Monday, August 15, 2016

Sermon: Fire and Stress

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki K. Hesse, Associate
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year C)
14 August 2016

Listen here

Oh, God, take our minds and think through them, 
take our lips and speak through them, and
take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.[i]

Raise your hand
if you have seen enough division
in recent news to last a lifetime?
I know! So why does Gospel text
seem to encourage more division?

As we unpack this dense text, we can find
– albeit somewhat elusive –
good news of God’s work in all realities. 
Situated as it is inside this teaching section of the Gospel, 
we hear Jesus set the stage
for his ministry’s outcome and
what his ministry means for his followers.[ii]

Let’s first talk about fire.
That fire that Jesus brings is a cleansing fire. 
That kind of fire reveals our own
inability to save ourselves. 

That kind fire Jesus announced,
heard in a historical context,
was meant to destroy the pagan religiosity –
the one the crowds followed. 
The crowds believed that
the more you prayed to the pagan gods,
the more you offered burnt sacrifices
the more pious you acted
Well, the more you guaranteed your salvation. 
The crowds believed it was all about
their own work, their own power.

That way of thinking, that religiosity, however,
moved people’s hearts away from God.
Jesus knew that they counted on
their own human strength.
So, with fire Jesus challenged this
human need for security 
(and institutions that promise security to people)
 instead of relying on the security found in God.
That’s the fire that Jesus
wished was already kindled. 
That’s the fire that Jesus kindles in baptism.

Often, Baptism is seen as joyous occasion –
a promise, a happy day. 
But for Jesus, his baptism meant sure death
 – on the cross –
so that we might have eternal life. 
Jesus’ death and resurrection brings us 
entry into the life of the church, with our baptism.
But that is just
the beginning of our spiritual journey.

That is why Fr. Drew
began experimenting last the week
by placing the baptismal font
at the entry of the church nave.

The font’s placement symbolized our entry into 
the church through the waters of baptism.  
Through baptism, we begin to stay tuned 
to the many ways that God calls us.
Our baptism means we are given grace
to rely on God’s promises and
to live out our callings. 
It’s not our work, but God’s work in us. 
In today’s text, Jesus reminds us
that baptismal work
is not always going to be pain-free. 
It is stressful to live into God’s call!

Sometimes, I think we ought to wrap
the baptismal font round and round
with “caution” tape. 
This would give a warning that lives begun 
as disciples will not be comfortable.
Because when we are baptized,
we take on the baptism that Jesus proclaims. 
His stress will cling to our bones
and course through our veins
until his baptism is completed.
And that changes everything, does it not? 
For in our baptism,
we cannot separate his life in us
from our life in him.

And so in the text, Jesus reminds the crowds – 
and you may already know this –
That living into the gospel will not always bring peace
 – at least not initially. 

In Jesus’ time and since then,
families were torn apart by a grace of Baptism,
this grace of God’s love (not human actions)
that guaranteed salvation.
Whether it is a newfound decision
to go to church, or
to take on a social justice cause, or
to reach out to others who are different from you, or
– the effect of the gospel can create division. 

and division is not the problem,
it is how we respond that stresses us.
But we know from our baptismal covenant 
how to respond to division:
with compassion,
with respect for others’ dignity,
and by seeking the face of Christ
with generosity, patience and forgiveness,
seeing or wondering how God is at work
in all sides, in all positions, in all realities.

With baptismal humility
we can respond to division,
realizing that only God has the whole truth.

A friend of mine use to say,
“the trouble with Christianity
is that you have to do it with other people.”
And Jesus emphasizes here that
no matter how hard we work toward unity,
it is God at work that makes us one. 

Any divisiveness and stress
is a signal to let go and let God. 
Our need for control
may be why Jesus brings up
the last point in this text,
talking about the weather.
We know the signs, but do we really know 
what is happening at a spiritual level?

The hypocrite label might apply
to those of us who believe in Jesus’ grace,
yet who continue
to depend on our own power
to earn a place in God’s kingdom.

This causes me to wonder about
our lives (mine, too) as baptized holy ones. 
Do we hear God’s call
through the ears of our heart?
Or do we
rest in our comfortable places?

Why do we
– as individuals, as community, as society
Why do we pretend we don’t see injustices around us 
(racial or economic, for example)
and not respond 
when our baptismal covenant calls us to strive for
justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being?
Why? I don’t know. Or maybe we do know.
Maybe we don’t want to be stressed.
Maybe living into our baptism creates division.
Maybe it’s just darn hard.

BUT!  out of this discomfort,
we can open a conversation about injustice
we can bring light to an issue
we can join others in the struggle.
That light may be just the gospel event
that changes everything –
for you and for those in the conversation. 

When we open a conversation
that brings division,
the crack in our hearts
allows the light to come in.
And that division allows
God’s slow work of love
To weave wholeness around a situation
like an invisible cloak to mind our life.[iii]

See, God claims us in our baptism
– not because we have been perfect Christians. 
God’s love transcends the divisions. 
God’s love encourages us to love recklessly.  
God’s love offers us grace
to risk living into our call. 

