Sunday, July 26, 2009

Proper 12B

Preached in the Chapel of the Transfiguration at Kanuga Conference Center, Guest Period Four...

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Okay, quickly now: If you subtract 35 from 126, add 16 and then add 4, then subtract 6, what have you got? A) The extra credit question on your 10th grade math final; B) A problem you’ve scribbled out the answer to in the margins of the math section of the ACT; or C) The equation you have to do in your head (with the whole congregation watching and an offertory anthem going on in the background and an enthusiastic acolyte trying to had you water and wine)...the equation you have to do in your head every Sunday when you’re the priest counting out wafers before communion. Let’s see, 125 wafers in the ciborium, but there are not that many folks here so take out 35, but the priest host breaks into 16 so add that, and remember 4 families get their babies from the nursery, but maybe 6 people or so won’t come up for communion, okay, so that’s what...10 wafers we need in all? Or 20? 50?? Who knows?!?

It never occurred to me that I’d be doing so much math as a priest. It’s not my favorite subject. In college, we got to choose between taking math or taking a foreign language, a choice that for me was, well, muy facil. I haven’t taken math since high school. I’m not really that bad at it - I can do it, but it takes effort, and I can’t do it in my head. I’ve never once counted out the right number of communion wafers. I either run out and have to break the last few wafers into tiny bits, or I have so many left they might could feed five thousand with twelve baskets left over...

There’s some kind of math going on in our gospel reading this morning, but it must be new math, because nothing adds up. How could it - the one doing the calculating was himself God, whom we worship in Trinity, in whom one plus one plus one equals both one and three at the same time. Saint Athanasius tried to work that one out, and his formula is in the back of our prayerbook: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance... The Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty, and yet they are not three Almighties but one Almighty... That’s not any kind of math I know how to do.

Still, I can imagine Jesus sitting on that hillside trying to get a head count of the crowd, giving up and guessing there were about five thousand, then looking down at the five loaves and two fish in his hands and thinking, Okay, if I break each loaf into a thousand pieces and these fish into, what would that be, two thousand five hundred pieces each... But some of them may have babies in the nursery and maybe not everyone will eat...

Scholars have gone round and round about how Jesus did it John tells us they ate until they were satisfied, so it’s safe to assume they didn’t each get just one one-thousandth of a loaf of bread and one two-thousand-five-hundredth of a fish. It’s not a division problem, then. In fact, if the miracle is that somehow as Jesus broke the bread it increased in amount, then it’s more a matter of multiplication. Some have even suggested that the math involved was addition, that as the crowd witnessed the generosity of the little boy who offered up his lunch, and the determination of Jesus to make it work, that they began reaching into their own pockets, pulling out their provisions and adding them to the menu - the first parish potluck. Indeed, is it any less of a miracle for Jesus to change so many human hearts from selfishness to generosity than it is for him to change five loaves and two fish into a feast?

All four gospels record this miracle, but not one of them tells us how it was done. If we only knew, especially in these difficult times...if we only knew how to divide or multiply or add or whatever it takes to have enough - let alone to have too much, twelve baskets left over. All we know is the old math. We measure, we calculate, we count, and we worry, we always worry that there isn’t enough - not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy, not enough patience, not enough hope, not enough bread or fish perhaps, not enough of ourselves to go around. If only we knew how Jesus did it.

Theologian Douglas John Hall insists, though, that we’re reading the story all wrong when we focus on the “how” of the miracle that happened on the hillside that day. The math isn’t the miracle. The man who did the math is. When we focus on the details of the miracle, Hall writes, we miss “the wonder of divine grace that permeates the whole of human life,” not just loaves and fishes.

I’m not sure Jesus ever meant to host a picnic at all. In John’s telling of the story, no mention is made of the crowd’s hunger - not a hunger for food, anyway. Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? Jesus asks his disciples, wondering if they will understand that it’s not a math problem he’s posing. They don’t understand. They start measuring, calculating, and counting and of course they come up short. There’s not enough bread for everyone there.

Over the next several Sundays we’ll have our fill of bread as we continue our brief journey through John’s gospel before returning to the gospel of Mark. The Reverend Barbara Crafton calls these the “Bread Sundays,” and in the reflections she posts on-line she is including a bread recipe for every week we hear Jesus talk about the stuff. This week it is loaves and fishes. Soon he will say something about true bread from heaven, better by far even than manna in the wilderness. And then Jesus will begin to talk about bread that gives life to the world.

Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat? But, John tells us, He said that to test the disciples, for he himself knew what he was going to do... Do you know? The disciples of course did not - they thought he meant bread and fish, tuna sandwiches, lunch. I am the bread of life, Jesus will say before this chapter in John is finished. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Jesus is going to feed them with himself.

This story was beloved in the life and worship of the early church for its eucharistic imagery - Jesus takes the bread that is offered, give thanks for it, breaks it, and shares it until all are satisfied. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples serve the meal, but in John’s version, it is Jesus himself who hands out the bread. Jesus feeds the crowd.

If this is a math story, it’s not arithmetic - it’s geometry. As Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, it is about what is the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love in offering to us the Bread of Life through the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is a new equation to learn, and it is this: five loaves, two fish and (and this is what the disciples had not considered)... five loaves, two fish and Jesus are enough to feed the deepest, widest hunger we can imagine.

Whatever happened on that hillside, the heart of the miracle is not division or multiplication but the exponential, limitless love of God for those who are hungry, which is to say, all of us. We may not be hungry for bread (well, I don’t know, we haven’t had our morning toast yet), but for what are we hungry? Peace of mind? A feeling of fullness? An end to despairing? Confidence that our offerings, our selves, our lives, however meagerly we measure them, are enough?

We are enough, not because we have five loaves and two fish or more or less, but because we have God. The meal we will soon share on this hillside at this table, with Jesus as our host, is no less miraculous than that meal on the grassy Galilean hillside. Regardless of whether or not I get the numbers right, there will be more bread for the world here when we finish our meal than when we begin. For at the altar rail we take into ourselves what we already are - the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. Jesus feeds us with himself, and then sends us out to feed the hungry - perhaps with bread and fish, perhaps with clothing and shelter, perhaps with time and attention, perhaps with healing hands, perhaps with simply our presence, but always, always, with the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that surpasses measure, that is infinite.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Artwork: "The Five Thousand," by Eularia Clark; "Feeding the 5000," by Dianne Vottero Dockery; "Feeding of the 5000," by Daniel Bonnell; "The Feeding of 5000 Men," by Justino Magalona.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Vespers

Little Charlie and I are at Kanuga Conference Center, near Hendersonville, North Carolina. These mountains smell like heaven, and their cool breezes and daily afternoon thundershowers are a lovely respite from the Mississippi heat. The only thing missing is Big Charlie...

Psalm 51:11-16; Matthew 13:24-30

This is only my second summer to be at Kanuga’s Guest Period Four, but this place has been an important part of my life for many years now. My family attended a guest period back when I was twelve or thirteen, and I still have a few postcards I made in Minkler Grove, cute little raccoons and dark green pine trees stamped on heavy brown cardstock. In college, I returned to Kanuga as a camp counselor, unprepared both for what would be demanded of me in that role and for how I learned to rise to the occasion, even when it meant lighting a campfire in the rain. I met my husband at Kanuga, down in Balthis, where we had both finished rehearsing to sing in a concert with Fran McKendree. And now I’m back at Guest Period again, amazed and humbled by how I’ve grown since that week here with my family some twenty-five years ago.

I still haven’t told you, though, about the very first time a part of Kanuga became a part of me. It didn’t happen here in these mountains, but rather in the other high holy place of the Episcopal Church - Sewanee, Tennessee, where we lived when I was little and my father was in seminary. Sewanee is so very much like here, surrounded by wood and stone and so close to heaven there are angels in the trees.

Nowhere is that more true at Sewanee than in Abbo’s Alley, a woodland garden sown years ago in a ravine three quarters of a mile long. Countless daffodils and dogwoods line the paths that wander from sunbeam to sunbeam, and tulips, hyancinth, rhodedendron, and flame azaleas grow there, too. Around every turn new wonders await - a little stone bridge crossing the stream, a clearing just the right size for a picnic lunch, lichen and moss covered rocks to climb up and over or sit on top of and daydream.

We lived very near the main entrance to Abbo’s Alley, and I felt more than welcome in that garden. Too welcome, it seems... My mother remembers the day I was in Abbo’s Alley and was, apparently, helping myself to some of the flowers along one of the paths. She knows this not because she saw me pick them, and certainly not because I admitted to picking them. She knows this because someone else was in the garden that day and happened upon me with my fist full of flowers. He scolded me and then scolded my mom, I think - we do not pick flowers in Abbo’s Alley.

