Sunday, September 16, 2018, The Rector's Farewell

Kristin White

John 1:1-14, 16

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. From God’s fullness have we all received, and grace upon grace.”

 I believe that these words from John’s gospel are the poetry of creation. Jesus was there from the beginning of the beginning as the Word, before anything was made that was made.  The Word is the co-creating author of life, which was the light that has not, is not, and will not be overcome.

And then the Word became flesh. In the person of Jesus, God had a body. God became like us, in order to be with us. God came to dwell with us, in order that we might know God. In the person of Jesus, God shared the truth of love. In the person of Jesus, God gave us grace upon grace.

How have you seen the truth of love? Where have you encountered grace upon grace? 

I found it right here, six years ago, when I became your new rector. On the day we moved in, Carolyn Eby stocked our refrigerator with cheese and fruit, Christine Sammel and Bill Braun dropped by with gluten-free lemon bars, and Martha Jacobson took us out to dinner.

In the days and weeks that followed, when I asked you to meet for coffee or lunch, you said yes. So I found grace over coffee, or sometimes French fries (okay, more than sometimes), or on a walk. We shared something of ourselves over those meals and conversations. We began to weave ourselves together.

When we found ourselves in a season of loss, burying ten of our beloved members in less than six short months, the truth of love was made manifest in the willingness you had to grieve together as a community. We talked about hard and frightening things, like illness and death and what we hold dear. We prayed, offering ourselves, our souls and bodies, to the God who has known us since we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs.

When people have been sick or in need, I have watched you surround and enfold them with grace. You have mowed lawns. You have delivered groceries. You have done laundry. You have held babies. When my brother-in-law died, I will never forget standing in Puhlman Hall as Margaret Duval said, in your gracious and matter-of-fact way, “Okay, so I’ll bring you dinner when you get back from the funeral in Oregon. Would that be better on Sunday night or Monday night?” And when I, who know how to give but am less practiced at knowing how to receive, tried to politely decline, Margaret -- you said again: “Okay, so I’ll bring you dinner when you get back from Oregon. Would that be better on Sunday night or Monday night?” Grace upon grace upon grace.

The truth of love in this parish has meant that everybody, everybody, everybody has the chance to take part. The question of what that meant for children to participate as full members in worship – that question was a real and important one. And now we have more and more children who know this church to be their home. They pray the Lord’s Prayer by heart. They know the best places for hide and seek (I am confident of this, because they made me a map, and I’m taking it with me). They have friends here, and a circle of trustworthy adults who cherish them. 

We have found grace in service, and in telling the story of our faith as we share the gifts God has given us. Last summer I walked over to church on a Sunday afternoon, and heard a little girl calling to me as she rode her bicycle on the street. “Excuse me! Excuse me!” she called. “Do you work at that church?” I said that I did. “I used to live at Family Promise,” she said. “That window was where my room was, where our family lived, and I was a cat for Halloween.” She and her family have their own place to live in Evanston now, thanks, in part, to you. I invited her to come back to St. A’s and go trick-or-treating for Halloween this year.

We have talked about the things we needed to talk about, over these past six years, even when those discussions have been difficult. There is love in truth, and grace amidst the vulnerability of offering yourself with curiosity and trust. We have found our way through such occasions together, toward a greater wholeness. We have ventured into conversations about racism. We have talked about gun violence and how to best prepare for the emergencies we pray will never happen, but could. We have sought to put our faith into action in the world. We’ve asked questions about who has not been included here, and why, and what we can do to remedy that. We have tried to listen, and tried again. We have learned and grown.

And we have found the grace to let ministries end, when the time has come, or helped them to change, or begun something new. Grace upon grace upon grace.

So now it is time for us to step into different spaces in the poetry of creation, as our paths diverge. Jesus is still in our midst, still the co-creator, without whom there will not be anything made that is made. While this transition is new and maybe unsettling and strange for both of us, I pray that we all will trust in the provision of God’s fullness.

As I have said before: you have everything you need. You know how to pray, and to welcome people, and give thanks. You know how to ask good questions and how to listen, and you have the courage to offer honest answers. You know the value of relationships. You know how to lead, and to serve. You have tremendous capacity for change – I know that, because I tested it, and you responded with the willingness to try…and with occasional honest feedback. You know how to take care of each other. And you know the importance of good food shared, and a healthy sense of humor.

You are the Church which is the Body of Christ which is the Word made flesh. And I love you, and have given this ministry all I know how to give. Where I have served well, I give thanks to you and to God. Where I have fallen short, I ask God’s forgiveness, and yours.

Your next leaders will be necessarily different than I am…because of course they will. But also, because the needs of this church have changed over the past six years. We are not who we were, and there’s grace in that. So I bid you to trust this process of discernment that lies ahead of you. Do all those things that you know how to do as the church that you are: pray and sing and give thanks and live generously and welcome people and take care of each other and lead and follow and be curious and tell the truth and give yourselves the chance to laugh. Hold each other dear, because you are. And give your interim minister and then your next rector the grace to find their way with you, just as you did with me.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. Beloved of God, you are the Church, which is the Body of Christ, which is the Word made flesh. So be who you are, in this poetry of new creation, full of grace; full of truth.

Because from God’s fullness have we all received. And grace upon grace.

Sunday, September 9, 2018, The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Kristin White

Mark 8:27-38

These are the four sayings that lead to wisdom:

“I was wrong. I’m sorry. I don’t know. I need help.”

