Sadomasochism. Christian Sadomasochism looks at any situation where God’s people are getting hurt, people are suffering, and say that it’s all for the best, because we’ll grow from the pain. We want to justify suffering so fast that we’ve almost already convinced ourselves that what that the events of this past year have actually made us a better General Seminary.

We’re almost convinced that the catastrophe that stunted the spiritual and material work of our community this year has been in our best interest. There are such things as growing pains. But there’s also unnecessary suffering that God did not intend for us. There is avoidable, worthless, man-made suffering. We’ve had our share of that this year. We cannot claim to be disciples of Christ and twist man-made pain into God-ordained suffering on a redemptive cross.

Friends, we now must make up for lost time!

Can you imagine a time in history when the world needed those of us who call ourselves disciples more than in this the past year? More than it does now? Social movements, resistance and revolution are erupting all across the nation and world. The people in the cities are crying out to God and to the church. And while cities and hearts were on fire, we have been stuck here in Chelsea Square wasting time trying to detangle ourselves from the webs of privilege and patriarchy that strangles the love of God.

James Baldwin writes, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced.” If we try to write the history of the past year as something we went through together and have now emerged on the other side as a stronger community and school, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

God is not a microwave.

I am not precluding personal growth out of adversity. Lord knows, I wouldn’t be standing here on the shoulders of my ancestor, if I didn’t believe in that. There are no limits to God’s redemptive powers. But that doesn’t let us off the hook.

To love this school, to love this church, to love ourselves, we have to tell the truth about ourselves. The only hope we have is in God, who promises to outwait us. In Jesus, who came on Earth in solidarity with the marginalized, to make the dream of God known, and in the lavish gift of the Holy Spirit that fortifies us to fight structures of power, principalities and the spiritual forces of evil.

But God is not a microwave…

I think that is why Jesus says at the commissioning, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Yet! God’s slow work does not mean no work. The fact that God is slow, does not absolve us from the mission Jesus has given us. In fact, it means that our work is all the more urgent! We have no time to waste. We must listen to Jesus:

Go!

Make disciples,

Baptize believers,

Teach people to love God, and each other,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This commissioning, is hard work, it is challenging!

How do we make disciples? Making disciples is more about what we are doing, than about indoctrinating, selling or convincing others that we have a good thing that they needed or should wanted.

We make disciples when we discipline ourselves to honor the particularities in the lives of all people in which God has entrusted to the care of community and hold their stories with reverence.

We make disciples when we welcome LGBTQ folks in our churches as family members and siblings and firmly and in love challenge those among us who seek to put limits on a limitless God.

We make disciples when we work for the freedom of the oppressed. When we personally and as an institution attend to the ways that racism, sexism and homophobia have weaved their way in to the fabric of our Episcopal Church lives.

I know we all think we are way too learned and sophisticated to ever be racist, sexist or homophobic. But before you tune me out listing in your brain all the black folk, women, queer folk and poor folk in your churches, stay here with me. If it were true, if we were too evolved to be racist, sexist or homophobic, then we wouldn’t need to proclaim good news to the hearts broken by the misuse of power and irresponsible exercise of privilege in this room, in this Church and let alone in this world.

This is not political work. This is spiritual work. If you leave saying you heard a political sermon this morning, you’ve missed the point. This is a matter of the soul, yours, mine, all of us here today.

The truth is, when we engage in the beautiful chaos of community, people will want to be with us. We will baptize them to welcome them to this family, making its slow dirge through time and space toward the Kingdom of God. We baptize in the name of Love that created all things, in the name of the One who embodied Love and in the name of the One who is the presence of Love in our everyday life. The thing that is so important and so incredible about baptism is that it is an experience that bonds us forever in love to God, and we have absolutely no idea what that means!

That is when the hard work of this mission continues…

Teaching disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How do you teach this countercultural, non-instinctual, unpopular way of existence?

I have no clue. But here is what I have learned about love. I have learned, love is uncomfortable. And trying to make love comfortable is what makes it even more uncomfortable. Planning every outfit for dates with coordinating makeup and accessories. Trying to be on your best behavior and practicing your lines to make sure that what said is exactly the right thing in every situation. The desire for perfection, the desire for perpetual prettiness is what makes love unbearably uncomfortable. In fact it is a lie and there is no love in that.

I learned that meeting the uneasiness of connecting is love. That involves always knowing you could be wrong, lots of listening and knowing when you have said enough, and importantly, knowing when you need to take a break. Ultimately loving requires great amounts of self-awareness and honesty. It’s tedious, and it’s tense but it’s true.

I think teaching people about God’s love is all about the way we understand love in our closest relationships. Perhaps one way we embrace and teach Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor is through the super-slow work of creating trusting relationships in Church and community. This totally axes the top down shallow model of corporate church growth, where politics and proclivities are taboos. The love I think Jesus commands his disciples to live values mutuality, relationship and shared experience.

