Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sermon: And

Meditation for March 25, 2014 ~ 12:15 Wednesday
Third Wednesday in Lent
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

Lent.  A time to reflect. A time to be mindful.
A time to go deeper.

Today’s Gospel invites us deeper with this peculiar phrase:
“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law
or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

So what about our own laws and commandments?
How do we hold laws consistent while still holding space for mercy, compassion and love?

Last week at the AF on Private Prisons,
we learned that there are a number of laws
that have been sanctioned as “minimum time.”
That means the person who commits the crime,
regardless of circumstance, spends time in prison. 
As a result, our prisons are filling up.
And, there are cases and cases where the person’s situation
Challenges if “time in prison” is appropriate for their crime.

Can you think of other situations where the laws have been set down and followed regardless of any sense of mercy and compassion?


So you can understand how the disciples must have felt. Do we abandon the law, the prophets, the writings, the sacred scriptures that define who we are?

We hear Matthew’s community wrestling with
their own understanding of the relationship between
Christian discipleship and Torah obedience. 

During that time, the people pondered whether
the advent of the messiah meant that
the law had been abolished –
so here, the author of the Gospel reflects
who is Jesus vis-à-vis the existing Law and Prophets?

In a definite statement – the Gospel states
Jesus does not abolish –
but neither does he affirm the status quo.

Jesus is the both/and.

Jesus statement that he fulfills the law and prophets emphasizes that the whole scripture
testifies to God’s will and God’s work in history. 
This work and God’s will, as testified,
is not completely the whole picture –
it just points to the definitive act of God in Jesus.

This community held that the law and prophets are
to be obeyed not for what they are in themselves
but because they mediate the will of God. 

Jesus’ declared that this own life and teaching
was the revelation of the will of God.
Neither the written Torah
nor its oral tradition is the final authority.

Jesus reveals the will of God that is beyond…
beyond laws, beyond writings, beyond the prophets.

The good news is that Jesus is the both/and.
Jesus is the space between, the landscape beyond, the reasons why.

So for our Lenten reflection, today, we are invited by the Gospel to reflect.  To be mindful. To go deeper into through the mind of Christ and beyond seeming legal inflexibilities. 

God, in Jesus, is here, meeting us in our reflections, in our relationships, in our love, in our midst. 

In his book, “The Naked Now,”
Richard Rohr has a wonderful reflection called,
“The Shining Word “AND.[1] 

Here is an excerpt, to fuel your Lenten reflections this week:

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” teaches us to be patient and long-suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration

“And” helps us to live in the always imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our action is also contemplative

“And” heals our racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism
“And” allows us to critique both sides of things
“And” allows us to enjoy both sides of things

“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible

“And” does not trust love if it is not also justice
“And” does not trust justice if it is not also love

“And” is the very Mystery of Trinity


[1] Excerpt from The Naked Now, 2009, page 180-181, cited at on March 25, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sermon: Lent Punctuation

Sermon for Lent 1, Year A
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, March 9, 2014
Lectionary readings for the day, click here
Open our lips, O Lord,
that our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen
Welcome to Lent! 
As you may know,
Lent is a time for adopting and practicing disciplines
that prepare us to receive the mystery of Easter. 
Lent is a reflective time, to settle into
the vast expanse of God’s love for us.
Lent is a season of following Jesus to Jerusalem
and preparing for Easter, slowly, mindfully.


A few years ago, I lived in an urban neighborhood
where two streets dead-ended.
At the corner, one of my neighbors placed
a sandwich-board style sign in his yard. 
Set near the sidewalk in plain view of drivers
from either direction, it read,
There was no punctuation,
so we amused ourselves by wondering
what exactly this meant. 
Did it mean there were children nearby
who were slow to react? 
Did it mean to tell drivers to go slow, comma,
for children were around? 
Did it carry the voice of authority, telling the drivers
in all caps, to go slow, you children!

In a way, this sign and its multiple meanings invites us
to look for the punctuation in our Gospel text today. 
Many have interpreted Jesus’
temptation in the wilderness to be about
how drastically different Jesus is from the rest of us. 


Wet behind the ears from his baptism,
the Spirit leads Jesus directly into the wilderness
for the devil to tempt him.
In three successive attempts,
Jesus rejects the offers. 

Jesus declines the bread offer,
thus rejecting temptation of personal gain. 
Jesus turns away from the “angels will hold you up” offer,
          thus rejecting the lure of safety and security. 
Jesus discards the
“control all kingdoms of the world” offer,
thus rejecting the draw of power and prestige.

So, in denying these temptations,
Jesus remains without sin[1] and
*seems* to show how drastically different he is
from the rest of us.
Yet, when we slow down, children,
we can see that the real message is about
how Jesus is very much like human kind. 

In the wilderness, he feels the very human suffering
          that comes from the spurring of desires.
Over and over, Jesus faces the possibility
of distancing himself from humanity. 
Over and over, he stares down the prospect
of miraculous super-powers
Yet, over and over,
Jesus drastically identifies with humanity.

What is especially noteworthy is that
Jesus had just been baptized by John,
the Holy Spirit had just descended and
the voice from heaven had just declared him
to be God’s own beloved son.

Perhaps the biggest temptation,
having just been named the Son of God,
was to stop being human.

For us, too. 
Doesn’t our greatest temptation
(for personal gain, or security, or power)
arrive when we have just experienced
Divine grace through service with others?

Or when it seems our prayers have just been answered?
Or when our family, for once, sees things our way? 
Isn’t *that* the time when we feel we are on a roll
and can be enticed into feeling superhuman?

So it seems that would have been just the time
for Jesus to emphasize his difference
from the rest of humanity. 

Yet here, at the beginning of Jesus ministry,
there is another narrative at play. 
We glimpse Jesus’ future kenosis on the cross. 
We see him relinquishing divine traits
so that he can experience human suffering.

Jesus remains firm, over and over, in being human.

He joins us in our susceptibility
to the suffering of desire and
the distortion that desire brings.

With this punctuation,
we see that Jesus’ temptation is about
his refusal to “play God.”
By affirming his humanity,
Jesus is surely Immanuel,

This Lenten season, may we mindfully
embrace our humanity and
punctuate it with God’s love.  In this way, we can:
“Fast from fear; Feast on Faith
Fast from despair; Feed on hope.
Fast from depressing news; Feed on prayer.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger and worry; Feed on patience.
Fast from bitterness; Feed on love and forgiveness.[3]

When we slow down, children,
we realize afresh what is means to be a child of God:
It means that we, too, do not ask for
miraculous exceptions to our human limitations. 
It means we live an authentic life, acting for peace and justice while being lifted up from the love of God. 
It means we recognize
the abundance of grace and
the gift of God’s forgiveness.[4] 

It means that Jesus punctuates our lives and
walks with us every step of the way
as we prepare to receive the mystery of Easter.                        


[1] This is attested to emphatically in the letter to the Hebrews, which emphasizes our confidence in the abundance of grace. See Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
[2] Inspired by The Rev. Joyce Mercer, Ph.D., “Reflection for the First Sunday in Lent,” Virginia Theological Seminary, March 5, 2014
[3] As noted in Fr. Tommy Lane’s homily for Lent 1, Year C, 2013 (adapted from A Lenten Prayer by William Arthur Ward)
[4] Inspired from the New Interpreter’s Bible, Matthew 4:1-11 Reflections, p. 166.