The man’s name was Albert Gooch. And though he has retired from his service as Kanuga’s president, I feel compelled to tell you that the flowers on the front porch of my cabin are from the grocery store.

This evening we have heard one of Jesus’ many parables about things that grow, and I note that he has decidedly said we are not to pick anything! We will hear more parables over the course of our week together, as we walk through the gospel according to Matthew. These will be our bedtime stories as we gather here for vespers, filling our dreams with strange and vivid images of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is may be compared to someone who sowed good seed... to a mustard seed... to yeast mixed with flour... a treasure found and hidden... a pearl of great value... a net that caught fish of every kind.

It is the nature of a parable, as it is the nature of a plant or flower, to both hide and reveal the life and meaning contained with it. Parables are grounded, rooted, in what the poet Henry Vaughan described as the deep and dazzling darkness of God, who is so far beyond our knowing and even our imagination. And yet parables also put forth leaves and petals and fruit for us to touch and see and feel and so to become familiar, at least in part, with something of who God is and how God acts in the world. These stories we’ll be hearing aren’t really at all about farmers and seed, or bakers and yeast, or treasures and merchants, or nets and fishermen - they are about God and God’s kingdom at work in and through the whole of creation in ways we simply couldn’t imagine without a little help from things we can imagine.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared, Jesus might have said in our day, to someone who sowed good seed in a wooded ravine and grew flowers of every kind, and laid out a meandering path that would lead to places of unexpected beauty and delight.

Or he might have said, The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed a dream in the mountains and grew a conference center where there gathered people of every kind, whose roots mingled and intertwined in the good earth.

Doubtless we have all come here to Kanuga because, at least in part, we understand it to be a place where the kingdom of God is not hidden but revealed, where kindness and welcome and wonder and grace are not dreamed but practiced. And doubtless many of us have come here from lives and circumstances in which weeds have been sown alongside the wheat we have worked so hard to cultivate and grow.

Let both of them grow together until the harvest, the farmer in the parable says. Let it be. This parable, like all parables, has many facets and much to teach us - so much, in fact, that the lectionary will return to it in a few days and we will have another opportunity to understand what it reveals to us about how God is working in and around us. For now, though, let us notice that the farmer suggests we let go of our anxiety about how things will turn out and simply turn our attention to growing. Turning our faces the sun, clinging to the good earth in which we are planted, soaking up the ways in which we are showered with God’s grace.

For now let us notice that the kingdom grows into its fullness in spite of the weeds sown within it. Let us not pick at the weeds. Heaven forbid we should pick anything! Instead, let us grow together in this holy ground, sown throughout with kingdom seeds. Let us wander from sunbeam to sunbeam, let us be surprised around every turn.

In the words of our psalmist this evening, Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew right spirits within us...Give us the joy of your saving help again, and sustain us with your bountiful Spirit. Amen.

Artwork: Row of cottages at Kanuga; flowers on the front porch of cottage 25; "Parable of the Sower," artist unknown; flowers outside the Chapel of the Transfiguration at Kanuga.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"This is big..."

...said Little Charlie, gazing at whale sharks and sand tiger sharks and rays and fish in countless variety at the Georgia Aquarium this morning. "In so many ways, This Is Big..."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beyond the Buttonholes

Last night, following a late afternoon sew-a-long at a friend's house, I finished my skirt, my first wearable sewing project! A few posts ago, it was still a work in progress, but now it is officially a skirt! My friend finished her skirt as well (her second one sewn from this pattern).

I wore my new skirt all day today, and since I will be in an entirely different state tomorrow and no one will know the difference, I may wear it all day tomorrow, too!

I am happy to report two things in particular. First, I worried that I might not have many tops that match, but I do. I don't own many purple things, but I have some white and pink and cream colored tops that will look nice with the skirt.

Second, it is too big. That is better in oh so very many ways than it being too small. The drawstring waist makes it work just fine, but I am pleased to know that I can go a size down when I start skirt number two...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Proper 11B

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

I’ve always thought I must have a lot of my grandmother in me. Both grandmothers, for that matter. Not because I still sing the songs they taught me when I was little. Not because I’ve taken up grandmotherly hobbies like knitting and sewing. Not because my hair is starting to resemble theirs. My grandmothers have given me all these things, and many more blessings besides, but one thing I know I carry in the very fiber of my being is their non-southern DNA.

