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Easter 5 It is Enough

RCL Year B

The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

It is Enough

It’s interesting. The majority of Gospel and Epistle lessons during the Easter Season this year are about love. We get the idea, if we don’t already know, that the one teaching John found to be essential, the one that grounds and encircles and contains all Jesus’ actions and interactions and teachings, is love.

And it’s a special kind of love. The New Testament as we have it was first written and translated into Greek, the international language of the day. In Greek there are four words for love, and each one describes a different kind of love. You know this; it’s nothing new. In English we have only one word for the four kinds of love

Eros is the word that signifies falling in love. The word “erotic” comes from the same root. But in its fullest form eros can be also a platonic love, a love that searches for and finds the truth in another. This is the love of deep and committed relationships.

Philia is “brotherly love,” or today we’d say neighborly love. The love of one human being for one another. A platonic love. The love of friendship. Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love.”

Storge is the love within the family, a natural love. The love that usually comes automatically between parent and child.

The fourth word is agape, and this is the love John uses, the love Jesus showed for all people and the love he calls us to share. This love is nonjudgmental. It is unconditional. God loves every human being without condition, and we are to strive to love one another without condition. This is the love that seeks not to agree but to understand, to accept in another that which can be vastly different from oneself. It’s the hardest kind of love, sometimes. This love is the love that forgives and desires the best for the other. This love sets aside personal interest in the interest of another.

Agape is the love we’ve been reading about all these weeks in the Easter Season. It’s really the foundation of our being as followers of Jesus. Unless we know this love as our calling, we do not know God. John tells us that.

That’s pretty harsh. Pretty unforgiving, it would seem. But we must remember that Jesus’ hope for us is that we will know him and know God and in that knowing have life that is abundant and everlasting. So it’s for our well being that he sets this almost impossible goal for us.

It’s not every day that I see either unconditional love or its opposite, closed minded, selfish judgment. But the past two weeks I’ve heard a lot of words that signify judgment. And these words have come from people who wear the cross proudly, boldly. They define their identity, as we do, in following Jesus. But they qualify the love we are called to give. There are all sorts of conditions; they can be conditions of gender, race, sexual identity, even faith. Some of the conditions are so deeply rooted that their owner would deny they exist. The person can even live and move without realizing conditions are governing their relationships. The conditions that we can lump into a general category of prejudice or judgment keep us from knowing the deep, difficult meaning of the love we’re called to give, and in that unknowing we, according to the words John puts in Jesus’ mouth, don’t know God. There’s a deep chasm between the love that led Jesus to the cross and a common understanding of salvation.

And as I say this I know I am judging. I also know that however far I can reach to give agape to all people, I will fall short and must rely on Jesus’ promise of forgiveness.

So it’s essential that we explore those things that might separate us from other people. We have to understand where we will be challenged, we have to name those places and pray for the grace to meet their challenges and become the people God made us to be. This can be hard. But nothing worth having has ever been easy to come by, and salvation is no exception.

The news the past two years has been saturated with stories from Florida, Missouri, New York, and most recently, Baltimore. We go through life taking peace in our city for granted. We think we have no problems and have no cause to fear. Then a black man dies at the hand of a white policeman. We’re horrified and ashamed. We’re outraged. And when riots break out we realize that a similar sin may be marinating just below the surface in our own city.

We know enough history to see that our racial situation today in this country is the logical and predictable result of slavery. The oppression and the following years of disregard and prejudice that followed are the nourishment for racism. We see that pointing the finger at slave owners of a century and a half ago or at the descendants of slaves is only avoiding the truth of our predicament. We are not slave holders. And yet, we perpetuate a system that intentionally subjugates people who are disadvantaged to those who have the advantages of education, money, position and power. There’s no denying it.

But to admit that we’re all complicit, as painful and as shameful as it is, is essential and a good beginning. It’s truth telling. It’s the light that can awaken us to our responsibility to change the oppressive systems of our day. What can we do? Can we dare to look below the surface of our peaceful communities and see what lies beneath? How do we do that?

I don’t know. What I do know is that when we desire to do right, God opens ways for us.

I’m trying to get an appointment with our mayor to ask her what we can do as a community to get ahead of this here and to improve the lives of all people in our community. Maybe she’s already doing something; maybe not. Will conversations between races help? I do put a lot of faith in conversation and real listening.

It’s scary to think there’s tension between the people who protect us and the people who are to be protected. It’s scary to know that the horrors that have come to light in other communities cannot possibly be contained only in those places. North, south, east, west, our country has some serious business to attend to. Will we leave it for our children? Can we see the way to provide for our children a better community? Can we believe and deeply desire that one day our great land will be known for its compassion?

The love Jesus calls us to rise into, agape, is a love that lives with its eyes open and its heart ready to listen. It’s a love that strives not for the good of one person or one group of people but for the common good. For the good of all people of all colors, genders, races, creeds and sexual identities. This, and only this, is what it means to take the Gospel into all corners of the earth to all peoples. This, desiring and working for the common good, is the way we know God and enter into God’s work of reconciliation.

Am I scared? Yes, I’m scared of what’s brewing below our community’s surface. And yes, I’m scared, or maybe I should say intimidated, by what may lie ahead to uncover that brew. I guess Jesus knew following him wouldn’t lead us along a path of roses; he had to know that fear every day as he faced unjust powers and finally the cross.

And John had to know the steps of following Jesus could impart fear, for today we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” True love conquers fear. Our fear is of the powers of the world, the sin that’s here in our systems. We fear for our own well being. Let’s take a chance. Let’s trust that as we desire to grow in perfect love, as the love of God is perfected in us, that love will overcome our fear.

The story is told of the Apostle John that toward the end of his life he was so old and frail his disciples had to carry him around on a stretcher to the places where he taught. He could hardly talk; in fact, he repeated himself quite often. He was asked what is the way to salvation, and the story goes that day after day, minute after minute, he repeated, “Little children, love one another. It is enough.”

Translation: agape one another. Seek the common good. Strive for the good for all people. Forget yourselves. Love one another.

