Friday, December 8, 2017

Sermon: Thin Place

A Sermon Preached at
All Saints Episcopal Church, Pontiac, MI
A Renewal of Ministry and
Welcoming of New Rector:
The Rev. Chris Johnson
Thursday, December 7, 2017
By The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
Director of the Whitaker Institute, Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

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.

Scripture texts here

Bishop Gibbs, Priest Chris, congregation of All Saints,
ministry colleagues and friends,
I am honored to speak with you tonight
and begin by offering thanks…

Thanks to God for the people of All Saints
and for your parish leaders
who have faithfully guided the congregation
through a season of transition
– you have been waiting a long time for this moment!

Thanks to the Holy Spirit for bringing Chris
into discernment with All Saints
and all that resulted in his call to join you in ministry.
And I give thanks for family and friends
who have surrounded him on every side.
* Tonight is a happy occasion
to preach the good news of salvation,
in this Thin Place,
where you have been drawn together
by the One
who created
One new humanity,
who reconciled
all creation
to One God
through the One body
and who gave access
to the One Spirit,[1]
as members of the household of God.

Surprisingly, perhaps, a small seed
for this happy occasion
began in a different “Thin Place,”
where I first met Christ some 15 or 20 years ago
in the Diocese of Colorado.

Chris had sent a call out for any available churches
to help at his parish with badly needed repairs. 
Our parish bulletin that week included this invitation,
so , as a parishioner, I joined others from our church and
we showed up at Chris’s church one Saturday afternoon
for a work day across town.

Chris greeted us, gave us a quick tour of the building
and turned us loose on the stairwell for repainting and repair.
as he met other groups in various parts of the church building.
His presence was very kind
and he trusted us (amazingly)
to figure out what needed to happen. 

Thankfully, we had a professional painter
as well as several handy and skilled workers in our little group
who guided those of us that were less-gifted
and had brought, innocently enough, no tools or skills for the day.

In *that* Thin Place, I personally learned about
the joy of working on projects with parishioner-mates
whom I barely knew,
for someone who I had just met,
in a part of Denver previously unknown to me.

And I don’t remember much more about that day.
A seed was planted in my heart for
the adventures that can arise
when we somehow hear The Lord’s call
to go on ahead of him.

And, *this moment is another “Thin Place”
in the full sense of the phrase.
“Thin places,” one author writes,
“…are places where the distance
between heaven and earth collapses
and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine.”[2] 

Thin places often disorient, confuse, or redirect us
to find new ways of being. 
Thin places jolt us out of old ways of seeing the world
to transform our vision. 
Thin places surprise us in mesmerizing geography
like the rocky peaks of Iona
where the wind and water meet the shore. 

The Celtic people say,
“Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in Thin Places that distance is even shorter.”[3]

Thin places, Isaiah reminds us,
invite us to the house of the God of Jacob,
where God teaches us God’s ways
so that we may walk in Sacred paths.

Thin places surprise us
when sharp weapons are transformed for good use
– tilling the land and shaping the trees –
to feed hungry people in peace.

Thin places, the Gospel reminds us, draw us
to labor with deep soul-work
through the plentiful aching, pain and war –
to labor in the midst of wolves
who seek to destroy God’s vision of peace,
to labor with nothing but our Lov,e
to eat what is set before us,
to harvest a peace that passes understanding,
which the world cannot give,
to hold a vision for the Kingdom of God.

And, indeed, *this new pastoral relationship moment
is a Thin Place.

Sometimes the world seems very far from Thin Places.
Like when governments make laws and budgets
that hurt those already on the margins.
When society indulges in uncivil discourse
with words and name calling that wound our souls. 
When a dear loved one dies,
when a long-time relationship ends,
or when we make mistakes,
only to realize it’s too late to ask for forgiveness. 
These are places that seem far from “Thin.”

Yet in times like tonight, God makes a place “Thin,”
and that we know that
when we experience the apparent absence of God
we faithful Christians know God
in the paradoxical intimacy of Jesus,
closer than our breath.

* This Thin Place proclaims God incarnate
right here, right now,
where we cannot be wounded by the world,
where compassion fuels our empathy for one another,
where God’s wide open mercy pours out on you and me.

And so tonight in this Thin Place, I offer some charges.
Chris, will you please stand? 

