Monthly Archives: February 2011

An update from the Congo

Sarah Gaither sent us this note….

Dear Friends and Family and People I love,

I have now lived through both typhoid and malaria at the same time. It
wasn’t easy, but with the love and support of all of Congo, as well as
some medication as only Congo can produce, I made it out on top.
(Don’t tell my parents, they think I had a head-cold.)

The past several weeks have been full of hard work and hard play:

We finished up the service-learning course, completing 12 projects in
the community in the areas of heath care, economic development and
social responsibility.
I began teaching English at a language institute in Beni that is
associated with UCBC (Christian Bilingual University of the [Democratic Republic of] Congo)
The English department has been working hard developing objectives for
our courses that can serve as a pilot program for all of Congo
Universities.
I am conducting a workshop for the staff on writing academic research.
Next week, I’ll begin teaching English writing to the fourth-year
students, I’m also collaborating with another teacher to teach a
social research course.
I’ve made some great friends around here and have really been enjoying
the dancing scene in Beni.
I’ve also been playing basketball and volleyball everyday after
school. Now, these being two sports I was never good at, I’ve become
the resident “worst player on the team.” Which is ok by me, it’s
pretty funny and gives me an excuse to practice.

All that aside, I’ve heard some awesome quotes lately: “sarah, I can
see that you are strong in all things which concern thinking, so I can
see a person has to be very clever when they are talking to you.”
“sarah, you are an only child, I can see you must have breasted a
lot.” “sarah, I can see that you are not strong in basketball… or
jumping.”

I hope all is well with everyone!
Keep in touch!

Everyday Holiness: Leviticus meets Jesus

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Hm. This is a tall order. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this? What are you associations with the word “holy” or “perfect”?

Let’s look at today’s reading from Leviticus and from the Gospel of Matthew and see how those align with our own associations with words like “perfect” and “holy.”

First, I want to say something about today’s readings: we hardly ever hear them in church on a Sunday. Epiphany is our “accordion season”—its length is determined by the date of Ash Wednesday, which is in turn determined by the date of Easter. Easter is late—mark your calendars for the Easter Vigil on April 23 at 8 pm—and so this year, Epiphany is the longest it gets. We rarely get as far as the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, and the chances of getting there in a year when we get this reading from Leviticus are even smaller. (Okay, enough liturgical nerd talk.)

So even if Leviticus is one of those books of the bible we point to as, shall we say, not one of our favorites, it deserves our attention for a few minutes this morning, if for no other reason than that we won’t have another chance to hear it together for years.

Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Bible and is named for the Levites, who made up the priestly class of the people of Israel. The Levites were concerned primarily with expanding the implications of the Ten Commandments into such detail as to set forth hundreds and hundreds of laws. Many of these laws were dietary laws or laws around their understanding of hygiene—the Jewish people were in the process of becoming a people, trying to be the great nation God promised they would be, and the laws served the purpose of keeping them healthy and harmonious, so that they could continue to reproduce and cultivate the land in a tenuous time.

Because Leviticus is filled with wonderful words like abomination, it is one of these books we might want to just throw out, but we need to remember that Jesus says he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law.

The portion of Leviticus that we read this morning is part of a larger section of the book called the Holiness Code. It is all about the practical, ethical behavior with which we live out the commandment to love our neighbor.

Here’s what holy means in today’s reading:

  • Always leave some of your harvest for the poor and the foreigner
  • Do not steal
  • Pay people on time
  • Don’t talk about your neighbor behind his or her back
  • Don’t bear a grudge
  • Don’t take advantage of people with disabilities

This holiness code is about everyday holiness. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Now let’s listen to Jesus’ version of everyday holiness:

  • If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also
  • If anyone wants your coat, give your cloak as well
  • If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile
  • Give to everyone who begs from you
  • Don’t refuse when someone wants to borrow from you
  • Love your enemies
  • Pray for those who persecute you

Jesus makes holiness sound a little more difficult than the author of Leviticus. So much for the warm fuzzy Jesus taking the place of that mean Old Testament God!

When I first started looking at this Gospel, the image I thought I’d share was one of the Kingdom of God filled with people joyfully walking an extra mile with no coats on, handing out food and money and blessings along the way.

But there’s more to the Kingdom than that. The expression “go the extra mile” is inspired by the words of this Gospel, but it’s important to remember the whole teaching: if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. We’re not talking about a friend who asks for help moving a couch, and you offer to move the piano also. We’re talking about people living in an oppressive regime, where the mile might be part of forced labor. Going a second mile is a way of saying to the oppressor effectively “you’re not the boss of me now.” Same thing with turning the other cheek. It is not giving up power, becoming passive, but rather a way of saying to the one who strikes you “you have no power over me.”

