Monday, April 26, 2010

Gathered Lambs

You can listen to last Sunday's sermon here.

This little guy joined me in the pulpit.

I also mention, this event/book Jesus for President,  you can see a video about the San Francisco part of the tour and a blog posting about what happened at Grace Cathedral on a Friday a few years back.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I am still here.

It has been a long Sunday, and it is only 4:15 p.m. Today, Saint Cyprian's welcomed a new member into the household of God and celebrated the 95th birthday of one our community's oldest members. Below is the sermon I prepared to preach, but today with so much going on (more on that some other time) I didn't stick to it word for word. 

Blessed Easter Three. 

A few months short of a year ago, I called one of the oldest members of this congregation, Ruby McDowell to set up a visit with her, and one of the first things she said to me, very clearly and deliberately was “I’m still here.” Each time since that first phone call  I have walked into her lovely home carrying communion from St. Cyprian’s, Ruby has said these words again and again “I am still here.” with clarity and commitment.  There is a connection between the words of  this amazing typical Jamaican as Ruby calls herself  --- “I am still here” and the powerful proclamation that Christians throughout the world make again and again about Jesus’ resurrection, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen.”  Just as her beloved St. Cyprian’s Church says again and again to everyone who passes her by, or walks into her doors, or hears about something new going on within, we say clearly and deliberately “we are still here.” “Alleluia, Christ is Risen”  Resurrection is about the persistent and insistent Spirit of God made known to us in Jesus, it’s a belief that despite all evidence to the contrary there is a powerful life force lifting us and all creation up,  giving us hope, giving us peace and helping us embrace change. Jesus says to us in the resurrection,  just as Ruby does, just as this little church does “I am still here.” Despite all the challenges, pain, sadness, betrayal and disappointment  of life, the Risen Christ persistently and insistently clearly and deliberately says again and again “I am still here.”

Today in addition to celebrating the inspiring and long life of Ruby McDowell, this little church --- aka the little church that could --- from that famous old children’s book called “the little engine that could,” welcomes into the household of God Lukas, baptizing him in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Lukas and his family are communicating something profound to us and to God --- they are saying with clarity and commitment ---- we love, we trust, we believe in that persistent and insistent life force --- we love, we trust, we believe that sharing our lives with the wider community and wisdom of the church is a gift worth giving --- this family is saying something profound to us St. Cyprian’s, their saying we’re drawn to you, we feel a connection with your story and we see not only that you are still here, but that the Spirit of resurrection is overflowing, is spilling out of our doors and down the street.  Lukas will one day hear the story of his baptism, he may even remember it, wherever he may be and he will learn about Ruby McDowell about the warmth and love of this little church that could, and this community will be part of his story and part of his own Easter proclamation “Alleluia Christ is Risen.”

The gospel this morning is one of my favorite stories in the entire New Testament, I love the image of Jesus making his disciples breakfast on the seashore. Now, the gospel tells us this is the third time Jesus has appeared to the disciples --- there’s a lot we could explore in this story , lots of questions we could ask like “why do the disciples go back to their fishing boats in Galilee?” and “what about that miraculous catch of fish?” but for today lets just appreciate how this story  insists that we be prepared to run into Jesus anywhere and everywhere --- in the familiar and in the extraordinary. The disciples returned to Galilee a place they knew well, where they began there journey with Jesus and there he said to them “ I am still here.” but even in that well known place, the extraordinary happens in the catch of that giant net of fish so in the surprises, in unpredictable Jesus also says to us “I am still here.” At the end of the gospel, we here again that insistent and persistent Spirit of the Resurrection communicating to us, as Jesus speaks with Peter about his own death --- that even in the pain, struggle, confusion and terrifying perhaps most of all --- Jesus is still here.

Baptism is a powerful rite of initiation into the community of faith --- it’s a sacrament an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Like all sacraments, its polyvalent  ---  has many meanings and values.  On this day though, this Earth Sunday as we pour this water, say these prayers, and make these commitments let us keep in mind all the ways that water serves us --- all the ways that water communicates to us the power,  love, and the enlivening Spirit of God. Listen closely to the prayer over the baptismal waters --- and consider water in your own life --- the water of showers, and baths, of pools and oceans, the water of rain and leaks, and garden hoses. Think of all the rain we have been having this spring, think of all the places that water goes, all the ways it gets in and under and around. The resurrection spirit of God --- is like that water --- it goes all over the place --- and affects everything.  May the water we pour on this day, and all the water of our lives communicate to us as Ruby and this church do regularly and persistently that we are still here, that Christ is still here --- may the whole world see and know “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” 

Sunday, April 04, 2010

living spaces - Easter Sermon at St. Cyprian's

why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Resurrection is about changing our perspective --- recognizing that what once divided us ---- what once brought us so much fear is turned into an opportunity for rejoicing, new life, new hope, new possibility.

The gospel, the good news of the resurrection, the good news that we celebrate on this day --- is that there’s a different way to live, beyond the dictates of conventional society, that transcends the oppression of unjust systems that can overcome the greatest evil and wrong. The resurrection pushes us to look at things differently, regardless of what we believe --- the very idea of the resurrection compels us to ask questions --- might another way be possible, may there be more going on then I previously thought?

The women who went to that tomb in the early morning, with spices thought they were going to find the dead body of the mystical revolutionary rabbi they had followed. What they found perplexed them, an empty tomb --- and in their confusion they meet two angels who ask them a rather odd question “why do you look for the living among the dead.”

I imagine they asked that question in a kind of cocky way, like come on folks you ought to know that Jesus is alive.