Maundy Thursday

2015-04-02 12.29.15 (1)April 2nd of this year has to have been the most moving and memorable Maundy Thursday most, if not all of us, have experienced. Our Bishop had asked that we share a Eucharist and foot washing with the people of the Texas Avenue neighborhood. These are our friends. We know them from Hope House and from meeting on the street and from Sunday services. Most of them we know their name and they know ours. Most are homeless, some live in apartments or houses in the neighborhood. All live in extreme poverty. The day was cloudy and breezy, perfect for gathering in the parking lot in front of Hope House at Austen Place and Texas Avenue. Lois Mabery had bought 32 pairs of shoes and many more pairs of new white socks. St. George’s fabulous chefs had made lunch and were there to serve it. St. Luke’s van was on hand for medical assessment and treatment when needed. Two members of the Physical Therapy staff at LSU Medical School were there to help with any treatments. The Reverends Morgan McIntyre, Bill Bryant, Alston Johnson, Guido Verbeck, Jaime Flowers, Frank Hughes, David Greer and Mary Richard – and of course, Bishop Jake Owensby – and many volunteers were present to wash and be washed and to share Communion and fellowship. In all, around 100 people! Bishop Owensby celebrated the Eucharist, using the Common Cathedral liturgy. We told the story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and explained Jesus’ new command that we love one another and that we serve one another. We talked about how he modeled this, by washing the feet of his friends. We prayed together, shared the Body and Blood of Christ, and began the foot washing and treatment. And then we shared lunch. Many good conversations before and after the service strengthened the bonds. All of us left with a deeper understanding of Jesus’ command to us and the depth of that evening that begins the Triuum in our church.

2015-04-02 12.32.16 (1) 2015-04-02 12.45.51 (1) 2015-04-02 12.56.48 (1) 2015-04-02 12.57.13 2015-04-02 12.57.28 2015-04-02 12.59.07

Easter 2 Receive the Holy Spirit

RCL Year B The Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20-19-31
Receive the Holy Spirit

“…he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This is John’s story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. When we read John we have to put aside any expectation that he tells the story exactly like it happened. John wrote his gospel when he was an old man, maybe near;y 100 years old. He’d been the leader of a community of believers on the Isle of Patmos for years and years. He’d had not only the time but the practice to tell the stories of the Gospel over and over and over and over. We all have family stories, don’t we? Stories that we hear and repeat many, many times, year after year, whenever the family gathers. The stories become known by two, maybe three generations. Sometimes the person telling the story never knew the people in the story. But the tale is so funny, or so profound, that it goes on and on. We laugh, we cry, we share the stories, and we come to know the people in them. And as each person tells it, as even the same person tells it over and over, subtle changes come about in a story. Elaborations, stretching details, shifting scenes and orders. The storyteller is on stage; he can become a ham. She’s a teacher; she stresses and repeats to make her point. The thing is, all the stories are edited, either consciously or unconsciously. Each storyteller makes the story her own. It’s the same with any story that’s passed on orally. And it was no different with the gospel stories. As John practiced and aged, he honed his theology. What began as a succession of details, perhaps as a wonder with little understanding, evolved into theology. John lived to be very old. He had long years to overlay his stories with theology. And by the time he wrote them down he might have believed his calling to be to pass on his theology, not only to tell the story. Jesus had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem, not to go out teaching and preaching and healing, until they had received the Holy Spirit. We know it was the Spirit that propelled them into the mission fields. The Holy Spirit was the one responsible for the birth of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel. So her coming is of momentous occasion. According to the gospels, stated or implicit, spreading the Gospel depended on the coming and receiving of the Holy Spirit. So her coming is a critical turning point in the story of God’s revelation. You’d think there would be one time, one place, one way the Spirit came upon Jesus’ followers. An account beyond disputing. An event so tremendous there’d be no question of the details. But there are two stories. John tells the story the way we read it today. Jesus surprised his scared, trembling disciples, hiding from the people responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. He appears to them in a locked room and gives them the greeting of peace. Peace be with you. And to send them out, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And gave them the power they needed to go out. It’s a quiet story. The disciples rejoiced to see Jesus, but I don’t get the sense that the room was full of toasts and partying. It’s quiet. Breath. The breath of God. We’re reminded of the story of God breathing life into Adam in the time of Creation. The breath of God. Life. New life. It’s a quiet story, but it’s a story filled with power. In the evening of that first Day of Resurrection. But there is another version, and it couldn’t be more different from this one. Luke tells us the Spirit came much later, fifty days after the Passover. We celebrate that version on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Day. You know the story. The Spirit came into the upper room where the disciples were gathered, waiting. That much is the same as John’s version, except that it seems to have been daytime, not evening. In Luke’s story she was not a quiet lady but a noisy invader. A sound like the rush of a violent wind. Divided tongues, as of fire. Each person speaking in a foreign tongue, as the Spirit gave them ability. Not the quiet, peaceful evening of John’s story. So which is the real one? I’m not sure it matters so much. The Spirit comes in many ways. Both stories hold us spellbound, as the invasion of the Holy Spirit should. The point is that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come, and she did. She came, and she gave power that turned a cowardly, denying, scared, confused group of people into the tiny band who would disperse and tell without fear the story of salvation Imagine. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit these people, we sense, huddled together for safety. They hid, they laid low, they kept quiet, they didn’t venture far from home, and then under cover of darkness or hidden in a crowd. And either by a breath or by wind and fire they turned into fearless missionaries, on fire with the good news that all people are loved and treasured by God. That there is healing in God’s love. Healing of the wounds of divisions and fears. Luke records that 3000 – 5000 – people came to believe at any one time. These are the people who would turn away from lifelong teachings that women are inferior and to be mastered, that people outside the faith of Israel were impure, that God’s love depended on their following rules. These are the ones who would give positions of import in the church to women; the ones who would come to understand that food and practices do not make a person impure; the ones who would eventually take the Gospel to people outside Judaism because they came to understand that God’s saving love is available to everyone. These were in their time earth shattering decisions. And they came at the hand of the Holy Spirit. Last week a tragic story was told. Another in a string of stories of white policemen killing black men. Stories of such sadness we can hardly think about them for long. It must be clear that something is dreadfully wrong in our beautiful country. How did we come to this place? Well, we don’t need to retrace every tragic detail of slavery and freedom that brought only a different kind of chains. A legacy of prejudice and inequality that makes our stomachs turn over. A legacy of racism that turns some good men into knee jerk killers and other good men into murder victims. And those who live either by prejudice or by fear of prejudice walk in a living state of sorrow or hatred. And we are at a loss as to how to change things. But I just don’t believe God made a world where there are no solutions, no answers. The critical thing is that we ask the questions: How did we come to this? How can we seek to change? How are we complicit in the sin of racism that pervades our society? Where is it? Where have we not seen and named it? If the Holy Spirit can guide the disciples as she did in just the few years left to them before all but John died martyrs, the Holy Spirit can lead us into change. We have only to ask the questions. To give up our fears. To put ourselves in the hands of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to each of us as we will best receive her. Quietly. Sometimes so quietly it’s only looking back that we see her and recognize her whisper. Or in a sudden rush of revelation so distinct, so earth shattering it can’t be mistaken. Sometimes that’s what it takes. But however she comes, the Spirit will bring power that’s beyond our imagining. I bet the disciples never imagined they would move out of that room of fear. They probably couldn’t even anticipate the coming day, so great was their terror. And a mere whisper – or maybe a fearsome wind with fire – swept them up and took them on a journey that would change the world. That Spirit is no less powerful today. We have to ask the hard questions, and we have to open ourselves to receive her. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Easter Day The Real Story

RCL Year B
Easter Day

Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43
Mark 16:1-8

The Real Story

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

What’s the real story of the empty tomb on the Third Day?

