Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Baptism of our Lord

Preached for the Baptism of our Lord.

What would you do if you knew that God delighted in you? How would your life be different? Would it matter? Would it be enough to change you? If you woke up tomorrow with the ceiling of your bedroom exposed to the choirs of heaven and a voice, unmistakable, of God, saying, “You, child, are my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased!” would you still have to make breakfast after? Would you still do yoga, go to work? Would you tell anyone that it were so, or would you keep it to yourself for fear of being seen as a fanatic, or perhaps even worse, mistaken? What would you do if you knew that God delighted in you? Would you have less to prove? Some of us spend lifetimes trying to live up to the imagined expectations of authorities we believe are always just slightly disappointed in us, parents who were hoping for just a bit more, teachers to impress with homework. Would we even know what to do with love we hadn’t earned? For others of us the opposite is true, we’ve been so highly praised in this life, so adored by those who raised us that it scarcely seems real anymore. How would it feel to finally fill the emptiness which that kind of blind, permissive love has carved in us? Would we, waking to find we had nothing left to prove, take to the streets instead? Would we be so overcome by the love gifted us that we would do everything in our power to give it all away to those who had been seemingly left without it?

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Maybe Jesus needed to hear it. Maybe he wandered the Galilean countryside during his youth as the slightly effeminate freak son of a carpenter, confused over his ability to turn clay birds and dried-up fish into live ones, bored with all his teachers had to offer, kind of like the young x-men are before they meet Professor Xavier and learn that they themselves have mutant powers. Maybe he wandered down to the Jordan aimlessly, only to rise from its salty waters with the whole burden of the world’s salvation draped across his shoulders. Maybe it took a voice from heaven to jolt him onto his destined path. Or, perhaps it was his disciples that needed to remember him this way. Perhaps his friends, looking backwards from beyond the tomb and the peculiar way it left their own crucified beloved still somehow vividly alive with them at table, needed also to recall some miraculous beginning to the mysterious middle they were muddling through. Perhaps they recalled him at the Jordan, there when they all were, scurrying to see the thing John was pointing towards. Perhaps an opened heaven and descending dove was the only way to explain how strange he was. After all, he had always spoken with such authority -how could one describe it? As if God himself had whispered in his ear, “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The people of Israel had certainly needed to hear it when the prophet Isaiah proclaimed these words of God to them. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Who is this suffering servant the prophet sings of? The earliest friends of Jesus thought it was Christ himself, while Rabbis interpreting scripture in the middle ages took the Suffering Servant to be the whole people of Israel. Here was a people dispersed, some in bondage, some suffering at the hands of apathetic captors, and their prophet was proclaiming them as chosen, them as a delight and pleasure of God. Here was a prophet who was telling a conquered people that God had actually always been with them, had in fact led them by the hand to this place, where they were now to be given as a covenant, and a sign, and a teaching, and a light -to the very people who enthralled them. Here was a people far from delight, far from feeling chosen, emptied of all the privileges they had once stored away for themselves, to whom God says, “You, you are mine, you are the one to bring my justice to the world; go, go into the very prisons you know so well, free the ones you find there, go to those who sit in the darkness you yourselves have dwelt in, enlighten them with this light I am giving you now. For you are my chosen, in you my soul is well pleased, in you my peace will be known.”

It is this last, prophetic call to Belovedness that I believe most closely resembles our own. This call is a communal call, a call to Beloved community. The difference between us and ancient Israel is that we are not so much conquered as self-defeated, most of the imprisonment is of our own making. Yet God’s call is the same. God sees us in the places we have scattered ourselves, enthralled by our addictions to creature comforts, protective walls, dramatic stages of political aggression with real human casualties, and still God calls us chosen. Jesus knew what darkened haunts we would find to hide in, and still he made of his life an invitation to belong instead with him -to walk with him- to find him where he may be trapped, even now, in the prisons and blind alleys of this world, in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. Our “yes” to such an invitation is as easy to step into as a bath, as simple as a cross marked on the brow. The promises we make with our “yes” sound much like what is required of Israel when they are called to be a chosen people: to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being with God’s help. Jesus knew how desperately his people would need to hear the name “Beloved” for ourselves, and so he opened his own body wide enough for us to become a part of it, that our ears might be the same as his, humming with the same message throughout all time, for every child of God, as clearly for us as it was for him in the waters the Jordan river, hear it now as we pray: You, child, are God’s own Beloved, in whom the very soul of God delights.

