Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sermon: After Orlando, What is Our Name?

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year C
19 June 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Listen here

Last week’s tragic shooting in Orlando. A gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a crowded gay nightclub in Florida.  This was not where I planned to begin my sermon a week ago. And that is where we are. 

Senseless violence has once again shattered lives, violating a sanctuary, the one sacred place for one of my tribes, the LGBT people who simply sought to enjoy themselves without judgment. The pain is indescribable.

If you listen to the overtones of the situation, you can hear Jesus asking us, “what is your name?” We, as a society, are exposed.  What is your name? How do we begin to describe the event – was it the result of mental illness? Was it a hate crime against Latino people? Was it violence against the queer community? Was it rejection of Disneyland, the happiest place on earth? Was it internalized homophobia acting out?  If you listen, you can hear Jesus crying out, “what is your name?” There is a lot of trouble in our world.  Is there a word from the Lord here?

Today’s Gospel message tells of a man in the country of the Gerasenes who offers a name to his pain, so that he can find healing.  
He was “other” to Jesus and his disciples:
·         He was from a land opposite Galilee, where they raised pigs (clearly not Jewish).
·         He wore unfamiliar attire – in fact, no clothes at all, which shamed and embarrassed everyone around him.
·         He did not live in a house – he lived in the tombs, a place of burial for the dead and shelter for very poor people.
·         He shouted at the top of his voice, falling down in an act of homage under the power of the demons, begging to be free.
·         He was ready for a change – a change that would transform his life,
a change that only Jesus, Son of the Most High God, could bring.
-Jesus knew this readiness even before the man asked. 
Tired of being possessed, the man sought a change: promise of a future different from the past, a change towards a new direction, a change triggered by exposure. 

What is your name? Jesus asked.  “Legion.” He replied, exposing all that degraded and demeaned his life. And Jesus permitted the demons (the many aspects of possession) to enter the herd of swine nearby.  Freed, the man was transformed, from being out of his mind to sitting at Jesus’ feet; from living in the tombs to preaching in the city; from being naked to being clothed.[1] Jesus transformed the man.

What is your name? Jesus asks our world full of senseless violence.  “Legion,” we lament, exposing all that degrades and demeans our lives, often based in fear of what is “other” than us. Our society is tired of being possessed, and in the news you can track the many ways that our common lives are being confronted. In the face of our own “Legion,” we are exposed.  And, in that discomfort, even pain, it is no wonder we choose to remain our places of stunned brokenness, possessed by trouble to which the world says “that’s just the way it is.” Perhaps it’s too painful for us, so we clam up.  Or we distance ourselves from the other.

Author James Norriss describes "othering[2]" as: “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody's mind as 'not one of us'. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it's sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are. If you're not "one of us", he writes, you can be dismissed and hated as an "other", the enemy.”

There is another way.  The way begins with the companionship of Jesus.  Thoughts and prayers begin the healing journey.  Naming our pain begins to bind our wounds.  Holding on to Jesus’ courage and conviction that we are one body, we can come out and we can claim our true identity, facing the deeper consequences of that fact:

when we come out – as a faith community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and allies
when we come out – as a community of all ethnicities and races
when we come out – as a community blessed with all kinds of people who are different, then we offer our own vulnerable lives, then we are dispossessed of what binds us. then, we are transformed by love, then, we recognize that in Jesus, all that is degraded and demeaned in our life departs from us. 

Today, we come out. We come out as welcoming, transforming, trusting, loving, healing and grounded in a life that opens us up to more transformation. We cannot remain the same.  We are disciples, and we open our hearts to all the ways that God is changing us, freeing us from our possessions.

Even before we even fall to our knees, Jesus commands those demons that hold us back, individually, communally, and in our society, to come out of us. Jesus’ healing grace binds up what is broken, reconciles relationships that are divided, and drenches with love what is steeped in hate.

Today, in response to the unnamable pain, we come out.  We come out on the side of love.  We come out demanding a just society. We come out remembering the poor. We come out in response to this incident by using our educated minds and rights as citizens to contact our representatives and to express our opinions about legislation that supports civility among all people.  We come out against unjust laws.  We come out as faithful members of a community that yearns to be transformed.