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John offer us the accounts that had been handed down to them and that they researched using the records they had. The four Gospel stories are similar, but their details vary.

Mark’s Gospel is thought to be the earliest account written, the shortest one, and his wasn’t penned until some 35 or 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Later, Matthew and Luke told longer versions and embellished them. John, much later, added his own theology to what he knew of Jesus’ life. And that was probably 60 years, at least, after the fact. We see how, with very few written documents, details and projections were added with each oral telling. And so we look for the Truth, and we don’t worry so much about the discrepancies in the details.

The Gospel lesson we read today was written by Mark. By the way, scholars suggest that Mark is the young man who fled the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful night of Jesus’ arrest, wearing only a towel that was snatched away. Mark, along with the others, knew what it was to deny Jesus. He is also known to have been Peter’s scribe after the Resurrection, writing down Peter’s words as he spoke them. So his accounts, the briefest and those containing the fewest theological overtones, are the most straightforward of the four Gospels. His stories of Jesus must have come right from Peter as he taught and Mark recorded.

What does this most simple, and perhaps most accurate account of the Resurrection teach us? First, of course, Jesus is not dead. He has been raised! His followers will meet him again in Galilee, just as he had promised. Death has not had the last word; God has.

We know that all Jesus’ disciples deserted him when the danger came too near. All except the women, who stayed at the cross until he died. If John is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he stayed there too. But when they came to the tomb that morning the women, even the women, found the place of fear that was too much for them. And I have to say that finding a tomb empty where I knew there to have been a body, hearing the words of Resurrection from a young man who may have been an angel, feeling all of life and nature turned upside down, could be a genuine place of denial for me. Mark tells us that at first there was not joy but that they were “alarmed,” that “terror and amazement” seized them, that they were afraid. Too afraid to stay at the tomb; too afraid to say anything to anyone. They ran away.

The place of denial. Each of us has one, somewhere, maybe more than one. It’s good for us to question ourselves about these, to name them.

The pressures of our culture are great. If we lived in the first century we might not find it so hard to give our possessions to the community of believers; to hold everything in common, not to accumulate a lot of stuff we don’t need. That’s what all the “followers of the Way” did. But it’s next to impossible today to come to do that, although there are a very few communities where this is done.

We say we live in a “Christian society,” or in a time when Christianity is the predominant faith and way of life. But we know that “Christian values” have been misconstrued to support personal fears. We see that not only is there gross discrimination among races and people of various gender orientations, and even in the growing chasms between the wealthy and the poor, but prejudice still drives those who are in the places where our laws are made. When you get to the bottom of it, it’s fear. It’s a place where people find their place of denial, their departure from the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection.

Bigoted jokes, prejudicial hiring practices, discrepancy in educational opportunities and wages, the reality of poverty and homelessness in our time, war, capital punishment – these and other sorrows in our world are things we all agree are wrong and should be addressed and changed. Yet, it’s safer to remain silent, with heads turned away. These are the places where some find that they will run away, as the disciples did and as the women did, finally. From the danger at Gethsemane and at the cross, and even from the unknown they found at the empty tomb, the Resurrection.

God spoke God’s final word that morning: Death, sin, injustice did not that day nor in any time have the list word. They all work against God’s good Creation. The reason for Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is that we are made in the image of God. God has acted. We have no reason to fear.

But the reality of the resurrection, whatever the details are, means that we are called to live into it. God draws us in to God’s purpose: to bring an end to injustice and to make the values we know to be Christian values the ones that will change our society and the world for good.

Yes, we live in a time and a place when Christianity is accepted and honored. But that may be because we aren’t causing enough waves on the sea of status quo in our time and place. As Jesus shows us, following his way, embracing all the implications of loving one another as he loved us, is not a way to be chosen lightly. If we’re on the right path, it’s full of bumps and turns, rejection and ridicule and possible death. If we don’t see this, we fool ourselves. If we don’t see the place where we, too, might flee from the tomb in alarm and terror and fear, we strike out unarmed.

Mark sees all the people of the story as they are: human and beloved of God. The resounding message of Mark’s Gospel is this: God’s action, God’s promise to redeem our sinfulness, does not depend on our acting perfectly. It never, never did. In the end, even in our daily lives, we find our places of denial. And in those places we find not death but life. Not blame and guilt but God acting to transform it all into life for God’s good purpose. The verdict is clear: The worst that human beings could do, one to another, even to God’s Son, God redeems.

All our joys and all our sorrows, all our losses and failings, our hopes and our fears – even death, the shroud that is cast over all people – are in God’s hands. God’s promise of salvation to Israel, and God’s promise to us, always rests on God’s faithfulness. On God’s action. And that never fails. Hell today is vanquished! Heaven is won today!

Whatever the details of that morning 2000 years ago, God raised Jesus from death. God raises us from despair and failure, fear, pain and death. That’s Easter’s promise. The stories of Easter Day are told to reassure us and to inspire us to reach for the heights. To go out from the empty tomb not in fear of what we’ll encounter but in confidence that with God, we can be more than we can be alone. To proclaim with joy and conviction what God has done for us and for all people. To meet Jesus where he promised to be: on the streets, in our neighbors, in one another.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Maundy Thursday A Night of Terror

RCL Year B
Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

A Night of Terror

This is the night, a night of terror and a night of birth.

Tonight we read the stories of the Passover in Egypt, the birth of the Jewish people, and we read the account of Jesus’ last supper with his friends, the birth of our central act of worship as his followers. The stories are old, 3500 and 2000 years old, and all this time later, as we read them calmly, we have to remind ourselves, to stretch our imaginations, to get past the calm of our church and into the rooms of the Jews in their hovels in Egypt and into the upper room in Jerusalem where Jesus and his friends had gathered. To feel with them the terror of the night.