Fire? Stress?
These are the marks of following Jesus. 
“When we submit to the fire of our baptism,
we can trust the master welder
to forge us together
into a new kind of family, divided no more.”[iv]


[ii] Inspired by Erick J. Thompson “Commentary on Luke 12:49-56,” at on August 8, 2016
[iii] Inspired by John O’Donohue’s “Beannacht” cited at on August 13, 2016
[iv] Inspired by Kayla McClurg, The Peace of Division, cited at on August 13, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sermon: Teach Us To Pray

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Associate
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12 Year C
July 24, 2016 (Saturday, 7/23 5:30pm service)
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.

How many of you have ever been asked,
“can you teach me to pray?” What was that like?
Or for how many of you have you asked someone else,
“how do you pray?”

Prayer in any form is a common language.
Prayer is, simply, conversation with God. 
“In the beginning was the logos, the Word,
and the Word was God, and the Word was with God."

Roughly translated, the logos can mean “intimate conversation.”
“…in the beginning was the intimate conversation.” 
And that is prayer.

Sometimes when I am asked how to pray
(it comes up in Baptism preparation,
or in pre-marital preparation,
or when counseling someone about a recent loss or struggle),
I recall the little book by Author Anne Lamott.
Help, Thanks, Wow.[1] 
In about 100 pages she unpacks
with laughter and tears
the three essential prayers for today.
Help, Thanks, Wow. That works, in a pinch.

In today’s gospel text, the disciples ask Jesus
to teach them to pray. 
Jesus responds by instructing his disciples
how to have an intimate conversation with God,
how to have a conversation that centers on the Kingdom of God.[2] 

This Kingdom of God, for Jesus,
was shorthand for his message and his passion,
both spiritually and politically. 
In this Kingdom, God empowered Jesus and his work. 
In this Kingdom, God presented
the mystical reality of all things, seen and unseen. 
In this Kingdom, God blessed the people
with a beloved community. 
This Kingdom of God perspective grounded Jesus
and guided him throughout his ministry.

See, the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed
stood in stark contrast to
the Kingdom of Herod or the Kingdom of Caesar
that surrounded the peasant people, his followers, at that time. 

The Kingdom of God, to which Jesus alluded,
promised a life where God was king
and the rulers of the world were not.
To the first followers of Jesus,
his vision of this kind of Kingdom
offered hope for life on earth.

As scholar Dom Crossan would say,
“Heaven’s in great shape; earth is where the problems are!”
That’s why Jesus taught,
“thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

And, for the earthly life,
Jesus prayed for the basic needs: food. 
“Give us our daily bread” was a real need in the 1st century. 
Bread, enough food, was always an issue for that time.
Many people were hungry, especially in the peasant class.
In God’s Kingdom, there would be enough bread for everyone. 

For this earthly life,
Jesus prayed for the basic needs: forgiveness.
Debt, along with bread, was a primary survival issue
in peasant life. 
Indebtedness could mean losing the land
and could lead to the precarious life
of a tenant farmer or day laborer. 
When landless, people with debt
could then be sold into indentured labor. 

So, this well known prayer names
two central basic concerns of peasant life:
bread and debt forgiveness. 

This prayer invites us to wonder today:
how we can do God’s work in the world
to bring about the dreamed-of Kingdom of God?

What about daily bread:
what do we, personally and communally,
need to sustain us for the journey?
And - to whom might we be invited by God
to provide that daily sustenance? 
What about forgiveness:
to what are we, personally and communally,
in bondage?
For whom can we release from any debt
that we may hold from others,
inviting them to live a liberated life?

Today’s good news is that we are living in God’s kingdom.
God gives us (through others)
the “bread” we need for our hearts and for our souls. 
God forgives us and releases us
from the bondage of what holds us back,
which is why and how we can forgive others.
All this good news is manifest in both
the prayer we say together and
the Holy Communion – the bread and wine – we share.

A few years ago, I came across this little book,
Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus.[3]
It is a study and interpretation of the Lord’s prayer
as translated from the Aramaic,
the language that Jesus actually spoke.

In this small and powerful book
we find an alternative and expansive understanding
of this prayer that Jesus taught. 
Here is one possible translation from the Aramaic:

O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us – make it useful:

Create your reign of unity now –

Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.

Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.

Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.

Don’t let surface things delude us.

But free us from what holds us back.

From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.

Truly – power to these statements –
may they be the ground from which
all my actions grow: Amen.

God’s invitation is to open our hearts today.
God is praying us into a new Kingdom.
God is opening the door on which we are knocking. 
God offers us extravagant Love. 

In this kingdom, bread for the journey is abundant.
In this kingdom, forgiveness liberates our hearts and souls.

Inspired by God’s gift, may we also share in that heavenly kingdom.

[1] Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, (New York, Riverhead Books, 2012)
[2] Sections inspired by Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 131-134
[3] Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus (San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1990)