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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

A Deep, Bloody Gash

tower-and-crossRCL Year C
Proper 11
July 21, 2013

Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15=28
Luke 10:38-42

A few years ago, our Bishop held an anti-racism workshop in Alexandria. For some reason, I couldn’t go, but I remember thinking that we were a little behind the times. That racism was an old issue that we’d tackled and pretty much solved. Why weren’t we looking into the future and righting a new wrong? Hadn’t we brought racism out into the open, exposed it and squashed it over the last 50 years?

How naïve I was. Around that time, the first African American President of the United States was elected. I believed the divisions of the campaign and afterwards were only the usual political ones. But the criticisms grew more personal and mean, and finally it was clear that some of the underlying resentment and distrust and rejection was mirroring the division between races. Some people didn’t like President Obama because he was black. The race issue was still alive. And, to be realistic, two generations is probably too short a time to change the attitudes of thousands of years. A good lesson as we seek to put to rest other kinds of prejudice.

I can’t help but think that the polarization we’ve seen in the last several years has come about partly because racism persists among us. Beneath the wave of racism runs the ocean of fear. Thirty states have passed laws similar to the stand your ground law in Florida. These laws are based on fear, not reason, and racism is one manifestation of fear.

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t comment on the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin; I wasn’t in the courtroom and don’t know all the evidence presented. The whole thing is a tragedy in the deepest sense of the word. If the judgment rendered was fair within the law as it’s written, then I pray that law, and others like it, will be scrutinized wherever they exist, for the motives of those who wrote them and for their implications and effects. So let’s look at the problem of racism.

Racism. That’s a word that was more common years ago. Racist. An old, bad word. Prejudice. Not acceptable in any time. Discrimination. Not defendable. We’ve pretty much worn those words out and tossed them onto the pile of inacceptable behavior. Perhaps their meaning was too harsh; perhaps the human eye can look only so long at failings placed under too bright a light. We do what we can, we put the failings aside, believing we’ve overcome them, and we move on to the next one.

The truth is, we’ve moved too fast away from racism. That label is not acceptable anymore, so someone came up with “racial profiling.” It’s a little cleaner. It’s something that happens on the corporate level, when a company or a school is reviewing applications. Racial profiling is like collateral damage. It doesn’t usually apply at the personal level; at least, not to the person making the decision. It’s a few steps removed from mind and conscience. Collateral damage describes the reality of warfare and sidesteps the tragedy and responsibility; racial profiling describes a selection process of a board or a committee. These words have a “necessary” ring to them. Change the label, remove the action to another level, and you and I can go on to something else. It’s like black on black crime. It really doesn’t affect us. It’s justifiable out there, somewhere. Labels like these hide atrocities that should bring an earthquake in our consciences.

And then something happens like happened last year: a teenage boy, not even a full grown man yet, is shot by an adult man. Our senses are shattered. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t know it was wrong and should never have happened, that it’s a dark stain on the beautiful life God intends for each of us. And when the term racial profiling begins to be used, it helps. We can’t fully understand it, but it salves our senses to some extent. We have to force ourselves to look at the tragedy straight on and utter the bare facts: We say our future lies with our young people. A young man was killed. A young life was ended violently and senselessly. Racism played a part in this tragedy.

It’s clear that our we’ve only scratched the surface of the old problem of racism. We are left to wonder if Trayvon Martin would have been followed and shot if he’d been white and not black, all other circumstances being the same; if he would have been above suspicion for being a stranger in the neighborhood; if he would have left home that night and returned home safely.

Racism is still an issue. As imperceptible as it may be to us, it’s still a bright red flag for men who are black, and all you have to do is listen to the stories African American mothers and fathers have been telling about “the talk” they have to have with their sons teaching them how to walk, how to dress, how to look around, how to respond to confrontation – common sense to most of us but a matter of survival for black men – all you have to do is listen to those stories to know there is still a deep, bloody gash running down the middle of our great country. It’s a festering and painful sorrow that admits that some of our people do not count on the protection of our laws. That they have to be afraid of the law that is supposed to guard them.

Racism is one cause of this tragedy. I’m not saying it should have been an issue in Zimmerman’s trial because I don’t know if it could have been. I don’t deny that the causes are deep and not all on one side or the other. But we’re living in la-la land if we say racism wasn’t a factor in the encounter and that little was done to name it the wrong that it is. We’re denying our baptismal promises if we look away from this tragedy and move on to something else. If racism is, truly, still a reality in our country, then the people who write our laws have to do everything they can to write and pass laws that make it a crime for people to act violently on their fears and prejudices. And we as citizens have to do everything we can to confront our own prejudices and fears and help our society do the same thing.

