Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sermon: After Orlando, What is Our Name?

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year C
19 June 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Listen here

Last week’s tragic shooting in Orlando. A gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a crowded gay nightclub in Florida.  This was not where I planned to begin my sermon a week ago. And that is where we are. 

Senseless violence has once again shattered lives, violating a sanctuary, the one sacred place for one of my tribes, the LGBT people who simply sought to enjoy themselves without judgment. The pain is indescribable.

If you listen to the overtones of the situation, you can hear Jesus asking us, “what is your name?” We, as a society, are exposed.  What is your name? How do we begin to describe the event – was it the result of mental illness? Was it a hate crime against Latino people? Was it violence against the queer community? Was it rejection of Disneyland, the happiest place on earth? Was it internalized homophobia acting out?  If you listen, you can hear Jesus crying out, “what is your name?” There is a lot of trouble in our world.  Is there a word from the Lord here?

Today’s Gospel message tells of a man in the country of the Gerasenes who offers a name to his pain, so that he can find healing.  
He was “other” to Jesus and his disciples:
·         He was from a land opposite Galilee, where they raised pigs (clearly not Jewish).
·         He wore unfamiliar attire – in fact, no clothes at all, which shamed and embarrassed everyone around him.
·         He did not live in a house – he lived in the tombs, a place of burial for the dead and shelter for very poor people.
·         He shouted at the top of his voice, falling down in an act of homage under the power of the demons, begging to be free.
·         He was ready for a change – a change that would transform his life,
a change that only Jesus, Son of the Most High God, could bring.
-Jesus knew this readiness even before the man asked. 
Tired of being possessed, the man sought a change: promise of a future different from the past, a change towards a new direction, a change triggered by exposure. 

What is your name? Jesus asked.  “Legion.” He replied, exposing all that degraded and demeaned his life. And Jesus permitted the demons (the many aspects of possession) to enter the herd of swine nearby.  Freed, the man was transformed, from being out of his mind to sitting at Jesus’ feet; from living in the tombs to preaching in the city; from being naked to being clothed.[1] Jesus transformed the man.

What is your name? Jesus asks our world full of senseless violence.  “Legion,” we lament, exposing all that degrades and demeans our lives, often based in fear of what is “other” than us. Our society is tired of being possessed, and in the news you can track the many ways that our common lives are being confronted. In the face of our own “Legion,” we are exposed.  And, in that discomfort, even pain, it is no wonder we choose to remain our places of stunned brokenness, possessed by trouble to which the world says “that’s just the way it is.” Perhaps it’s too painful for us, so we clam up.  Or we distance ourselves from the other.

Author James Norriss describes "othering[2]" as: “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody's mind as 'not one of us'. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it's sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are. If you're not "one of us", he writes, you can be dismissed and hated as an "other", the enemy.”

There is another way.  The way begins with the companionship of Jesus.  Thoughts and prayers begin the healing journey.  Naming our pain begins to bind our wounds.  Holding on to Jesus’ courage and conviction that we are one body, we can come out and we can claim our true identity, facing the deeper consequences of that fact:

when we come out – as a faith community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and allies
when we come out – as a community of all ethnicities and races
when we come out – as a community blessed with all kinds of people who are different, then we offer our own vulnerable lives, then we are dispossessed of what binds us. then, we are transformed by love, then, we recognize that in Jesus, all that is degraded and demeaned in our life departs from us. 

Today, we come out. We come out as welcoming, transforming, trusting, loving, healing and grounded in a life that opens us up to more transformation. We cannot remain the same.  We are disciples, and we open our hearts to all the ways that God is changing us, freeing us from our possessions.

Even before we even fall to our knees, Jesus commands those demons that hold us back, individually, communally, and in our society, to come out of us. Jesus’ healing grace binds up what is broken, reconciles relationships that are divided, and drenches with love what is steeped in hate.

Today, in response to the unnamable pain, we come out.  We come out on the side of love.  We come out demanding a just society. We come out remembering the poor. We come out in response to this incident by using our educated minds and rights as citizens to contact our representatives and to express our opinions about legislation that supports civility among all people.  We come out against unjust laws.  We come out as faithful members of a community that yearns to be transformed.

What is our name?  Our name is One, in Christ Jesus. 

For as St. Paul begs[3] in his letter to the Ephesians, “we can lead a life worthy of the calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

For what is our name?  The name is ONE. One body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. This is our hope.  And it is enough.

May we know the grace given today, in the gift of Jesus Christ,
for One is our name.


[1] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, Naked No More, posted on June 12, 2016 at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4678
[2] Cited in Peter Sawtell’s Eco-Justice Notes on June 17, 2016 and quoting from this blog: https://therearenoothers.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/othering-101-what-is-othering/

[3] Ephesians 3.21-4.10

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sermon: Re-member

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
5 June 2016

Listen here.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Dag Hammarskjold was one of the most outstanding and highly respected international leaders of the 20th century.  He spent the latter part of his life devoted to pursuing the principles of the United Nations Charter, which proposed international cooperation and reconciliation for a peaceful world. 