Armand Gamache serves as head and Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Quebec, serving the communities throughout that region in times of danger and devastation. Chief Inspector Gamache is the steady leader who earns people’s trust, going to the dark places where murders can be solved, staying with people through times of pain, holding space where frightening truths can be told. He has taken bullets and lost people he loves.

And he is entirely fictional.

Louise Penny has written fourteen mystery novels that include the good and very human inspector and his family, and his quirky circle of friends who have become like family. Chief Inspector Gamache is the one they look to, for direction and encouragement and truth and hope. And yes, for wisdom.

And even though the character who says them is a work of fiction, those four saying that lead to wisdom ring true.

In the first book of the series with Inspector Gamache at the center, he instructs a young detective, one who is anxious to get past the training and to the work of the job itself, by saying this:

“There are four things that lead to wisdom. You ready for them?...They are four sentences we learn to say, and mean.” Gamache held up his hand as a fist and raised a finger with each point. “I don't know. I'm sorry. I was wrong. I need help.”[1]

---

Today’s gospel invites all kinds of commentary about the nature of God in the person of Jesus. Jesus goes into the region of Tyre, a place where Gentiles live – not faithful Jews. His last conversation before this, the gospel passage from last Sunday, was in Jerusalem, first with Pharisees and scribes and the crowd, and then alone in a house with his disciples. He talked then about the worry of clean versus unclean, about the mistake of elevating ritual law above God’s word. He said that piece about what goes into you cannot defile you, but that the danger is in what comes out.

From there he goes to the region of Tyre, and today’s passage tells us he enters a house and does not want anyone to know he is there. Why he’s in that region, we don’t know. Why he wants to escape notice, we don’t know. But this is Jesus, so – even among the Gentiles – of course the people know he is there.

The Bible talks with some frequency about unclean spirits, in ways that we mostly don’t, today. Whatever they involve, however they are defined and experienced, the people in the Bible who have them, or whose family members have them, are held captive by such things. The mother of a daughter with an unclean spirit hears that Jesus has come to their community. To be clear: the woman is not a Jew. She is a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. Her afflicted daughter is also a Gentile, not a faithful Jew. And remember, his troubles with the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the scribes and the temple priests notwithstanding, Jesus was Jewish. And remember also: he has just finished telling his disciples and the crowd and the Pharisees to get over their fixation on rules that would stand as obstacles to love.

The woman falls at his feet and begs Jesus to free her daughter from the unclean spirit that holds her captive.

(When is the last time you have fallen at someone’s feet? Ever?)

And Jesus, the same Jesus who has just finished telling those who follow him that it is not what goes into them that defiles them but what comes out of them – things like wickedness, and pride, and folly – that is what defiles them…Jesus says to the distressed mother begging at his feet for her daughter’s life: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

“There are four things that lead to wisdom...They are four sentences we learn to say, and mean: I don't know. I'm sorry. I was wrong. I need help.”[2]

Biblical commentators have contorted themselves all over the place to rescue Jesus from this passage, to force him to be consistent with the compassionate and generous savior we believe him to be. After all, this is the only place anywhere in the Bible where he refuses a person who asks him specifically for healing.[3] So maybe he doesn’t really mean it, some argue. Maybe he is having a bad day. Maybe this is a joke, and he’s actually teasing the woman by calling her a dog, by calling her child a dog (which, given the circumstances, just seems cruel). At the end of it all, though, we just don’t know why he does this.

This mother’s child is in danger, though. And so things that might otherwise be material, like manner and custom and propriety, all those things are gone for her…because her daughter is in danger. She is fearless and she is tenacious and she is insistent and, in that moment, she is a theologian. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” she replies. ‘Give me something,’ she is saying, to the one she knows holds the power to heal. Nothing else matters, except that he give her something – give her child something – because she knows that that will be enough. And it is. “For saying that, you may go,” he tells her, “The demon has left your daughter.”

Jesus changes his mind. And even though he doesn’t say those four statements that lead to wisdom, at least not as written in the biblical text, we might infer them; we might overlay them on this exchange.

---

Today’s gospel continues after that conversation. Jesus returns to Jewish territory near the Sea of Galilee, where his followers bring him a man who is deaf and unable to speak. This time, Jesus does not refuse the opportunity to heal the person. He takes the man aside, he touches the man’s ears and his mouth, and says to him, “Be opened.”

Be opened. 

The advice of most biblical commentaries is to tell preachers to choose one or the other of these stories. But this week, they feel like whole cloth. They feel related, as though the first informs the second. As though the first makes the second possible.

We are walking into an unknown territory in these times ahead, which may feel foreign. And with that comes the grief of change, the grief of parting after what has been a rich six years of shared ministry – for which I give you, and God, such thanks.

And with that also comes the added grief in this community with the loss of those we love but see no longer. Eight weeks ago today, our long-time member Dee Doughty departed this life, followed the week before last by beloved Gwen Johnson, and this past Tuesday by Dee’s dear husband Bill Doughty. As they join that blessed cloud of witnesses, may they be enfolded in God’s love; may they feast among the saints in light. As we walk these days ahead, I pray that we all will be guided by their faithful witness. I pray that we all will carry the legacy of their deep love for this church.

People of St. Augustine’s, we carry the great gifts of all those who have come before us, gifts that are meant to be shared with a world that starves after the practical love and honest care and faithfulness that you have to offer. You have before you the opportunity to go from strength to strength. This time ahead can be one of preparation and growth, with awareness that you belong to each other, and to God, that you have everything you need. Victor Conrado is here with us today from the Bishop’s staff, prepared to answer questions that you may have about the interim and the transition to calling your next rector. You have exceptionally gifted leaders in your wardens and vestry, and an associate rector and deacon, both of whom are strong, loving, and wise.