I’ve lived all my life in the south, but except for my liberal use of the word “y’all” and my love of azaleas and catfish you might not know it. I think this may be because my grandmothers lived all their lives in the north, in the state of New York. One of them moved to South Carolina when she married, and it was her house I visited most, especially in the summers. Not once did I hear her complain about being so far from home, but I did hear her tell stories about growing up where it snowed, where wild blueberry bushes grew, where the soil wasn’t made of clay, and where the sea made you shiver from both cold and delight.

Their granddaughter through and through, I have lived all my life in the south but I’m not sure I’m really a southerner. I love our early spring, but I wear my mittens and scarf for as long as I possibly can when spring comes around. I loved those summers at my grandmother’s house in South Carolina, but I don’t like hot weather, which I consider to be anything above 85 degrees. I love heat lightening and afternoon thunderstorms, but not humidity - I much prefer breathing my air to drinking it. And when the ice-filled glasses appear and the hostess brings her pitcher and starts pouring, I have to say “No, thank you” because, I have never learned to like iced tea.

I don’t really like any kind of tea, for that matter. I wish I did - it often smells so lovely, and it looks so refreshing, especially when brightened with lemon or orange slices or freshly picked mint. I’ve wondered if sweet tea doesn’t flow through the veins of a true southerner, so often is it served and so swiftly is a glass of it refilled. I’ve been to many a meal when the beverages were already waiting at the table - tall, sweetly sweating glasses of iced tea all around.

The truth is, of course, tea in some form or another is served in communities the world over. Required summer reading for all St. Andrew’s students and faculty this summer is Three Cups of Tea, the remarkable story of Greg Mortenson, a man who literally stumbled into an opportunity to change the world for the better. It all started with a cup of tea, which he was no more fond of than I am. But he had been lost high up on a glacier in northern Pakistan and was weak and tired and frozen, and so he drank cup after steaming cup of the hot butter tea (that’s aged yak butter in the tea, mind you, a far cry from mint!) offered to him in the small village that took him in and cared for him as he recovered from his ordeal. Greg would spend the next ten years of his life - and it is still his mission to this day - repaying their kindness by building schools for children in remote and forgotten Pakistan and Afghanistan villages. He might have felt out of place in that land of extreme heat and extreme cold, where many different languages are spoken and none of them his native tongue, where the faithful cry out Allah Akbahr, God is great, when they pray instead of Our Father, who art in heaven. He might have felt as strange and alien as my grandmother when she moved from New York to South Carolina so long ago. Greg might always have thought about Pakistan in terms of us and them, had he not learned to like tea.

“The first time you share tea,” said Haji Ali, the village leader, “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.” And so, sitting on the dark dirt floors of Balti homes and sipping tea, Greg became family, he learned to build relationships with people who weren’t so unlike him after all, because together they dreamed of building peace one school at a time.

King David, too, dreamed of building. He already had peace, which had been a long time coming. The shepherd-boy-turned-warrior-king had finally united the kingdom of Israel and driven out its enemies, and settled in to reign over God’s people. Having spent so much of his life in pastures and on battlefields, David must have thought it grand to sleep under a solid roof and wake to sturdy walls that kept out the heat and dust and wind. Still mindful, though, that he was king by God’s choosing, he said, See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent. God was no longer needed in the pasture or on the battlefield, either, David thought, and so he dreamed of building God a house.

But David, I already have a house, God said. No roof, no walls, no being settled in one place, but I have never asked for that or needed it. I move about among my people, and I make places for them. My house is in them and now and for all time it will be in you. Most scholars agree that God was playing with words in promising David a house - David had been speaking of building a place, but God was speaking of building a people, of being present with and in and among a long succession of kings and people of faith down through all the ages. David’s son would build a temple, but God was already at home in the hearts and lives and dreams of the people of Israel, and long after the temple fell not once but twice, the community of faith continued to house God in their midst.

