Sermon from 4/3/16

John 20:18-31, Psalm 150

Christ has Risen!  

He has risen indeed!  

The good news of the Gospel has been revealed to us in our world yet again!  

Last week, we raised our voices in praise and we got back the Hallelujahs we buried away for our journey through Lent and into the dark woods.  

We are back in a joyous time!  We are back in the light of new life!  We are again set free by the miraculous death and resurrection of Christ!  

But that was a week ago.  That was seven days ago.

In my world, that was 6 clients, 4 papers, 100 pages of reading, multiple goodbyes with family members I wish I saw more, and one bumpy airplane ride ago.

For you maybe that was 10 meetings, 5 conference calls, one flat tire, and 2 sick kids ago.

Maybe it was 3 appointments with a specialist ago or 6 hours on the phone trying to get insurance/taxes/childcare sorted out, or even a day or more in the hospital ago.  

 

Two weeks ago we sang Hosanna!

Last week we lifted our voices proclaiming that Indeed, he HAS risen.  

What is our word today?  What is our phrase of the week?  

If we turn to the disciples for guidance, our word today may be fear.

They were locked away in an upper room.

They were gathered together to stay safe and to feel supported.  

They hadn’t had their Hallelujah day yet.  

 

Then, Mary Magdalene came in and told them in no uncertain terms that she had seen the Lord.  

But, I mean, why should they believe her?  They know what the world is like around them.  

They know that their radical message of the Messiah is a dangerous one, and the only witness they have is this one woman and her story.  

 

Maybe they did believe her.  

Maybe they were jumping with joy, hugging and high fiving each other in that moment of jubilation.  

 

But then night fell and the next day we find them back in their safe space.  We discover these commissioned leaders hiding from the world.  

 

Thanks be to God that the story doesn’t end there.  

Jesus appears.  

The risen Lord, Emmanuel shows up right there in the space with them.

The locks on the door do not begin to keep him out and neither do the locks of doubt keeping the disciples away from their neighbors and those to whom they were called as teachers of the good news.  

 

Jesus appears and greets them with what becomes the code greeting of Christians, “Peace be with you”.  

 

He is a familiar face.  

He offers them the familiar password and yet this experience is anything but familiar.  

 

This is extraordinary!  

This is miraculous!  

This is cause for celebration!  

Christ has risen!  

He has risen indeed!  

 

But that was a week ago.  

Since they saw Jesus, their stories of this miracle, this good news, had gone no where.  

They tried to tell Thomas, one of their friends who had accompanied them on every step of this journey with Jesus, and he would have none of it.  

 

His doubt must have been discouraging.  

I wonder how many times they tried to tell him the story.  

I wonder if each time their own certainty and excitement waned just a little and the story began feeling less amazing.  

I wonder if they were all filled with doubt by the time that week was over and we catch up with them again, in the same room, with those same locked doors.

Their fear still keeping them apart from the world, the world that doesn’t seem as safe anymore without the constant presence of their teacher and Lord.  

 

But again, thanks be to God, they are not left alone in their fear in that upper room.  

They are greeted once again by Jesus.  

He comes through the locked door, offers the same greeting of peace and then turns to speak directly to Thomas.

This great teacher offers his tactile learner the evidence needed to believe and it works.  Thomas, like Mary a week before, greets Jesus by name and proclaims his belief.  

 

Jesus then, in the presence of his closest friends, offers a blessing over those who will come to believe without the one-on-one encounter with his risen body that the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and Thomas were privy too.  

 

This reads to me like yet another blessing over their ministry of evangelism.  

Maybe a little hint hint wink wink that it is their job to get out there and spread the good news as they were commissioned to do by Jesus when they had gathered those many nights ago to share a meal and share a prayer before they would turn around and betray him.   

This should do it, right?  

This third encounter should be what it takes to get the disciples out into the world to speak the good news and witness to the new life in resurrection, right?

You know this story.  