Be open, in this time ahead. Carry with you the humility that allows you to say those words that lead to wisdom, and mean them, when you need to: I don’t know. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. Cherish and trust each other, and the God who is faithful. Take care of those who need to be taken care of. Be fearless, and tenacious. And be willing to go to those places that seem like foreign territory, knowing that God will find you there.

Perhaps it’s not strange after all that the wisdom that frames this comes from a mystery that is fiction but rings true. Maybe the writer Louise Penny is more of a theologian than she realizes or intends. Or maybe God is just showing up all over the place for us, marking the ways that will lead us forward.

Blessings on you all.

 


[1] Louise Penny. Still Life. St. Martin’s Minotaur Press, 2008.

[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1382

Saturday, August 25, 2018, The Funeral of Nadine Neuburg Doughty

Kristin White

Words matter. This was something Dee Doughty knew. She knew what it meant to search for the words that fit a particular situation. Her careful phrasing of a spoken response reflected this, as did her thoughtfully-written letters…as did her poetry.

I first met Dee six years ago, in the first week we moved to Wilmette, the first meeting at St. Augustine’s that I attended – even before my service here had officially begun. The Christian Outreach Commission gathered on a warm evening the last week of August. Dee and Bill had been founding members of that group, decades before that night, working toward justice and peace in this community and beyond. Dee talked that night about feeding people who were hungry, and about living and serving among the people of Honduras; she talked about ministries that had grown from those experiences.

I would learn quickly that, as carefully as Dee chose her words, she was equally intent on ensuring that her words were consistent with her actions.

Her love for Bill, her husband of 62 years, was evident in the words Dee spoke and also in their near-constant companionship. Her love for this remarkable family – Dick and Roger and Bruce, your spouses and your children – was evident in both word and deed.

Dee also loved this church, where she and Bill have made their home for nearly 50 years. I pray that all of you who are here know yourselves enfolded in that love, now.

Words matter, and the words that Bill and the Doughty family have chosen for this day were chosen with the kind of care I imagine Dee would have wished, words that reflect who she was.

The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty and release…”

Dee lived from a posture of service to others. As a wife and mother, as the manager of the St. Cyprian food bank, as the program coordinator for the North Shore Senior Center, as the editor of Chicago’s Anti-Hunger Federation, as a volunteer chair for the CROP Walk to end hunger, Dee sought to bring good news, to bind up what was broken, to proclaim liberty in both small ways and in great ways. She sought to make the world a better place, and she worked hard to do that.

The second reading, from the Revelation to John, says this: “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem…and I heard a voice saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Dee was a person of deep faith. The poems of hers that I have read are best expressed as prayer – including the one actually by that name, which we will hear members of St. Augustine’s choir sing just before communion: “I cannot merit what (God) gives, the blessing of his saving grace,” Dee wrote, “Yet I’ll try with grateful heart to live, that at my end I’ll see his face.” And that is true – her faith found expression in gratitude. She had language, chosen with particularity, in thanks for all that she had been given, and a grateful heart toward the author of all those good gifts.

Words matter. And the words of the gospel proclaimed by our deacon, the Rev. Sue Nebel, resound this morning as we recall Dee’s life. This passage comes from the Farewell Discourse, the point at which Jesus knows that he will be leaving his friends, the disciples, and so he is saying goodbye to them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells his friends. “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.”

Dee Doughty was a person of service, a person of deep faith, and a person who manifested love. The words of this passage are interpreted in the English as mansions or dwelling places. But one of my seminary professors, the Rev. Dr. John Dally, translated the Greek differently – rather than reading the language as God’s house, he read it as God’s own heart. That is the place Jesus is going to, by this interpretation, the place he will prepare for his friends and disciples to follow him to – the place next to God’s own heart.

She loved you, Bill. She loved you so very much. And she loved you, Dick, Roger, Bruce, and all your family. She loved you, church, and friends, and all who were her community. And the thoughtfully-chosen words of this passage offer a promise wrapped in a mystery: that God’s heart has room enough for us all, that death is not ultimate…because there’s more. Because love wins.

---

The illness that Dee suffered, a version of Parkinson’s Disease, claimed something of what was precious to her by making it more difficult for Dee to choose her words, as she neared the end of her life. She was quiet during many of those last days.

I had been away with family at the end of June, and came to see Dee on the Fourth of July, shortly after we returned home to Wilmette. She was awake that day, but mostly spoke under her breath. I wasn’t able to hear much of what she said.

And then we shared communion. In preparation, we prayed the words of the 23rd psalm, the last piece of scripture chosen carefully for this day. Words matter, and these are words that Dee knew by heart:

"The Lord is my shepherd;

            I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;

            he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul;

            he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

            for thou art with me;

            thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;

            thou anointest my head with oil;

            my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

            and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

May it be so, dear Dee. May you dwell there, right next to God’s own heart.

Sunday, August 19, 2018, The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Kristin White

“Turn from evil and do good,” the psalm we just prayed reminded us. “Seek peace, and pursue it.”

Until a few days ago, I did not know who the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon was. In 1974, she was the first black woman ordained a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. In 1983 she would go on to be the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from Union Seminary.

Dr. Cannon is the architect of womanist theology, taking that term from Alice Walker, who described it this way:

A womanist is “A black feminist, or a feminist of color…usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good’ for one. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Responsible. Serious.

“…Traditionally capable, as in: ‘Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.’ Reply: ‘It wouldn’t be the first time.’

“Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.

“Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender.”[1]

I had heard of womanist theology but I did not know it, until this past Tuesday when my friend and colleague the Rev. Jane Henderson shared a link with me to a keynote address that Dr. Cannon gave for the Women and Ministry conference at Princeton Seminary last year.[2] Titled “Thinking with our Hearts and Feeling with our Brains,” Dr. Cannon presented womanist theology as a system that demands integrity at its core: demands the integration of body and mind and spirit; demands the integration of women and men; demands the integration of people – who for generation upon generation have been treated as something less than fully human – demands that they instead be recognized as the reflection of the divine image that they are.

How could God want anything less than that? How dare we aspire to anything short of it?

---

As I listened to her talk and reflected on the readings for this week, the piece I could not get out of my head was this verse of Psalm 34: the call to turn from evil, to do good, to seek peace that is lasting and real.

The psalms give us words for praise, but that praise has never been fully lived when it is disembodied, when it does not have substance within it. Something important and necessary is lost, if we sing songs of praise here within these walls on Sunday mornings and then forget the claim that gift of grace has on our lives throughout the rest of our days.

“The psalmist does not separate the practice of praise from a life of justice and peace.”[3] Living our lives of faith gives us the opportunity to tie our praise to substance, to be integrated in word and deed as we depart from evil, and do good, and pursue peace.

---

There is a peculiar quality to the relating of trauma in a manner that strips it of interpretation, so that the fact of what has happened can stand on its own, can become its own wisdom, its own citation of evidence. That is the style Dr. Cannon used in her telling of each piece that she laid out in its own right, in that keynote address she gave at Princeton…syllable by footnote of sacred memory in history.

She described herself, as a child of five years old, who knew by heart: the Lord’s Prayer, the King James Version of the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitudes, and the questions of the Catechism – as well as her appropriate responses.

And as a black child born in 1950 in Kannapolis, North Carolina, she knew as well that it was forbidden for her to attend the local public school where white children learned, that it was illegal for her to play on the swings at the public park, that the doors of the public library would not be open to her.

She described herself at that early age, wondering “What did we as black people do that was so bad?”

She described enslaved Africans shackled in the cargo holds of ships, so close that their faces were pressed up against the backs of the people in front of them, in a voyage that one of every eight people would not survive.[4]

“They had to learn to think with their bodies,” Dr. Cannon said.

And she described her great-grandmother, Mary Nance Lytle, who was born in 1832.  Her great-grandmother gave birth to fourteen children. Only the last, Emmanuel Clayton Lytle, Dr. Cannon’s own grandfather, was born free – four months after the end of the Civil War. Dr. Cannon described her great-grandmother, Mary Nance Lytle, re-gathering her children after the war. The legend of their family is that Dr. Cannon’s great-grandmother walked hundreds of miles, from plantation to plantation. “That one’s mine, and that one’s mine, and that one’s mine,” she would say, of children that had been taken from her and sold into slavery before their hands had lost their chubbiness, before their permanent teeth had come in.[5]

And child by child, she did it. Step by step, Dr. Cannon’s great grandmother put her family back together again. She refused the dis-integration that an unjust system had forced onto her and her family.

Isn’t that what it means to turn from the evil that would divide and disembody and enslave us? Isn’t our call to seek the wholeness and healing and reconciliation that a just and lasting peace, finally, is?

---

Every Friday morning, a group of us gathers in the chapel for Eucharist, remembering the life of a saint whose feast is somewhere in near proximity to that day. Many of that blessed company of witnesses whose lives we recall lived and died hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago.

The Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon died just eleven days ago, on August 8, of acute leukemia. What I know now is that I know people who knew her. She had dinner in my friend’s apartment in New York during the heady days of striving towards women’s ordination. She preached at the blessing of my dear friends’ union before it was legal for them to be married. The separation is not that much – it’s not told in decades or millennia, but in days and with people who knew her voice, and wit, and deep conviction, and faith in the God who wanted more.

I wish that separation was less.

I hope we will remember Dr. Cannon as one who called us all to turn from evil and do good, and who sought to do the same. I hope we will be inspired to think with our hearts, to feel with our minds.

I hope the church will know her for her legacy, as the great-granddaughter who refused the dis-integration that would have been forced on her by too many, but who instead said, theologically: “That one’s mine, and that one’s mine, and that one’s mine…” who sought to put all God’s family back together with honesty and courage and hope…to make us whole.

 

[1] Alice Walker. Definition of a “Womanist” from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1983.

[2] https://vimeo.com/239890586: The direct quotes in this sermon come from the video of Dr. Cannon’s presentation at Princeton in 2017, linked here.

[3] Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi. “Psalm 34: Theological Perspective.” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Volume 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 344.

[4] Katie Geneva Cannon. Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. New York: Continuum Press, 1995. 28.

[5] https://vimeo.com/239890586

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2018, FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION

What does it mean to be silenced?

Meghan Murphy-Gill

The Gospel of Luke, from which we read about the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple today, includes more stories about women than any other gospel. Luke tells us the stories of Elizabeth, Mary, Anna, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and sisters Mary and Martha. There is the woman who searches for a lost coin, the widow of Nain, a woman who anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes them with her own hair, and the women of Jerusalem who lament as Jesus makes his way to the cross.

In Acts, also by Luke, we hear about women disciples in the upper room and Sapphira, Tabitha, Lydia, Damaris, Priscilla, and Philip’s four daughters--who were all prophets.

By including so many of these stories of women, Luke, it seems, is the most woman-friendly of the four gospel writers.