But what about you and me, “why do we look for the living among the dead?”

In what ways, do we carry spices into the caves of our lives hoping just to find a corpse not a living, fleshy, wild, animated human being? Easter asks us to change our perspective, to put our trust in something more real than death, the surprising and liberating love of God.

That surprising and liberating love God makes known most fully in the resurrection --- and the story we heard read this morning from the Acts of the Apostles comes about by that same Spirit of resurrection. Peter’s speech is part of one of the most important stories in the entire New Testament, it’s about how the early church began the move from being just a peculiar and small sect of Judaism to being a global community made up of people from various cultures and races. Peter and the other apostles like Jesus were devout Jews who practiced dietary laws from the Hebrew Bible banning foods like pork and shellfish. Also, they were wary of contact and relationship with Gentiles --- anyone who was not circumcised and did not subscribe to their religious practices. The speech that Peter gives is during a visit with an Italian named Cornelius and his household. Cornelius and Peter have through dreams and visions, felt compelled by the Spirit to meet and Peter’s words, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” marks an expansion of the Christian movement to encompass the reconciliation of all people with God and with one another.

What Peter said and did was controversial; he crossed a strict religious and cultural norm and later had to justify what happened before a group of confused and perplexed disciples back in Jerusalem.

I like to think of the Bible sometimes as a family photo album, a record of humanities long term relationship with God --- this chapter in Acts is about new family and different members appearing in the album, people who don’t share the same story, culture, or language as previous generations.  As one reads the Bible from Genesis to Revelation one gets the constant sense that God cares for all people, yet decides to work with a particular few --- yet as one reads on --- we find that God’s concern for all translates into more and more inclusion of others. The Bible often reminds us that God’s household, God’s family is much more diverse, and expansive ---- than any specific, narrow arrangement of people. No matter how much we human beings might want to limit the number of people we are to care about, or the type of people we are to look after --- God is always doing something to open us up, to expand our notion of family --- calling us to pay attention and to look out for others particularly the most vulnerable among us. Biblical values are concerned not just with your family or my family but with the whole human family.

Today’s readings remind us that God’s presence is not locked up in some tomb some place but is every place including in the house of those strange and different neighbors.

The purpose of Christian living, of being people who practice resurrection is to seek to love and forgive all members of the human family as limitlessly as Jesus loves and forgives us. We are to seek and serve Jesus, not by hiding ourselves away from engagement with others who are different from us, but by being called out (the Greek word for church is ecclesia which literally means to be called out) into relationships with new and different members of God‘s family. Through the Holy Spirit --- human beings are sent out into the world to discover that our family is much larger than we realized. That our true family is not limited to the few people we happened to be born to, or married to but is among everyone.

So if the true meaning of the resurrection --- is that we can encounter Christ and the Holy Spirit everywhere and among everyone --- if the meaning of church, ecclesia is “called out” what are we supposed to do with our buildings?

Christ couldn’t sit still in the tomb on Holy Saturday legend has it that he cleansed hell, and on Sunday dashed off to Galilee --- how are we to keep up with this restless, living one? Jesus didn’t have a home of his own, let alone a synagogue, what is the church supposed to do with all her buildings?

Perhaps the invitation is for us to imagine what it would mean to make our spaces, all our spaces, our homes, our neighbors homes, our schools, our places of work, our churches ---- places where the Spirit compels us to transcend old patterns of division and embrace one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. Perhaps our spaces, all our spaces need to become intentional places of intersection, of healthy, life giving, holy boundary crossing --- where strangers become friends, and life in all its fullness is celebrated and honored.

This little church has been many things to many people through the years, listening to Ruby who turns 95 later this month, or Cathryn another long time member of our congregation --- this community in the 40s, 50s, and 60s was a bustling hub of activity where new urbanites from far away found community, comfort and inspiration.  At times St. Cyprian’s was a center for music, poetry, art and activism reflecting the pressing concerns of the day.  A place where the young discovered the wisdom of elders, and the dreams of youth were nurtured for a better tomorrow.

Last week St. Cyprian’s welcomed nearly 50 diverse young people from across the west coast and Hawaii --- they slept on our basement floor, hiked to Grace Cathedral to honor Archbishop Oscar Romero, showered at the University of San Francisco, prayed, sang and even preached in this sanctuary. The hospitality that St. Cyprian’s offered last weekend I believe is deeply rooted in this congregations DNA, but even more it is part of the long history of Christian hospitality and pilgrimage going back before the time of Peter in the home of that odd Italian, Cornelius.

A couple of months ago, I met a professor from the University of San Francisco --- I don’t know really much about her religious commitments, but after spending a little over an hour with her, I sensed in her a deep interest in the history and future of St. Cyprian’s. Within a few days my husband Matt and I were invited to her home in San Mateo for a crowded New Year’s party where there was a ton of delicious food and dancing. The next month she came to a Common Era meeting a gathering of neighbors and congregation members who want to help share in our dreaming about the future.

Yesterday, I entered St. Cyprian’s to let our guest organist in to practice thinking that I was going to find an empty church building --- but instead we discovered the place was full of life ---  Lee, Jim, and Robyn were cleaning and decorating getting things in order for today’s worship.

Like those women long ago walking into that tomb, like Peter entering the house of a stranger --- God will show us surprising, liberating, death defying love. May we this Easter catch up with the Spirit of the living Jesus that is everywhere and among everyone --- may all our spaces become intentional places of intersection, of healthy, life giving, holy boundary crossing --- where strangers become friends, where we find ourselves part of God’s ever expanding family album and life in all its fullness is celebrated and honored.