More than the birth and commemoration of the Passover connects the two stories. Both times, it was night; John underlines this: And it was night. There was terror all around. We know the ends of both stories, that everything was in God’s hands, but no one in those rooms those nights knew what would come.

Imagine the terror as the Hebrew slaves anticipated an escape from Egypt. They had no weapons, no armor, only some belongings and their children. How far could they trust the Egyptians if they indeed were able to get out of Egypt? And where were they going as they left their homes and the only land they knew? Into the unknown. There is terror enough in that.

Jesus, surely, knew what most likely was coming. After all, this is the man who defied Rome and the Temple four days before by riding into the city as a king. This is the man who upturned the tables of the money changers outside the temple because they were making money at the expense of the poor. He had intentionally antagonized and implicitly brought a threat to the powers that were. He had to know he was without earthly defenses and was being hunted by powerful people, armed well with weapons and law.

And so we begin to feel the terror.

It’s important for us to remember tonight that that week in Jesus’ life did not bring the end to terror on earth. In every age, in every place people live lives terrified. Jews through the centuries have been hunted and pursued, tortured and killed. Muslims were slaughtered in the Crusades and even today receive the back lash for the horrible acts of a few. People living in places where there is war live in constant fear; people living under oppression live in terror as they hide and try to protect their children.

In our time LGBT people have lived in terror just to walk in the streets, just to be denied employment and housing in some places. African Americans are terrified of law enforcement officers, the very people who should bring them comfort. Women have been and are terrorized on the street and in the workplace; men living on the street, and men holding tentative positions in their work are terrorized. The plight of the undocumented immigrant is well known today. We can’t forget the terror of a parent who is unable to feed their children.

And, as the nights of the Passover are nights of birth, we ask, what parent has not gone into childbirth knowing the dangers that lurk around the miracle? Reading the story of the Upper Room and imagining the terror that hung in the air that night remind us that Jesus did share our every fear and terror.

But that night he’s not running and hiding; he’s not cowering in a closet whimpering in terror. He’s still thinking of others, still living out the way he believes with all his heart to be the secret to life in all its fullness. Still making one last try to show his friends the way to life: the way of the servant.

If you’ve followed Jesus through the week you know that this is the week, in Bethany, when he reminded his disciples that the poor would always be with them. We usually read that to mean something like we can always help the poor and that we should show kindness to our friends, too, even though they may not seem to need our demonstrations of love.

But there’s another way to read this. The poor are always with you. Make your life with them. Don’t neglect them. Live where you can be among them every day. It’s easy to forget what you don’t see. It’s easy not to know their lives and the terror they know every day, living as they do on the edge of life. The poor are always with you. Serve them, as Jesus served us. They are your friends, your sisters and brothers. Mother Teresa reminds us: Treat your poor as royalty.

And so, with terror all around, Jesus kneels and washes his friends’ feet, as a servant. He gives them a way to know his presence, in the bread and wine of everyday fare. And in his terror he finds his strength trusting God, hoping against hope, against all evidence to the contrary, that everything is indeed in God’s hands, as God has promised.

It’s doubtful Jesus’ disciples knew fully the terror he moved in. As hope lies within the human heart, we usually do not anticipate the worst. Evil will pass us by. But if they sensed it, in their limited understanding, they must have felt the truth of these last teachings, because they preserved them for us. Love one another as I have loved you. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.

Terror may surround the miracle of the birth. But terror will never have the last word.

Palm Sunday A Thread of Kingship

RCL Year B
Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

A Thread of Kingship

Palm Sunday is a favorite subject of visual artists. Pictures and stained glass windows in churches around the world tell the story of Jesus riding humbly on a donkey into Jerusalem on Sunday before he was crucified on Friday. The colors are brilliant; it must have been a beautiful day, four days before Passover. A perfect day for a parade. The crowd is cheering and singing, waving palms. It’s a happy crowd, acclaiming their king.

But I’ve never seen a Palm Sunday picture of Jesus that looked as though he’s enjoying the parade. He sits quietly, solemnly, almost unaware or detached from the noise around him. Some artists depict him gazing up into heaven, a stream of light touching his face. Some have his eyes cast down, sad, resigned. He’s never smiling. Jesus is drawn in stark contrast to the crowd.

The thread of kingship runs through the Gospel of Mark. “King of the Jews” is always popping up. At one time the crowd tries to make him their king, and he has to run away. He seems torn sometimes between accepting the title and refusing it, even being angered by the idea that it would be cast on him. So why does Jesus agree, even take the initiative, to ride into Jerusalem amid cheers and cries of Hosanna? Has he decided to be the king of the Jews, after all?

In today’s lesson and in other places in the Gospels, Jesus refers to himself as teacher, Son of Man, shepherd. When Pilate asks him point blank if he’s the King of the Jews, Jesus doesn’t deny it but puts the answer back on Pilate. When Pilate asks the crowd if they want Jesus to be released, he refers to him as the King of the Jews. Soldiers mocking him use the title, so it must have been voiced commonly among the people. But we never see Jesus accept it.

It’s a statement of the charge against him when he’s crucified, and Pilate refuses to have it changed. The chief priests refer to him mockingly as the king of Israel. It’s clear that the title “king” was an issue of great import. Maybe more of an issue than we usually understand it to be. Even one of the most significant charges against Jesus.

The title “king” itself does not necessarily carry a bad connotation. It’s all the trappings of kingship: authority, even entitlement and autonomy; power and misuse of power; benevolence or cruelty; divine right. All the trappings that historically have been ascribed to royalty. All the ways earthly power can be wielded.

So why does Jesus ride into Jerusalem and let the crowd cheer him as king? Why earlier in the Gospel does he make a conscious decision to go into Jerusalem, where he knows there are powerful people just waiting to grab him and charge him? Why not keep evading the powers? Why become conspicuous?

All through his Gospel Mark keeps bringing up the question of kingship. He’s asking, What does it mean to be king? What is a king? If it was an issue with the people and with those in power, it also seems to have been an issue with Mark as he wrote his Gospel. It’s almost as if Mark has Jesus thinking that Palm Sunday, “All right, you want a king. I’ll show you what a king is.” And he rides into Jerusalem on a weak little donkey instead of a war horse. He presents the picture opposite that of earth’s kings, and he doesn’t enjoy the parade at all.