Not so, says Scripture scholar Barbara Reid, a Dominican sister, and the person who taught me everything that ever stuck with me about the Bible. She says that in Luke’s gospel, “women are beneficiaries of Jesus’ ministry, and engage in charitable works, but are seen to have ‘chosen the better part’ when they remain silent and receptive.”

“Choosing the Better Part?” is in fact the name of Reid’s book on the Gospel of Luke. It’s a reference to what Jesus tells Mary when she chooses to sit at his knees to listen to him, while her sister chooses the harried work of hosting their guests.

Reid says that as readers and hearers--and preachers--of Scripture, in order to get at the good news of Luke’s gospel, we also have to choose the better part, and approach Luke with a careful eye toward what is actually happening to the women in the stories he tells. And from the Women’s Bible Commentary: “Once the negative side of this ambivalent tradition is recognized and worked with, the reader is freed in relation to the text. What is positive and promising in Luke's gospel can be explored with enthusiasm and even respect."

So with that in mind, I’d like to consider Anna in today’s gospel reading.

****

Luke gives us an elevator introduction to Anna. Right away, we learn that she is a prophet and the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She’s old, a woman “of great age,” and was only married to her husband for 7 years before she was widowed. She’s devout. She spends her days and nights praying and fasting in the Temple.

Details matter when telling a story. And Luke, a masterful storyteller, chooses his details wisely in order to make a point. He gives Anna a lineage that references one of the dispersed or “lost” tribes of Israel. As a widow, she’s a woman of special status. And she practically lives in the Temple where she meets the child Jesus.

These details all help to make Luke’s case for who Jesus is: the Lord’s messiah, who Simeon was promised to see before his life ended. The child Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promise to all of Israel. Jesus is what God’s people had been hoping for.

Anna’s presence in the temple and acknowledgement of the child Jesus is essential to this story.

****

As I read and reflected on the Presentation this week, I found myself thinking a lot about silence.

I know that many of us are able experience God in silence, particularly the introverts among us, myself included. When I am able to sit in a quiet, peaceful space and turn down the internal monologue that has a tendency to drone on and on, I am more able to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and notice the presence of God. In silence, I feel a little more like Mary, sitting and listening at the feet of Jesus, choosing the better part, rather than occupying myself with the to do items of my harried schedule.

But Anna was not silent when she saw Mary and Joseph bring their firstborn into the Temple. Luke tells us, “At that moment, she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

But while we are graced with the beautiful song of Simeon when he sees the child Jesus, Luke only tells us that Anna spoke, not what she spoke. He even gives Simeon an audience--Mary and Joseph--who react in amazement at what Simeon has to say. Luke doesn’t tell us how anyone responds to Anna.

Anna is not silent. Anna is silenced.

***

What does it mean to be silenced?

A particular story comes to mind. 156 stories actually. That’s how many women testified in front of Judge Rosemary Aquilina about the abuses they’d suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, the USA women’s gymnastics team doctor.

Judge Aquilina might have a thing or two to say to Luke about the importance of allowing women to use their own words.

World-class competitive athletes, celebrated not simply in the United States, but on the world stage, as they competed in championships across the globe. My whole life, the members of the women’s Olympic gymnastics team have been household names for me and my family.

Like the prophet Anna to the Jews, these women are recognizable, celebrated. And like Anna, these women were silenced.

That is, until Judge Aquilina, in an act of what one Atlantic article called “transformative justice,” gave these powerful young women an opportunity to testify. And testify they did. One by one, for four days. All 156 of them.

“You are so strong and brave and you are not broken,” the judge said. “Your voice means everything.”

“Leave your pain here,” she said. “Go out and do your magnificent things.”

It is hard not to think of Judge Aquilina as a prophet herself. Her transformative justice offered these women a promise of hope.

But why had Larry Nassar been able to go on abusing so many women for so long, so many of us, having finally heard these stories, want to know. Why, for every 1,000 instances of rape are only 13 referred to a prosecutor? Why is sexual assault the least reported crime to law enforcement, with only about a quarter of crimes brought to the police?

****

Friends, I think that we have a lot of reflecting to do on who we, as a church, have silenced. In our theology, in our sacred Scripture, in our traditions, whose stories have we suppressed? Whose words have we ignored? What are the long-term repercussions of keeping some members of the Body of Christ on the margins because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or ability?

And what do we do with Luke, as a denomination that acknowledges how God welcomes everybody, everybody, everybody to the banquet? As a denomination that has said officially that women should not be silenced in church? That public ministry belongs to everyone?

There’s a little irony to Luke’s marginalization of women’s gifts. Because Luke writes for a Gentile, not Jewish, audience. His message is universalist: that the messiah has come as a fulfillment of a promise to the Jews, but that Jesus is also for the Gentiles. Simeon sings: “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

So while Luke’s is the most inclusive of the gospels, he is far from egalitarian.

Is this oversight of Luke’s something we can brush off as a thing of the past, as Luke simply writing as a Greco-Roman to a Greco-Roman audience, and thus espousing those social norms for women and men?

I think that’s a tricky, even dangerous endeavor. Because while in some respects, it’s true. But it also is an easy way to dismiss our own current reality, to ignore the fact that we continue to swim in water that is not so unlike Luke’s world and that people continue to be silenced for their gender--and their race, their sexual orientation, their age, their ability.

***

I believe that reading Luke with an eye toward women is an opportunity. Luke, after all, is the gospel that we rely on heavily to learn what Jesus has to say about economic justice in the reign of God. Luke writes of God’s promise, not just to his Greco-Roman audience, but to us as well. Luke’s gospel begins with the story of the incarnation and ends with Jesus’ ascension. Luke tells us of Jesus’ ministry on earth, of his message and miracles, and how his preaching of the reign of God ultimately led to his suffering and death on the cross--a sentence meant to silence Jesus.