It’s hard for those of us who do not live in extreme poverty or under an military regime to find easy analogies to what Jesus asks us to do. What we do know is that throughout this long Sermon on the Mount that we’ve been reading these past few Sundays, Jesus invites us into a new reality, a new way of engaging with the world around us.

This includes the everyday holiness of loving our enemies and those who hurt us, loving them as much as God loves them. This is being perfect as God is perfect. The bad news for some of us is that there is no getting around the fact that this really is what Jesus asks of us: be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. The Good News is that perfection is less about getting things right and more about loving as God loves. Being perfect in this way is not a goal that is hopelessly out of reach; it is the invitation to be holy, every day.

Kingdom Glue: Matthew 5:21-37

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

No, I haven’t gotten the weeks mixed up, although there have been moments in my reflection on this week’s gospel that I have felt I would much rather have preached on last week’s gospel.  I begin with these verses from last week because they provide the context for today’s portion of Jesus’ long Sermon on the Mount.

Each gospel writer brings their own perspective to the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. Matthew’s perspective is encapsulated in these words: I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill. So, during this Epiphany season of getting to know Jesus, in this year when we read from Matthew’s gospel every week, we will hopefully grow in our understanding of what it means for Jesus to be the fulfillment of the law.

All of today’s readings are about the law. The entire doctrine of free will can be found in the passage from Deuteronomy: today I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses, and the reading contains those wonderful words: choose life! According to the author of Deuteronomy, following these laws—loving God and neighbor—is how we choose life.

And then we have the opening verses of Psalm 119—are you all familiar with Psalm 119? Anyone who has ever sat down to read through the psalms from beginning to end usually gets stuck somewhere in Psalm 119.

On the first Sunday of Advent one year when I was new to all of this, I decided I’d read the psalms straight through, from 1 to 150, a few every day, and be done by Christmas. I was actually doing pretty well until I got to Psalm 119.

Psalm 119 has 176 verses, and they’re not the most lyrical, scintillating verses of scripture. If you start at verse 176 and read backwards, it makes as much sense as starting at the first verse and reading to the end. Psalm 119 is broken up into 22 stanzas of eight verses each; each stanza is named for a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and in the Hebrew version, every verse begins with that letter. Each verse contains in it a synonym for the word “law” or scripture. Statutes, commandments, decrees, ways, judgments.

In the time when the psalmist wrote this non-epic, the law was what bound community together. The Israelites, those imperfect people trying to follow the God who brought them out of Egypt, looked to the law as a way of keeping their fragile, imperfect community stable.

The Law is still what keeps community together. This is why the law is so important to Jesus. This is why Jesus says: unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Because Jesus’ preaching and teaching was all about the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is all about community. The Jewish people, to whom Jesus preached and for whom Matthew wrote, understood the law as the glue that held community together.

In the Fun-a-Day exhibit across the hall is a piece called “marriage glue,” a wonderful collage of all the things that hold marriages together: forgiveness, humor, gratitude, generosity, compassion….For the micro-community that is marriage, this glue is the law. The very best marriages are the ones where both partners are constantly trying to exceed the very fullest expressions of these laws.

The bad news of today’s good news is that it says all sorts of things that remind us of what we love to hate about religion: you will be liable to judgment, you will be liable to the hell of fire, you are almost certain to commit adultery, it’s better to be mutilated than sinful, and even swearing is going to get you into deep trouble.

This is what gives Jesus and his followers a bad name, right? This is the bad news of today’s good news.

The good news is that God wants our whole self and God loves our whole self. Like a good marriage, God wants us to give all we’ve got and more when we participate in the Kingdom.

The good news is that if being angry is just as bad as committing murder, then redemption and forgiveness is an equal opportunity grace for all of us, even the murderers. If lusting after someone in one’s heart is as bad as committing bodily adultery, then we better not be in too much of a hurry to judge those whom we think are worse than we are.  We all get to give our whole selves in the Kingdom of God.

We are not talking about a kingdom that lets people in or keeps people out based on their good behavior. If that were the case, the kingdom of God would be very small indeed. The kingdom of God is where we get to strive for the kind of goodness and love and generosity and faithfulness that embraces everyone’s whole selves: ours, our crazy difficult neighbors,’ our enemies, and everyone in between. The kingdom of God is filled with people who are practicing the kind of forgiveness, amends-making, and self-scrutiny described in this gospel, practicing the laws that Jesus requires of us.

