Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sermon: Stay The Course

Sermon for February 24, 2013 Year C – Lent 2
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse
For readings, click here
“Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; Take our minds and think through them; Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for You.  Amen.”

I found an interesting story on the internet,
which means it must be true.  (ha ha)
The story is of radio conversation
between a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and
Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland
in October, 1995. The conversation goes like this:

Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid collision.
Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

The point of this story is the obvious power struggle.
It is not uncommon to see power plays unfold,
in a culture obsessed with status and power. 

One obvious place we see power plays unfold, for real,
is in government –
candidates for-, and holders of-, elected positions.
Candidates or incumbents often try to make themselves right,
or look better than, their opponent. 
Another place we see power plays is in the workplace.
One colleague might try to take credit
for someone else’s ideas or efforts. 

Jesus was no stranger to political power plays. 
Jesus held fast, in his heart and in his soul,
to God’s dream of a new and more just world – God’s shalom
as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori offered,[1]
“…shalom is that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one
goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board,
…where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed,
 …where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given,
…where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another,
…where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God.”  

With God’s dream of shalom in his heart and soul,
Jesus made the journey to Jerusalem.
With God’s dream in mind,
Jesus said things like,
“…when the kingdom arrives in its fullness,
some are last who will be first and
some are first who will be last.”[2]

This is what Jesus said, in fact,
just prior to the gospel reading for today. 
It was his way of saying to
the Pharisees, “I am a lighthouse. Your Call.” 

He did not budge in his mission to bring about God’s shalom.
God empowered Jesus to stay the course for God’s dream. 
Other “powers that be” could divert.
 - pause -
Some bible translations include: “And at that very hour,”
the Pharisees told him that Herod wanted to kill him. 
Does that seem strange that the Pharisees,
were now concerned for Jesus’ safety?  
The Pharisees and Herod wanted to keep their power. 
They were threatened by Jesus’ power with the people.

I wonder how often we are working towards a dream
and “at that very hour,”
we are approached by someone or
an institution of power that attempts to divert us.
·        Perhaps we are passionate about early childhood education, or affected by mental health,
but the federal budget sequestration is looming. 
We feel threatened and fearful. We sometimes lose hope.
·        Perhaps we dream of a creative solution
for a work problem and
want to form a team of people to work together.
But then someone hounds us, or
says that we should not do that project because that is not.
what they think is important.
They say, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”
So, we start to question our dreams.
·        Perhaps our hearts are broken, knowing that
30% of children in AZ live below the poverty level.[3] [4]
The size of that problem leaves us
feeling impotent to solve it.

So, we dig in with our own power. 
We pull ourselves up “by our bootstraps” and
make our way through the resistance.
What does God want us to do? 
Will things turn out alright?
How do we find the strength to stay the course?
--- ---
We don’t know the Pharisees or Herod’s real motives,
but Jesus noticed their power play and returned the volley. 
“Go tell that fox…” he said,
“that I am working for God’s dream and
will not divert my course.” 
That fox! Jesus called Herod
a sly and unprincipled animal. 

Jesus showed that he knew
that the Pharisees and Herod were in cahoots.
Jesus knew that his
“casting out demons and performing cures”
especially among the poor and neglected –
was an affront to the powers that be. 
Jesus knew that the discomforting politics of shalom
would not stop at any regional government.
Jesus headed to Jerusalem,
that power-playing city with a reputation
of killing prophets and
dreams for a new and more just world. 

“At that very hour,” God empowered Jesus
to stay the course for God’s dream.

And though Jesus expected violence in Jerusalem,
he did not respond with rage. 
Jesus wailed an aching lament. 
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, he cried,
echoing other divine cries from scripture:
Jesus ached for Jerusalem to reply, “Here I am!” – but no…
“How often have I desired
to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings
and you were not willing!”

At that very hour, divine mother hen Jesus,
knew he was in a fox-den. 
Now the mighty appeared not so powerful.
Now the mighty who wanted to be first and powerful over all, were not.
Now the mighty emerged as they were – humans broken and trapped in a self-serving power play. 

In that very hour, Mother hen Jesus saw
all God’s people as baby birds. 
Baby chicks, who need care, protection, and refuge –
even the so-called powerful ones.
Mother hen Jesus longed, as God longs,
for all people to come from East and West,
from North and South, and
to eat at the kingdom banquet.

The good news is that today, in this very hour,
God empowers us to stay the course for God’s dream. 
When we are working towards God’s dream,
we can count on God to reveal unexpected reversals.

We, too, may be tempted to respond with rage
at the power player who wants to stop us. 
Yet with compassion and soft hearts, we can stay the course. 