But Jesus, being the fulfillment of God’s promise of hope, of God’s promise of liberation and flourishing, was resurrected. In Jesus’ resurrection, we hear a resounding “NO” from God to the silence of death.

So, while Luke may have silenced the women in his telling of our Christian story, he offers us an opportunity to think outside of the water we swim in today. He gives us reason to imagine what the reign of God might look like here and now. He shows us how we might consider our own societal norms and ask, “Who is being marginalized? Who is being silenced? Who aren’t we hearing from?”

When we openly acknowledge the place of women in our church’s sacred stories--whether they have been suppressed or celebrated--we have the opportunity to truly allow the good news of Jesus Christ to liberate the silenced among us so they may join fully and sing loudly in our songs of prophecy and praise. 

Amen

Sunday, August 12, The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Kristin White

The day my grandmother died, I wore her apron, and I baked.

Several of the things that were in her kitchen are now in mine, and I used them that day: her wooden-handled whisk, her bread pans, her metal spatula.

She was the one who taught me to bake. She won the Oregon State Fair for her pie in 1978, something I brag about more than I probably should, though I hope pride is maybe less a sin when it’s invoked on behalf of a girl’s grandma.

She taught me, first, to bake cookies; and she graciously overlooked how much gingersnap dough I snitched from the bowl as it chilled. Suffice it to say that first batch didn’t make the full four dozen cookies that her Better Homes and Gardens cook book had promised. A couple years later, when I was probably ten years old, she taught me to bake pie – apple, and berry – and the cream cheese pie that was her own creation after my grandfather was found to have diabetes. Finally, when I was twelve years old, my grandmother taught me to bake bread.

She made all kinds, and she baked it fresh every other day of my father’s and his three siblings’ childhood. But what I most remember was her cracked wheat bread. It was substantive, the kind of thing that kept you fed for a while, once you ate it. And my Grandma Rae was fastidious about its preparation.

That first time I baked bread with her, taken to distraction as I was, she put a pencil and a small spiral notepad on the counter next to the flour bin and mixing bowl, requiring that I make a hash mark for each cup of flour that I dipped and leveled and dumped into the bowl of her KitchenAid mixer. It’s possible that I rolled my eyes as I did it, but I followed her rules.

And oh, that bread, when it was done. It was something. When I held it in my hands, it was a like hers – warm and substantive, the kind of bread that would keep you fed for a while, once you ate it.

---

Today’s gospel hearkens back to the first lesson from last Sunday, from the Old Testament, the book of Exodus. In it, the Israelites wandered in the desert. And they took their protest up a level beyond pre-teenage eye-rolling…they murmured and complained, they cried out, saying that they wished they had died in Egypt instead of suffering such hunger in the wilderness.

God heard their complaint, and God provided; though in a way that required those complaining Israelites to follow God’s direction.

The dew around their camp lifted each day, leaving a fine substance that the Israelites could make into cakes to eat – but only for that day. If they tried to hoard more than what they needed, it would rot. They had to take just enough, trusting that God would provide for the next day, and the next, and the day after that.

The Israelites could not save themselves in that wilderness. Without the quail that covered their camp at night, and the manna in the morning, without water from the rock, they would have died. If they were going to survive, the Israelites had to trust that God would provide, so that, as the psalm says, mortals could eat the bread of angels…because God provided them food enough.

Jesus begins today’s passage from the Gospel of John with a weighty claim: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Well. The people…they start to complain.

“Who does he think he is, with all this ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ business? We know where he comes from, backwater little town that it is. We know who his parents are…”

Jesus is undeterred. He goes even further. “Stop complaining,” he tells them. “Whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

The story of manna, the story of this gospel, is not just about people having what they need to survive, blessing though that is. The heart of both of these passaged is about trust. As God feeds the People Israel, the people learn something of God’s wisdom, they begin to know what it is to abide in God’s law.

And learning is not always a gracious process. Discipline is hard. People who have been disappointed and hurt more easily expect to be disappointed and hurt again…and who among us has not had that experience? So the people grumble and complain: in the story of Exodus, in the story of John’s gospel, in examples of this present moment that probably many of us could relate. God’s people have experienced salvation and yet they do not fully trust in the God who brought it to pass.[1]

“God’s gift of manna in the wilderness is intertwined with God’s commands.”[2] And this is something more than a theology of transaction: a holy notion that if you do this, you will get that. No, this is covenant, rich with faithfulness and promise. “And Jesus (the bread come down from heaven) is life-giving in the very same concrete ways that the manna was”[3] for those Israelites out wandering in the wilderness. This was a substantive and faithful promise, one that would keep you fed for a lifetime.

---

I baked bread this past Monday, in preparation for my mother coming to visit, to spend time with Grace before she leaves for Germany at the end of the month, and to help us begin to pack. I made bagels, actually, for our breakfasts: gluten-free, according to our need. And they were good enough and easy enough to make and eaten quickly enough that I ended up making a second batch again halfway through the week.

As I prepared this sermon, I tried to imagine what my Grandma Rae’s reaction would have been to the way I cook and bake now, wedged in as I am able to do it among a bunch of other things, using different recipes and ingredients than what she had available. I imagine she would have been both curious and delighted….and then diligent about finding the best way she could to prepare the food that we needed. My guess is that she would have gotten right to work on that, and then taught me again what I needed to know.

