Friday, March 29, 2013

Sermon: Wash and Be Washed

Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year C
Washing Feet by Leszek-Forczek

St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, March 28, 2013
For Readings, click here ~ John 13:1-17, 31b-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

Recently, I have been steeped in the work of Brene Brown.
Brene Brown, a research professor at
the University Of Houston Graduate College Of Social Work,
is reviving the knowledge that our struggles make us who we are. 
The UK paper The Telegraph introduced her this way,
“Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability expert.
I know – that was my reaction too.
I’m not really hard-wired for this stuff but bear with me…”[1]

Brene Brown says shame is,
“…that kind of warm wash that we experience of not good enough.”
And that really struck me.
It’s a kind of warm wash we experience.

She identifies shame as a primary emotion. Shame drives two kinds of mental tapes,
“not good enough” and “who do you think you are?”
Shame has a way of fueling us or paralyzing us in helpful or not-so-helpful ways. 

From social scientific research(of over 10,000 interviews and 1,000 research sessions)
Brene Brown found that despite experiencing shame,
certain people respond by engaging the world from a place of worthiness. 
That is to say, regardless of their vulnerability or struggle,
they still recognized that they were worthy of love and belonging. 
This got her thinking, how do they do that? 
Why are some people paralyzed, while others engage?

The answer arose in her one day. Attending an Episcopal church,
she heard the prayer of confession, the part that goes,
“we have not loved you with our whole heart…”
She realized that the people for whom shame did not affect negatively
were those who lived and loved with their whole heart. 

Those whole hearted people, expressed four patterns:
First, they had courage.Courage to tell their story, to be imperfect.
Second, they had compassion; to be kind to themselves first and then others.
Third, they had connections because of being authentic. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be themselves. 
And finally, they fully embraced vulnerability.  In fact, she discovered that vulnerability
was a large part of wholeheartedness. 

She concludes,
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experience…
Vulnerability is about the willingness to show up and be seen in our lives. 
The moments when we show up are the most powerful meaning-making moments
of our lives even if they don’t go well. They define who we are.”

In her research, she asked people to define vulnerability.
Here are a few of the answers:[2]
·        Sitting with my wife who has Stage III breast cancer and trying to make plans for our children
·        My first date after my divorce
·        Saying I Love You first
·        Asking for a raise
·        Sending my child to school being enthusiastic and supportive of her and knowing how excited she is about orchestra tryouts and how much she wants to make first chair and encouraging her and supporting her and knowing that it’s not going to happen.
·        If Brene Brown had asked me, I would add washing feet.

I think that today/tonight is about feeling vulnerable. 

Today/Tonight, the sacred night of Maundy Thursday,
we begin the Triduum – the three holy days of Christ’s passion,
beginning at sundown on Thursday and concluding at sundown on Easter Day. 
It is sacred and vulnerable because on this evening our extended family of faith
gathers at table to remember the One whom we,
like the disciples in John’s Gospel,
have dearly loved – and are about to lose to death.
We are vulnerable because we are talking about death.[3]
Death of someone we love.

Tonight in the sanctuary, notice the collection of objects at hand. 
Check out how uncertainty arises in our throat…
uncertainty is a trigger for feeling vulnerable. Something is about to happen.
Look around:
Pitchers of water. Wash basins. Towels. Tables. Buckets.
Extra chairs. Communion setting. Bread and wine. Candles.

The foot washing – it’s awkward, it’s embarrassing and it, well,
sometimes comes off badly. 
Maybe it is because we don’t do it often enough to be good at it. 
Maybe it is not the actual foot washing
but the small acts of humble service we offer one another
on a daily basis that we don’t do often enough. 
Maybe that is why tonight we mark the “perpetual ordinance”
that Jesus instituted, which we Episcopalians do every week,
as we read from 1st Corinthians,
“…on the night when he was betrayed,
Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine,
gave thanks, broke it and said
do this in remembrance of me.”

In the gospel we heard about the disciples’ feeling vulnerable.
They were uncertain. They gathered for supper and at some point,
Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe,
tied a towel around himself, poured water into a a basin and
began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel. 

Peter’s responses – oh he is such a goof!
He says, “you will never wash my feet” and
“Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” These responses just highlight his sense of shame that warm washing over him. 
His vulnerability was palpable – first he wanted to deny it and
then he wanted to make a joke of it.

The thing is, as Brene Brown researched and writes about,
people who live whole-heartedly and fully engage their vulnerability
do not find that way of living comfortable.  
They “lean into” the discomfort, they practice being uncomfortable. 
Wholehearted people know that to feel this vulnerable means I am alive!
There is nothing flowery about becoming whole-hearted and
naming the warm wash of shame when it happens. 

