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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sunday, July 22, The Feast of Mary Magdalene and the Announcement of the Rector's Departure

Kristin White

Beloved of God: some of you may not yet have seen the email that went out on Thursday night to the congregation from the wardens and me. In it, I shared that after six years as your rector, I have accepted a call from Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows to serve on her staff as the Canon to the Ordinary for Congregational Development and Leadership, in the Diocese of Indianapolis.

I will be glad to talk more with you about what that involves, but the most concrete thing for right now is that it means my time as your rector will be drawing to a close. I will be here with you for the rest of the summer, and into the first two weeks of September. On Friday, September 14, word is that we’re going to have a big party. September 16 will be my last Sunday at St. Augustine’s. The next day will mark our move to Indiana.

You are a remarkable church: strong and loving, practical and wise…because you are comprised of remarkable people: strong and loving, practical and wise…filled with joy and good humor, and knit together by the good work of the Holy Spirit. And you will continue, of course you will continue, to be exactly who you, after I have gone.

I want you to know that this is no small heartbreak for me, and for my family, to leave St. Augustine’s. You are the church that I love. And if I can presume to paraphrase e.e. cummings: I will carry you with me/I will carry you in my heart.

So let’s carry each other, these next weeks that we have, in celebration and thanksgiving for the journey we have shared. I am so grateful for this time as your priest.

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The Church has been working out its salvation with regard to women in the story of Mary Magdalene from the time she walked this earth, throughout centuries and millennia, until now.

Most commonly, Mary Magdalene is memorialized in writing and music and art as a prostitute, a cautionary tale, only redeemed because she is penitent. That’s how Mary Magdalene gets managed, too often, in the history of our culture and in the memory of our church. Her virtue in that narrative is that she is sorry, and Jesus is generous.

Mary Magdalene’s introduction in Luke’s gospel takes place just after an unnamed woman interrupts Jesus’ dinner with a Pharisee. That woman is a sinner, the text tells us, and for more than a thousand years, the church has interpreted this woman’s sin as sexual. (As an aside, I will tell you that the Greek word for “sinner” in that passage is the same Greek word in the same gospel that Peter uses when he cries out to Jesus in the fifth chapter: “Have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”[1] However, I have yet to see any scholar ever interpret Peter’s sin, in his use of the same word, as a sexual one.) Anyway. Because this story of the sinful woman with the alabaster jar who comes and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair and anoints him with oil from the alabaster jar – because that all happens just before Mary Magdalene is introduced in this gospel…and because Mary Magdalene happens to be a woman…Mary Magdalene is interpreted, first by Pope Gregory the Great in a sermon series in the sixth century and thereafter by many, many others, as being that same peculiarly sinful woman.

Mary Magdalene’s image has been reinvented, throughout the centuries, “from prostitute…to mystic, to celibate nun, to passive (helper), to feminist icon, to the matriarch of divinity’s secret dynasty.”[2] Anybody remember The DaVinci Code? The church and our culture have been working out our salvation as regards women for a good long while now.

“How the past is remembered, how…desire is domesticated, how men and women negotiate their separate impulses; how power inevitably seeks sanctification, how tradition becomes authoritative, how revolutions are co-opted; how fallibility is reckoned with, and how…devotion can be made to serve violent domination – all these cultural questions helped shape the story of the woman (from Magdala) who befriended Jesus of Nazareth.”[3]

What we know about her from scripture is this: Mary Magdalene is named – something that happens rarely for women in the Bible; and her words are recorded, as well, which is even more unusual. We know she comes from Magdala, a small fishing town on the Sea of Galilee in the same region as Nazareth. She carries stature, Mary Magdalene; because not only is she named, but she is named first wherever she is remembered among others in scripture – a sign of honor and respect for her.

We know that Jesus healed her when he cast out seven demons, and that she followed him after that, together with other women: Joanna and Susanna, and others whom Jesus had also healed of evil spirits and infirmities. We know that these women had sufficient resources and independence that made it possible for them to leave what they were doing to follow him. And more than that, we know that they had enough money, in their own control, that they could help fund his ministry…and they did.

We know that when the other disciples got scared and fled from Golgotha during Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene stayed.

And finally, in today’s gospel passage, we know that three days after his death, Mary walked in the dark to his grave. And after the confusion and the running and the empty tomb, we know that – again – Mary Magdalene stayed. The stone had been rolled away. Jesus’ body was not where they had laid it.