They go back to fishing.  

They go back to life out on the waters, fishing, without much success for, well, fish.  

Or maybe you know the story a tiny bit further when we find them again in an upper room locked away in fear waiting, about to receive the Holy Spirit and be gifted with the words to preach to the multilingual multitudes gathered.  

 

Locked away in fear.  

Christ has risen!  

Locked away in fear.  

He has risen indeed!

Locked away in fear.

 

I am sensing a pattern.  But it doesn’t start here.  

If we think about the great celebrations and the miracles of our faith, they are so often followed by and preceded by fear.  

The Hebrew people escaped Egypt and were brought, by God’s hand, into freedom and so they celebrated.  

Miriam led them in song and their celebration rang throughout their community!  

A miracle!  

Freedom from slavery!  

Escape from their tormentors!  

But then time went by and their journey towards the Promised Land made them weary.  

40 years in the desert was the hard work that followed their celebrations.  

 

Later in the history of our scriptures we meet a woman chosen to be queen, Esther.  

Esther is chosen to be wife to King and yet her life of luxury and power comes with a challenging task.  

Her celebration of this new station in life is followed by her call to risk her life to save her people.  

Our Psalm today was full of praises: “Alleluia! We praise you, Lord, in your sanctuary; we praise you in your mighty skies!  We praise you for your powerful deeds; we praise your for your overwhelming glory…Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Alleluia!”  

This is the last Psalm in the Psalter.

This is the final prayer offered in the book of Psalms and it is a Hallal, a Psalm of praise.  But this final section of the Psalter follows many songs of personal and community lament.  The book of Psalms itself follows, in our Bibles, the story of Job.  One person who could offer a powerful testimony for how difficult a journey life can be, even after an affirmation of faith.  

The last word is good news!  

That last line is Alleluia, but no one should pretend that this Alleluia doesn’t come in a context of a difficult world.

Getting back to the Gospel of John itself, can you remember back to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry?  

This gospel begins with the celebration of Jesus’ baptism, and a miracle at a wedding.  

The journey of Jesus’ work, persecution, death, and resurrection begins with two celebrations and are followed by an arduous journey.

The good news that we celebrate this week, the good news of the miracle of the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ it is that, it is good news.  

Honestly, it is the best news that we as Christians have to offer the world.  

It is the good news of liberation, so we sing like Miriam “Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed gloriously!” (Exodus 15).

It is the good news of God who is with us in miraculous ways as our journeys begin with all the twists, turns, term papers, tax forms, and other tribulations, so we sing from the Psalms, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Alleluia!” (Psalm 50).  

It is the good news of a man, God with us, Emmanuel, who came to Earth to dwell among us, who Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and the rest of the disciples saw after his miraculous resurrection and called out in faith, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), “We have seen the Lord.” (John 20:24), and “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Just like the disciples gathered in that upper room, we are called to do hard work, at times wearisome work because this news is so good.  

But even with good news, it takes hard work to break into the cycle of 24hr bad news with a glimpse of hope.

It takes grabbing our alleluias and carrying them out of the safe space of this sanctuary.  

It takes reaching out to neighbors, offering communion to those who may not feel like they could join us around this table that we has been prepared today.  

So how will we reach out?  

How will the password of peace spoken in that upper room become the shout that follows our Alleluias?  

First, we must be fed by the joy, by the miracle of the resurrection, the liberation, and the fellowship provided to us by our creator and the bread of life, Jesus, our Savior and then we must take our bread, our stories, our hope, and our Alleluias, out into the world so that others may hear, and in hearing, believe the good news, and by believing, have life abundant.  

Amen.

We Came.  We Listened.  We Stand. CSW60

We came. We came from across the world. We rode in on airplanes, trains, subways, taxis, and shuttle buses. For some, this entry into NYC was a brand new experience, another new element, like the faces of the new community of sisterhood gathered; for some, this CSW was a homecoming of sorts, the city and community a familiar embrace.