When we work for shalom –
FOR feeding the hungry,
FOR helping the sick or those imprisoned by greed or boredom or lifelessness,
FOR inviting everyone to use God’s gifts and love abundantly,
When we work for shalom,
we are empowered by God to stay the course.

When that person or institution flashes power
and wants to stop us, they cannot touch our heart. 
God’s salvation overturns the powers of the world and
restores broken, greedy institutions. 

Maybe not in our time, but in God’s time,
today, tomorrow and on the third day.
Every effort we offer as God’s partner
begins a movement towards unveiling of shalom.

Powerplays will come and go,
but God’s dream of shalom endures for all times. 
God’s power, through Jesus,
reveals a living God who seeks salvation –
healing and wholeness –
for all people. 

In the kingdom of God,
the blessed will not be those who come in the name
of power and strength,
but those who come in the name
of the humble and faithful Lord of all creation. 

God empowers us to stay the course and
work as partners in God’s dream. 

This Lent, there are many ways
to align with God’s dream of shalom. 
How can we work with outcasts?
With people who are marginalized,
less privileged, hungry, grieving, lost? 

This Lent, God empowers us to work as partners
and to love our neighbors as God first loved us. 
For God loves all people.  No exceptions. 
And love matters!

This Lent, Jesus diverts the powers-that-be
to bring about God’s dream of shalom. 
And so we stay our course of faith. 

At this very hour, we can depend on God
to love us, and to empower us to stay the course,
with Jesus, on his journey to Jerusalem.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ashes (and prayers) To Go

Last Wednesday, I participated with 15 others from my parish in Ashes To Go.

We had met twice, in advance of the day, to organize our teams and get prepared. The Ashes To Go website guided us about making posters, how to carry the ashes, what to have as a "handout" and what "else" to expect.

Five teams scattered around our city during various times of the day.  We set up "sandwich boards" on public sidewalks, river walk/pathways, bus stations, coffee shops, high schools, parks and assisted living facilities.

Our approach was simple: stand there and wait to be approached.  When someone comes up, respond to their request.

Can I get ashes?
Why, yes, you can!  What is your experience with this tradition?
Oh, I'm Catholic but I only have 20 minutes for lunch today, so I won't have time to get to mass.
Oh, I'm Lutheran and we love to have this done but we are visiting from out of town.
Oh, I've never had it done before. What does it mean?
I have no experience, but I saw you on TV and thought that is a great thing to do. I want some of *that!

After a short prayer, we impose the ashes... marking a sign on their forehead and saying,
remember you are dust and to dust you shall return

Often, I follow up with "is there anything on your heart that I can hold in prayer for you today?" And without hesitation, 98% of the people had something very close to the surface.  It was palpable.

yes, can you pray for my father/mother/brother/aunt/sister/cousin/uncle... they are going through a hard time.
yes, can you pray for my patients at the oncology center where I work. they are having a hard time.
yes, can you pray for my unborn baby and her future

There is a hunger. There is a yearning.  There is a desire.

to know God
to love God
to be known by and loved by God and to know that up close, personal.

Not within the church walls. Not "approved" by any outside authority. Not with any legal constraints.

Out there. In life. On the go.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sermon: Ash Wednesday Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
Sermon for February 13, 2013 Ash Wednesday
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, October 16, 2012
For readings, click here
“Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for You.  Amen.”

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Today we impose ashes on our foreheads. 

The first time I had ashes imposed,
I was struck by the feeling of gritty ashes against my forehead
and the sensation of dust on my nose. 
That surprise was followed by the horror that
I looked like someone who forgot to wash her face.  
Yet, for me, that day marked a turning point.

That day, in this liturgy –
rich with scripture and steeped in tradition –
that day marked that I was mortal.
That day I had to accept my humanity.
That day I realized how we are all
utterly dependent on God for our very being. 

To accept mortality is to accept our humanity.
Today, we meet a God who confronts our fragile humanity
with radical compassion.

Father Richard Rohr reminds us,
“The goal of all spirituality is to lead the naked person
to stand trustfully before the naked God. 
The important thing is that we’re naked;
in other words that we come without
title, merit, shame or even demerit. 
All we can offer to God is who we really are,
which to all of us never seems like enough…”[1]

Today, we offer to God who we really are. 
Today, we accept our mortality, our humanity.
Today, we meet a God hates nothing God has made.

Putting ashes on your forehead is perhaps
one of the most powerful accessories
you may ever wear.  Why?
Because strange things happen when we
publicly acknowledge our mortality –
it can free us to enter conversations
that might not otherwise take place.
The psalmist echoes this~
our place as creatures,
not the Creator who “knows whereof we are made”
and “remembers that we are but dust.”  