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where…” she told the angels, as she wept, not knowing that those angels were angels. “If you have carried him away, just tell me where,” she begged the gardener, who, it turns out, was not the gardener after all. And then he said her name…and she knew. And he sent her to tell the others…and she did.

In that moment, we know something very important – maybe most important – about Mary Magdalene: she is the first evangelist. She is the first one to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

She had experienced what it was to be possessed by demons, and she also possessed the strength that it took to be healed of them. She took the risk, one way or another, as the disciples had, to leave whatever her life was before that healing, in order to follow the one who had healed her. She had both the resources and the practical generosity to offer in paying what was needed for Jesus’ ministry. She stepped into a space of unimaginable pain at Jesus’ crucifixion, and then she stayed there with him through it all. And even in the confusion and further pain at that empty tomb, when the others left, she stayed. She stayed, and would bear witness to good news greater than anyone could ask or imagine.

What does it tell us, that our history has taken: a woman strong enough to withstand possession and be healed, a woman who risked danger and judgment by following a teacher who threatened the religious order, a woman who practiced generosity from her own means, who stood in the midst of pain and stayed there, a woman first to carry the good news that Christ was alive – what does it say, that our history has most often reduced her to that most common trope which would give the powers that be the powers they need to in order to control a powerful woman?

And where is the good news of her story?

Well, I believe it is first in the fact that we know it. We know her name and her words and her actions. And so we can also know that we are her heirs.

In 1980, the rector at the time – the Rev. Joe Mazza, father of our own Joy Witt – together with the wardens and the vestry of St. Augustine’s, petitioned Bishop James Montgomery to set aside his concerns about women’s ordination (four years after women’s ordination had become regularized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church) and make Janice Gordon a priest. Men and women worked together to convince the bishop that women could serve as preachers and evangelists in the legacy of Mary Magdalene. Later that year, through no small effort of the leaders of this parish, the Rev. Janice Gordon would go on to be ordained at St. James Cathedral with three other women. She would serve here at St. Augustine’s, the first woman called to a clergy staff in the Diocese of Chicago.

That legacy continues, even now, as this parish sustains the ministry of our deacon, the Rev. Sue Nebel, and as you called me to be the first woman installed at St. A’s as rector.

And that is not all – because this church is filled with women who are the heirs of Mary Magdalene, and with men who know our names, and listen to our words. You are strong enough to bear what you should not have to, and you are willing to do what it takes to be made whole. You take risks, and are generous. You know what it is to stand steadfast in spaces of pain, and stay there. And like Mary Magdalene, God has entrusted you with good news that this world needs desperately for you to share.

So go, you bearers of the gifts handed down from generation to generation, all the way to us. Do not be reduced by a cautionary tale, because that version of redemption has always been too small to be true of God’s promise for us. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, as evangelists and allies, carrying the testimony of the God who knows us and names us, who loves us and calls us very good.

Blessed Feast of Mary Magdalene, dear people of this church I love. Go forth as witnesses to the good news that is her legacy, and ours.

 

 

 

[1] Luke 5:8

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/who-was-mary-magdalene-119565482/

[3] ibid

SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2018, THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST, PROPER 8B

Pastor Frank Senn, Evanston, IL

Text: Mark 5:21-43

We gathered at the lake shore this morning to greet Jesus just as the crowd did in today’s Gospel. Jesus had just returned from the other side of the lake -- the Gentile side -- and a crowd immediately gathered around him. Jesus spends a lot of time on the Sea of Galilee in Mark’s Gospel, traveling back and forth between the Jewish and the Gentile sides of the sea. He performs healings and exorcisms on the Jewish side and then goes across the lake and performs healings and exorcisms on the Gentile side. Without making any pronouncements the evangelist shows the inclusivity of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

I wonder if the crowd had gathered around Jesus when he landed because news of the exorcism he had performed on the other side of the lake had reached people on the Jewish side ahead of Jesus. He had cast out demons from a man who had lived among the tombs and couldn’t be restrained even with chains. The demons, who named themselves “Legion,” recognized Jesus as the Son of the Most High God and asked him, “Where can we go?” Demons need bodies to inhabit. So Jesus directed them into the pigs -- unclean animals from the Jewish perspective -- which then ran off a cliff into the sea and drowned. There went the local economy. But Jesus had performed a huge cleansing of Gentile impurities with the destruction of the demons and the pigs. That’s something to bear in mind as we get into the situation in today’s Gospel.

