Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sermon: John Roberts, Priest

Sermon for February 25, 2014 ~ 
10:00 Healing Service
Feast Day of John Roberts, Priest, 1949
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
For online access to the readings click here.
I speak to you in the name of One God, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today is the feast day of John Roberts, 1949. 
What do you know of him and his work?

The various profiles offered describe John Roberts
as one who grappled with his vocation,
which was “ministering to only Christian people”
John Roberts’ grappling resonates
with so many of us – we can relate!
how God was working in his heart,
with a deep yearning for more connection,
more meaning, more use of his faculties for God’s will.

After growing up in Wales, JR served briefly in the Bahamas.
He asked to be sent to CO where he then worked with miners,
and in a small pox hospital,
and then he went to the Wind River Range in WY in 1883.

There, JR learned the languages of
the Shoshone (mountain- people) and
the Arapahoe (plains- people). 
He learned their languages and recorded their vocabulary
for future generations of English-speakers
as well as Native peoples
to learn each others’ languages.

JR thirsted in his vocation;
he saw others’ pain and had the gift of language
to share God’s love. 
This strange journey to which he was called
certainly had its share of
misunderstanding, resistance and conflict.
Perhaps that is why the texts for today
from GJohn include those three components – misunderstanding, resistance and conflict.

The context of the passage from GJohn begins with
“the festival, the great day.” 
This festival, in Jewish context,
was the Feast of the Tabernacles,
commemorating God’s protection of Israel
at their times in the wilderness. 
For six days, the Israelite priests carried waster
from the pool of Siloam to the water gate of Jerusalem.
Then, that special water was
poured out as a libation on their altar. 
On The Great Day, the last day of the 8-day ritual,  
there was a time of solemn worship
after a procession is made around the altar seven times and
there is a waving of branches and chanting. 

In this context, The Great Day, Jesus cries out,

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38
and let the one who believes in me drink.
As the scripture has said,
‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39

J and his disciples observe The Great Day and all the rites to which the people consider as meaningful. 
Yet in his crying out, we can also understand
that he is reframing the meaning of it all
       the whole scene –
because The Word is now in the world. 
J’s presence changes everything about being thirsty and
from where one shall drink to be quenched.

As J speaks these words, the people are perplexed. 
There is misunderstanding,
there is resistance,
there is conflict. 
There goes J again, kicking up the dust. 

The people gathered react. Wait, what? Is this The Messiah? It’s difficult to see in Jesus a new understanding
of God in the world.
The people resist Jesus and judge him
according to pre-existing systems and structures
that continue to fuel misunderstanding. 

I wonder – are we not like people of all time?
Do we allow moments of misunderstanding,
resistance and conflict
to show us God’s grace? 
In these critical times of emotional and spiritual upheaval,
do we squirm and try to get out of the discomfort?

For the people gathered there for the Festival of Tabernacles,
that moment that Jesus spoke revealed something new
about God and about humanity’s relationship to God. 

Jesus cried out that He was the living water,
the real presence of God that quenches thirst,
because he was God.  The water was not.

In our moments of misunderstanding, resistance and conflict,
when we seek healing and wholeness,
when we seek relief from grief and loss,
when we thirst for meaning for our lives, Jesus cries out to us.

 Jesus invites us to believe – or beLOVE him and
to drink in his love. 
Through those messy moments,
Jesus invites us to see and experience
something new about God.
In Jesus, there is compassion, there is grace,
there is the deep hope in this community here gathered,
as we realize that our neighbors really do care about us,
that we are not alone when we gather as God calls us. 

There is an artist named Sark,
who writes these wonderful DIY Creativity books. 
One of them is called “A Creative Companion: How to free your creative spirit.”[1]

This book invites the reader to follow their inner artist. 
She reminds us that creativity is fueled by difficult moments, when there is resistance or even fear.
And when we are vulnerable. 
She makes this recommendation:
“Invite someone dangerous to Tea.” 

Now you can decide what is “dangerous” to you,
but this kind of invitation speaks to the power of
jumping directly into the mess,
in the promise that it is in the mess
where God’s love is directly revealed. 

Today, JR offers his messy,
vocation-grappling life to us
as an offer to see God’s grace in his life,
as hope that God’s grace also pours onto our life
to heal, make whole, bind up and reconcile all that is misunderstood, resistant or in conflict.