Being vulnerable requires being gritty and tenacious. 
It means daring to show up in your life. AND it is contagious and powerful.
It makes the people around you a little bit braver.
It helps you get clear on the ideals and values that guide your life.
The thing is, vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.[4] 
This is the place of God’s grace, the source of life, the incarnate power of Jesus’ presence.

Knowing this, Jesus responded to Peter.
“Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me,
the one who gives life and gives it abundantly…
if you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…” 
Foot washing is a kind of eighth sacrament –
it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace –
that blessing that Jesus promised to Peter.

As we enter the foot washing this evening, I invite you into your most vulnerable self. 
As we enter the foot washing, remember that
Jesus also experienced that warm wash of shame and
blesses your whole-hearted, vulnerable self. 

Like yoga practice, heighten your awareness of what you are feeling and doing – 
every bit of it. 
If you are one who tends to prefer washing instead of being washed,
I invite you to be curious about that.
Perhaps you tend to prefer being washed instead of washing? Notice that.

Perhaps the most vulnerable act you can commit
is to simply sit there and witness others holding intimate, silent conversations
with their hands and feet. 
In these places of vulnerability, Jesus is filling you with blessing.

Tonight, Jesus invites us to engage wholeheartedly.  
It is Jesus who washes our feet, cleansing us from head to toe, loving every bit of us. 
It is the feet of all people (present or not) whose feet we are washing,
those who are broken and bruised and in need of a healing bath. 
It is Grace. It is Love.

It is in our vulnerability, in our weakness, that God’s power is made known. 
Jesus meets us here and invites us, as friends, to be mutually intimate. 
Get to know Jesus as he washes your feet.

Tonight, we learn and engage in this new commandment –
this near-sacrament – from our Lord and Teacher Jesus. 

Just as God, through Jesus, loved us first,
we are to love one another.
Just as God, through Jesus, saw us first,
we are to let ourselves be seen – deeply seen – vulnerably seen.
Just as God, through Jesus, loves our whole heart,
even the ugly, dirty feet part of us,
we are to love with our whole hearts,
even though there is no guarantee.

Through the cool waters of Jesus, know that you are enough.

You are worthy of love and belonging. 
You are worthy of love and belonging.
You are worthy of love and belonging.

By this everyone will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, as you love one another.   


[1]  Cited at on March 27, 2013. Included in interview by Krista Tippett of Brene Brown, November 21, 2012. Transcript, found at .
[2] Ibid.
[3] Feasting on the Word, Holy Thursday, p. 275
[4] Interview

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sermon: What Makes This Night Different? Monday of Holy Week