When Jesus and his disciples needed a place to rest - it, too, had been a long time coming - the only roof they had was sky and the only wall they had was distance. Jesus took the disciples by boat to a quiet, deserted place where they might sit or sleep or perhaps sip a cup of tea in peace. But someone guessed where they were going and told everyone else, and the people hurried there from all the towns and arrived at the not-so-deserted place ahead of them. As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd...

There was always a great crowd wherever Jesus went, people who by faith or in desperation (or both) sought him out, even if only to touch the fringe of his cloak. They were always there, that crowd, that ever-present always hungry, always hurting, always hoping to be healed crowd.

It would have been easy for Jesus to just see a Them. That’s how the world teaches us to see. Us and Them. In that crowded deserted place it was Us, the helpers, and Them, the needy. In Paul’s time, as we heard in his letter to the Ephesians, it was Us, the Jews, and Them, the Gentiles. But the categories are infinite, aren’t they? The walls we build to divide ourselves from others are legion. Us, from this country; Them, from another. Us, with one skin color; Them, with another. Us, the educated; Them, the uneducated. Us, the tea drinkers; Them, the non-tea drinkers. Rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, immigrant and native born, liberal and conservative, labor and management, gay and straight, old and young, Baptist and Episcopalian and Methodist and Lutheran and Catholic, Christian and Muslim, Ole Miss and State... We’re really good at knowing what makes us Us, and them Them, and while this knowledge can help us feel strong and significant and secure, it is also what separates us from one another. “Oh, East is East and West is West and, and never the twain shall meet,” wrote Rudyard Kipling.

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have now been brought near... For he is our peace; in his body he has made us into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. Long before Paul preached about the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ, Jesus himself was tearing down walls. Jesus could have seen a Them when he stepped out of the boat that day into the midst of the multitude as troubled and turbulent as a stormy sea, but instead he had compassion for the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them, to nurture them, to shelter them, to heal them, and (as we will hear in next week’s gospel reading), to feed them.

It is no different today. Jesus, in whom no wall separated God from humanity, Jesus comes into the midst of this great crowded world and looks with compassion, speaks with compassion, heals, feeds, restores, renews, reconciles, enters into relationship and so teaches us how to disassemble dividing walls and build the household of God. The foundation of prophets and apostles is laid, and the cornerstone, Christ himself, is set. Together with the faithful and the hopeful and the compassionate in every time and place we become the stones and bricks and beams that build a dwelling place for God. In Christ we are not divided by walls of hostility - we are united by the mortar of compassion as we, the Body of Christ, learn to look at the world and see not Us and Them but We.

There are still a great many hungry and hurting and desperately hopeful people out there, including ourselves from time to time. And there are a great many people who look or act or speak or hunger or hurt or hope or believe very differently than we do. Try as we might to distance ourselves from one another, to put up walls that separate Us from Them (whatever Us’s and Them’s there are in our own lives), the foundation we are built upon, whose cornerstone is Christ, simply does not support that kind of structure. Instead, marvels the Reverend Kate Huey, “God’s power [is] to create community not out of stone and wood, gold and silver, stained glass and soaring ceilings, but out of people and the promise that shapes them into a community that says yes to the call to follow Jesus, [the call] to love one another and the world.”

It was a call to compassion that Greg Mortenson answered that day, a call that has since united Christian and Muslim, Shiite and Sunni, rich and poor, young and old, athlete and scholar, tea drinkers in all their diversity, and many, many others who once considered the wall between themselves and the high passes of Pakistan too tall to climb. Seventy-eight schools have been built upon this foundation, offering hope tens of thousands of children living in poverty. As the stone walls go up to shape each new school, walls of suspicion and hostility crumble, and the kingdom of God grows.

And so it is that we sing, “In Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great family of love throughout the whole wide earth.” Amen.

Artwork: "Late Summer Iced Tea," by Emily Zasada; "K2 Mountain Range," by Chaitanya Huprikar; "King David," by Shraga Weil; "The Multitude," photograph by National Geographic; Greg Mortenson and Balti villagers; Photograph of Hushe Community School during construction.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

But can it write sermons and fold clothes...

I am still in shock (a happy kind!) when I consider what I accomplished today. Not the completion of the nine sermons I have to write for Kanuga. Not the planning of the three session bible study I will lead while I am there. Not the winning of two medals at my first taekwondo tournament, which is what my son did. And not the riding of 23 miles on my bike, which is what my husband did.