God, in Jesus, is the living water,
the drink that quenches our blessedly messy lifes.

Today, may you know God’s love in all of it.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sermon: Blessed Assurance

 James And Deanna Kahler -- Blessed Assurance
Sermon for February 16, 2014
Frances Jane (Fanny) Van Alstyne Crosby (Obs)
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
For online access to the readings click here.
I speak to you in the name of one God+, loving Creator,
redeeming Christ, and sustaining Spirit. Amen.

Today we recognize Frances “Fanny” Crosby.
We know Crosby as a prolific writer of hymn texts and
gospel songs in the American evangelical tradition
of late 19th and early 20th centuries. 
Crosby wrote more than 8,000 sacred texts,
over 1,000 secular poems, four published books of poetry
and two autobiographies.  

Crosby’s contributions to the genre of
American gospel music was unequaled.
For most hymn writing, the words come first.
Then the composer sets the text to music.
Crosby’s giftedness meant that composers
could take her their tunes and
she would immediately shape the words to fit the music. 
This is the process that led to her most well-known hymn,
Blessed Assurance. 

Born in 1820, Crosby became blind
from an illness at six weeks old. 
Her father died shortly after she was born,
so her mother and grandmother raised her. 
She attended and later taught in the NY Institute for the Blind
and married at the age of 23. 
They had one daughter who died soon after birth.
While she had many difficulties, her competence fueled her
to compose six or seven hymns a day,
working on as many as twelve at once before dictating them.

In spite of being blind,
or perhaps because of her blindness,
Fanny Crosby saw the glory of the living God
with great clarity in her mind’s eye. 
She modeled how to praise God and
to sing of God’s love, as noted in the Collect for today.

Today we also celebrate other female musicians
who in their own right have overcome great odds
to offer their gifts to us:
Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine Winkworth, Elizabeth Poston, Eleanor Daley, Dorothy Papadakos, and Pamela Decker.(p.15)

Through these musicians and their gifts, we hope to
open up expansive ways of knowing the sacred and
naming God other than “God the Father.” 
“God the Father” is a powerful image and
holds great promise and hope for many people. 

And, there are many other names of God that might be used;
for images from human experience and nature
tell of a God who is indeed beyond our naming. 

Within scripture, God is imaged as
judge, midwife, dew, gardener, bearer and protector,
rock, fortress, deliverer, comforting mother,
“I am,” good shepherd, lion, leopard”[1]
A few years ago, we traveled to
Denali National Park in Alaska. 
On the road into the park, the driver of our tour bus remarked
how uniquely clear it was that day and said that
at the next stop we might be able to see “The Mountain.”
By this she meant, North America’s tallest peak,
Mt. McKinley, (aka Denali) at 20,000 feet. 

As we disembarked the coach, I looked and looked –
it was clear but hazy. There was no mountain in sight.
Someone offered to take our photo with the mountain
in the background,
and while it was not in view, we agreed. 

Embarrassed, I asked if they would point out where
The Mountain was. 
That person showed me what I had missed. 
I had been staring right at it;
it filled the sky from horizon to sun rays
and yet I had not seen it. 
It was gigantic –
so big that it was beyond my comprehension. 
Once I saw The Mountain I could not NOT see it. 

Perhaps, this is a bit like our experience of the Sacred. 
We need each other to point out
the hugeness of God that is standing right in front of us. 
If we always envision God as Father,
perhaps we miss, or are blind to, other aspects of God.

Jesus refers to this blindness in our Gospel reading.  
This passage allows us to “eaves drop”
on the conversation
between the one born blind and later healed by Jesus. 
And that is where grace happens –
in that intimate Love relationship between us and God,
in that experience of surrender and of transformation. 

Jesus learns that the person he had healed was expelled
from the Temple. 
Jesus finds the healed one and asks,
"Do you believe in the Chosen One?"
To which that person replies,
"Who is this One, that I may believe?"
"You're looking at him," Jesus offers.
"The Chosen One is speaking to you now."

There, right in front of that person, was Jesus. 
The Chosen One, the Divine, was right there. 
It was so gigantic –
so big that it was beyond the person’s comprehension. 
The healed one said, "Yes, I believe,"
and then could not NOT see the Divine.