Sermon for Monday in Holy Week, Year C
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki Hesse, March 25, 2013
For Readings, click here ~ John 12: 1-11
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all hearts be acceptable to you, o Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”[1]
Are you familiar with that phrase?
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”
is the question that Jewish children ask
every year during the celebration of Passover. 
What makes this night different from all other nights, for us,
is that tonight we gather to mark the beginning of Holy Week.
Holy Week:
an important devotional and liturgical occasion
for Episcopalians. 
Not only for our desire to
“…reach as many people as possible
with the proclamation of the death and
resurrection of Christ,”
but also (and sometimes more importantly)
to deepen our own sense of meaning and theological understanding through these rememorative services.
Tonight, we weave the annual conversation
of many sacred voices journeying to Jerusalem.
Tonight we re-member the paschal mystery –
Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. 
Tonight we mark the beginning of fresh perspectives. 
Tonight’s Gospel brings us to the time
just prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem.  
That prior moment was when
·        Jesus had been on his way to Jerusalem,
·        he had raised Lazarus from the dead, so many of the Jews believed in him and
·        he had learned that the chief priests and Pharisees planned to put him to death. 
That moment swirled with movement, tension, fear, and
… a pause.  They held a dinner party
for Jesus and his disciples. 
What happened at the dinner party?
It is such a familiar story;
nearly as familiar as the story of
Lazarus being raised from the dead.
At that dinner party,
Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet
and wiped them with her hair. 
Judas exclaimed in the midst of that action
why the perfume instead of giving to the poor? 
Why indeed, is the question for tonight.
It is theologically significant for us
in terms of gaining a fresh perspective of God’s abundant love. 
Why is this question important?
Because many people have used
“the poor will always be with you”
as a suggestion – no, stronger, as endorsement,
that the status quo is okay. 
Is that what Jesus was saying?
That status quo vis-à-vis the poor was okay?
Well, no. 
Jesus rebuked Judas, for one thing,
because Mary was preparing Jesus for his burial. 
Jesus knew that his death was near and
Mary’s gesture prepared for and pointed to the gravity
of what lie ahead. 
Judas, however, did not get the social cues or even
the explicitly stated (by Jesus) message. 
Judas shook his head – rubbed his eyes –
and could not acknowledge the reality that was
unfolding before him. 
All Judas could see was his narrow perspective
of Mary’s apparent waste. 
Mary’s gesture of abundance and extravagance
showed an expansive reality according to the
“economy of God.”[2]
In that economy, disciples like Mary give as God gives,
fresh with love and without shame or hint of fear. 
In the economy of the world, that Judas knew,
in his narrow and self-centered greed,  he could only see waste.
When Jesus’ rebuked Judas, at
“you always have the poor with you”
Jesus pointed out Judas’s “this-worldly” economy.
In that social system
Judas knew only scarcity, thievery, and death. 
Jesus did not and does not approve of poverty, no.
Rather he points to fresh perspective:
a different “economy” –
that emerges out of death, into
extravagant, self-giving love,
with unbounding grace. 
In 2009, I came face to face with how this works.
That summer, Leah and I traveled to El Paso,
where for a week we lived with two Dominican Sisters. 
These nuns founded and ran Centro Santa Catalina,
a ministry based in Ciudad Juarez.
The ministry empowers, educates and spiritually nourishes
the poor women and children of the Colonia
located on what was once the city garbage dump. 
During the day, we hung out with the women of the Center.
We talked, shared, tried to teach each other our language
and played with the children. 
We saw how they lived with so little
in terms of material wealth and
so much in terms of abundant joy.
Many have built their homes over time,
often starting with cardboard and wood pallets,
and eventually graduating to cinder blocks. 
Most of their homes have no water, sewer or
electrical services;
and for those who do,
the services are inadequate and unreliable. 
One day for lunch, we walked
from the Center to Irene’s house,
past rancid garbage and
decomposing carcasses of cats and dogs,
over broken glass and wind-blown plastic bags. 
Irene, a widowed mother and grandmother
who works at the Center’s sewing co-op,
offered to prepare lunch for us in her home. 
Instead of a simple meal of beans and tortillas,
she called her grandson over and handed him a couple of bills
from her now empty change purse. 
He slipped away and returned shortly
with a package of queso. 
She prepared a feast of enchiladas filled with rice, beans,
queso, tomatoes, salsa and spice.
She offered us a soda to drink. 
In my head, I cringed.
I wanted to call her back to the economy of the world –
Look, Irene, you have nothing! You don’t need to feed us! 
Irene could certainly have fed us more simply,
scrounging up something from her near-empty pantry
and saving her money to feed her family for weeks.
Yet, thankfully, she could not have understood my language.  She only spoke in the language of God’s love
and God’s economy. 
She offered me a fresh perspective.
She chose to share abundantly with us,
to offer us her extravagant hospitality,
to put this privileged, first-world women’s needs
over her own real needs.
She saw and lived in God’s economy and
shared abundantly with us.
Just as Mary poured out for Jesus her expensive perfume,
Irene embodied God’s love.
So I wonder, as we begin Holy Week,
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”
Tonight we ask ourselves, in what economy do we live? 
Where are the powers and principalities
in this-worldly economy, exercising violence toward life?
How does the world engender fear and control
God invites us to notice God’s expansiveness?
Tonight we recognize the fresh, good news
of God’s economy.
God’s economy pours love onto narrow perspectives
without any effort of our own,
with abundant grace and kindness,
through the fresh lens of Mary and Judas,
both accompanying Jesus the life-giver. 
What makes this night different? 
This is the night of concentrated resentment
among the religious authorities to kill both Lazarus and Jesus.  This is the night where the irony is palpable.
This is the night when the religious authorities
commit to killing Jesus because he gives life to others.
As we enter Holy Week, we live into the mystery of
the paradox:
Jesus’ death, the gospel tells us again and again,
is what will bring new life to all.
“What makes this night different from all other nights?”
God’s fresh perspective, again and again. 
May your journey to Jerusalem this week be filled with fresh perspectives of mystery and Love.

[1] David J. Schlafer, What Makes This Day Different: Preaching Grace on Special Occasions, (Cambridge: Cowley, 1998) p.3
[2] Deanna Thompson, Feasting On The Word, “Monday of Holy Week: John 12:1-11:Theological.” Page 206