As the nursery rhyme that sings,
“ashes, ashes, we all fall down,”
naming our mortality, in community,
is a way of “falling down” together
so that we can be pulled up by the grace of God. 

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul wore his ashes. 
He named his “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings,
imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.”
Paul publicly acknowledged his mortality, his humanity
and in so doing, he entered into a conversation
with his beloved Corinthians
that might not otherwise have taken place. 
Paul showed his ashes to teach the Corinthians
that faith was not a protection from
hard times or from challenges.   

The Corinthians had to face their mortality. 
They had been called imposters.
As a response, began to argue amongst themselves.
They found that faithful Christian living was a daunting affair.
Paul knew they felt vulnerable and so
entreated them to turn their energy away from each other
and reorient their hearts toward God.

For us, faithful Christian living can be daunting as well.  
We wear our ashes every day, as we face afflictions,
hardships, imprisonments, and sleepless nights, too. 

Some in our faith community might be
struggling with alcoholism. 
Their families are hoping
someone will see the ashes on their foreheads
and answer their cries for help. 

Some in our faith community are imprisoned
by consumerism or greed. 
To name this imprisonment is to acknowledge mortality. 
We cannot take all those possessions with us,
no matter how tightly we hold onto them. 

Some in our faith community are wearing the ashes
of exhaustion as they work for justice,
witness to the needs of immigrants,
or feed people who are hungry or homeless. 

Faithful Christian living can be a daunting affair. 
We may feel as imposters and vulnerable.
Yet the call of Christ, Paul reminds us, is to faithfulness,
not to earthly success. 
Like the Corinthians, we, too, need to reorient our hearts.

Which is why, today, we hear the exhortation that
“all Christians continually have the need
to renew their repentance and their faith.”

To accept mortality is to accept our humanity. Today, we meet a God who confronts our fragile humanity with radical compassion.

By reorienting our hearts and accepting reality,
we can be free us to notice God’s presence. 

For almost forty years, L’Arche founder Jean Vanier
has set up homes where people w/ developmental disabilities,
volunteers, and a small staff live together in community. 
Surely they face afflictions, hardships, and sleepless nights.
Vanier wears his ashes in this way,
We are all “broken”…[for] to be human is to be
bonded together, each with our own weaknesses and strengths
because we need each other.”  
In a 2009 interview,[2] he shared this insight:
You see, the big thing for me is to love reality
and not live in the imagination,
not live in what could have been
or what should have been
or what can be, and somewhere, to love reality
and then discover that God is present.”

For Paul, as for Jean Vanier, and for us,
the ashes are not the end of the story.
These ashes mark the beginning of Lent. 
The beginning of preparation,
of reorienting our hearts,
of recognizing our humanity and God’s Divinity. 

The beginning is well-captured in the reading from Joel:
Rend your hearts and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
and repents of evil.”
Here, Joel calls us to return, repent, re-become.

And, the thing is, in preparing for Lent
and in reorienting our hearts  
we experience deep paradoxes of Christian living.
In the letter to the Corinthians,
Paul shares that litany~
”We are poor yet lavishly rich. 
We are struggling yet rejoicing.” 

The paradoxes in The Message are particularly striking.
“We are …true to our word, though distrusted,
ignored by the world, but recognized by God;
terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; …
immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy;
living on handouts, yet enriching many,
having nothing, having it all…” 

A central part of Ash Wednesday worship
is confessing our sins, aka reorienting our hearts.
In confession, we acknowledge
the tragic gap between our appearance and our actuality. 

Author and pastor Brian McLaren remarks,
“Through confession, we say,
“God, I will not hide anything from you.
You know already.
Pretending in your presence is pure and pathetic insanity.
 I want to be who I am in your presence.

See, the Greek word for “confession”
in the New Testament,
homologeo, literally means “to say the same thing.”  
In confession, then, I try to say the same thing
God would say about my behavior.[3] 

This is the beginning of preparation,
of reorienting our hearts,
of recognizing our humanity and God’s Divinity.    

McLaren calls this
“…cutting the umbilical cord between
the me who confesses and
the me who did the things I’m confessing.”[4]  
In this way, we state to God,
that we no longer want to be that person;
we want to become a different kind of person.
Confession is an affirmation of our becoming.

Today, we wear our ashes
by naming our sins before God and before each other.
Today, we wear our mortality
on our foreheads yet trust the promise of eternal life. 
Today, we remember God’s gracious remembering of us. 

In this world where we are dust, and to dust we shall return;
can we place our trust in the One
who brought to our dusty world
the salvation of God?


[1] Richard Rohr, Simplicity: the Freedom of Letting Go, (New York, Crossroad, 2004) p. 97
[3] Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words, (New York, HarperCollins, 2011), p. 89
[4] McLaren, p. 98