What is our name?  Our name is One, in Christ Jesus. 

For as St. Paul begs[3] in his letter to the Ephesians, “we can lead a life worthy of the calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

For what is our name?  The name is ONE. One body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. This is our hope.  And it is enough.

May we know the grace given today, in the gift of Jesus Christ,
for One is our name.


[1] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, Naked No More, posted on June 12, 2016 at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4678
[2] Cited in Peter Sawtell’s Eco-Justice Notes on June 17, 2016 and quoting from this blog: https://therearenoothers.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/othering-101-what-is-othering/

[3] Ephesians 3.21-4.10

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sermon: Re-member

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
5 June 2016

Listen here.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Dag Hammarskjold was one of the most outstanding and highly respected international leaders of the 20th century.  He spent the latter part of his life devoted to pursuing the principles of the United Nations Charter, which proposed international cooperation and reconciliation for a peaceful world. 

It was known that Hammarskjold saw his work not only as a political role but also as a religious calling.  On his travels around the world, Hammarskjold always took with him three items, found in his briefcase, and recovered after the plane crash that took his life in 1961.  These included a copy of the NT, a copy of the Psalms, and a copy of the United Nations Charter.[1]

Indeed, Hammarskjold must have understood that the book of Psalms
·        Pronounces God’s claim upon the whole world
·        Conveys God’s will for justice, righteousness and peace among all peoples & nations, and
·        Anticipates Jesus’ bold position that the kingdom of God has come near.

While ancient Israelites used the psalms in their liturgy, these texts are much more than sophisticated poems.  We read them at every Sunday service, Evensong and daily morning & evening prayer – daily in the chapel at 8:30 and 5pm, you are invited!  We read the whole book of psalms in 30 days according to the order provided in the Book of Common Prayer.  Turn in your books of common prayer (BCP) to page 613, looking at the italicized text just above the number 24.  “Fifth day, morning prayer,” which we read for MP until BCP 27, where it says, “Fifth day, evening prayer,” etc.

At their heart, the psalms are not only humanity’s response to God, but also God’s word to humanity.  In this mutual conversation, we remember humanity’s ancient conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s divine conversation with humanity.
Professor Walter Brueggemann[2] offers a three-part framework to help with the enormous task of re-membering.

First, Psalms of Orientation reflect ours and God’s grounded sense of well-being found in the stories of creation, of the Torah, of wisdom literature.  Psalm 145 is a fine example, affirming God’s providential care.  Secondly, the Psalms of Disorientation offer personal and communal lament as found in that despairing place of unresolve and the very human experience of being felt denied by God and God’s experience of denial by humanity.  Psalm 88, for example, embraces this unresolved disorientation and precious helplessness.  Finally, Psalms of New Orientation offer personal and communal thanksgiving, confidence and praise in remembering the larger arch of creation. 

Today’s Psalm, #30, is a New Orientation psalm of thanksgiving, remembering the eternal story of going into trouble, sure, and of coming out of trouble that invokes a response that cannot be silent: praise and thanksgiving.  Getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, invoking burst of praise to God.

This theme, apparent in the first verses of the psalm, is palpable in the reading from 1st Kings and from the Gospel of Luke.  The psalmist, like anyone who grieves a loss, needs to tell the story – more, to remember, over and over, the details of the death and the rescue that occurs from which the response bursts forth: Lord, you have drawn me up, you have healed me, you have lifted me up and restored me to life.  The imagery of death captures and holds power for both the psalmist then and for us, now.

This psalmist invites us to remember. When were we, too, were brought to the Pit?  What was it like to demand from God an explanation for the depth of suffering? Finally, upon delivery, can we remember how we had to tell someone about that welling up of joy?  Remember how we could not stay silent, but instead give thanks and praise God?

With a veritable economy of words, the psalmist recounts the theme of the widow whose son died and yet lived again, according to the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.  The psalmist anticipates the other widow’s story from Luke, in which Jesus’ encounters her dead son and restores him to life through a compassionate command to “Rise!”  It seems the psalmist knew that from this encounter, people could only respond by glorifying God and sharing their praise.