I made two button holes today. To be fair, my sewing machine made the buttonholes without much input from me, other than attaching the buttonhole foot and lining it up to just the right place on the fabric. And none of that would have happened at all had it not been for the encouragement of my friend who is walking me through the sewing of my first skirt. The fabric is a pretty purple batik from Quilt Arts (of blessed memory), and the pattern is Simplicity 7229.

I've never used the sewing machine in as many different ways as I used it today - straight stitching, zig-zag stitching, buttonholes... After struggling with it a time or two in the past, we worked together well today and I am looking forward to spending much more time with it in the future.

As soon as I finish those sermons and bible studies. And the log cabin quilt. And the shawl. And the laundry... Or maybe I'll just sew a little more right now...

Monday, July 13, 2009


Perhaps another reason I'm moving more slowly on my log cabin squares (although I did finally finish square number 15 this weekend - take that, you turtles!) is that I've run into a few distractions. One of them is this.

A colleague is moving away, and I wanted to give her something in gratitude for her friendship and her support of my ministry. She is so gracious and kind-hearted and passionate in her work, balancing perfectly the airs of authority and femininity. I will miss her.

Cozy isn't a traditional prayer shawl pattern, but I'm certainly thinking about my friend and thanking God for her as I knit it. The yarn is Luster Sheen from Red Heart, and is all acrylic but has a look and feel like linen or mercerized cotton.

The color ("medium blue" according to the label) belongs both to St. Andrew's School and to my friend's native Hawaii ocean - her office walls are covered in pictures and postcards so lovely you can almost hear the surf. (The first picture actually shows the color more accurately.)

I didn't cast on enough stitches, even though I cast on more than the pattern suggested, so I'm going to have to create a border for the two long sides in order for it to be wide enough to wear as a shawl. I'm looking forward to indulging in the pages of Nicky Epstein's Knitting On the Edge! After all, in the words of our school motton, "we will find a way or we will make one..."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Prayer Squares

I was trying to find a new way to photograph my log cabin squares for my last post, and only ended up sharing a few. As I looked back through the pictures this morning, though, some of the others caught my eye.

I've been reading Three Cups of Tea, chronicling the work of Greg Mortenson to build schools in remote regions of Pakistan. It is a remarkable story that takes the reader quite literally to great heights of humanity and great depths of character. People whom the world would describe (and even more so now than when the story began pre-September 11) as enemies come together, open their hearts to one another, embrace a common vision, and build up hope stone by stone, beam by beam, school by school.

In those rare moments when I put the book down, I turn on the computer to catch up on news from General Convention. It is amazing to me that with the click of a few keys I can see pictures from the floor, read about resolutions, view the breathtaking diversity of people, and listen to them pray and sing and speak together. In her opening sermon, Bishop Katherine spoke about the heart, not just as the seat of our emotions but as place from which we think and reason and make decisions. We were given a new heart when Jesus offered us his very own, and just as a human heart needs to beat to stay healthy, we need to exercise the hearts that have been transplanted into us.

"Every time we gather," she said, "the Spirit offers a pacemaker jolt to tweak the rhythm of this heart. The challenge is whether or not we'll recognize and receive that renewed life, whether the muscle will respond with a strengthened beat, sending more life into the world.... So how will this heart push more lifeblood out into a languishing world? Can you hear the heartbeat? Mission... mission... mission... mission..."

Greg Mortenson is not an Episcopalian. Most of the people with whom he works are not Christian. But that has not impeded the beating of their hearts in rhythm with one another and with God, and many thousands the world over have felt their hearts renewed and strengthened by his story.

Pakistan is a Muslim country, but the region where Greg first imagined a better world was once Buddhist. In fact, the mosque in Korphe where he built the first school was once a Buddhist temple. Voices and images of prayer - Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist - have been mingling in my own heart, which is perhaps why when I looked at these pictures this morning I saw prayer flags rather than quilt squares.

Almighty and everliving God, be present with those who take counsel for the renewal and mission of your Church and your world. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it. Book of Common Prayer, p. 818

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


As in, as slow as...

That's how it feels like my progress on the log cabin blanket is sometimes! I'm in the last round of strips for square number 15.

That's 15 of 36.

Is it a coincidence that I've seen so many turtles this summer?

I think not. Soooo sloooowwww....