Artists have depicted Jesus as sad, as resigned, as detached. This was not an act of submission, unless we consider that Jesus submitted to the crowd’s praises that he didn’t want. It wasn’t an act of triumph; clearly, he had failed to convince anyone that the way to life is the way of peace. He didn’t ride into Jerusalem blindly; he knew what was waiting for him.

Palm Sunday was an act of defiance. Take note, Rome! Here I am, leaders of Israel! Earthly kings are not true kings at all. Look! This is a true king: one who does not seek power; one who finds life serving others, bringing peace, giving love. The leaders of this world have it all wrong. I’ll show you the way to life, even if you hate me for it and put me to death.

And so Jesus rides into the week that will bring his death, fully aware, openly, peacefully, defying the powers of the world. He’s through teaching about it. He has to live what he knows to be Truth. He has to die defending it. He will submit to mockery, injustice, torture, the most degrading death of his day with the grace and humility of one who knows his equality and kinship with all of Creation. Riding on a donkey, symbol of peace. A true king.

Would there were more kings and leaders to follow his example today.

The Impossible

RCL Year A The Church of the Holy Cross
Easter Day April 20, 2014

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Do you have the same thought I do, reading the story of that first Easter morning? Does it flash through your mind: This is impossible! This couldn’t happen! This is science fiction.

It’s a peaceful, quiet morning at dawn on the first day of the week. The women going to the tomb were not expecting anything unusual. All of a sudden there’s a great earthquake; an angel appears like lightning, his clothing white as snow; he descends from heaven and rolls back the giant stone in front of the tomb, and then he sits on it and begins to speak. We can only imagine the fearsome sound of his voice. The guards are scared silly, trembling and speechless. Sometimes I wonder if movies like Star Wars and all the animated movies they make today didn’t get their ideas for special effects from the Easter story. We don’t take the effects of those movies seriously; they’re pure entertainment. Why should we take seriously the story of the Resurrection?

It can’t be true. But it is, in some way that was so real to those women that morning, and to the people they ran, with fear and great joy, to tell the good news to, that those who heard the story from them believed it, and people down the centuries since that day, have believed it. Many people have staked their very lives on this story; many have suffered torture and death for the truth of this story; we stake our faith on it.

Scripture tells us nothing is impossible with God. We believe the truth of Jesus’ teaching and resurrection is too real to be defeated. We believe God won over evil and death and the impossible happened that morning because God brought it to be.

But if the impossible ends there, where does it leave us? Just with a story to tell that will wow people and keep a church alive? If that were so, the story and the church would have faded a long time ago. The miracle God is able to work skeep happening, whether we always recognize it as God’s work or not. Resurrection has to happen over and over in people’s lives for the story to live. Resurrection has to be so clear and so compelling that it can’t be denied, even though we sometimes fail to name it resurrection and give the credit to God.

Resurrection has to take hold of the hearts of people and convince them that this story is real and that new life can come in their lives.

What are we talking about? The latest stories I know of resurrection are coming from Hope House.

There are plenty of people in town who think this neighborhood is dead. How can it live, with mostly homeless people inhabiting the neighborhood, a few little churches and a few businesses that don’t look too attractive staring at a great number of empty, falling down buildings? What hope is there in a place like this for any kind of new life? Everything and everyone looks dead. What reasons are there to hope for a resurrection? Hope House certainly has the right name.

When I used to go to Hope House it did not seem like a happy place. The truth is, it was being run well by the people we’d hired to manage it, but there was no soul there. There were services given that were badly needed, but the people coming there were coming just for services, not for hope.

In February this year Holy Cross took over the management, and we hired Tim Davis and Donna Earnest to be the managers. Tim has been homeless, and he spends his spare time visiting the homeless camps with the Common Ground ministry. Donna has several years of experience teaching and ministering with people who are homeless. Tim and Donna are there because they want to be there. Their hearts are with our neighbors who come to Hope House.

Now I when I go there see peaceful faces, hopeful eyes, grateful smiles. I see caring hands and listening ears. The place has changed completely. Every time I go to Hope House at least one of our neighbors tells me it’s so much better since the church took over managing. But that’s just the beginning.

Donna and Tim are praying with the people and listening to their stories. I believe they’re touching their souls and offering hope where there was none before. Why should anyone think there’s any reason for homeless people to hope their lives can be changed? Many think they might as well be dead. Well, they’re human beings, beloved of God, worthy of hope. Instead of jostling around with sad, sour faces, they talk and joke with one another. They make their way there because they find love and warmth and friendship.

The ground of hope is being prepared for other fruit. Three men have gone into treatment for addiction. One is in a three quarter way house, finding employment and doing well. That’s resurrection. He came by the church the other day to thank us. We pray the other two men will do as well.

I’m not saying I expect the circumstances of everyone’s life to change or everyone suddenly not to be homeless anymore. I’m saying souls are being touched and opened up. God’s redeeming love is being accepted. The impossible is coming to pass. God is making it possible for people to touch people and light that fire of hope. In individual lives resurrection is beginning; no less a resurrection than at the tomb in the garden that first Easter Day.

I want to be part of that resurrection. I want to see people walk out of the tombs of defeat and despair and failure and addiction and a life of being cast away and smile with hope. I thank God that Holy Cross is able to give the ministry of Hope House that is the vehicle for changing lives.

It’s funny, about us human beings. Usually we have to see a miracle to believe it. And only after seeing it can we say with confidence that the impossible is not impossible with God. But to see it, we have to be there, and we have to be looking for it. I encourage you go into Hope House and see for yourself; to watch Crossings for opportunities to lay your hands on that ministry and put yourself there to see the hope that’s being born in people’s lives.

The prayer tree and the cross wall I wrote about in Crossings a couple of weeks ago are a start. Something we can contribute, a part of ourselves we can invest. We may need mentors for the people coming out of recovery; we may call for people to visit and pray with people. Volunteering with St. Luke’s is a good way to put yourself in the place where hope is growing and let it touch you.

Remember, for the story not to remain just a story, it has to touch a heart. We often have to see hope for ourselves and then to take that leap and become part of the resurrection. Let’s bring resurrection closer to home.

Forgiving. Something we often see as impossible. We can be so badly hurt, or so deeply angry, that we think to forgive will be impossible. We pray and ask God to take that resentment from us so we can forgive. God lifts that burden and gives us the heart to forgive. That’s resurrection.