Through these ancient stories, we remember humanity’s ancient conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s divine conversation with humanity.  And so God re-members us, re-weaves us into God’s beloved community and re-binds our broken hearts with compassion and with holy Love.  Again, we give thanks.

The last Hebrew word in this psalm is one of confessional thanks.  With that thanks there is a commitment to remember vividly the pre-rescue situation and to keep that memory alive.  With thanks, we confess.  When we give thanks, we admit that we rely upon another. To thank is a commitment to relationship. 

The Psalms hold a response to deep, human yearnings: the cries of our soul, the songs of surrender, the hymns of praise.  At the heart of this Psalm, with any interpretation, is this: God re-members us.

So how do we re-member others into our community?
1.   We see & serve others – we really see them, respecting their dignity in every way.  This week, we can look deeply into the eyes of those we encounter and attend to their needs, putting our needs to the side.
2.   We suffer with or have compassion with others – having compassion as for scripture’s widows and their sons, suffering with others and re-membering them into the community.  This week, we can offer compassion.
3.   We say thank you – We re-member others into our community by giving thanks.  And, in so doing, we admit our relationship with them and with God, the God who re-members us all back into community.

At their heart, the psalms are not only humanity’s response to God, but also God’s word to humanity.  In this mutual conversation, we remember humanity’s conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s conversation with humanity.

Today’s good news is that God remembers us, our whole selves, our whole humanity, our whole ancient story.  Our silence is impossible! 

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. 
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

[1] Story inspired by New Interpreter Bible Commentary, “The Book of Psalms,” page 641 quoting Dorothy V. Jones, “The Example of Dag Hammarskjold: Style and Effectiveness at the UN,” The Christian Century 111, 32 (Nov. 9, 1994) 1050.
[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1984)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sermon: Dynamic Hope

Image result for image trinity bourgeaultSunday, May 22, 2016
Trinity Sunday, Year C, 8am service
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
(no audio available)
In the name of the Triune God. Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is a principal feast in TEC, but is not, for most Christians, a day of great importance.  The Trinity, does not hold evoke any particular tradition nor holiday around which families gather. There is no “Trinity Sunday” mattress sale, either. The doctrine of the Trinity might be considered contrived and irrelevant.

Ah, but what lies behind the Trinity (that we say in the Nicene Creed), is perhaps the most dynamic and hopeful aspect of our faith. Episcopal Priest & Mystic Cynthia Bourgeault offers this story about why:

She recounts this story of her friend Murat, who, during the years after WWII, was ranching in eastern Turkey. During this time, he became friends with an elderly couple nearby – sharing the occasional meal and exchanging news.  Murat learned about the couple’s only son who had left years before to move to Istanbul and they lamented their lack of communication with him. One day, Murat came to the house and the couple was “bursting with joy” about the new tea cupboard their son had sent them from Istanbul.

They had just set their best tea set on the upper shelf when he arrived.  Murat was polite but curious.
“Are you sure it is a tea cupboard?”  They were sure. As they shared tea, he wondered aloud if he could have a closer look. With their permission, he turned the cupboard around and unscrewed a couple of packing boards. When the cabinet doors swung open, a fully operative ham radio set appeared. This “tea cupboard,” sent to connect them to their son, was only being used to display their tea set.

Bourgeault proposes that this is how we Christians have been using the Trinity.  In theological tea cupboard, we display our “doctrinal” china in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not bad, just as using the cupboard for showing off the tea set was not bad.

But, what if, Bourgeault wonders, inside is concealed the most powerful communications tool – connecting us to the visible & invisible world, allowing us to navigate what she calls “theological blockages,” and enthusing us with the dynamic framework of Jesus’ teachings?  We need to turn the tea cupboard around and look inside. For embedded in this dry doctrine of the Trinity (that we recite nearly automatically) is a powerful metaphysical principle that can rekindle our visionary imagination and more.

Bourgeault’s excellent book “The Holy Trinity”[1] describes the power of the Trinity, a kinetic, overspilling energy flowing between of Father-Son-Holy Spirit. She teaches about the mystical “Law of Three” where any interweaving of three always creates a fourth. Just as three strands of hair creates a braid, the mystical forces of God dynamically affirm (in the Father who creates), then deny (in Jesus’ kenosis or emptying of self), then resolve (through the Holy Spirit’s presence)… and through this relationship, a fourth creation always becomes.