Turtles: On the way to church in Sumner; In our own front yard!; At St. Peter's-by-the-Turtle-by-the-Lake

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Proper 9B

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

As a preacher’s kid, a preacher’s wife, and as a preacher myself, I have moved quite a number of times. I’ve had lots of hometowns - Sewanee, Leesville, Kingsport, Atlanta, Ponte Vedra, New York City, Oxford, Spartanburg, Meridian, and now Jackson. I love going home, anywhere that has been home, anywhere that, for a season, grew in me as I grew in it. In every hometown of mine there are places and memories so familiar and vivid that it is as if I have traveled back in time when I visit them. The evergreens in our front yard in Sewanee, under whose branches I had my own secret house, are still there. I still sometimes drive the stretch of interstate between college and mom, and am comforted when I see the sign that says “Welcome to South Carolina”. The skyline of New York City makes me long for its streets. I’ve even passed by the Hardees restaurant near Leesville, where we could stop for a roast beef sandwich on our way home from summer camp. And just last night, I went to the lakes at Bonita, where we took our son to watch his first fireworks show, and once again saw the sky light up in honor of our nation’s birthday.

Other things are not at all the way I remembered, either because I have grown up and changed or the towns themselves have. The playground at Sewanee Elementary School now looks half the size I thought it was when I used to run out at recess. The trees in my mom’s front yard are twice as big as they were the last time I lived there. And the homes in Oxford have multiplied so much I got lost trying to find our little blue rectory on the hill when I was there last summer. Still, whether our hometowns haven’t changed a bit or are unrecognizable, whether they are places we love to visit or try to avoid, I suppose Dorothy was right - there truly is no place like home.

I wonder how Jesus felt going home to Nazareth. He hadn’t really been gone very long, just a few years, but so much had happened to him. Jesus had left Nazareth a carpenter, a craftsman like his father, Joseph; he was returning a prophet, a miracle worker, a messiah who now called God father. Jesus had changed, but I suspect Nazareth had not. At all. It was still the same small town he had grown up in, and all the same people were still there, doing the same things they had been doing when he left.

Which is what he should have been doing, too, according to ancient social and family codes. If you were born a carpenter, you stayed a carpenter, and when the time came you became head of your family and your children would become carpenters. In all of Nazareth, perhaps only Mary guessed Jesus would build kingdoms instead of houses. But even she was alarmed when she heard what her son had been saying and doing ever since his cousin, John, had baptized him in the Jordan River. Mary had begged Jesus to come home before he brought ridicule upon himself and his family. Did it pierce her heart to hear him say, Who but those that listen to me and do the will of God are my mother and brothers?

But now he was coming home, to teach, to preach, and maybe to eat a homecooked meal and sleep a night or two in his old bedroom. We’ve been journeying with him these last several Sundays filled with signs and wonders. Jesus calmed a storm. Our lectionary leapt over an account of him casting out a demon. He healed an incurable disease. He raised the dead. It was time to go home, back to the places he had known as a child, back to the people who had raised him, to the place that had grown in him and as he grew in it. Was there a tree under which Jesus had a secret house when he was little? Was there a sense of comfort as he passed a marker at the outskirts of town? Did the scrubby trees look taller, or the streets narrower? Did Jesus think Nazareth would welcome him home?

Word of his miracles and whispers of messiah reached his hometown before he did. People were talking about him and his delusions of grandeur. A carpenter couldn’t know what he knew. None of Mary’s other children did the things he could do, or claimed to be able to do. Ordinary craftsmen and farmers and laborers didn’t have time to study Torah enough to teach it, but Jesus walked right into the synagogue as though it were his own house and began to speak God’s word to all who were gathered there.

And the more Jesus displayed his deep wisdom of divine things, the more the people of Nazareth were amazed - not because they saw him for who he really was, but because they saw him for who they had always known him to be, the kid who grew up just down the street. Some of them had chased him and his friends out of their stalls in the marketplace when they were just giggling little boys who got underfoot. Some of them had tousled his hair when he went with his mother to the well each day. They had known Jesus all his life, his likes and dislikes, his habits and hobbies, his strengths and his weaknesses. What was this power he now presumed to possess? What was this wisdom? What was this healing touch? Hadn’t they been his teachers? Hadn’t they tended to his skinned knees and stubbed toes? Wasn’t he just like them, born into his lot in life, where he’d better stay unless he wants to get on the wrong side of those who actually do have power?