As the crowd gathers around Jesus on the lakeshore, a man named Jairus, a ruler or elder of the local synagogue, prevails on Jesus to come quickly to his house because his daughter is dying. Jesus and Jairus and the whole crowd head toward Jairus’ house.

But a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, spending all her money on doctors who haven’t been able to cure her, saw her chance and took it. She wasn’t supposed to be there and if she got found out she was in trouble. Culture and custom said she wasn’t supposed to be there. Social courtesy said she wasn’t supposed to be there. Torah law said she wasn’t supposed to be there. But with the crowd pressing on Jesus, she reached out and touched the hem of his cloak. She was immediately healed; she felt it in her body.

She thought she could get away with it. But stop the procession! Jesus felt power go out of him. “Who touched me?” he demanded.

The woman had reason to be afraid. She was in flagrant disobedience of the law in Leviticus 15 that said: “If a woman has a flow of blood for several days outside her monthly period, or if her flow continues beyond her regular period, she remains unclean as long as the flow continues, and for seven days after it stops. Anyone who touches her is unclean until evening. Anyone who touches anything she has touched will be unclean until evening.”

Do you see the problem? The woman’s been bleeding for twelve years. She has been ritually unclean for twelve years. For twelve years anyone she touches has also been rendered ritually unclean until evening. If she touches someone, they are prohibited from having social contact with anyone for the rest of the day.

Give her credit that she recognized the seriousness of the damage she had caused and owned up to it. She has not only interrupted an emergency medical mission with a non-emergency situation. She has rendered Jesus unclean and unfit to touch anyone, at least for the rest of the day. And the person he was summoned to touch was the dying daughter of an elder of the synagogue who was charged with the responsibility to uphold the law.

What was Jesus to do? He did what he has been doing throughout the Gospel of Mark, like allowing his disciples to pick corn or healing people on the Sabbath Day. He ignored the law. He commended the woman for her faith and moved on to Jairus’ house.

One wonders what Jairus thought about all this, because he too was in a predicament. He should be upholding the tradition of the purity laws. If he allows Jesus to touch and heal his daughter, he too would have disregarded the law.

But stop the procession again! People come from Jairus’ house and say that it wasn’t necessary for Jesus to go any farther. The girl has died. Jesus didn’t get there soon enough. As lamentable as the girl’s death is, it solves the problem of ritual impurity that the woman with the hemorrhage had created.

But Jesus refuses to be stopped. He took his three leading disciples, Peter, James, and John, and with the girl’s parents went into the girl’s room, shutting everyone else out. He claims that the girl is not dead, only sleeping. He takes her by the hand and tells her to “get up.” “Immediately” (a favorite word in Mark’s Gospel) she got up and started walking around. “Give her something to eat,” said Jesus.

Now looking at this gospel reading as a whole, we see the symbolism piling up. It was a favorite literary ploy of Mark the Evangelist to interrupt one story with another story. The interrupting story served to heighten the effect of the main story. So we are invited to consider this reading as one story, not two, as we try to get at its significance.

Another thing typical of Mark’s Gospel is its secretiveness. The woman with the hemorrhage is hidden in the crowd. Only the three leading disciples are allowed to go with Jesus to Jairus’ house. Those in the girl’s room are enjoined to tell no one what had happened. The commentators call this the “messianic secret” in Mark. Events in Jesus’ life were only to be proclaimed after his resurrection because before that they could be misinterpreted -- and were!

To those who hear this gospel in faith (and it was undoubtedly read aloud in early Christian assemblies), the willingness of Jesus to accept in himself the woman’s uncleanness, and the hiddenness of Jesus in the room with the dead girl, are foreshadowings of the crucifixion -- Jesus’ bearing in his body the impurity of the world -- and his descent to the dead. And the healing of the woman and the walking around of the dead girl are foreshadowings of the new life of the resurrection. The meal to be given to the girl is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist of the church. If you want to push it, the twelve years the woman had suffered bleeding and the girl’s twelve years of age suggest the twelve tribes of Israel -- the fullness of the people of God.

As with all the stories in the Bible, and especially in the Gospels, this is all about us -- the Christian community that gathers every Lord’s Day to hear the Gospel stories and to commemorate and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ in the Eucharist. And Jesus is here present, hidden under forms of bread and wine, to be touched by those who seek him and to touch those who receive him.