In today’s Gospel message, Jesus asserts this triune mystery when he says, “Everything the Father has is mine” and “*that* is the reason WHY the Holy Spirit takes from me and will report it to you.[2]”  In this relationship between the Spirit, the Father and Jesus, a fourth, new way of being emerged in that community gathered with him there. If you listen to the words carefully, you can almost hear Jesus’ southern accent, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide y’all into all the truth…” and “…he will declare to y’all the things that are to come.”

For the community gathered around Jesus on the eve of his death, this teaching was hard to “bear.” They did not comprehend the way Jesus referred to his impending suffering and death.  They could not bear his call to service and forgiveness.

And so it is with every Christian community – Jesus often says more than we can bear, regarding the meaning of his words, his ministry, his death and resurrection. We Christians are still far from grasping the whole “truth.” Sometimes it is more than we can bear to give sacrificially, to serve as he serves us, and to love unconditionally has he loves us. Yet, through the promised Trinity found in this gospel message today, that community was infused of at least a morsel of openness towards the capacity to “bear” it and towards fresh encounters yet to come. The gospel writer used these words to shape a community that was Spirit-led, to inspire a community that was not locked into the past and to encourage a community that engaged their context.

And so it is for us.

Jesus knew that 21st century circumstances and difficult new questions requires our community to think with at least a morsel of Holy Spirit openness to not turn away but engage and discover those “fourth” solutions… for the complicated moral and ethical questions like climate change or stem cell research or poverty or illiteracy or poison water or mental illness or economic justice.

This Trinitarian gospel proclaims – and we hear it afresh today – that inspired by the Spirit, our community conversations will soften hearts and find solutions. An analogy that may be apropos here is this: the opposition of wind and keel will not push a sailboat forward through the water, but with the reconciling presence of a helms person, a new creation arises: the course made good over the water.[3]

To me, this dynamism is an active hope that Love always wins. This love in motion is the exciting inner life of God – the essence of the Trinity. Spiritual master Beatrice Bruteau[4] said, “It is the presence of the Trinity, as a pattern, repeated at every scale in the cosmic order, that makes the universe the manifestation of God and itself sacred and holy.”

Today, God calls us to engage the active, flowing, energy of the Trinity, that ham radio in the back of the cupboard.  The power of that communication device enlarges our hearts’ capacity with God’s resiliency for solutions to problems in our context – the big ones & the small ones.

Today, God brings to bear on our community the Holy Spirit, who with the Father and the Son rekindles our lives, emboldens our imaginations, and splashes us with possibilities through a dynamic, Trinitarian hope.


[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (2013)
[2] Interpretation inspired and expanded from the Greek, in conversation with parishioner Dr. Kenneth R. Walters on May 17, 2016. #grateful !
[3] Bourgeault, 26
[4] Bourgeault, 199, note 2, quoting from Bruteau’s God’s Ecstasy, p. 85

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sermon: Ascension Day Feet

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The
Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

Ascension Day, Year C

5 May 2016
Listen to this sermon here
For readings click here.
In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

This evening we celebrate the ascension of the risen Christ to heaven. 

Ascension Day is not, for most Christians, a day of great importance.  It’s the fortieth day after Easter.  There is no particular tradition associated with Ascension, nor is it a holiday around which families gathers.

And, it is a day of utmost importance in our faith story.  Without the Ascension, Jesus’ life – his incarnation, baptism, ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection – without Ascension, his passion and life would stretch indeterminately out into time and space like a rocket ship into the cosmos…rather than Ascension standing as a conclusive witness to the dwelling of God in creation[1].