I charge you:
To stay awake.
To stay alert to this Thin Place. 
To here. To presence.
As Rilke once said, “To be here is immense.”[4]
Remember that.

And now that you are here, with this congregation,
you enter the inheritance
of everything that has preceded you
– you are an heir to this place.
The Holy Spirit has chosen you
and brought you through your “forest of dreaming”
until you could emerge
on the path of life,
in *this Thin Place.

So, I charge you
to witness the ongoing work of this community,
to harvest the wisdom of the invisible, sacred world
and to know and share God’s love for you
and all God’s children
who pass before you. 

Will you, with God’s help?        

And to the congregation, All Saints.  Will you please stand? 

I charge you
to go to those Thin Places where Jesus himself intends to go,
to seek out Thin Places where your hearts burst
with love for and with ache of the world. 
to live into your heritage and mission,
fueled by your Benedictine vow of Stability –
to stay in this community
and serve the Christ among you
to challenge your passions and to find rest for your souls,
so that all nations will stream to your light.

Will you, with God’s help?        

My friends….

May God give you strength and
May God give you grace.

For indeed, this is a Thin Place.

Where the Kingdom of God has come near!

[1] Eph 2:13-22

[2] Cited at Eric Weinstein’s March 9, 2012 New York Times article, found here:
[3] Ibid.
[4] John O’Donohue, “To Bless The Space Between Us,” p. 186

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sermon: Holy Waiting, Together

A Sermon Preached in
The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 27A RCL) November 12, 2017
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, 
Director of the Whitaker Institute
Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

Readings found here.

Good morning! 
Greetings from the Diocese of Michigan
in my role as the Director of the Whitaker Institute. 
Who knows about WI or what WI does?
The Whitaker Institute is the teaching
and Christian formation department of the Bishop’s office. 
Founded by Priest Bob Whitaker, we now
provide learning opportunities in the Dio
beyond what individual parishes can
developing and forming disciples
to do God’s work in the world. 

Practically speaking,
this includes three main programs:
First, Safeguarding courses – (currently under revision)
regular courses designed to teach church ministers
about protecting the safety and dignity
of children and vulnerable adults. 
Second, Exploring Your Spiritual Journey – “EYSJ”
a twice-monthly circle of people (facilitated)
listening with the ear of their heart
how God is calling them to serve in the world.
Third, Academy for Vocational Leadership –
a monthly seminary operating collaboratively with
Dio E Mich and Dio W Mich.

Whitaker offers several other enrichment courses
that arise through commonly expressed needs –
such as the Epiphanies Conferences,
the Saturday series and Holy Land pilgrimages.

I would like to thank Priest Carol, in absentia,
for inviting me here today to be with you.
Rainer Maria Rilke once said,  
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves…
Do not now seek the answers,
which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Today’s gospel text remains unsolved in my heart- 
the message was so subtle, I almost missed it.
The bridesmaids waited together.
It was what they had in common.
They waited, they got bored, they fell asleep. 
The action of the story takes place afterward, after waiting. 
The shout of the groom’s arrival
fueled the “so-called” wise ones to go immediately
and the “so-called” foolish ones to realize, only then,
that they could not light their lamps. 

Is this what the kingdom of heaven is like?
Being shut out because you are not prepared?  I think NOT. 
Let me be clear.
Here is what we believe –
the Kingdom of heaven, which we experience, every. Single. Day…
Is full of God’s love and acceptance, hope and forgiveness. 
And sometimes the Kingdom of Heaven can only be recognized against
the parabolic rhetoric of Jesus’ parables or extreme events. 

In this text there was a commonality: they waited. 
Waiting.  We all do it; willingly or not.

How many of you had to wait for something or someone today? 
How many of you are still waiting for someone or something? 
Think about it: what are you waiting for?

For what is St. James as a faith community waiting?
For what are we, as a nation, waiting? 
For what, are we, as a humankind, waiting?

These questions are that yearning
that is part of the Kingdom of Heaven,
whether in the extreme parables of Jesus or
the extreme events of shooting in Sutherland Springs.
Waiting.  We do it together. And it is hard.
Let’s look at the Gospel in context. 