As we came together, we began preparing ourselves for the week we will spend together. We gathered Friday night for our PC(USA) orientation. We learned each other’s names, fed off of each other’s excitement, and held each other in prayer. We came together in the space of Church of the Covenant’s fellowship hall and we we came together in the spirit of the holy work of listening, prayer, and advocacy ahead.

The next morning we gathered with our ecumenical sisters to learn what it would be like to be the Ecumenical Women at the CSW. This group, comprised of 19 communities of faith, was historically founded as an opposition to other faith-based voices connecting their beliefs to the continuation of a patriarchal, oppressive structure. We, as Ecumenical Women, come together to say that it is not despite our faith that we gather to advocate for the rights and safety of our global sisters, but directly because of our faith and the messages of our Biblical mothers, and the lessons taught by our brother, Jesus Christ.
We listened.

Or, more precisely, we are listening. We are attending panel events and hearing speakers from around the world talk about the lives, their pains, and their victories in the journey towards equality for women. We listen each night to each other as we gather to share where we found hope and where we were inspired during the day. Last night, we listened with pride to our PW sisters and mission co-workers tell about what the our denomination is doing to promote education and literacy for girls in the USA and around the world. We listen as a prayer. We listen as advocacy. We listen to become allies for our sisters.
We stand.

Our Biblical theme this week as we have gathered with our ecumenical sisters for worship each morning, has been the story of Zelophehad’s daughters. In case this is a new story for you, as it was to me, it is found in Numbers (27:1-11) of daughters, while still grieving the death of their father, came and stood up in front of Moses and the elders of the community to request the inheritance that would have been theirs if they had been born sons, not daughters. Moses, in one of his final acts as the leader of this transient people, received from God the affirmation that these women should be given their inheritance and be able to keep their family’s name alive.

In honor of those brave women, we celebrate this week the women and girls across the world standing up and claiming what should be every person’s inheritance as a child of God: food, water, safety from violence, quality education, and equal opportunities. We stand with them as it is possible and we work to make spaces safer for them to stand and for their voices to be heard. We are working to become our sisters’ allies.
As I write this, we are in the middle of the second day of the commission. Already so much has happened and so much has been learned. Keep our delegation in your prayers as we continue to listen and stand in this place where we have come together and as we go, pray that we advocate, ally, and keep our sisters in our hearts, prayers, and honor them with our words and actions.

UN CSW week one

I am right smack dab in the middle of my two-week journey as a PC(USA) delegate to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.  The commission this year is reviewing the statement on the Beijing Platform, a product of the Commission on the Status of Women in 1995.

This week has been a blur.  A blur of meetings, panels, worship, building up a community of witnesses, and hashtags, so many hashtags.  Needless to say, the busy schedule and the power of the stories that are shared have left me more than a little emotionally and physically drained by the time evening rolls around.  It took all of one day of meetings outlining the violence against women, the way the media and commercialization perpetuates gender inequality, and about the darker stories surrounding UN peacekeeping missions, for me to not be entirely sure that I could handle two whole weeks of this.  I felt myself searching for a magical source of strength and empowerment.  And then, I found it.  Found it is a bit strong because I didn’t really look, it just fell into my lap, or technically, onto my laptop.

Tuesday, my second day of meetings began in a similar way as my day always begins…a quick glance at Facebook.  It came to my attention that Tuesday was the birthday of my friend Anna George Traynham.  I thought, ‘oh good, something wonderful will happen today that I can tell Anna about when I write on her Facebook wall later.  She will definitely appreciate what’s going on here at the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN.’  Anna and I have shared many years of college and seminary together and through those years we have worked together leading service projects and advocating for women’s voices to be heard.  So, I began my day looking for good news to share with Anna.  Looking for a wonderful message of hope to share with her on her birthday.  But then I went to workshops on gender-based violence in schools around the world and one about the need for church to be a safe space for abused women and an advocate for women placed in jail after committing crimes in self-defense against their abusive intimate partners.  I had no good news for Anna.  I had no good news for me.