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams[2] uses this analogy: imagine what it is like when you first wake up in the morning.  When you turn on the light, all you can think of is how bright the light is.  Only gradually do your eyes adjust enough to make out what else is around the room.  Then, you are not thinking of the light. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, says Williams, are like that initial morning light - Jesus’ resurrected self was so blinding that the disciples could be conscious only of him.  The ascension, however, is that moment when the light itself recedes into the background.  It is through the light of Jesus that we see the rest of the world. As from Ephesians, “…that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”[3]

With the creative use of light and reflection of colors, many artists have imagined the ascension.  Many of these scenes are painted inside the dome of churches. There are usually two parts – an upper (heavenly) part with Christ making the sign of benediction and the lower (earthly) part below him, signifying the entire Church (big C). 
Inside these churches, congregants, like those appointed witnesses, gaze up toward heaven to witness, once again, the ascension of Christ.  

One Ascension image stands out for me.  It is a stained-glass panel from a church in Norfolk, England,[4] dating from the 15th century.  You can pull this image out from your leaflet as we reflect together.
In the image, we see only the feet of Christ ascending into a blue cloud, which is surrounded in a glory of rays.  His feet display their wounds as they disappear into the cloud.  Just below, we see prominent footprints on the summit of the rocky mound from which Christ has ascended. 

Next to the rising feet are two con-celebrating angels, blessing the ascension of Jesus with their outstretched hands.  Below, the panel is crowded with the haloed heads of all twelve Apostles, with various hairstyles and expressions. In the center of the composition is the figure of Mary, richly dressed: she gazes up at her ascending son, holding up her hands with their slender fingers. (hold up hands).

The captivating image calls to mind both the divinity of Christ (with his feet ascending) and the humanity of Jesus (with his footprints on earth).  Since his feet were the last part of him to touch earth, it makes sense that the center of the image is his feet – also the last part to be visible as he was taken up to heaven.

This captivating image of ascending feet and printed feet perhaps informs us why there are two collects for Ascension day in the BCP[5].  One collect asks God to give us faith to perceive that Jesus abides with his church on earth. The other collect asks God to give us a belief that Jesus has ascended into heaven – and so there we may also ascend. Both perspectives, both petitions, both realities in one whole truth of God.

Practically speaking, this captivating image also calls to mind something my 12-step sponsor often asks me: Where are your feet?  Which is, of course, a rhetorical question, but a question that invites me to be present to this moment, not anxious about the future or resentful of the past Where are your feet? This image empowers us to know and see that our feet are joined by the invisible presence of Jesus; his footprints right beside us, infused with the power of his Spirit. 

Today’s Gospel concludes, …“they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”  As they were worshipping the ascending Jesus, and in returning to their life in Jerusalem and the temple, the disciples found their faith. A faith not in Jesus’ resurrection, but their experience of the Ascension, and the revelation of Jesus’ divinity. [6]  

See, it was not “…his death and resurrection that changed Jesus from the human from Nazareth to the Savior of the World.  It was his willingness to be spiritually alive forever – to be a Spirit set free from physical limitations.” [7]

·         The ascension for the disciples was that moment when Jesus receded into the background of heaven.
·         The ascension for us is that moment when Jesus’ light itself recedes into the background of our lives and through which we glimpse God’s kingdom.
·         The ascension gives our hearts enlightened eyes so that we may know the hope to which Jesus has called us.[8]
·         The ascension is a reminder that our lives are caught up in something far grander than we can ask or imagine.

In the whole sweep of God’s story of human salvation, the Ascension stands as a crucial moment, illuminating for us the larger story of God’s loving action. 

May we then, tonight, know God’s LOVE in the empty places of our lives where we need to be made whole, God’s YES in the yearning of our souls where we need to know we are enough, and God’s LIGHT in the dimness of our hearts where we can see Jesus’ feet standing beside us, galvanizing us to do God’s work in the world.

Tonight, as we gaze our eyes upward, may we see the feet of Christ ascending as we notice his footprints always beside us, to the end of the ages.

[1] Inspired by Joseph Britton’s Theological Perspective, Ephesians 1:15-23 in Feasting On The Word.

[2] Rowan Williams, Cowley Publications; 1st edition (March 28, 1995)

[3] Ephesians 1:18

[5] Book of Common Prayer, 226

[6] Joseph Plevnik, "The Eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus in Luke 24," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 1987.

[7] The Rev. Rosemary Brown, Sent Forth By God’s Blessing, cited at http://day1.org/570-sent_forth_by_gods_blessing

[8] Ephesians 1:18