Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sermon: Co-Workers In The Kingdom

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

The 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6, Year A)
18 June 2017

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Listen here.

Earlier this week, I set out to research how sheep act if they are without a shepherd. I found this article from 2005, Associated Press, about 450 sheep who jumped to their death in Turkey.  The article[1] reported how, “…first one sheep jumped and then the stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff.  In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile…those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned.”

And, surprising me more, was the fact that this was not the only article reporting this kind of behavior. Apparently, sheep are notorious for bad behavior if left to themselves. Once spooked whole flocks can be lost – due to lightening or predators. Their nature is also to live in community with each other.

Jesus must have seen that notoriously bad sheep behavior before. He recognized a similarity with the following crowds, acting like spooked sheep. The people were stressed by life, starting with small living quarters – whole families in one-room upstairs, above the one-stall animal room. They were helpless to avoid the stench of poor sewer systems draining down the middle of the streets. They were often slaves of wealthy Roman citizens, harassed by their owners. They were helpless under the weight of heavy taxes, which for Jewish people could add up to more than half their income.  Additionally, any illness – physical or mental – would surely mean loss – of homes, of livelihood, of family members.  When Jesus saw those crowds, harassed and helpless, he had compassion on them.

The crowds today are no different. They are stressed by life: Harassed by the conflicting schedules of softball and dance and choir and homework and morning breakfast meetings that go until lunch. Harassed by the city inspector (or the neighbor’s expectations) to keep the front yard mowed and the trash cans off the curb. Harassed trying to schlep the groceries in the house with a kid under one arm, the dog running on a leash and the elderly parent calling on the cell phone. Harassed under the tyranny of emails, texts and voice mail demanding immediate response. They are helpless to fulfill promises made to attend an event for a colleague while defraying the cries of a spouse who states they are not home enough. They are helpless to heal their best friend’s cancer or their brother’s addictions or their own loss of memory.  They are harassed and helpless living under the weight of 21st century velocity of life and the incarnational limits of humanity.

When Jesus sees these crowds – sees us, harassed and helpless, he has compassion on them – on us. Feeling harassed and helpless is not a sign of failure but of being human.

And just as sovereign rulers had done for thousands of years before him at their accession, Jesus promised to turn the world upside-down and proclaimed amnesty; freedom in the Kingdom of Heaven from abusive taxation, from unjust legal penalties, and from physical – or mental – illness.  Jesus proclaimed the good news and had compassion –felt in his guts, so deeply. 

And these harassed and helpless crowds were so ready for freedom – so ready for the “harvest.” They were so desperate to receive what had long been promised to the gathered people of Israel.

Jesus knew that shepherding requires co-workers.  Not perfect people, but the people he had. So, out of the crowds, Jesus called over the disciples.  He qualified them to be co-workers in the field, giving them authority and the tools to heal in his name.

{In true Gospel of Matthew style, emphasizing Jesus’ call to the Jewish people, he directs them to the flock of Israel.  He will get to the Gentiles and Samaritans later – and does so by the end of the Gospel, commanding them to go and baptize all nations (v. 28:19)}.

With his focus toward the house of Israel, Jesus emphasized community for people of faith to live and flourish. Notice he called together people who disagree?  Matthew, a tax collector and minion of Rome and Simon the Cananean, a Zealot and enemy of Rome.  Yes, even in his first vestry, there were people on both sides of the Roman aisle who worked together for the Kingdom of Heaven, in the service of community, doing God’s work in the world.

So you know what comes next, right?  It is so obvious what today’s gospel message is about. But if it is so obvious what happens next, how are we so comfortable standing by? Let’s be curious about that. Yep, today’s gospel message is that Jesus summons us, not perfect people, but the ones he has.  He reminds us, by the authority of our baptism to have compassion on the crowds. 

Jesus summons us today, to have compassion so we can bring back to the flock those who have gone astray. 
Jesus summons us today to be wounded healers, to cure the sickness of isolation and loneliness, to raise the dead at heart, reminding them that nothing can ever separate them from God’s love.
Jesus summons us today to cleanse the “lepers” by touching and seeing people who feel untouchable and unseen because of age, gender identity, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, religious (or even non-religious) understanding, or seen as disaffected by our community.
Jesus summons us today to welcome back friends who have broken with us, betrayed us, resented us… to cast out the demon of guilt and to forgive over and over and over. 
Jesus summons us today to become co-workers of his grace and love. 

And when we feel harassed and helpless, Jesus asks us to get real.  Because what matters most is that God came in Jesus in the first place to tell us that God loves not the persons we are trying to be or have promised to be or want to be, but the ones we are. 

A few years ago, during our Ashes To Go prayer offering on the running trail in Tucson, a purple-haired and pierced mother showed up with her teenage daughter.  We prayed together, the lay healers and I, and offered the Ash Wednesday prayer, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  Through tears, we invited her to come pray with us at our parish – just over the bridge across there. 

The next year, the same woman showed up with her daughter. She shared how helpless she felt to help her mother’s illness, so could we pray for her, too? 

The third year… she did not show up.

So we went back to church for the late afternoon family Ash Wednesday service.  As I reached out to begin the imposition of ashes, the first & second person in line was this woman and her daughter.  I was so surprised I said, Oh, you came!  Yes, of course, she replied, this is my church, this is my community that prays with me. News is that this woman has begun participating in the weekly healing service, offering her healing prayer to others.  Through her harassed life, she found a world of freedom by becoming a co-worker with Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And every Ash Wednesday I see her face in my heart and her countenance, ready to hear the good news of freedom.