Jesus, it seems, was as unlikely a candidate for messiah as David had been for king. The youngest and smallest of his brothers, David was more often in the company of sheep than of other people. He tended to land himself in situations that were sometimes literally over his head, battling giants, avoiding the wrath of kings, going to war. Our reading from Second Samuel made it sound as though David’s coronation had the strong support of the people he would rule, but this is actually the third time he has been anointed as king over a politically divided Israel, and it has actually been years since the prophet first picked him over brothers to be the shepherd of God’s people.

And David became greater and greater. Our scriptures go on to tell many stories of David’s mighty acts as Israel’s king. Of course, they also go on to tell stories of David’s weaknesses, of the ways in which he fell far short of perfection, far short of the stature he had in God’s estimation. And so it is David learns, and we learn, that the greatness he possessed was never of his own making, no matter how many stones he hurled - the power that made David king had always been God’s, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

Jesus was as unlikely a candidate for messiah as Paul would be for an apostle. Over and again (and again and again) Paul writes of his failures, his shortcomings and sins. A thorn was given me in the flesh, we’ve just heard him say. A messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Paul, in his weakness, had been tempted to boast of his rich spiritual life, as his challengers often did in an effort to prove their power. And so it is Paul learns, and we learn, that the greatness he possessed was never of his own making, no matter how many visions he received - the power that made Paul an apostle had always been God’s. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. Who else but God could make a king out of a shepherd, an apostle out of someone so self-centered? Who else but God, who made a messiah out of a tiny, helpless baby? Indeed, in Jesus Christ, heaven made its home on earth, power made its home in weakness, grace made its home in flesh and bone, eternal life made its home in vulnerability. In Jesus Christ, true God from true God loved and laughed, grew hungry and tired, just like us. In Jesus, God worried and wondered and wished and wept just as we do. And in an ultimate act of what the world would call weakness, our own good shepherd, our own mighty king, died just as we do, so that, in an ultimate act of perfect power, we might live just as he does.

Yes, he was Mary’s son...and he was the Son of God. Yes, he was the carpenter...and he builds us up day by day. Yes, his brothers and sisters lived in Nazareth...and they live in Sewanee and Leesville and Spartanburg and Jackson and Meridian and anywhere and everywhere and right here. We are his sisters and brothers, but we are not only his family - we are his home. Will we welcome him? Will we receive him? Will we put aside what power we think we have and acknowledge our weakness, our need of the only one who can calm our storms, cast out our demons, heal our sickness and restore our lives? Can he work wonders here?

In just a few days, the Episcopal Church will gather in General Convention in Anaheim, California. The theme for the event is Ubuntu, an African word that names an ethic of life in which relationship is the core value. I am because we are, is one way of understanding what Ubuntu means. I in you and you in me is another, words that echo the gospel of John in which Jesus speaks of dwelling in us and we in him, of being at home in us and we in him.

Like many generations of apostles before us, we are sent by Jesus out into the world with nothing on our backs but his grace and nothing in our hands but his love. To a world weak and hungry and hurting we are invited to bring the power of God to calm, to save, to heal, to reconcile, and to restore life. We will need to watch carefully for the thorns that would pierce us as we go, the messengers of Satan that would urge us, encourage us, entice us to celebrate all that we are capable of doing rather than all that God is capable of doing through us. The places where we are weak, you see, are gifts through which we understand our need of God’s grace, God’s perfect power, which is all-sufficient for whatever task God calls us to - and make no mistake, we are no less called than David or Paul or the Twelve who went out on foot to proclaim the good news of God in Christ.

Where is home for you? Our presiding bishop asked in her sermon on the day of her consecration at the National Cathedral. Where is home for you? Homecoming, she suggested, underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings, and it is also the job assignment everyone gets in baptism - go home, and while you’re at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. Wherever it is that we are from, wherever it is that we have lived along the way, our true home is in Jesus Christ, who dwells in us and we in him. And so it is that we, like his followers before us, live most of our lives on the road, along the way, in the in-between places where we are vulnerable, but where the power of God can work in us more than we can ask or imagine, if we will let it.

There's no place like home.. Amen.

Artwork: "The youngest one was out keeping the herd," by Lucile Butel; Rose bush in my front yard; "Epiphany Triptych: The Baptism," by Kathrin Burleson.