Saturday, March 31, 2012

Practice makes...

In the Harry Potter series, Harry enrolls in a class called "Transfiguration," that teaches spells for changing the character of the object. For example, in one scene of "Philosopher's Stone," Prof. McGonagall transfigures her desk into a pig and back.  Harry gets lots of practice in his class and as we know, he does some after-class practicing with his classmates.

This quarter, I'm taking Liturgical Practicum.  It's the class where we learn the appropriate and rubrically recommended movements for the Eucharistic Prayer.  We'll practice with actual hosts, but with water instead of wine.  Oh, and we get to wear the accompanying vestments.This is the course I've been anticipating all year. 

What surprises have I found?  Well, for one, upon review of the "rubrics," I learned that there are fewer movements and gestures needed than are customarily used. Much of the movements are simply elegant, welcoming gestures that invite the congregation into the moment.  That's a relief! 

Further, I am surprised how difficult it is to pace myself and set the cadence for an entire congregation.  In my course, there are only three other students and one supervising instructor priest.  In a giant sanctuary, it's really hard to get a "read" on how the "congregation" is participating (or not!).  I learned that I need to slow down. 

Finally, I am surprised how different it is to say the "other" parts.  I'm familiar with the responsive side, not the offering side, as in, "The Lord be with you." "And also with you."  I usually say the "and also" part.  But as Presider, I'll say the "The Lord" part.  Thankfully, that's why there is the Altar Book to guide and facilitate the Presider remarks. 

I'm grateful for a time to practice, practice, practice.  And for the knowledge that in the end, it is Love that really matters.

What are you practicing in this moment?

An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.  - Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The beach stretches out for miles upon miles. 
The waves rhythmically kiss the sand. 
The white puffy clouds appear mid-day, after the fog dissipates. 
It's idyllic for "spring break."

Now is the time to catch up on sleep.
Now is the time to renew my deeper spirituality, tucking into my favorite book by Thomas Merton.
Now is the time to laugh out loud at some non-theological treatises.

And, as we all know, when we slow down is when the worry-brain kicks in.  Yep, I worry about what God has in mind for me.  I've gotten about a half-dozen "no" responses to parish opportunities, plus a few "we put the process on hold."  What to do?

"You kids get outside!" I hear Mom-of-my-childhood screaming.
Or more colloquially, "when in doubt, get out!" 
So it's road biking that calls.  It's mostly flat out here on the Outer Banks, with the ocean on one side and the sound on the other.  It's beautiful and I feel invigorated by the wind in my helmet.  I have to really concentrate on the road - there's sand in the shoulder, pebbles of gravel at the intersections, and dangerously blind driveways that punctuate an otherwise peaceful bike ride.  Wonders await us at the turnaround point - a historic village, an antique bridge, even a pure white egret. Ahhhh, this is peaceful.

Return ride? Headwind all the way.  Same distance, but it feels like twice as far.  I practice standing on the pedals for extra effort to try and keep up with my partner. I notice the rusty nails strewn on the road - which I flew past on the way out.  It seems so windy I can't even hear myself gasping for breath most of the way.

It occurs to me that my first-parish-call search is a bit like this bike ride.  Exhilarating, renewing and in need of discipline on the one hand - but it feels like headwinds right now.  That's okay, I consider, it's a spiritual cycle that is familiar to me.  It's still hard, but it's a cycle and surely, God's just waiting for some big surprise to offer!

So, I offer this old Irish blessing, in gratitude, for this cycle~

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of God's hand.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sermon: True North

Sermon for Lent 3, Year B
Vicki Hesse, Seminarian, March 11, 2012

At one point in my life, 
I tried to get a private pilot’s license. 
I never did finish that, but I did
complete much of the book study,
practical flying and four “solo” flights.

On one of these “solo” flights,
I planned to fly from San Carlos to Modesto. 
I established the route, listened to the weather,
completed the checklist and took off. 
As I approached what I thought was Modesto,
I announced my descent.
“Cessna Tango 5546 on final.”
NO response.  Hmm. Curious.

At 500 feet
I can see in plain letters
the name of the airport traced across the landing strip,
Ooops.  That’s not MODESTO. Wrong Airport. 
This was my lesson in adjusting
the “magnetic declination” on the compass of the plane.

See, “magnetic declination” is the difference between
magnetic north and geographic north. 
Setting the “magnetic declination” incorrectly
meant that in that 90-mile trip, I was off by 20 miles. 
That error with the magnetic declination 
was a barrier to my arriving at my destination. 

I am sure that Jesus did not have to
set the magnetic declination
on his compass to get to Jerusalem. 
The trail to Jerusalem was probably well worn
by the time Jesus went there.

The trail to Jerusalem was well worn, because
the Passover festival was near.
As a pilgrimage feast, the Passover annually drew
thousands of Jews from all over the region.
The festival itself was a
required religious experience –
every Jewish male over 12 years of age
had to attend,
despite the barriers to God that they experienced.

First, they had to travel
long distances to complete the required activities
as outlined in Leviticus.

Second, since the Passover was major event,
the city and The Temple were busy, not quiet and prayerful.