Grief. Something we think we can never overcome. And truth told, deep grieving is not something we “get over.” But we put ourselves in God’s hands and ask God to accomplish the impossible. In time, grief is transformed into something that stops killing us and begins to transform us. That’s resurrection.

Hope. Terrible events in our lives, or in the lives of those we love, can leave us without hope. And without hope we die, slowly. We think it’s impossible that anything will change to give us hope again, and we finally, desperately, ask God to give us something to renew that hope. Nothing in the circumstances of our lives may change, but God does touch us in some way, in some deep place where hope is remembered, and we begin to see the places in our lives where we can find gratitude. God accomplishes the impossible. Our lives are changed only as they are turned to see God’s presence. That’s resurrection.

Underneath the story of that first Easter morning, whatever the facts are without the special effects, had to be the foundation of hope Jesus’ disciples had found. The experience with the risen Christ that convinced them that death is not the end and that the Creator of the world has won the battle with evil. The awe that brought the echo of our psalm: This is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. It’s impossible, and God brought it to be.

This is what I see at Hope House and in the lives of people I know. Death and addiction and disappointment and failure and being cast out are not the end. The love of God will have the last word. I don’t want to miss that story.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

The Rev. Mary B. Richard

Maundy Thursday: The Means and the Mandate

RCL Years A, B, C The Church of the Holy Cross
Maundy Thursday April 17, 2014

Exodus 12: 1-14
Psalm 116: 1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 1123-26
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

If you knew, almost certainly, that you had less than 24 hours to live, what would you do?

I imagine most, if not all of us, would do just what Jesus did. We’d gather the people we love most around us, maybe share a meal with them, and tell them the things we don’t want them to forget. The guideposts we want to leave with them for the time when we’re not here to speak to them. If we are teachers, or if the people around us are our children, we’ll give them the best counsel we can, all that we remember that we’ve learned in our lives, maybe the mistakes we’ve made that we don’t want them to make and the things we’ve learned in our relationships with other people.

It would be hard, don’t you think? Knowing we wouldn’t be with those we love to talk things over with them and to guide them. To walk through life together? We wouldn’t want to waste time with trivialities. We’d cut to the chase and tell them, even show them, all we want them to know.

This is what Jesus did, in that last supper with his friends and disciples and loved ones.

Time was short. They knew when they came into Jerusalem they’d face powerful and dangerious opposition. Rome was against them, and the church was against them. Almost certainly, Jesus had to be taken out, done away with. And the way people jealous of their power do away with the ones who oppose them is to use force. Jesus had so many followers, the only way was to kill him. The forces were already moving. The time was short. Fear was the ruler.

It was Passover, the most sacred celebration in the Jewish year. Everyone was on edge. On the one hand, there were the ones in power, strange allies: Rome and the temple authorities. Both fearful of the havoc the vast number of Jews, should discontent become prevalent, could do to their control. The temple control was being questioned seriously for the first time. Rome could not afford an insurrection. Powerful, if unlikely, allies.

And on the other hand you had the reason for their fear: Jews, thousands of them, coming into Jerusalem with all the religious fervor possible. Emotions ran high, as they do when people celebrate something that lies close to their being. Remembering the flight from Egypt, God’s redeeming Israel from bondage, calls into the present the very essence of Judaism. This is the night. Passover is the night Israel began to be formed into the people Yahweh called her to be. Passover is Israel’s beginning. We would name the sentiment nationalism, but the religious foundation added weight. People from all over Israel were coming to their capital city that for them had been sacred since the time of David. The thin veneer of celebration barely covered the undercurrent of anger. Jerusalem did not belong to them anymore. Anyone could see that it would take only a spark to start a wild fire. Religious fervor and anger threatening jealous rule can spell danger.

And so Jesus gathered those closest to him for the sacred Passover meal. And he told them in as few words as he could speak what he wanted them to remember. The most essential things. The two things we remember tonight. Two things that are the foundation of our gathering as Christians.

First, come together. Don’t neglect to come together. In the gathered community there is memory and there is power. Hold one another up. Feed one another. Share a sacred meal. I will be with you. The bread is my very body. The wine is my own blood. I am with you as often as you share this meal with one another. This is essential.

We celebrate this night that we call Maundy Thursday as the night of Institution, the night Jesus instituted the meal we name the Eucharist, Thanksgiving. Whether Jesus said these very words or not, we keep them holy for our celebration.

This is my body, given for you. This is my blood of the new promise. In this you are assured that just as I am with you tonight I am with you always. Always the same. You are forgiven. You are renewed in God’s love. You are given strength to renew the world.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

And then he gave them a new instruction, and he did it first by giving them an example: Jesus assumed the most menial position he could take, that of a servant. He knelt at the feet of his friends and washed their feet. Who would have thought? Their great friend and teacher had become their servant. He showed them the life they would lead as his apostles. He washed their feet.

If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example.

It’s an old practice in the home, one we don’t do anymore, in this day of plenty of water and daily baths and automated ways of getting around that keep the dust off our feet. The host of a party would never have bathed the feet of his guests; that job would be required of his servant. It was the most menial of jobs and one Jesus’ friends probably had never been in a position to perform. They were shocked. Peter rebelled. Clearly, this work was beneath Jesus and would not be tolerated.

A more graphic picture they could not have had: Jesus kneeling and washing their feet. Can you imagine doing that? It’s not something we think is a very likely possibility today.

But that’s exactly how we are to be, to one another and to our neighbors. Servants. And if we’re not, if we’re just an inch above that position of foot washing, we’re not following Jesus very closely. We’ve missed the point.

How many people have hurt you? Can you forgive them, as Jesus shows us in the humility of a servant?

Has someone made you angry? Can you forgive them?

This is not an easy road, the road of a servant. This is the road that seeks no accolades. On this road we’ll find people struggling not to hold grudges or to argue just so they can be right; people praying for God to help them resist selfish motives or the urge to step over others so they can get ahead. This road of the servant is the one not taken by everyone because, although it is clearly marked, it can be dusty and full of stones and hard to travel. There can be switchbacks and wrong decisions that require prayer and patience with ourselves; trust in God. After all, the decision to travel this road goes against all our human tendencies.

And then, finally, came the command: Love one another. By your love you will be known as my followers. I have loved you; love one another. Show your love as you serve one another.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Will you see in those people who hate you, those who oppose you, those who don’t look like you and live lives just like yours a thousand faces of Christ? Will you try, with God’s help, to show the saving love of Christ to them?