So, when I got on Facebook again a little later that day, exhausted, I clicked on the icon to send Anna a birthday greeting and I offered her what I could.  I wrote, “In honor of your birthday today, I attended a panel on the ways Sharia Law can be used as a human rights document and at another panel on violence towards women and the church’s response.”  And, what this post became was more of a gift to myself than it was for Anna.  By naming for her what I was doing that day, it reminded me of the importance of the work here.  I also found for myself in this act, a life affirming practice of remembering my support system and the people in my life for whom I am doing this.  Luckily for me, those two groups are pretty much the same.  As though I was plugged into my phone’s extra battery charger, my energy level began increasing.  I began to think about the people I know who I emotionally and metaphorically brought with me when I came here (and as I go anywhere in the world).  I brought with me the powerful feminists who raised me: my grandparents, parents, teachers, church leaders, and community leaders who shaped me.  I brought with me peers with whom I have marched, preached, performed, served, and advocated with along my path.  And then I thought about the children I love, girls and boys, for whom I really dedicate this work.  For my nieces and nephew (the wonderful children of my cousins), for the children I babysit for who are now adults and moving and shaking the world, and for the kids in Clemson, Nashville, and Richmond who have taught me more about loving and living than I can explain.

So, now I have a practice.  I go through the same routine at the beginning of each of my new day at the UN Commission.  It could be called a prayer.  A moment of centering each day where I name to myself (and God) where I am, name what I plan to do, and name one person (or several people) in my life that I am going out into my day of work in honor of.  It reminds me that in our global world, we all are in it together.  Right now my role is absorbing stories and learning as much as I can so that I can spread the news of the women of the world to my community, whatever that may look like, and to work to implement changes in my community to make the world a fairer, safer place for all people.  But whatever I do, I never do it alone.  I am always part of the larger, global family.  When that becomes too much to try to conceptualize (which it often does), I remember that I am a part of a community where I am supported and I provide support.  I am encouraged and I offer encouragement.  I cheer for my friends as they have new experiences and this week I have felt and heard so many friends cheering for me.

So on Tuesday, in honor of Anna and the rest of my amazing, empowering peers,  I went out.  I took the support I received from their mere existence with me.  Then Wednesday my alarm went off to walk with one of my favorite six-year old feminists from my seminary campus to church for children’s choir.  So, I went through my meetings thinking about her and other six-year olds who have less safe childhoods.  And I prayed for all of them.  This practice is what helps me stay grounded and at the same time remember that I am one person in a global movement.  The work is hard because it is within me and beyond me at the same time.  That is why I need the support of my friends and family.  That is why I am here, at 5:30PM (Friday) at an intergenerational panel about strategies to accomplish gender equality.  It is within me and it is beyond me.

Hair

I have tons of pages of writing to do soon, so of course, here I am blogging about my hair instead.

During writing final reflections for CPE and reflecting upon all of the wacky things in life that have happened to drop me where I am right now in the journey of life and discernment I have one underlying thought going most of the time: I have lost my hairbrush. I have gone over a week without one. I have worked it out with strategic morning showers and ponytails, but it has made me think about my hair more than I have before, maybe ever.

For the most part, I like my hair. It is low maintenance and goes with the flow (everything I try like crazy to be). It does its own thing and wants little input from me about my plans for it. I also have come to hypothesize that it would be my biggest tell if life were an ongoing game of poker. The harder I am trying, the less my hair looks like it belongs on my head. The more tired I am the “more natural” (sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a gross way) it gets. When I am trying to psych myself for something (could be anything, paper writing, exercising, dealing with a new group or in the middle of an argument or heated debate) I go straight for the high pony tail.

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My hair speaking more truth to the magnitude of the experiences we had in the Middle East than my words or thoughts have been able to do.