Arian Baptistry

Come Risen Lord and deign to be our guest

Holy One, grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.

epiphany_610x300

I had an embarrassing experience about 14 years ago as a church-lady-mom-about to go off to seminary, when I gave a presentation to my son’s preschool class about Advent. I talked to them all about preparing for the baby Jesus (in a southeast Portland non-offensive politically correct way, of course). The kids nodded attentively and enjoyed the Advent wreath. Except my son who interrupted at one point and said “But Mom: what’s Jesus?” The preschool teachers, who knew I was about to go off to seminary, were a little surprised I hadn’t done a better job schooling my toddler in such things, but I think “what’s Jesus?” is a good, honest question for all of us.

There is the wonderful story where Jesus asks the disciples: “And who do you say that I am?” and they answer “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the ontological foundation of the context of our very selfhood revealed.” And Jesus says something like “huh?”

There is Jesus of the Creed, fully human and fully God, in very strenuously worked out theology which is reflected, by the way, in what I consider to be the quintessential Christmas hymn, O Come, All ye faithful.    God from God, light from light eternal….these words encompass the totality of Jesus.

In today’s gospel we see Jesus as the infant King of the Jews, Jesus as foretold by the prophets, Jesus the great threat to King Herod, Jesus the recipient of the Magi’s gifts.

Jesus is as multi-faceted a person as any of us, if not more so. Think about your own life, and the many contexts in which people know you. Depending on whether you are at work or at church or with friends or with your children, you manifest who you are in different ways. And yet, we sometimes want Jesus to be two-dimensional, flat. For example, for many centuries, it was argued that women could not be priests because Jesus, the great high priest, was a man. (Some people still make this argument, but we’re not there.) A seminary professor of mine used to say that in that case, priests should all wear sandals, wear their hair long, and have no sense of humor.

The question for us is perhaps not “who is Jesus?” but “where can we find Jesus?” Jesus is clear about this in the gospels, both in what he says and in the stories about him. We do not find him in a palace, but in a barn. We do not find him seeking out wealthy, powerful dignitaries (unless they seek him out, first), but he seeks out smelly fishermen and despised tax collectors. In the kingdom, not only do we find Jesus among the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned, but we hear that Jesus is the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned. Mother Teresa used to say that all of her work was with Jesus in disguise.

As followers of Jesus, we need to look for Jesus in disguise, Jesus in unlikely places and in unlikely people.

b7wToday, on this long-awaited day when James celebrates his First Mass, I would like to suggest that where Jesus is found is in the Holy Eucharist. This may be stating the obvious, but it bears restating. There are, after all, many things we say and do again and again, Sunday after Sunday, in our Episcopal Church. There are words and actions that are our pulse, our heartbeat. James will say some of these words and perform some of these actions for the first time today.

But the words of the Eucharistic prayer are said on behalf of all of us. It is not just the priest’s prayer but our prayer. We sign off on this prayer with our “AMEN.” (Trivia: only place in BCP where all caps are used…our way of saying yes, we say this.)

In our collect today we prayed that we may “share in the divine life of him who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” There are many ways that we share in Jesus’ divine life. Chief among them is around this table.

Before I was ordained a priest, a little over ten years ago, the bishop sent me off on a one-day retreat. As a guide for that retreat, a friend gave me a book to take with me, which I still cherish. It’s called “The Christian Priest Today,” and it is a series of talks that former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsay used to give during pre-ordination retreats in the Church of England. He gave these talks in the 1960s, and so the gender language throughout is rather limited. A keystone of the whole book is that the role of the priest is to “stand before God with the people on his [or her] heart.”

Here is what he has to say about the Eucharist:

The Eucharist is the supreme way in which the people of Christ are, through our great high priest [that’s Jesus, not James J], with God with the world on their hearts. … The priest will help the people to realize both the Godward and the manward aspects of the liturgy. The priest will show them that it is more than their table-fellowship with one another, for it is their sharing in the worship of heaven with Blessed Mary and the Saints. He will show them that they are brought near to the awful reality of the death of the Lord on Calvary as well as to his heavenly glory. He will show them no less that here is no separated realm of piety, for the Christ upon whom they feed is one with the pains of humanity around them.

… the Christ upon whom we feed is one with the pains of humanity around us.

This is a mouthful, and a tall order, but James doesn’t do all this on his own. Many of you were at the ordination service yesterday, and hopefully you heard my very favorite line of the whole thing. After the vows, the bishop says: “May God who has given you the will to do these things give you the grace and power to carry them out.”

As with any of our vocations—yours, mine, and our collectively—all that we do is by God’s grace.

“The Gifts of God for the People of God” is our altar call. By God’s grace, when we receive this sacrament of bread and wine we will know Jesus and be strengthened, not just to go find Jesus in the world, but to be Jesus.