This love requires us to be in continual prayer to be delivered from the love of comfort; from pursuit of fortune and fame; from the fear of serving others; and from the fear of death or adversity. I believe, that is why at the end of the commissioning in Matthew, Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is hard, messy, slow work!

I am with you always, to the end of the age is the assurance that our marvelously, meticulous God is working through each and every one of us. With great care, and painstaking strategy, the God of providence is fulfilling the ultimate meaning of existence, within every eon, every era, and age.

The Good News is this—God has made provision for each of us, in the person of Jesus Christ. We approach this altar perhaps for the last time together, to present ourselves, our souls, and our bodies, to be made one body with Jesus in prayer so our habit becomes righteousness and our instinct kindness. So that with Jesus at the head our work may continue to bring the Kingdom

We disciples make our sacrifice of thanksgiving not just this graduation day, but daily. So, Let the spirit in you baptize all that you encounter in every ghetto, every city, and sleepy suburban place. Proclaim the freedom of our God in Jesus to every language, people and nation. And model the saving possibilities of following Jesus’ commandment to love in every situation.

That is our mission!! And it ain’t for the faint of heart, or for the compulsively tidy. And frankly, some days you just won’t be feeling it!

We go back to the text for help, the commissioning begins, “When [the disciples] saw [Jesus], they worshiped him, even though some doubted …” The disciples worshiped Jesus, even though some doubted. Our call is to do the same, knowing that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus!

We worship Jesus, even though we doubt

We worship Jesus, even though our school is in turmoil

We worship Jesus, even though it seems no one will come to our rescue.

We worship Jesus, even though our friends, mentors and colleagues are moving on.

We worship Jesus, even though you may not have a first call or a job.

We worship Jesus, even though our debt to income ratio is nuts!

We worship Jesus, even though black women and black men are being slain in the streets by state violence.

We worship Jesus, even though women make 80 percent of what men make EVEN in our Church.

We worship Jesus, even though there are those among us in the Church who wish for the return of the “glory days of the 1950’s”

We worship Jesus, even though justice seems far off!

We worship Jesus, even though…

We worship Jesus, even though our mission is hard, painful and grueling.

We worship Jesus, even though we may be sad and angry.

We worship Jesus, even though we have seen the worst and the ugliness of Church institution.

We worship Jesus, even though we doubt, and we make disciples, we baptize, and we teach love.

We worship Jesus, as we participate in the slow, attentive and compounding work of Love

This is our mission!

And this mission should give us pause…

Only because stopping is not an option.

So that They may have my Joy made Complete in themselves

A Sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2015

I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves

Our Psalm today is Psalm number one, the very first psalm and it is really the summary of them all: “Blessed are they… their delight is in the law of the Lord … tree-psalm1They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.” Real happiness comes from being a just person, following the will of God, trusting the love of God, even when things are not easy or restful, even when our prosperity does not look like what the rest of the world calls prosperity.

The other evening, I was talking with the wisest woman that I know, the person who has taught me everything I know about hospitality. We were sitting on the terrace of our apartment, reflecting on our years at General Theological Seminary. She said, “You know, hospitality comes from living a good life. A life that’s so good that you just want to share it.” We talked about that for a while. As far as finances and the goods of the world, we do pretty well, but there are those who have a lot more money, fancier houses or apartments and so forth, who are not as hospitable. And it appears that they are not as happy, they don’t have as good of lives, even on their yachts.

By the same token, there are others who have less than us who are even more hospitable. We certainly see that here in the Bronx. It is not that it is not important to have enough in this world to get by: having enough to eat and a place to live are essential needs and rights of every person. Going without those things makes it very difficult, perhaps impossible, for people to focus, to be confident or hopeful, or to find ways forward. Yet these things are not solved by greed or self-pity. It is only when people insist on justice, love, and hospitality that anyone can live a good life. “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”

Knowing the love of God is the source of happiness and it is the source of generosity and hospitality. Our Gospel lesson today is the first part of Jesus prayer for his disciples at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. If we think about this for a minute, the setting is both at the time of Jesus’ greatest model of hospitality where he washed the feet of his disciples and at the moment when he knew that he was about to be crucified and lose everything, even his life. Jesus says this to the Father, “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” Jesus joy is his love for his people.

He says, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus sent his disciples into the world and he sends us into the world to have a good life. But not a good life as parts of the world would have it, not what the commercials and most of the shows on TV portray as the good life, not what the neighbors or friends at school or people living in lower Manhattan might put forward as the requirements of “the Good Life.”