This was a hard night, in so many ways. A night of good byes; a night of sorrow in the midst of celebration. But a night of such weight in our faith and in our lives that we dare not enter into it carelessly. On this night Jesus gives us both the means and the mandate for discipleship: If you will follow me, you will come together for fellowship and prayer and nourishment, for strength and renewal. And I will give you all you will need to be my disciples, to be servants in a world that will not always welcome you. You will love, and you will serve.

This is my body. This is my blood. Love. Forgive. Serve.

The Rev. Mary B. Richard

The Mind of Jesus

RCL Year A The Church of the Holy Cross
Palm Sunday April 13, 2014

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

What does that mean? It’s always seemed daunting to me. Something I can never achieve; something I don’t dare try for, because I’ll fail. Something I’m not sure I want to try for.

In the church where I grew up the narthex windows were huge. One of them was the Palm Sunday window, depicting Jesus going into Jerusalem. He sat on a donkey. People all around him were waving palm branches and praising him, worshiping him. It looked like a parade. But Jesus’ face was sad. Not like the object of a parade at all. As a child, I didn’t understand why. I wondered about it.

I saw as I grew up that all the pictures of that day were strangely contradictory. The people were always jubilant. You could almost hear them singing. But Jesus was either very serious or sad, or his face was turned to heaven in something like a “Why am I here? Please help me!” attitude. He was never interacting with the crowd. He wasn’t enjoying himself at all. This parade is not what he’d had in mind.

Those paintings and windows are a far cry from the parades we know, the celebrations and motorcades on the streets of our cities and in the movies and on TV. People riding in those parades are always waving at the crowds, always smiling, always happy, enjoying the people’s adoration. Presidents being inaugurated. Heroes returning home. Astronauts and Super Bowl winners.

Of course, as I grew up and learned more, I understood. The sadness in Jesus’ face foreshadowed his death. He didn’t want to be worshipped. The people were missing the point, taking the easy road, giving him all the authority to accomplish what they wanted. Making him someone he never sought to be.

But the contrast, the contradiction, stayed with me. Jesus was born to change people’s hearts; people wanted him to change the world. Now. In their lifetime. With little if any change in their hearts. It’s easier to lift up someone who will accomplish something for you than to do it yourself, especially if it requires the hard work of changing.

And so we see that having the same mind as was in Jesus is a tall order. It goes against much of our nature. We long for peace and harmony while we resist giving up power or influence or position that will break down the barriers to peace and harmony. We earnestly desire to share power with our neighbors, until we find our own power being whittled away. We think we have answers to problems and can be unwilling to bend to invite cooperation and compromise. It’s easier to wear a cross and worship Jesus than to invite change into our hearts and minds and into our world.

Not all the time. Only when the conversation begins to get uncomfortable for us and we imagine a future not of our making.

I know I’m being hard on us human beings. But we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re not right there in the crowd around Jesus.

In the first place, it feels good to be adored. We all respond to people loving us. Jesus fought that temptation in the wilderness, to be adored and to be worshipped. He was human. That temptation was real for him, and it’s real for us. But Jesus’ heart, or his mind, to keep the language of our lesson, told him the way to kingship was not the way God was calling him. He would always point to God, away from himself. The ego is too vulnerable to play around with power. It’s too easy to rely on oneself and forget to look to God for strength and guidance.

And we all know that to adore someone is just as dangerous. There’s a fine line between adoration and hatred. Should the person not live up to your expectations, that line disappears. And what, really, is in our mind when we merely adore Jesus? We fall into the same trap of neglect when we worship Jesus and name him Savior but stop short of the work of faith that will bear the fruit of our salvation. The change that must come into our mind to form it in the mind of Christ.

So what was in Jesus’ mind? How can that mind be in us?

Jesus, it seems, was always for the underdogs, the ones not in power, the people who suffered because they had no power. Lepers, beggars, the common folk; prostitutes, all kinds of outcasts and sinners no one would touch. And so we see that when we look toward the people who live on the margins of our society we are looking in the right direction. In our world they would be immigrants, even the illegal ones; criminals and those imprisoned wrongly; people on death row; people who have wronged us. But these are the people who are easy to forget. They’re the ones who make us uncomfortable because we will probably have to give up something to make a place for them. These are the people Jesus walked around with, and his mind and his heart were with them.

There’s something even more fundamental and more necessary to having the mind of Jesus: learning to forgive. Forgiving is at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus could not have gone through the time we call Holy Week with the grace he shows us if he had held on to anger, resentment, vendetta. I imagine he prayed constantllly asking God to set his mind to forgive. He was human, after all.

It’s clear we’ll have to resist or even reverse some of our natural human tendencies if we are to have the mind of Jesus. Not easy to do, and yes, we will fall short. But I believe intentions and actions can mold our minds. St. Paul has put the instructions into words for us. If we truly desire to have the mind of Jesus, God can build our minds and mold them little by little, day by day. We have our model, and we don’t have to do it all by ourselves.

To desire the mind of Christ to be in us we must first desire change to come within ourselves. We must resist the human tendency toward self gain and look to the good of others, especially those who aren’t equipped to provide for themselves a good life. We must desire to forgive, and forgiving can be the hardest of all. Reconciliation is the work of the people who follow Jesus. It’s the ministry Jesus calls us into.

How do we become like Jesus? In a thousand small ways – each of us has a list. I’ll give you some of mine. Every time we resist the temptation to argue a point from the selfish angle, just to be the winner; every time we refuse the temptation to hold a grudge or to make a decision based on a vendetta; every time we speak up in defense of something we know is right, even though the crowd is against us; every time we join with people to swell a movement that may seem to have no chance but that seeks to improve the lives of others. In these and other ways our minds grow into the mind of Jesus.

One caveat: We all know where these decisions led Jesus: to the cross. They are not popular decisions, and they may not win us many friends or make us the heroes of the parade. Especially forgiving will appear to others to be weakness, foolishness, just as Jesus dying on the cross appeared to the world to be weakness and foolishness. But we know also God’s affirmation of this kind of life. God has defeated the forces of abuse and neglect and vindictive actions forever.

The affirmation for those who desire and strive to have the mind of Jesus will not be a noisy parade. It will be a banquet where we share equally and joyfully all that God provides for us. And it will be a joy that can never be known except as we grow in our care for others. We will sit at a round table, so to speak: no one will be first, and no one will be last; no one will be left out or forgotten or neglected. Jesus was always looking to others; always pointing to God; always desiring the best for others.