I know in this parish “everybody everybody everybody” is welcome to the meal, the Eucharistic feast of bread and wine. But Jesus forces no one. When the bread is broken at this table you can reach out your hand and touch him. Perhaps you do so because your issues have not been addressed by other gurus or healers, like the woman who was failed by the doctors. So with some measure of faith you reach out to touch Jesus in the bread. Then, like the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak, you can slip back into the crowd, strengthened to get through the week but without staying to find out what Jesus might be asking of you and what he might be offering you. And if you do that -- if you slip back into the crowd -- you won’t be punished or exposed. But Jesus will still be asking, “Who touched me?”, and longing to give you all he wants you to have, longing to give you the gift of himself.

But if you will stay present in the crowd around Jesus, then he will offer himself to you and make you whole as he comes into your life -- into your very body and blood with his body and blood -- to draw you body and soul into his risen life, immersing you in his death and resurrection in the waters of rebirth, and raising you up to new and eternal life. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2018, The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost & Pride Sunday

This year is a particularly special Pride Sunday at St. A’s, for two reasons: first—we have made a public statement about our explicit welcome of LGBTQIA people on our new sign, and on our website—which is big news!!  And second—we have new artwork to display that highlights God’s loving response and care for all of us.

Pride festivities began as a way to celebrate the Gay Liberation movement—it’s a day to celebrate the historic and modern contributions of LGBTQ folks; to recognize the progress our society has made with regard to the full inclusion of all LGBTQ persons—as well as it is a day to pray for fuller inclusion—in our neighborhoods, in or institutions and especially in our churches and religious institutions.

Pride is also a way to remember all those who have died at the hands of hate, homophobia, and transphobia, and the many who died in the early epidemic of AIDS in the 1980s and 90s. Pride invites us to look back at our journey and remember some heavy hitters who did incredible work for our progress. People like: Barbara Gittings, who rallied the American Psychological Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental health disorder.[1] Audre Lorde, whose poetic mastery brought us face to face with the realities of surviving this life as an onlooker rather than as one who is accepted on every level.  Lorde said, “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition…those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older -- know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”[2] And Bayard Rustin: Rustin marched in Washington in 1963 and was one of the first men of color to be open about his sexuality in an age when men were arrested just for suspect of being gay.[3]

 

Even our beloved state of Illinois was no slouch in the struggle to recognize LGBTQ persons. In 1924, the Society for Human Rights was founded in Chicago as the country’s earliest gay rights organization;[4] and in 1962, Illinois became the first state in the country to decriminalize gay relationships.[5] In our Episcopal Church, the General Convention of 1976, affirmed LGBT people as having equal standing as straight people;[6] in 2003, Gene Robinson was the first openly gay person to be consecrated a Bishop; in 2009, the church affirmed ordination for all people regardless of gender or sexuality; in 2012, liturgies were made for same-sex unions; and in 2015, gay marriage became canonical in our church. So many people and so many achievements and milestones have helped our church and society become more welcoming and accepting of LGBTQIA persons and normalize their presence. However, there remains much work to do so long as hate crimes and transphobia and homophobia remain.

 

Years ago, I worked for an agency that served homeless and run away young people ages 18-21. We had a drop-in medical clinic, a center where they could work on job skills, do laundry, eat good food and take part in a live-in program that got them into jobs, or school, and housing of their own. After getting to know these young people, we learned some heartbreaking things about them. 45% of our homeless young people identified as LGBTQ; and over half found themselves homeless because of coming out to their families. We also learned that a number of them were victims of violent crimes or were complicit in minor crimes, by simply trying to survive. One of the ways that we were able to build relationship with the young people was through an evening meal program. Caring volunteers made themselves available to come in and cook breads and cookies and invite the young people in for hospitality. After some level of trust had been earned, together everyone took part in making an evening meal that brought at least twenty to the table, and people took turns serving one another. Over time, walls began to fall. Guests might slip and call a volunteer mom or dad, and but for a moment the sea storm that was their life was still and for however long they stayed, they could be part of a family again—a family that said, “you are welcome here!”

 

The oppressed and marginalized experience a lot in this life. This week, our government has torn families apart in the name of self-preservation. We’ve heard recordings of children crying out of guttural fear that they are not okay—that all they know has been taken away from them. We have criminalized people who are unable to stay in their homeland, and further harmed them by breaking up the very structures that they are trying to secure and bring about a better life.