My hair connects me to my family and at the same time marks my autonomy. When my brother wasn’t able to convince me that my out-of-place hair color was the truest mark of adoption, my hair made me remember my scotch-irish heritage and the way that my aunt taught me to flip my bangs out like Farrah Fawcett.

It isn’t always easy to point out the things we like about ourselves (or, using my I driven language that I have been practicing this summer in CPE-It isn’t always easy for me to point out the things that I like about myself) but this week, during the end of a beautiful but exhausting summer, in the midst of getting ready to move and travel around until fall term begins, and on a day where life seems to be un-catch-up-able, I like that my hair was its normal lion’s mane this morning and now seems to be more at peace. A peace that will seem gone tomorrow morning when I get out of bed, but will find its way back onto and inside my head again and again.

What divides and What Connects

Today we visited the city of Hebron.  For those of you who need some help remembering the significance of this city to the story of faith and conflict in this region, you are welcomed to join my club.  Hebron (as I was reminded on our bus ride there from Bethlehem) is the city where Sarah and Abraham are said to have lived their last days and are thought to be buried.  If you read that sentence and felt yourself inhaling, awaiting the strife that has followed in history to come spilling forth into this blog post, you are sort of right and sort of not (sorry, I know, how vague can I be?)

We got to the city with no incidence.  We parked on the road and walked to one of the most memorable, conflicted, confusing, powerful holy spaces I have ever entered.  It is a site that is based around the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, and many of the other matriarchs and patriarchs of the Holy Bible.  As one can imagine, a site memorializing the patriarch of the three major monotheistic faiths is going to have quite and story.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t disappoint.  I am going to leave you on your own to do some research.  Here is a good starting place: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FHebron&ei=L1F-U6nXG4rE4gT6loD4DA&usg=AFQjCNFhSH9sSROgm_UHRBgcZQom2RuU7A&sig2=cG63wf-EYeuiU38KzXMMLA&bvm=bv.67720277,d.bGE 

Whether you decided to read the history of the building or not, here is my personal story as it touched my life today.  We began by touring the synagogue half.  We saw the Hebrew names of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith.  We dodged the custodians as they cleaned the scared space, not seeming to mind too much that we were in their way.  We stopped for a while and looked at the display marking the tomb of Abraham.  I walked around, often a few steps behind the group, wondering which wall connected the two holy spaces…figuring it must be the one made of stone.

Then we took a walk around the outside of the building, passing through security at both the exit of the synagogue and the entrance to the mosque, being fully covered in a cape/robe thing as we entered the mosque and taking off our shoes.  We entered the space and I began looking around.  I saw the tombs of Isaac and Rebecca in the middle of the space and the markings I have become familiar with as we have explored mosques here and in Turkey.

When I got to the tomb off to the side, in its own special room, I stopped in my tracks.  It was the tomb of Abraham.  The very one I had viewed from the synagogue was present in this space.  I stood and stared.  I had to walk away, but then I came back to stand and stare some more.  As I was standing and staring, I saw a woman approach the tomb on the synagogue side and begin to pray.  There was nothing separating us more that two window frames, one sheet of plexiglass, and about eight feet of space.

Except, of course, there was much more than that.  There was the separation of two brothers, both the grieving the loss of a father that they loved, but not being able to remember that as children, they used ot laugh and play together in their father’s house.  There was the separation of the land.  Violence and destruction at every turn, blame being passed around like a hot potato and fault being hard to accept but easy to assign.  There was nothing between us, but there was everything between us.  The wall of plexiglass that phyiscally separated our bodies from each other was a mere symbol of the strife and conflict and pain that held us right beyond arm’s length.  Even though I had just stood where she was standing, just (tried) reading the the same Hebrew, just remembering the same stories told to us at our places of worship and religious education, we were separated in a way beyond my understanding.  And I am not even a Muslim.  My faith has had a role in the violence of this area, but in a way that I am not forced to carry around on my shoulders every time I pray or go to worship or sing a song in a bus with my classmates.