It was never only about those precise measurements, though they did matter; but more than that, she wanted to create a thing that was necessary for all of us. And even more than that, it was about taking the time to do something that mattered, to teach what she loved to a person she loved, so that I could do that too.

I wore my grandmother’s apron on the day she died, and I baked bread that was substantive – the kind of bread that would keep you fed, once you ate it. I dipped and measured and leveled and, yes, I counted, because that was how I knew it would work. Because my grandmother had cultivated a relationship with me of knowledge and trust that I would have what I needed.

God finds all kinds of ways to show up for us in people who surround us, as Jesus did with those he loved, manifesting the covenant of God’s word that continues to feed us – so mortals can eat the bread of angels. Because God will provide us food enough.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3742

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, 2018, THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, PROPER 13

Deacon Sue Nebel

People are on the move.  Leaving one place, heading to another in two of the readings we heard this morning.  In the passage from Exodus, the Israelites have escaped from slavery in Egypt.  Led by Aaron and Moses, they have set out on a long journey to the land promised by God to the descendants of Abraham.  The going has gotten tough.  They are in the wilderness, hungry and tired.  Complaining loudly.  Hearing their desperate voices, God promises Moses to send food. And God makes good on the promise. In the evening, God sends a bunch of quail.  The next morning when the people wake up, the ground is covered with a fine flaky substance.  Not knowing what it is they ask Moses, “What is it?”  Moses replies, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”  A new kind of bread.  Sustenance for the journey.

People are on the move in the Gospel lesson as well.  After the feeding of the five thousand, the story we heard last week, most of the crowd has dispersed.  The disciples and Jesus have headed across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. It is now the next day.  Those who stayed behind after the miracle of feeding, want to find Jesus.  Having seen the disciples leave in a boat the previous evening, they too get into boats and head across the water.  In Capernaum, they find Jesus. They are, no doubt, delighted to see this worker of miracles.  Jesus, who recognizes a teaching moment when he sees one, seizes the opportunity.  Assuming they have pursued him because they were fed, he tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” As he so often does, Jesus shifts the conversation to a different level.  He is not talking here about ordinary food.  He is talking about a different kind of food, food that endures.  Bread from heaven.  His listeners know about bread from heaven.  They know the story from Exodus.  It is part of their heritage, their spiritual DNA.  That bread, Jesus reminds them, did not come from Moses, but from God.  The bread Jesus is talking about  “. . .comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  This bread sounds good.  His listeners want it. “Sir,” they say, “give us this bread always.”  And then Jesus hits them with this zinger.  He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” A bold assertion, a new image for Jesus: bread of life.

Bread from heaven.  Bread of life.  It may be hard for us to grasp how startling these words were to the people gathered around Jesus.  Every time we reach our hands to receive the communion wafer, we hear the words, “The body of Christ.  The bread of heaven.”  “I am the  bread of Life” is a hymn that we sing fairly often during communion.  For us, these are familiar terms, familiar images.  They are part of our spiritual DNA.  But, for Jesus’ listeners here it is all new, strange.  Jesus is challenging them to stretch their minds.  To see things in a new way.  To broaden their understanding of who and what he is: the Son of God, the bread of life.  The Gospel lesson ends with Jesus speaking.  We don’t hear how his listeners react.  However, we can imagine the puzzled looks and the head-shaking.  The discomfort, even resistance, to Jesus’ claim that he is the Son of God and the bread of Life.   

The experience of stretching our minds, of broadening our understanding, as painful as that can often be—that we can understand, even sympathize with.  We know what it is like.  Experiences of entering into something new and unfamiliar are part of the fabric of our own lives.  Changes—sometimes expected, sometimes not—are part of life’s journey.  We all have stories of what that has been like for us.  Stepping into unknown territory: a new school, a new job, or the status of having no job.  Traveling to a new city, perhaps another country.  Struggling to find our way, to communicate with strangers.  Getting the diagnosis of a serious illness or health condition. Learning to live with the reality of limited abilities or negotiating a long path of treatment.  Our own experience, or that of someone close to us, of finally affirming and claiming a sexual orientation or gender identity that is contrary to expectations.  With the death of a spouse, saying goodbye to a relationship and a familiar role in life.  Wondering how to move forward in unfamiliar territory.  As a newly-widowed friend of mine said to me recently, “As a couple we had a balance.  We balanced each other in so many ways.  Right now, I feel off-balance.  I know, in time, I will find a new kind of balance.  It will be different.”

As a faith community we are feeling somewhat off-balance ourselves these days. Our Rector Kristin is leaving.  She will soon enter her own time of stretching and growing, as she relocates to a new city and begins a new job with the Episcopal Church there.  So too for us.  We will move into a new phase in the life of this parish.  A time of examination and exploration.  A time to stretch our minds.  To envision what kind of future we hope for in this parish.  What kind of leadership we will look for.  We will move forward into this new, unfamiliar territory together.  We will move forward as people of faith, with the knowledge that we are grounded in God. God who gave us life and sustains us.  God who journeys with us and in our individual lives and in our life together at St. A’s.  The experiences and stories of our lives are taken in and embraced by God.  They become part of God’s on-going life, part of the fabric of God’s on-going life.  It is God who sent Jesus to us.  Jesus, the Bread of Life.  To sustain and strengthen us.  God who has entered into our lives in Jesus.  Jesus, the Bread of Life.