 

Our gospel lesson today captures the disciples in a bit of chaos, and a Jesus so relaxed—he is asleep in the storm. Awakened only by the disciple’s angst, Jesus calms the winds, completely shocking the disciples. I imagine an equally shocked Jesus looked at them wondering—why would they not think I could calm the storm? I imagine all those children and parents this week who are traumatized, in shock, and scared. I imagine them to be timid, leery of systems and governments, and scared that their families will never be the same. And like the disciples, who knew all the well that Jesus is, as our Psalm says, “a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble,” it is easy to forget when life’s storms seem to overwhelm us. This week, people of faith and their religious institutions have made public statements denouncing the treatment of families at the borders. Our own Bishop, with us last Sunday, also released a statement this week. In his address, entitled, All of the Body is Hurting, Bishop Lee says,

 

…As Christians, we must not stand idly by as these families are torn apart. The story of God’s people fleeing persecution and seeking a promise of peace and plenty is also our story, and the families we see on our border are our sisters and brothers. ‘You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien,’ God tells the children if Israel in Exodus 22:21, ‘for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Many of us are descended from immigrants by blood, but all of us are descended from immigrants by faith, And so even—especially—if we feel helpless, God calls us to act. [7]

 

The weight that these refugees are carrying is heavy. They are escaping the kind of violence and economic poverty, that like the winds of the seas rocking the boat, scares them, and are unable to take any more. The pressures are so much, that they are willing to risk their lives to get their family to a new place, a better place, where they can experience peace. The disciples were not doubting Jesus, and they were not wavering on their faith in him—they were scared. They were looking for God to do something—anything—to quell the winds and waters. They had the hope of faith, just as so many wanting to cross our borders with their families in tow.

 

When the seas around us become rough—we rely more heavily on our faith. It doesn’t mean that our faith is a safety net—it means that our faith deepens our connection to God so that we can both walk through the trials we must—and be a presence of love and care for others when they endure their trials. This is perhaps some of the most meaningful work we will do together as people of faith. We get one another through—we support one another—and we hold on to faith that through it all, God is with us.

 

The storms of this life can have so much power over us. They can make us critical or reactive people, particularly if we endure storms alone and never have the chance to bring light to them and process what we experienced. The storms of this life can wound us and they can also present us with opportunities for healing. And when the storm breaks, and the waters calm, and clouds begin to open, the sun stares in and changes the scape. And as light pierces the precipitation, we are left with a rainbow.

 

In his painting, Darkness Shall Not Overcome, Bill Doughty preaches this very gospel. In the wake of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, Bill was so inspired to paint something that captured the idea that God holds all of us; and the rainbow is the historic symbol for this. Of the piece, Bill says, “…not just LGBT people, but ALL of us together will assure that the promises of the rainbow will prevail.” Even in the wake of tremendous tragedy; even in the wake of our storms; even in the wake of all discrimination, the rainbow serves as a symbol of God’s presence, of God’s love, and of God’s welcome. Appropriately, the plaque which will accompany this piece will read, simply: Dedicated to the day when everyone will live in the Rainbow.

 

This week, we are called to live further into the promises of the rainbow. We live further into our convictions that families should not be separated; that children should not be given over to trauma; and that our country can do better in caring for refugees who are looking for a better life; and today, we celebrate those we know and love who identify as LGBTQ and honor the struggle it has been to even be seen in this world. However, today is also a day to remember our baptism. Through our Baptism, we have promised to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim good news, to seek and serve Christ in one another, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people. This my beloveds, is a PRIDE celebration, and our very true colors.

 

May we all be a people of the rainbow who remember God’s love and know God’s mercies. Amen.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Gittings#American_Psychiatric_Association

[2] Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984.   Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110 114. 2007. Print.

[3] https://www.biography.com/people/bayard-rustin-9467932

[4] http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/series/chicago-innovations/chi-first-gay-rights-group-us-1924-innovations-bsi-series-story.html

[5] https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2010/12/02/the-gay-rights-movement-in-illinois-a-history/

[6] https://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution.pl?resolution=1976-A069

[7] https://www.episcopalchicago.org/our-stories/2018/06/17/bishop-lee-all-body-hurting

SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2018, THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST AND PASTORAL VISIT OF JEFFREY LEE, BISHOP OF CHICAGO

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Bishop of Chicago

Proper 6B - June 17, 2018

Weed Seeds

Who doesn't love the parable of the mustard seed?  It's almost become a cliche, one of those images from the bible that has infiltrated our consciousness so deeply that we don't even wonder where it came from.  There's this parable this morning about that tiny little seed producing very big results, and Jesus' related saying to his first friends that if they only had faith the size of a mustard seed, well then, they could move mountains.  And we get the point, right?  Good things come in unsuspectingly small packages, God doesn't need obviously important looking things to make something great and good out of them, that sort of thing.  Just remember the reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning.  All those big, strong sons of Jesse pass by the prophet, all obviously looking like possible king material.  And yet the one God was really interested in making king was the youngest kid, David, out there on the hillside throwing rocks at his father's wayward sheep.  That's the one, says Samuel.  And the rest is history.