The good life is the life of joy and delight, our joy and God’s joy. And the surest sign of that joy is that we have the confidence to be hospitable and generous, just as Jesus is to us. Thus we may be like the blessed ones in our psalm: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.”

Sisters and brothers, continue to live the Good Life in God.

Mother’s Day

A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

Today’s Gospel lesson continues the beautiful discourse in the Gospel of John, where Jesus likens his relationship to the disciples, to a vine and its branches. It explains the relationship of God with Jesus and Jesus with us. The word that is repeated throughout this, and also in First John, which we have been going through in this season, is “abide.” We mostly see that word used in church settings and hymns but it is not a particularly holy word in itself. It means “stay” or “remain.” If you were speaking Greek, it’s the same word that you would use to tell someone, “stay right there and don’t move until I get back, it won’t take long.” It is also the same word as one might say, “Stay with me.” But when we translate it as “abide,” it means to stay and continue to remain a very long time. Where you abide is where you live. And Jesus invites us, “Abide in my love.”

Today is Mother’s Day.  It is a day where we are encouraged to obey at least half of the Fifth Commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” There are quite a few mothers in this world, and it is difficult, and maybe not appropriate to generalize about who mothers are or how they behave, or even what constitutes a good, bad or indifferent mother. I have a mother.

My mother, Bernice Kadel

My mother, Bernice Kadel

I have had the same one for nearly sixty-one years.  She was only twenty-three years old when I came into her life.  She has remained my mother for almost three-quarters of her life, and I have lived in her love for my whole life. That is a long time for people to abide with one another.  The emergence of an infant into this world who is dependent on a mother for nurture and thriving is the closest analogy we have for the intimacy of the relationship of Jesus with God the Father, or of the church’s relationship with him.

Over the course of their lives, children are a joy, a responsibility, a heartache, and a support to their parents. A child always affects the course of its mother’s life. As a mother abides with her child, she may see her aspirations in her child’s future, or she may see her aspirations changed in response to the needs of that child. Mother and child adapt and grow together, whether the relationship appears to be always smooth or, perhaps, sometimes rocky.   We know that life is complicated, that the love of mothers is often complicated, and that it is even complicated to know who we are talking about, when we are talking about mothers. You don’t have to bear a child and be its mother for sixty-one years to be a mother. Tragedy often takes a child away long before they reach that age, sometimes even before birth. Sometimes a child is taken into a home and raised with abiding love by someone who did not biologically bear the child. And we all know those, who for whatever reason, did not bear children of their own, but who give of themselves in nurturing care for the community and also raise our children with steadfast love.

We abide in the love of God, and our relationship with God is equally complex. God’s love is steadfast, but there may be barriers for us in perceiving, feeling, or understanding his love. Sometimes a loving mother’s concern for the child leads to a choice that makes the child angry. Sometimes the mother is even right, but the teenager doesn’t understand. We often attribute things to God that are not from God, or we fail to understand the consequences of our own behavior, and blame God, just as we might blame our mother. And Christ suffers pain in seeing his children embark on a path that will lead to their suffering or the suffering of others.

He says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” But there is ONE commandment, not many: “Love one another as I have loved you.” But think of how complicated that gets. We justify ourselves by explaining how our selfishness is really love of others. Or we are hurt, and give hurt back, and after a while are lost in how to unwind our hurt relationships. The life of a Christian is spent on the adventure of discovering how it is that we can love one another simply and truly.

He says, “I have called you friends, because I have made know to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Not that we loved God but that God loved us

A sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Fifth Sunday of Easter   May 3, 2015

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.

Since Easter, we have been reading First John as our epistle reading each Sunday. The entire discourse is about Christian love. Today’s lesson, which is most of the fourth chapter, is the fullest and perhaps the most famous discussion of love that we have. Maybe you have heard the Greek word for love: Agapē. If you look at the Greek text, that word shows up in various forms three or four times in every sentence in the first part of this lesson.

It is not that this is some special or different kind of love that Christians have. It’s not a secret magic word. Love is a characteristic of human life. But often we forget, misunderstand, postpone or distort love, and hurt one another by not loving one another.

There is nothing weak, sentimental or foolish about love. And love is not something that we achieve, or count up in points to show that we are better lovers than someone else. Fundamental to Christian understanding of love is that God first loves us. Before all things, and in all things and through all things—God is loving us. Love is not an achievement, but the pure grace of our creator, who comes among us and suffered with us that we might live in his love. Love is a gift that may manifest itself in many ways according to who you are, but it is not an optional gift or talent. You can’t have some people who are smart, and others who work hard, and others who lead and yet other people who are loving… Without love, none of the rest of it is real. And it is God who loves us first, and we know that and experience that, in Jesus, whose life makes us real.Allan Rohan Crite neighborhood Because love comes from God to everyone, to all God’s children— no church or group of any sort has a monopoly on love—nor does any sort of special definition of love outweigh the love of God for all people and all creation.