In this time of newness, some things will not change.  We will keep coming here to gather together.  We will come to be fed by the words of Scripture and preaching.  To grasp the opportunity to stretch our minds and our understanding.  To offer prayers for each other and for the world.  To be fed the bread and wine of the Eucharistic meal.  We will keep the promise of our  Baptismal Covenant, to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”

Sunday after Sunday, we will come forward and stretch out our hands to receive bread.  To receive Jesus, the bread of life.  One Sunday, several years ago, in the first parish where I served as deacon when it was time to come forward for communion, a young child stood up in the pew.  He turned to the people behind him, and proudly announced, "I’m going to get me some Jesus now.”  That’s what we all come here for, isn’t it?  To get us some Jesus..

Bread of life.  Bread for the journey.

Proper 13; Year B (Track 2)

Exodus 16:22-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Saturday, August 4, The Marriage of Katie Adams and Sebastián Gonzàlez

Kristin White

The Marriage of Katie Adams and Sebastián González

 

Somos la resisténcia. We are the resistance.

There is no single more profound or revolutionary force at work in the world today…than love. It is the act of creation, of reconciliation, of audacious hope that something more is possible.

In my life, I have never known a time when the world has been more seduced by the powers and principalities that are love’s opposite: fear and division, destruction and suspicion. I have never known a time when the enormity of what would be fiction is surpassed by the reality that plays out across our newscasts…which then surpasses itself again the next day, and the next.

And so I have also never known a time when the testimony of our lives lived in love could matter more: to us, to our communities, and to a broken world that cries out to be healed, to be knit back together and made whole once again.

Many of you have heard me talk before about love as a verb. It is the idea that love is more than a thing we feel on a good day when everything is going right. Love is more than sentiment. Love is more than romance…though romance is (of course) lovely.

But the kind of love I’m talking about is more than that. It’s grittier and deeper than that. Love as verb is found in our actions – in what we do, sometimes whether or not we feel like doing it. We find it in the choice of kindness over hostility, over and over again. It shows up when we care enough to share the truth we have. It surfaces in patience, even when we’re already exhausted.

Katie and Sebastian, that is the kind of love that the scripture you have chosen for this day reveals to us. That kind of love is strong as death – strong enough to be the seal upon your heart, the seal upon your arm. That is the love that the apostle Paul writes about, to the church he loves at Colossae – so clothe yourselves with that. Because that is the love of the Gospel, in which Jesus calls us to abide.

The point at which Jesus is speaking to his disciples in John’s gospel is called the Farewell Discourse. He knows he will be leaving the friends he loves – the people who have given up their lives these past years in order to follow him as their teacher and friend. Jesus knows something of what is to come. He has some sense of the betrayal and pain and death he will suffer, and ultimately, the fact that he will have to leave them. And so this prolonged discourse is really Jesus trying to give these friends and followers of his what he knows that they will need.

And what they need, in the end, is love. That gritty and deep and active kind of love is what he knows will sustain them in communion and community with one another once he has gone. So he calls them to abide in that, to persist in sharing and living the love that will hold them.

Katie and Sebastian, you know about that. And you have known it, as you have prepared for this day for a long, long time.

Katie, your dad was so excited, in those last weeks of his life, when you and Sebastian were engaged to be married. He called to tell me about it. “My Katie,” he began…he was so glad and grateful that you had found the person you wanted to share your life with, in love. And Sebastian, he was so glad and grateful that that person was you.

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico just less than a year ago, the two of you put love as a verb into action. You took what you had saved for this occasion to send what your family and friends whose lives had been devastated by that storm needed, in order to live. And then you told the story and you invited us into it – you gave this community here gathered the chance to join you in your efforts of love as verb. You raised money to buy things like batteries and lights and water and food. People dropped off and picked up and helped pack. You made videos to tell the story and widened the circle to include even more people. Your employer pitched in to help, and ensured that everything was delivered as it should be.

Your act of love transformed us. It made us more than the sum of our parts. And today, we welcome your family and friends from Puerto Rico who have been through so much. Bienvenido a todos sus familia y sus amigos que están aquí con nosotros hoy. Gracias por estar aquí, por la oportunidad de celebrar su boda juntos con alegría.

We celebrate together, still and again transformed by the truth of love as verb. Because when this church realized that you had given what you had for your family to have what they needed, the people of St. Augustine’s Church realized that we have everything we need right here to throw a heck of a party for your reception.  Your refusal to let destruction and devastation have the final word has made us all more than the sum of our parts. And so here we are, right here with you, standing together, in the kind of love that abides.

Katie and Sebastian: love as verb looks like what you have already done, and I trust will continue to do. It’s a thousand small acts of resistance against the powers and principalities that foster the kind of lie which says destruction and fear will rule the day…it’s trusting that those thousand small acts of generosity and honesty and kindness, taken together, those thousand small acts of love, hold the power to transform us – they hold the power to transform this community, and this world.

And so I call you, today, to live that. Be the resistance, by resisting fear and division with love. Show compassion, even when you don’t feel like it…especially when you don’t feel like it. Be patient with yourselves, and with each other, and with your community. Be willing to receive forgiveness or compassion or kindness, even when you don’t deserve it…especially when you don’t deserve it. Live mercifully. And be steadfast, trusting that your love for each other is bigger than either of you can ask or imagine. Work together for righteousness and justice and goodness and peace, for there has never been a time when those things mattered more than they do right now.

Sebastian and Katie, your lives lived in love stand as testimony to all of us, and to a world that needs the gifts you have and the gift you are more than I know how to say. So continue to make your love real, by your words and in your actions. Live that reality as testimony for us, as the sacrament that you are, that we might be transformed again, might become more fully who we are because of your witness to what is possible. Choose each other and choose each other and choose each other again. And know this: you have been chosen by God, and you are holy and beloved. Amen.