Where do we start? As always, we start with ourselves. We start by speaking the truth, by admitting that we all are formed in families with their own peculiar experiences and that there’s no way our individual or corporate experience can define someone else’s experience, in this case an experience that comes of another culture and color of skin and history. We can ask ourselves hard questions about our fears and where they come from. Do they rule us, or can we break free of them?

We talk about compassion. Compassion begins with empathy, listening, touching, caring, really caring. We can never understand completely the experience of another person, but we can learn it and let that knowledge guide us in living with that person and that culture. We can create opportunities to listen to others and to express with sensitivity our own fears and the reasons for them, our own lives and experiences and histories. And we can be as sensitive and even handed as is humanly possible in writing and enforcing our laws.

PBJ Meredith, Mason, BobbySo if we are to listen and touch and care, it’s clear we have to look one another in the eye and spend time together. We are so fortunate at Holy Cross. We are right here on a street where most if not all our neighbors come out of a completely different life experience from our own. Our neighbors are close. It’s easy for us to see and touch them. It’s convenient for us to have conversations with them. And I’m not talking about offering the peace when our neighbors are in church. I’m talking about sitting at a table, sharing a meal, visiting on the sidewalk, inviting them in, having and continuing to have conversations. And then going back to our homes changed people and calling others into that awareness. Our President asked a concrete question: Am I doing as much as I can to wring bias out of myself?

It’s easy to take the comfortable way, to say we’ve moved past the problems of racism and prejudice. Maybe it takes a gunshot and a death to scare us back to reality. It’s harder to ask questions that probe our deepest fears. It can be uncomfortable. We begin with a desire to do what’s right, to leave the world a better place than we found it, in whatever ways we can. It takes being honest with ourselves and probing the whys of our fears; honoring our neighbors as brothers and sisters and caring about them. Caring enough to confront the failings and blindness and neglect of our society and calling them by name out loud. Caring enough to sacrifice something of ourselves, our time and our comfort.

If we can learn anything from the familiar story of Martha and Mary we read today, we see that both intentional action and deep, honest reflection are required. Action without reflection can be shallow, misdirected, short lived. Reflection without action can be so deep and still that it goes nowhere, benefits no one.

If you didn’t hear our President’s talk Friday to the press core, pull it up on the internet and listen to it. He opens a window through which we can glimpse the experience of the black man in our country. It’s not what we want to see. And we, hand in hand with the black community, can do something about it.

Will we succeed? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Some battles have to be fought over and over; they’re lost several times before they’re won. The roots of racism are deep and many and complicated. History, guilt, blame, experience form the tangled root ball of fear. Each does its part to feed the tree of racism.

But no good is ever lost: God made this world out of stuff that is good. Goodness and justice and righteousness and love are the core of the universe. The prophets have told us, and Jesus’ resurrection affirms it. God’s will is that justice and right prevail, ultimately, and in large and small ways in the meantime. The soil in which the tree grows is of God’s creating, and that soil feeds and forms the tree, too. It’s not complicated. It’s love.

Communion setRacism is as alive and well as evil is. It may be invisible, it may be denied. Each generation will have to deal with fear, and fear manifests itself in subtle and deadly ways. We share God’s vision of a world where there is no hunger, no homelessness, no violence, no person dying at the hands of another. And we’re assured that because each one of us, each person in God’s Creation, is precious and beloved of God, not one of us is dispensable or insignificant. Each person is a creation of God whom God intends to have a life of goodness. Each of us who follows Jesus is called to be a neighbor, the keeper of our brother and sister’s life and safety. Let’s look for ways, together, to answer that call.

Love’s light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, can not, overcome it.

The Rev. Mary B. Richard

A Night of Perpetual Ordinance

RCL Year C
Easter Day
March 31, 2013

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

lent4The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you….

The beginning of months; the first month of the year; the beginning….

The Exodus marks the birth of Israel as a people who belong to God. Yahweh’s rescue of the children of Jacob from slavery in Egypt is a first in the history of a people with their God. Never before had a god reached out to show concern for a people; never before had a god acted with power on behalf of human beings as Yahweh did that night. When the angel of death came into Egypt, Yahweh protected the people of Israel. It was extraordinary enough, that the Passover marks the day of new life for Israel, a new creation, a new beginning. It is the day of a festival to the Lord, a day of perpetual ordinance, or command.