My sisters and brothers, we have received deep compassion without payment and today, Jesus asks that we give without payment.


Sermon: Trinity: All Process, All the Time

A Sermon preached in Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday 2017
June 10 5:30 pm and June 11 8:00 am
The Rev’d Vicki K. Hesse
Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Cor 13:11-13 and Matt 28:16-20

Glory to the holy and undivided Trinity: The Creator, and the Word, and the Holy Spirit; three Persons in one God, Amen.

Today is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday – the first Sunday after Pentecost.  Historically, Trinity Sunday is a day to *celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity, defined in the BCP (852) as three persons of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If that sounds like sermon quicksand, you might be onto something.  Even those of us who have been to seminary know that understanding the Trinity is difficult.  It’s like, “…trying to figure out what color the letter seven smells like.”[1] So with some trepidation, we explore this doctrine and wonder how it applies in our lives.

In her book on the Trinity[2], Episcopal priest and mystic Cynthia Bourgeault tells a story of her friend Murat Yagan. Murat had, as a young man just after WW2, learned about ranching in a remote village in Turkey. During this time, he befriended an elderly couple who lived nearby. Years after his time there, he returned for a visit. The elderly couple was happy to see their friend, but the one sadness was that their only son had moved away to Istanbul.  They proudly shared with Murat the new tea cupboard that their son had shipped to them after he was settled in business. It was a finely crafted piece of furniture on which the woman proudly arranged her best tea set on the upper shelf. Curious, Murat pressed if they were sure this was a tea cupboard?  With their permission, he took a closer look, unscrewed a few packing boards, and found a set of cabinet doors.  These doors swung open and revealed a fully operative ham radio set. That “tea cupboard” was intended to connect them to their son, but unaware of the real contents, they were simply using it to display their china.

With this story in mind, Bourgeault poses the question: Have Christians have been using the Holy Trinity as a theological tea cupboard, upon which we display our finest doctrinal china: Jesus as a human being is fully divine.  What if inside is concealed a powerful communications tool that could connect us to the rest of the worlds (visible and invisible)? And with provocation and intellectual intrigue, we too can unscrew a few packing boards and swing open a fresh perspective of the way the Holy Trinity might work.

Some of you might know that it has become popular to ‘feminize’ the Trinity – making it more gender accessible. In this way, the Holy Spirit is understood as the feminine face of the Divine among the Father and the Son.  Some scholars argue that the Holy Spirit is really identical to Sophia, the wisdom of God, personified as female in the Old Testament and embodying that “feminine” way of knowing.  You may have heard some people, in reciting the Nicene Creed, replacing the masculine language for the Spirit with “she.”  This somewhat helpful gender corrective offers a contrast to the extensive male representation of God that is fused onto a male political hierarchy.  This approach, however, still emphasizes a binary system of masculine/feminine.  This surface rearrangement, revisioning the Divine persons doesn’t quite capture the surprising and creative power of Divine Love. 

So here is where it gets interesting.  When we engage the Holy Trinity as Love in Motion, emphasizing Divine action and movement, we can find that the communication between persons is just as important as the persons themselves.  I know this can be elusive, but stay with me here. In a ‘ternary’ system (as opposed to a binary system), balance arises from the interplay of two polarities that calls forth a third result.  That third force mediates and generates a new synthesis that begins again. And that dynamic generates a fantastic new realm of possibilities.  That sense of movement, those processes that trigger other processes is the exciting power of creation, manifestation and reconciliation.  That’s a Holy Trinity ham radio!

So here is an example: Sailing. How many of you are sailors, or how many of you have watched sailboats? A sailboat is driven through the water by the interplay of the wind on the sail and the resistance of the sea against the keel.  These two forces result in a third force: forward movement through the water.  But as any sailor knows, for forward movement to occur, the destination must be set by a helmsperson.  When the destination’s tension meets the sail’s resistance and keel’s pressure, the three create a successful course.  Indeed – it is all three of these processes working together that creates new situations for new processes to unfold.

So what does this have to do with the Good News of creation, or of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit? 

Think for a moment about your life.  Are there places where you grieve the loss of a loved one? Do you foster anger or resentment for someone in your heart or sadness about another’s struggle?  Are there hopes and dreams bursting in your heart, about to come to fruition?  Listen to the Good News of communication through the Trinity, Love in Motion.  Reflect: How is God the creator and Christ the manifestation of Love in tension with your heart’s desire, that yearning, that drawing that seems to pull you forward?  That is the Trinity at work in your heart and in your life.  That is love in motion.  Through that kinetic energy exchange, Creator/Word/Reconciler fuels and stimulates our lives, constantly inviting solutions, re-invigorating our faith life, fueling our life on the way of following Jesus. 

This is the process of unfolding that we hear about in the readings from Genesis today.  This is the Love in Motion of the great commission of Jesus- to “Go therefore and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Open your Trinity tea cupboard.  Engage the hum of the Trinity’s power that is inviting you to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  We can, with God’s grace, engage the power of the Holy Trinity through movement and powerful love. 

And remember, Jesus, the Divine creation’s manifest Word, inspired by Divine Spirit, is with us always, to the end of the age.


[1] Revd Fr Victor G. Spencer, Navalsig, Bloemfontein, South Africa
[2] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity, (Boston, Shambhala Publications, 2013)