As we were crossing between the synagogue and the mosque today I was walking with a woman in our group.  She may very well be one of the wisest people I have ever met.  I was trying to keep count of the people in our group and make sure that everyone had made the transition from the bathrooms to the shops and now up the hill to the mosque entrance.  I am not sure what prompted her comment (other than I am sure what was a worried and deep in thought look on my face) but she just said, “You are not alone.”  I was taken aback, brought back into reality and puzzled.  I asked her what she had said and she repeated, “You are not alone.”  I asked her one more time, trying to figure out what she knew that I didn’t and she answered my request a third time, “You. Are. Not. Alone.”  She preemptively gave me the language to begin trying to process the shared space of prayer I was about to experience.  She gave me the words that I repeated to myself as the sadness of strife and conflict flooded over me.  She gave me the words that I was able to silently pray for the woman I saw through the plexiglass and the people I could hear and feel praying all around me.

You are not alone.

Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. (Exodus 3:5b)

Before leaving on this great adventure to the Middle East, I bought a new pair of shoes.  Now, I am someone who has more pairs of shoes than I need, but this pair had to be very particular.  I wanted a pair of sandals that I could wear throughout our trip.  It turns out the sandal “type” is called athletic sandals.  Needless to say, I was very excited about these shoes.  For me, they were the last thing on my checklist that I had to find and once I had them, I felt like I was finally ready for this adventure.

Then, we arrived in Istanbul and the first full day we have to explore the city begins with a visit to the Blue Mosque, we had to take our shoes off before entering.  At that moment, I heard in my head the words of Exodus 3:5b “Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.”  As I entered that sacred space, with my shoes off and my head covered, I felt something powerful and from that instant forward, I begin feeling my nice, new, perfect shoes as a hinderance between my body and the sacred spaces we were exploring.  I found myself in the Hagia Sophia, in the Basilica Cistern, walking through the Chora Church, wandering through spice markets and the ruins of countless temples and cities, wishing to be invited to take off my shoes and more fully embody the sacred spaces I am encountering all around me.

Tomorrow morning we will be invited to remove our shoes for a more secular purpose, to go through security at the airport on our way from Turkey to Tel Aviv, but I am looking forward to keeping tabs for the rest of the trip on the moments of holiness that take me by surprise and make me feel the desire rooted deeply in my religious heritage to remove my shoes, remove what it is that separates my body from the sacred, and be blown away by the Spirit and power of God, God’s creation, and all of God’s people.

Peace.

Nobody Warned Me (Ash Wednesday)

Yesterday I was able to experience Ash Wednesday in a new way.  I was given the task of placing the sign of the cross in ash upon the foreheads of those gathered to worship for our weekly campus chapel service.  I was nervous but I was also excited.  This is one of those pastor things that I was excited to do for the first time.

Nobody warned me.  They prepared me for the act, I practiced my “lines”, I dipped my finger into the bowl of ashes before chapel (to check about how much I needed for each person), I drew so many practice (ash-free) crosses on my own forehead that my friends joked I would have a red cross on my forehead all day.  But, nobody warned me.  

I stood up at the same time as those serving communion.  Then my friends started walking up.  My friends, my classmates, my professors, my mentors, people whose children I care for, people who I have come to with bad days, bad ideas, and bad attitudes, only to be met with grace and conversation.  And as I reminded them that they are from dust and to dust they shall return, it may have reminded them, but it certainly reminded me.  

I marked people I care about with the sign of death.  Who does that??  I stood there and reminded people I care deeply about that they were going to die and suffer.  It broke my heart.  Nobody warned me how much that would hurt.  

But then again, nobody warned the disciples what they were getting into by following this Jesus fellow.  Nobody warned Mary that for her baby to be the savior of the world, she would have to watch die in a public, horrific way.  Nobody warned them.  

Nobody warned me.