And so the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months, the first month of the year for you, the beginning of a new life. From now on everything will be different.” And later, at Sinai, “You will be my people, the people of Yahweh; and I will be your God.” Israel was born to be a blessing to the world. The world was changed. Israel as people of faith see God’s hand in human life.

We are people of faith, too. Our faith begins with Israel’s story. It moves through the ages, and we, too, see God’s hand in human history. The Creator of all that is has always been active in Creation and always will be. And, even with all the tragedies and vagaries of human life, history moves within the will of the Creator.

There are many “firsts” for Christians. It depends on what “first” you’re looking for. The Resurrection is, of course, the dawn of our faith, although it would take a couple of generations before the followers of Jesus would define themselves as a Church. We might see the birth of Jesus as a beginning because it’s truly the beginning of the life on earth of the One who would change the world. Jesus’ teachings, individually, can be seen as beginnings because they shine a new light on Israel’s faith; they reveal God’s relationship with us in ways that had not been understood, exactly, before. Jesus’ Crucifixion can be considered a new beginning because God had not been seen to be so vulnerable before.

But tonight, in a special way, is a beginning for us. And because our religious ancestors are the Jews, it’s fitting that this beginning was born within the commemoration of Israel’s beginning. “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” It is the Passover of the Lord. And within its celebration Jesus made for us a new beginning.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This was one of the most menial of the duties of the servant. Guests who entered a house, and the residents of the house, were relieved from their travels by having their dusty, dirty feet washed by a servant. The task was reserved for servants and women, never would the master of the house wash another’s feet. Foot washing was one of the definitive acts of servant hood. Today we have mixed feelings about it. We might say having one’s feet washed is one of the definitive acts of vulnerability.

Have you ever participated in foot washing in church on Maundy Thursday? It can be very moving, both to be the servant and to be the guest. Jesus commands that we wash one another’s feet, that we be servants to one another. And he commands that we allow our feet to be washed, that we become vulnerable, completely open, to one another. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” That’s pretty strong. It’s something entirely new, that God would be a servant to us; that we would be servants to one another. “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” In the history of a people’s life with their god, this had never happened before.

It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But I can tell you, allowing one’s feet to be washed by a friend does not come so easily. It’s not like having a pedicure done by someone who’s almost a stranger, present in your life only at a certain time, for a specific reason, and then gone from sight and mind and experience. It’s something new.

And washing a friend’s feet? Even the feet of a stranger? It’s not like getting a guest a drink of water, or doing for someone something they can’t do for themselves. We’re put out of our normal realm of control. This is something entirely new.

And then Jesus flings open wide the door to the new beginning: He gives his friends a new commandment, that they love one another. His disciples will not be known by the symbol they wear around their neck; they won’t be identified by their religious habits or their dietary laws; in fact, there won’t be a big book of rules they follow. All rules will be telescoped into one, the rule of love. Any of the old laws that won’t fit will have to be melted and molded again in the fire of love. This is truly a new beginning. It is a night of perpetual ordinance, a command to change the world.

I wonder if we can see that Last Supper as the Jews see the Exodus. We have all the signs of newness: Love one another just as I have loved you. Wash one another’s feet, for I have set you an example. And finally, this is my body, my blood, given for you. Whenever you eat and drink it, remember me. Remember what I have taught you. I give you a new command: You will serve one another. You will love one another. I will live in you, and you will live in me. In essence, you will be my people, and I will be your God.

This is the night, the night of our new beginning. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are making a new beginning. There is nothing to separate us, only love among us; we are servants of one another and of all people. Just as Yahweh redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, God has redeemed us from a life of slavery to self centeredness. We are washed in baptism, and we are forgiven our sins. Each time we come to the altar it’s like the first time again, a new beginning.

After we share bread and wine tonight we will take everything away from the altars and lower the lights. The church, in effect, will be bare of all the ornaments and symbols of our faith. Even the cross will be covered. We will look, this night and for a couple of days, on our own depravity. We will try to understand what it is like to have no hope of redemption, even though we know today the end of the story. In our emptiness we’ll think what it is like not to be servants of one another, to put ourselves first all the time. We’ll consider what it’s like to be drowning in sin, with no hope of holding our heads above water. We’ll ponder the implications of loving one another as Jesus loved us, as our Creator loves us, and the implications of not loving one another. And we’ll thank God that we live these couple of days as we live every day and every night, as people with hope.

This is the night, the beginning of nights. It shall be a night of remembrance for you.

The Rev. Mary B. Richard