There’s an old joke about someone who says “I practice medicine” and the person they’re speaking to asks: “do you think you’ll ever get it right?” Well, in the case of medicine, we certainly hope so. In the case of righteousness, it’s all about the practice. The practicing is getting it right.

We cannot do any of this on our own. Even that compulsive and maddeningly methodical writer of Psalm 119 got this:

I will keep your statutes;
Do not utterly forsake me.

The law is a two-way street. In today’s opening prayer we prayed: Mercifully accept our prayers and, because in our own weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace. It is only by God’s grace that we even seek God and practice being citizens of the kingdom. As we prepare to bring our gifts to this altar, let our lives be the glue of the kingdom of God. Let us give God all we’ve got to give.

 

Stay Salty: 5th Sunday after Epiphany Sermon

Dear Jesus,

Love into us and love through us so that we may take part in illuminating your world, and see it as you do, as the kingdom of God

Amen

“you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world, and oh by the way, you need to be even more righteous than the most law abiding religious folks you know.”

how is that for good news?

we say in so many ways. “Jesus I don’t want to be the salt of the earth, can I be the saffron, or the cumin of the world?  can I be something fancier, something that will really make a difference?

Salt only highlights the flavors that are already there, and too much of us could ruin what God is cooking up.

No one is going to sit down at God’s heavenly banquet and say “ooh, is that Salt? what made you think of using it? how clever!”

God doesn’t really benefit all that much from getting people like us, and by people like us I mean struggling, demanding, imperfect, precious people who dream of being known for who we really are and loved anyway.

If there are any other kind of people here, I want to talk to you after the service.

we are salt for the benefit of the kingdom

and  We are light for the benefit of the whole household.

Jesus says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

Jesus came to reveal who God has always been. the law and the prophets are just as true in Jesus’ life as they were before the incarnation. God’s heart of justice compassion and mercy are exactly the same. Jesus did not come to change anything about the law. It is the same Law. It is the law of Love.

We don’t have a Mean god of the Old Testament that Jesus came to save us from.

God is the same God who spoke the world into being with a deep longing for Justice, compassion, and revolutionary love.

God has always longed for the same thing, for us to share in the work of taking care of this unbearably beautiful world filled with unbearably beautiful people. we are not that special, and that is good news.

we are salt and we are light. salt may cease to be salty, and lights can be hidden,  but God will still be God. Heaven and earth may pass away but God’s nature- God’s Law is not going to change.

God has been passing us notes all along and slipping suggestions into our bags.  God has been sending her friends with maps and directions and calling us to come home into love since we started walking away.

And somehow, as smart and wonderful as we are, we didn’t get it.

Can’t you just see God, heart breaking for the world he loved into being -watching us horde and gloat. Watching some of her children starve naked on the streets while others are worried about how good they look in the eyes of their neighbors as they fast.

That was what Isaiah saw, and God speaks loud and clear through him about the true nature of fasting and the purpose of the law:

Is not this the fast that God chooses:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to let the oppressed go free,
to break every yoke?
Is it not to share our bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into our houses;
when we see the naked, to cover them?

and we still didn’t get it.

then when Jesus comes to lead the way, to take us by the hand and walk us into that promised land of self sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters, there is an expectation from the people with him then and from many of us now, saying:

“Jesus has come to take us to a new place”

and Jesus says

NO I HAVEN’T-

don’t you understand??
we are going where we were always going-
deeper into the heart of love-

We do not get a change of direction but a friend on the journey

What we get is an invitation to follow Jesus all the way into the burning heart of Justice.

This is where we were always headed and if we don’t align our hearts with this law, Jesus says we will be some of the last to see this glorious kingdom of God shining all around us.

The good news is that if we follow the old maps, if we can hear God’s pleas for love in the law and the prophets, then we will be some of the first to see the reign of Shalom and love here on Earth.

and it’s hard because we look at the map / and we look at the world and it doesn’t seem to make sense.

How can we get to a place where:

our light shall rise in the darkness
and our gloom be like the noonday.
where The LORD will guide us continually,
and satisfy our needs in parched places,
and make our bones strong;
and we shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
our ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
we shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

 

this is one heck of a promise. and it’s the destination of a journey so deep and transformative that the whole world is altered.

this is God’s map.                     It has always been God’s map

this is the same world that Jesus is calling us into.

don’t look down on the Pharisees, their path is your path, but we have to go further, not change direction.

if you love God go deeper into the law, Be who God made you to be and you will be transformed into your truer more salty self. the whole sermon on the mount calls us to go deeper and deeper in . these are our operating instructions, this is our map, this is the recipe we get to be salt in.