As we walk through this last week of Lent; as we contemplate Jesus’ passion and his mind as he walked through that week, let us ask God to give us grace, that the same mind might be in us that was in Christ Jesus.

The Rev. Mary B. Richard

Valleys of Dry Bones

RCL Year A The Church of the Holy Cross
The Fifth Sunday in Lent April 6, 2014

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Do you believe in resurrection? I know we say we do. When we think about resurrection, we almost always think first of Jesus’ resurrection and its implications for us. We can’t define it, exactly; we just know death was not the last word when Jesus died on the cross. God had the last word, and it was that the hopelessness of death is defeated forever. The last word is not from death but from God.

There are very few allusions to life after death, literally, in the Hebrew Scriptures. The later writings affirm some kind of resurrection of the body on the “last day,” or on Resurrection Day. But because no one has ever experienced resurrection and told us about it, outside Jesus’ teachings before he ascended, we don’t know exactly what we mean by it.

Probably the earliest, and one of the very few, visions of a bodily resurrection is found in our lesson telling about God’s revelation to Ezekiel, in the sixth century before Jesus, of the valley of the dry bones. Israel was in deepest despair. All the educated Jews, and all the leaders of the government and the temple, were in exile in Babylon. God’s temple, the center of the world and the holiest place on earth, lay in ruins. There was no end in sight. Israel was as good as dead. God’s people. Dead, with no hope of ever returning to Jerusalem. No hope of life ever again. The earth, for them, was a valley with no way out, and their bones lay scattered in the valley, empty of their lifeblood, all hope dried up.

And so God called Ezekiel to give the people hope. Because to live, to really live, all human beings need hope. Hope that there is more, something more holy, than the disappointment that is always there in life on earth. Something that tells us good will conquer evil. Someone has said that hope springs eternal in the human heart. If so, God must have planted it there when we were created. God must have known we need hope to thrive.

The ancient Hebrew mind moved and understood in metaphor, and surely Ezekiel understood that God was promising hope to God’s people. They had not been abandoned; God would have the last word. Hadn’t God spoken the last word in Egypt, “I have heard the cry of my people! Let my people go”? Hadn’t God spoken the last word in the covenant at Sinai, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. You will be my people, and I will be your God”? And hadn’t God been faithful to Israel through prosperity and trouble, through joy and disappointment? God would bring again hope to Israel, breath to her dry bones, life to her body that lay in the grave of hopeless death.

“Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

And God promised, “Prophesy to the breath, the ruach, the desert winds, that they will come to the house of Israel, to the bones that are dried up, to bring the hope that is lost; to give life again and hope again.”

It becomes clear that the resurrection we are talking about is a resurrection sooner than life after physical death. The promise is deeper and broader. God promises to restore hope in the life we are living now.

Because that’s what it meant for Israel, and that’s what it means for any people, to live in a valley of dry bones: that hope is gone, that they are cut off from God, that God doesn’t hear when they call. Our story today is the story of Israel. Where is the picture of a place without hope in our world? Where are the valleys, and whose are the dry bones?

Sudan. People living in camps; fathers and young men being killed; mothers banding together for protection as they go out of the camp to get water and food for their children; children who know nothing but dust and hunger and thirst and fear. If hope isn’t gone from their bones, the supply is running awfully low.

Uganda, Nigeria, the villages of Rowanda. People living in fear of being raped, killed, mutilated; parents living with the daily possibility their children will be kidnapped and turned into child soldiers; famine. If their bones aren’t dry, it’s only because the seeds of hope somehow survive in their hearts.

Places in the Muslim world where women are married as young teenagers, just as Jesus’ own mother was 2000 years ago. Bartered as a business deal between their families and their husbands. Denied education and any hope of life outside a position of servitude. A place of dry bones, but the Spirit is moving in these countries, and things are changing. Women are being given hope.

Syria. War with no hope of an end. People in exile, refugees living in camps among strangers. People living in their own cities and villages expecting a missile to explode next to them any moment. A valley of despair and fear.

There are so many other valleys where the bones are drying. Haiti. India. China. Anyplace we might see on the nightly news. It takes no imagination to see these places as valleys, with no way out, scattered with bones dry from living in a place without hope.

Here in our country, the wealthiest, most progressive country on earth, although that assertion can be questioned. How many places of dry bones can we think of? Our own neighborhood has been such a valley for some people for years. A place empty of hope, except here and there; a perfect place for the four winds of the Spirit to move.

How many people live in homes where the wind blows between the boards, hot in summer and cold in winter? How many people live from one month’s food stamps to the next, skimping and existing on food with little food value, choosing between a meal and medical or dental care? How many search for a job, or lie in valleys of resignation without hope of finding one? How many are caught in the cycle of payday loans with no help of breaking free? How many are trapped in the travesty of human trafficking? How long does it take for these bones to lose hope and dry up?

God called Ezekiel to bring hope to his people. Ezekiel held out the vision that the time of exile would end. God would accomplish it. Finally, after more than fifty years, a new super power won a war, and Israel was freed to return home.

Israel’s story and Jesus’ story, and so many stories of good that is accomplished in valleys of despair, show us that God can bring resurrection in places where people have lost hope. God calls us to embody God’s promise of resurrection to God’s people. I don’t know what we can do for people on the other side of the world to give them hope except to pray that the seeds of hope in their hearts will not dry up, that God will find a way to accomplish resurrection for them.

But here in our own neighborhood in downtown Shreveport there are needs we can see. How is God calling us to give hope to God’s people? Just pick a problem: human trafficking, payday loans, hunger, education, opportunity. We can pray for our people, too, that God will show us just where and how to enter into God’s mission. To keep those seeds of hope alive in the bones that are drying up.

Because it’s true that when we fail to see the abuses that surround us, when our sight is too narrow or too short, we are not nurturing the hope that’s planted in our hearts. We’re not trusting that God will act, that God will use us to keep hope alive. And we know that, just as a limb not used will dry up and become useless and die, hope not fed and shared and acted upon will dry up, and it will be our bones that we see scattered in the valley of our neighborhood.

One more thing: We must always remember that it is only God who brings resurrection. We are God’s partners, God’s instruments, when we hear and respond to God’s call. We enter into a mission that is already promised and begun by God. It is a high calling, to be a partner with God.

So the question is: Do we believe in resurrection? Do we believe God will breathe life into bones dry of hope? Do we want to be part of God’s mission on earth? When God calls us, how will we respond?

The Rev. Mary B. Richard