I wonder if that is what happens when we unconsciously have
God in a box and only look for the sacred in one category. 
Sight and blindness are not defined by one’s physical sight
but by one’s openness to the revelation of God. 

One of the “boxes” informing our grasp of the Divine
is the Nicene Creed. 
In her book “Gender and The Nicene Creed,”
author Elizabeth Geitz tells that
“Throughout tradition… God has been referred to…
as Father because Jesus addressed God as abba,
which literally translated means “daddy.”[2]

Through the name abba,
Jesus expressed the extremely personal and intimate nature
of his relationship with God…
And, while Jesus’ naming of God as abba is clearly important…
it does not stand alone but with other images.

For example, in Jesus’ parables,
God is a woman searching for her lost money,
a shepherd looking for his lost sheep,
a bakerwoman kneading dough,
the birth experience delivering persons into new life…

so if we take Jesus’ revelations about God seriously,
Geitz asks,
shouldn’t we take all of his revelations into account? 

Geitz invites us to be cautious about using one name
to the exclusion of others. 
Doesn’t that distort the image of the one God
who is beyond our naming…?”

The hazard of using only “Father” for God,
is that it conveys the message that God is male,
which is theologically inaccurate.
It is appropriate, then, to use female and male imagery
for God
in light of the many revelations of Jesus.

In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple,
Celie, the protagonist,
writes letters to God and to her sister.
Celie is a fourteen year old black girl living in the South
who has been abused…
One day she says to her friend, Shug Avery,
“Ain’t no way to read the bible and
not think God is white. 
When I found out I thought God was white,
I lost interest.” 
Her friend Shug responds,
“My first step from the old white man was the trees.
Then air. Then birds. Then other people. 
But one day when I was sitting quiet and
feeling like a motherless child, which I was,
it come to me:
that feeling of being part of everything and not separate at all.”

Being part of everything and not separate at all
is surely a gift of the living God!

When we say the Creed, “We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,” we can be aware that
God as Father was only one revelation of Jesus
regarding the nature of God. 
God as Father does not stand alone in revelations of God
throughout scripture and the history of the church. 
God as Father is only a partial picture.

We can expand our vocabulary of prayer and
the ways in which we name the Holy One. 
When we do, we bear witness to the fact that
the mystery of God transcends all categories of knowing,

So, when you feel expelled from God’s presence,
Jesus will find you and ask,
Do you believe in the Chosen One?”
You might reply,
"Who is this One, that I may believe?"
Don’t be surprised if Jesus responds,
"You're looking at him…the Chosen One is speaking to you now." There, right in front of you, will be Jesus, the living God.

The experience of the living God exceeds our hope and surpasses our memory. 
The experience of the living God is more than the signs that point toward the sacred,
more than the sacraments that share in it,
more than the stained glass that depicts it,
more than the music that celebrates it. 
The experience of the living God is beyond masculine or feminine. 

To paraphrase The Rev. Frank Wade,
the experience of the living God is the
“Holy-cow, what-was-that, where-did-that-come-from and how-did-that-happen experience.
It is feeling the wind of the Spirit whip around us. 
It is drawing on the invigorating results of spiritual discipline. 
It is seeing doors open where there had only been walls before.
It is finding still water in a shadowed valley
of illness or grief or loss and then
feeling the rod that comforts, the staff that guides. 
It is being drained by intercessory prayer and
rejuvenated by praise.
It is the recurring miracle of loaves and fishes
seen over and over by the generous and the vulnerable. 

It is in the unfocused eyes of the newly born and
the about to die
who know that the unknown at either end of life
is held in common cause and common embrace. ”[3]

Today, may we experience the living God,
the God that loves beyond all categories,
with great clarity in a sacred, holy, healing way that is
bigger than you can imagine...

That is blessed assurance, indeed! 


[1] Portions inspired by Elizabeth Rankin Geitz, Gender and The Nicene Creed, (New York, Church Publishing, 1995) p. 15-24

[2] Portions inspired by Elizabeth Rankin Geitz, Gender and The Nicene Creed, (New York, Church Publishing, 1995) p. 15-24

[3] The Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, former interim dean of the Washington National Cathedral, offered at the 190th Commencement at Virginia Theological Seminar, Alexandria VA, May 22, 2013. VTS Journal, p. 41-43.