Everything we need to know about God’s love for the world is already there. we are in the remedial class that needs help, and we just can’t get there by ourselves. But God will use us anyway.

When we finally take that dang bushel basket of self importance off our heads, and let the light of kindness shine, we will see that we are in and have always been in a house of peace and justice and crazy, mad love. We can help illuminate it, but we didn’t invent it.

God is just inviting us back to be who we always were.

We were made by love —

for love—–

in the image of love, —–

with a boundless capacity for love. we don’t need to preach love to God, God is already Love.

God is inviting us,  us!  to help in the unfolding of this kingdom, so let’s accept the invitation.

– if God is reaching for a work light,

shine on.

and if God is cooking up something that needs some salt,

 

stay salty!

-Kerlin Richter
Saint David of Wales Episcopal Church
Sunday, February 6, 2011

 

 

 

Annual meeting postscript: the best seminarian intern ever, and other friends of Jesus

This time of year, the Annual Meeting reigns. Pretty pathetic when you think about it. But throughout January, whenever I run into a clergy colleague around town, the small-talk question is always something like: have you had your annual meeting yet? or are you ready for your annual meeting? Now that January is over, so are most of our Annual Meetings. Thank you, Jesus. (Although I’m not entirely sure it was Jesus who decided that his apostles should all drop everything sometime during Epiphany season and focus on budgets and elections and committee reports.) What if during this Epiphany season the greeting questions were along these lines: how is your community experiencing the call to discipleship this year? how is Jesus manifest in your life? I’m sure that’s what everyone’s really thinking.

At least for this annual report-giver, the annual meeting inevitably works even better than a 5 pm cuppa strong tea to keep me awake into the wee hours of Monday asking myself: why didn’t I talk more about X? Why did I go on and on about Y? And where was Jesus in that presentation, anyway?

There are many things that went unsaid, many people that deserve to called out as friends and followers of Jesus who help to make our wonderful crew of disciples who we are.

In March of 2010, we celebrated the life of Irv Ewen. The entire Portland Gay Men’s Chorus showed up to sing for the service and the reception. The St. David’s community did what we do best: we put on a big party. Irv is still sorely missed, especially by his partner, Marlo, who has been faithful in our choir these past few months.

And speaking of choir, ours continues to grow. On Sunday we fussed a bit over our gifted music director, and not nearly enough over the choir who has faithfully shown up at what some consider to be an ungodly hour of 8:30 each Sunday. Thanks for reminding us on a regular basis what the kingdom should sound like.

Last June, Kerlin Richter joined us as our seminarian intern, with the ambitious self-assigned task of serving with us from Pentecost to Pentecost. (Lucky for us, Pentecost is very late this year: June 12). Since coming into our midst she has created a series of amazing icons, been a vital and energetic part of the Wednesday evening Peace Mass, an integral person in our fall worship lab process, and preached one amazing sermon after another. We have been blessed with the presence of her lovely family: Adin, who obviously shares mama’s creative, inquisitive, and outgoing nature, and Jordan, who is most gracefully navigating this year’s dress-rehearsal for life as a clergy spouse. Kerlin has many gifts, one of which is helping us to make and celebrate connections with other groups, something that I hope is fast becoming part of St. David’s own DNA.

Speaking of connections, we would not have so many connections to celebrate without the work of our ushers, who also go by the name of greeters, ambassadors, and ministers of hospitality. Week after week people tell me they love St. David’s because of the welcome they received on their first visit. Who wouldn’t want to come back and join a family that includes the likes of Carolynn, Barbara, Don, Mary Beth, Daniel, Melissa, Jim, Christa, Mark, Peggy, Susie, Brian, and several others?

Behind the scenes is the group that really makes worship happen, the Altar Guild, the ladies and gentlemen who weave together the stray threads in the “sacred stuff” department. Jennie, Ray, Matt, Susie, Pat, Shirley, Ginny & Gary, you glorify God and make Jesus manifest in the care-full weekly rhythm of your weaving.

These are friends of Jesus indeed.

My  hope during this hinge season when we close the books on 2010 and look ahead to Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a new and equally sacred journey, that all of us continued to rejoice in our calling to proclaim the creative, reconciling, connecting work of Jesus wherever our own journeys take us.