It was known that Hammarskjold saw his work not only as a political role but also as a religious calling.  On his travels around the world, Hammarskjold always took with him three items, found in his briefcase, and recovered after the plane crash that took his life in 1961.  These included a copy of the NT, a copy of the Psalms, and a copy of the United Nations Charter.[1]

Indeed, Hammarskjold must have understood that the book of Psalms
·        Pronounces God’s claim upon the whole world
·        Conveys God’s will for justice, righteousness and peace among all peoples & nations, and
·        Anticipates Jesus’ bold position that the kingdom of God has come near.

While ancient Israelites used the psalms in their liturgy, these texts are much more than sophisticated poems.  We read them at every Sunday service, Evensong and daily morning & evening prayer – daily in the chapel at 8:30 and 5pm, you are invited!  We read the whole book of psalms in 30 days according to the order provided in the Book of Common Prayer.  Turn in your books of common prayer (BCP) to page 613, looking at the italicized text just above the number 24.  “Fifth day, morning prayer,” which we read for MP until BCP 27, where it says, “Fifth day, evening prayer,” etc.

At their heart, the psalms are not only humanity’s response to God, but also God’s word to humanity.  In this mutual conversation, we remember humanity’s ancient conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s divine conversation with humanity.
Professor Walter Brueggemann[2] offers a three-part framework to help with the enormous task of re-membering.

First, Psalms of Orientation reflect ours and God’s grounded sense of well-being found in the stories of creation, of the Torah, of wisdom literature.  Psalm 145 is a fine example, affirming God’s providential care.  Secondly, the Psalms of Disorientation offer personal and communal lament as found in that despairing place of unresolve and the very human experience of being felt denied by God and God’s experience of denial by humanity.  Psalm 88, for example, embraces this unresolved disorientation and precious helplessness.  Finally, Psalms of New Orientation offer personal and communal thanksgiving, confidence and praise in remembering the larger arch of creation. 

Today’s Psalm, #30, is a New Orientation psalm of thanksgiving, remembering the eternal story of going into trouble, sure, and of coming out of trouble that invokes a response that cannot be silent: praise and thanksgiving.  Getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, invoking burst of praise to God.

This theme, apparent in the first verses of the psalm, is palpable in the reading from 1st Kings and from the Gospel of Luke.  The psalmist, like anyone who grieves a loss, needs to tell the story – more, to remember, over and over, the details of the death and the rescue that occurs from which the response bursts forth: Lord, you have drawn me up, you have healed me, you have lifted me up and restored me to life.  The imagery of death captures and holds power for both the psalmist then and for us, now.

This psalmist invites us to remember. When were we, too, were brought to the Pit?  What was it like to demand from God an explanation for the depth of suffering? Finally, upon delivery, can we remember how we had to tell someone about that welling up of joy?  Remember how we could not stay silent, but instead give thanks and praise God?

With a veritable economy of words, the psalmist recounts the theme of the widow whose son died and yet lived again, according to the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.  The psalmist anticipates the other widow’s story from Luke, in which Jesus’ encounters her dead son and restores him to life through a compassionate command to “Rise!”  It seems the psalmist knew that from this encounter, people could only respond by glorifying God and sharing their praise.

Through these ancient stories, we remember humanity’s ancient conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s divine conversation with humanity.  And so God re-members us, re-weaves us into God’s beloved community and re-binds our broken hearts with compassion and with holy Love.  Again, we give thanks.

The last Hebrew word in this psalm is one of confessional thanks.  With that thanks there is a commitment to remember vividly the pre-rescue situation and to keep that memory alive.  With thanks, we confess.  When we give thanks, we admit that we rely upon another. To thank is a commitment to relationship. 

The Psalms hold a response to deep, human yearnings: the cries of our soul, the songs of surrender, the hymns of praise.  At the heart of this Psalm, with any interpretation, is this: God re-members us.

So how do we re-member others into our community?
1.   We see & serve others – we really see them, respecting their dignity in every way.  This week, we can look deeply into the eyes of those we encounter and attend to their needs, putting our needs to the side.
2.   We suffer with or have compassion with others – having compassion as for scripture’s widows and their sons, suffering with others and re-membering them into the community.  This week, we can offer compassion.
3.   We say thank you – We re-member others into our community by giving thanks.  And, in so doing, we admit our relationship with them and with God, the God who re-members us all back into community.

At their heart, the psalms are not only humanity’s response to God, but also God’s word to humanity.  In this mutual conversation, we remember humanity’s conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s conversation with humanity.

Today’s good news is that God remembers us, our whole selves, our whole humanity, our whole ancient story.  Our silence is impossible! 

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. 
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

[1] Story inspired by New Interpreter Bible Commentary, “The Book of Psalms,” page 641 quoting Dorothy V. Jones, “The Example of Dag Hammarskjold: Style and Effectiveness at the UN,” The Christian Century 111, 32 (Nov. 9, 1994) 1050.
[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1984)