The event itself was held in the Temple –
A space of ~35 acres, about 1/6 the size of Jerusalem. 
The entire enclosure was paved with colored stones,
surrounded by colonnade of white marble 40 feet high.
There was a lot of activity in and around this place –
not only Jewish people gathering in the temple,
but those who supported the festival
and helped the pilgrims.

Third, the pilgrim had to abide by specific rules -
more barriers to attend to before they worshipped. 

The religious authorities - “The Jews”
supervised the activities that required
pilgrims to sacrifice unblemished cattle, sheep or doves. 

Since pilgrims came from a distance,
they needed to buy an unblemished animal
and thus a fourth barrier;
they had to exchange money, since the sellers
of these animals required temple currency –
not coins bearing the image of a Roman emperor -

Once all these barriers were crossed,
Then, they could worship God.
Passover was near,
and as a faithful Jew,
Jesus came to the temple,
a sacred space,
a dwelling place of God on Earth.

Jesus entered the temple through the Court of the Gentiles. 
The area set up as an open-air market. 
There were cattle bellowing, sheep bleating, doves cooing,
and people changing money
all necessary activities ostensibly to benefit the pilgrims,
but really – essentially, all barriers to worshipping God. 

Which makes me wonder, is it any different today? 
Do we experience barriers to God?

I heard recently that
10 o’clock on Sunday morning is
the most sacred hour of the week”
and “9 o’clock on Sunday morning is
the least sacred hour”
That is when we experience fractured relationships.
We frantically get the kids dressed,
we slam down our breakfast & coffee,
we worry about being late,
even as we desire to arrive in a mindful, pleasant mood.
We sense our distance from God, in this least sacred time.

I recognize this in myself – even during the week.
Just one more item to do at school,
just one more topic to discuss before this meeting is over,
just one more thing to do before I pray.
Surely then I forgive my loved one,
Surely then I will know that I am loved by God,
Surely then I will spend time with Jesus. 

Does this ring any bells?

The rules of society,
the expectations of our lives,
the demands of our culture,
set up barriers to God,
barriers to noticing God in our everyday life. 

Perhaps the magnetic declination
of our inner compass is off?

And so, by the grace of God,
Jesus entered the Temple scene to remove the barriers.

In a flurry of activity, Jesus interrupted everything.
He found the cattle, sheep, doves, and moneychangers.

With a cord whip,
He drove out the sheep and the cattle.
He poured out the coins.
He demanded the dove sellers to leave.

Jesus upset the market place and
recalibrated what was important.

When he said,
“Stop making my Father’s house a market place!”
The disciples recalled scripture,
From Psalm 69, (Psalm 69:9)
“…zeal for your house that has consumed me”
From Malachi (3:1),
“…the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
And from the prophet Zechariah (14:21),
“there shall no longer be traders
in the house of the Lord of Hosts
on that day.”

On that day, God was in the house of the Lord of Hosts and Jesus removed the barriers for the people.

On that day, Jesus made himself known as
the locus of God on Earth,
the center of faith,
the focal point of worship.

On that day, Jesus was (and is) the temple –
The one that would be raised /in his resurrection/ on Easter.
The disciples remembered this event and
freed from the barriers established by authorities,
they believed the scripture and
the word that Jesus had spoken.

God made God’s self known on Earth,
through the in-breaking,
surprising activity of Jesus, on that day
in the temple
as the temple
for the temple.

He removed the barriers then.
And he removes barriers now, for us.
As we know Jesus, we know God. 
This is a new and re-calibrated way of looking at the world. 

God acts in surprising ways in our lives. 

And so, we notice:
God, through Jesus, recalibrates our “magnetic declination.”

God intercedes in surprising ways
to break our routines,
to drive out old patterns,
to pour out the coinage we think we need,
to open our eyes to God’s activity in the world. 

These examples occur every Sunday here at St. Andrews.

In the liberating words of an Ash Wednesday sermon,
that reframed what fasting means –
not from food but from what we obsess about.

In the creative formation of the newcomer’s ministry,
that teams up diverse spiritual gifts –
with inspiring hope and fresh ideas to make St. Andrew’s
a radically welcome place. 

In the abundant harvest of “Plot against hunger,” that provides food for hungry people through Arlington Food Assistance Center.

In the innocent voice of the little boy who interrupted the Confirmation service in the midst of renewing our Baptismal Vows when the Bishop asked, “Do you believe in God …” and before he could finish his sentence “…the Father?”
This little boy shouted out, “YES!”

With Jesus shaking things up in our community,
we catch authentic glimpses of God
through sound,
through stories and
in the breaking of bread. 

God, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,
has already made a difference in our lives. 

Which is why we come here,
in this sacred temple,
the temple of Jesus. 

We come here to remember
stories of God’s continued action
in our lives and in the life of the church

We come here to experience
the real presence of Christ
in the bread and the wine. 

We come to know the Word made flesh and
made known to us in
radical, re-orienting, re-calibrating ways. 

This Lent, we can look at our calendar and
with God’s help, remove some of those barriers. 

The good news is that
God is active and present in our church
and our every day life.

Is your compass pointing to true north?