We like this kind of stuff.  At least I do.  It is of great comfort in those times when we feel insignificant or not quite up to a task.  When life seems hard and faith is far away, it's good to remember that God doesn't need much that's great and glorious to get us through and work his purpose.  David didn't look like much of a king.  The littlest bit of faith can move mountains.  The smallest seed, says Jesus, can produce astonishing results.  Just consider that little bitty mustard seed.

Well, yes.  All that is or can be comforting and assuring.  Nothing wrong with interpreting Jesus's stories that way ... Except I'm not quite sure that those common and comforting ways of listening to the mustard seed parable are right.  I'm not convinced that's what parables are for and I'm not at all sure that cozy and reassuring is what Jesus meant to be in telling them.  Parables are stories designed to upend our normal assumptions, their purpose is to get us to view the world differently and to shape our actions in new ways.  Think of that other beloved story of the Good Samaritan -- the star, the Samaritan, is the one person in all the world a good, church-going Jew would not have expected to be cast as the hero.  Jesus tells that story to explode his hearers' narrow definitions of who my neighbor is.

So back to mustard seeds.  In ancient Middle Eastern culture, while there were some medicinal and culinary uses for mustard, it was definitely not something a careful gardener would ever have intentionally planted in a cultivated bed.  Mustard bushes grow wild, quickly covering hillsides or taking over abandoned parcels of land.  It is a wildly invasive species and would easily overrun and ruin a carefully laid out garden. 

So pick your favorite weed – crabgrass, dandelion, buckthorn – that’s pretty much what Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God to. Oh, and that part about the birds finding a place to build their nests?  Maybe Jesus meant it to be a comforting image – shelter from the storm and so forth. But in the parable he tells just before this one, he describes birds in less than favorable ways – they eat all the good seeds off the path.  You don't really want too many birds around your strawberries do you?  I wonder if Jesus is suggesting that once mustard shrubs take root, all kinds of things happen including the sudden presence of “undesirables.”

Looked at this way, Jesus’ parable is challenging, even ominous. As one biblical scholar puts it:

The point ... is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses-if you could control it. (Crossan, The Historical Jesus).

In other words the kingdom of God Jesus proclaims isn’t something we can control. It’s not something we’d even want, at least if we’re even a little satisfied with the way things are. No, the kingdom of God comes to over turn, to take over, to transform the kingdoms of this world. Which is why, of course, Jesus’ preaching and teaching stir things up, both then and now. Maybe that’s why we prefer again and again to domesticate the scriptures and even distort them - sometimes with blasphemous results - like the way a certain reading from the Letter to the Romans is being used to justify the outrages taking place on our border with Mexico. I can hardly imagine any practice sanctioned by the government of this country more clearly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus than what’s going on now.

I've often thought that we don't exactly practice the best principles of truth in advertising when we baptize people.  Typically enough we welcome parents and godparents to the font as they bring their small and beloved baby for holy baptism.  We ought to spend a lot more time warning them about the way of life they're about to commit this child to living.  We sign the newly baptized with a cross after all, not a smiley face.  The promises and vows of holy baptism we're all about to renew in a few minutes commit us to something wild and uncontrollable, to a way of life empowered by the Holy Spirit who blows just when and where she will, we promise to live in ways that will invite the Kingdom of God to become just that much more real in this world.  Listen to those promises:  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?  Will you respect the dignity of every human being?  Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  These are not the values most of this world lives by.  They're not much of a game plan for getting ahead and staying there.  They aren't guaranteed to ensure my personal security and safety.  They will not bless the status quo of who's in and who's out, who is acceptable and who is not, who wins and who loses.  It's not the world of Wall Street and Presidential policies that we're after - it's the reign of God.  And if we are to believe Jesus this morning, then we must be prepared for that Kingdom to be on God's terms and not our own.  It will not be neat, it will not be tidy, it will not be tightly controlled. The most unlikely people might well show up, and who knows who we'll find beside us at the dinner table? The short answer is one you know well here: Everybody. Everybody. Everybody.

So dear friends here at St. A’s, let's throw some seeds around, no matter how small they may seem.  There's no telling what God will do with them.