The lesson continues with the audacious statement: God is love. Not “God is like love” or “God is the source of love,” but “God is love.” Simple. Direct. But challenging. This means that love is not my opinion about it, or someone else’s feelings about it. Love is God and God is free, before all things, above all things and in all things. Distortions of love or lying about love would put one at odds with the living God. God loves you and God loves me—and it’s very serious business. In asserting that God is love, we are saying that the essence of all that is, is that bond of caring and striving for the well-being and thriving of one another, that we know in being loved and in loving. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them.”

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” There is a lot of fear in our country nowadays. People are afraid about their financial well-being and about violence and wars around the world. But right now, I am thinking about what has been happening in Baltimore over the past couple of weeks and related events over the past year in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island. I have said this before: the underlying dynamic of racism is fear. Fear of losing security, fear of losing privilege, fear of a familiar world passing away. That fear distorts people’s perception of others and it distorts their views of their own behavior. Fear begets anger, and that results in violence—such as unreasonable arrests, panicked use of firearms or maltreatment of persons in custody. And violence results in others being afraid and angry in turn. Tragedy begets tragedy. Fear is a normal and common emotion. But fear is the opposite of love. When we are called to love, we are called to have great courage, because loving doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen, but that when they happen, we are one with God. Jesus came into this world a stranger. And though he was love, the world feared him and rejected his love and killed him. But we celebrate his resurrection, because even in being killed, his love returns and will not die.

We are in a world with many dangers, but do not fear them. In particular do not fear the stranger and do not fear losing what is familiar. Christ is the stranger and he brings us what is new. Our love is perfected in him and he casts out fear. We abide, not in the things that we remember, or want to hold on to, but in God. And God is Love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

I know my own and my own know me

A sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

4th Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2015

I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me.

This Sunday in the church calendar, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. We always read from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd.” Now, those of us who know only a little simple Greek might translate it as “I am the beautiful shepherd.” The Greek adjective means good in the sense of proper or ideal. One commentator translates it, “I am the model shepherd.”

When Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd he’s not describing what someone might encounter if he or she met a real life shepherd.Shepherd He is describing what could be, what we might hope for, how it might be in the kingdom of God. The ideal shepherd; the shepherd in the imagination of those immersed in the Psalms and the writings in the Old Testament about David the shepherd king; the model shepherd lived a life entwined with the flock that he owned. His livelihood depended on them, and they depended on his protection and guidance, for they were defenseless against predators and couldn’t survive in the wilderness if separated from the flock and the shepherd. The model shepherd would know each of those sheep and keep track of every one.

Think about it—the sheep were the shepherd’s life. Without them there was no livelihood, no present, no future, no independence, no dignity. When you have something that important, it is worth sacrificing to keep. You contrast that with someone who is paid a few dollars a day to show up for a job, who has no promise of a future, no ownership and no real commitment to the sheep beyond the daily wage. The tradeoff for that person is very different. If there are big risks or serious sacrifices to be made, why would the hired person make them? Why not go out and find another job? Wolves are dangerous, and your own life is more important than somebody else’s sheep.

We needn’t be disapproving of the wage worker. Jesus is the model shepherd, and he goes further than any pretty good shepherd would do: he lays down his life for his sheep. Not just some sacrifice, or some risk—he actually lays down his life. When he says this, we know we are moving beyond actual sheep herding and remembering his crucifixion and resurrection.

The epistle lesson from First John starts like this: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” The life of Christ leads us into our life IN Christ. The Model Shepherd tends his flock, but we are more than sheep, we are responsible to one another, we are responsible to love and live ethically FOR one another. John asks, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” Of course, one answer to that is to not see the need, to look away or explain that it is someone else’s responsibility. Then, there is the kind of love where people are only talking about doing good, so that they can feel nice about it. That’s why it is important to remember that we are forgiven people, not necessarily people who are always perfectly loving or truly caring. There is one Model Shepherd, and it’s not me.

First John continues, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” No representation of ourselves as the Good Shepherds, no talk about how many sweet feelings we have about others, just reaching out to meet the real needs of others, seeking the healing and well-being of one another.

In the Gospel, Jesus continues: “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” It is difficult enough to love those who are in our own little flock, people who we know and are used to being with. But Jesus directs us beyond where we are comfortable. He lays down his life for us, that we can take some small risks for him. Jesus is shepherd of those who are beyond our doors, those who don’t agree with us and those who don’t fit in with whatever group we may be part of. The Good Shepherd invites us to his hospitality, that we can extend that hospitality to others, to those flocks in another fold. We abide in him, and he makes us one flock, with one shepherd.

From today’s Psalm:

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.