See, the Gospel of Matthew was written
at least fifty years after Jesus. 
The faith community, by that time,
had been waiting a long time for Jesus’ promised return.
Most of the people who knew the first disciples
were probably dead. 
During those 50 years, the Temple
(that most holy place of committed Jews who confessed Jesus and
the Jews who did not)
– well, that temple had been destroyed. 
And the followers were still waiting. 
And it was still hard.  
And they waited, day by day, together.
So of course Matthew wrote about the difficulty of waiting.

The letter that Paul offered to the Thessalonians,
written only 20 or so years after Jesus’ death,
addressed the anxiety present from waiting,
so Paul encouraged one another.
Paul, during his time, knew a thing or two about waiting. 
He waited, often times in jail,
with the support of other believers in the community.

So with all that going on,
Paul emphasized being prepared,
saying how hard it is to wait,
and to encourage each other.
That waiting was not just hard for the first century people.
Here we are 20 centuries later and
we post-moderns still find it hard to wait.
We are particularly challenged by
delayed gratification
Impulse control
Drive to be busy
Fear of wasting time.
And begrudgingly, we wait.

Waiting. We all do it.  It’s what we have in common.
For some, waiting is good:
It’s the wait for the full term birth of a healthy child, or
the wait for confirmation that we got that promotion, or
the wait for our retirement party marking the end of a successful career.

But waiting for something that is hard, that’s different. 
When will the diagnosis be made?
Why have I not heard back from that job interview? 
Has my family arrived safely in their journey?
When will God be clear
about what I am supposed to do with my life?
Veterans of our armed services
– they waited a lot, and we do, too:
when will wars be over?

It is still hard to wait.
Waiting. We all do it.  It’s what we have in common.
.. .. . . .

And those bridesmaids – they all waited. 
Yet they did not wait alone
– they just waited and waiting and waited,
even through the delay.
They waited till they all fell asleep.
And they did it together – the wise and the foolish – together. 
And God was with all of them the whole time. 
For God knew exactly where each person was
And what they were up to,
whether wise or foolish, stingy or unprepared – they were not alone.

And God was with the people in the shooting,
God was crying, too, in the horror.
And God showed up in the waiting, after.
God bonded those people to us, together, forever.
. . . .. .

Let’s wonder together –
how can we prevent isolated waiting? 
What kind of community can St. James be,
and what can be done to ensure that
 no one is locked out of any banquet, wedding or not?

We start with God, who calls EVERYONE to this table:
rich, poor, gay, straight, trans, black, white, saint and sinner.
Everyone is welcome.

St. James – where your mission statement is
“to restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ. 
Does that happen quickly? No, it happens in the waiting.

In the space between our words,
in the pause we take before speaking,
in the interval between “Coffee and Conversation” events,
in the recess between invitations and acceptance. 

A friend of mine, going through a rough illness,
waits a lot at that hospital.
His life is punctuated by IVs and therapists.
He waits.  A Lot. 
I asked how does he do that, what keeps him going? 
Well, he looks for flowers each day. 
He reports his flowers on his blog:
·        The kind woman who stopped by with a smile.
·        The grandchild who facetimed with him in the morning.
·        The added oxygen when he felt ill. 
·        The Spirit-inspired medication that will make him well. 
His practice of waiting
shows the grace of God’s presence
even in the midst of hard times. 

People of God gathered at St. James –
you know that it is hard to wait.
It’s what we have in common.
You, as a faith community,
are a genuine place of welcome
in a broken, isolated, divided world. 
You celebrate, here, week after week,
the opportunity to be with God in the waiting,
to encourage each other for action in the world.

For in solidarity with each other,
the Spirit binds us with wisdom
about which we heard in the first reading. 
Think about how often we have shared
with a friend only to realize,
yes, *that’s it!* to a burden we previously could not solve.

“…wisdom is easily discerned
by those who seek and love and desire it. “
In the waiting, wisdom appears on the path
and shines with the light of Christ. 

The good news? You are not alone in your waiting. 
God is with you and loves you in that midst.

So today,
think about something you are waiting for
(other than for me to finish my sermon). 

When you get to coffee hour, ask each other
                          what are you waiting for?
                          What hopes and dreams do you anticipate
                             that make your heart skip a beat?
In sharing how you wait,
1.     God’s presence will lift your load
2.     God delights in your joy
3.     God gives us patience toward those unsolved questions

For how we wait and live into the questions is
part of who we are as a faith community
– a holy people, with holy dreams and holy hopes. 

This is who we are in holy waiting, living into God’s answers.