A Sermon preached by the Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, July 21, 2019
Back in March, shortly after my Mom passed away, I was driving home from San Francisco, through the Tube, into Alameda, when I was pulled over by the Alameda police for looking at my iphone. My infraction was “distracted driving.” After that ticket, I think I’ve learned my lesson. But from glancing over at my fellow drivers on my commute, and seeing people walking into the street looking down at their phones, I know that I’m not alone in living a distracted existence.
We are a distracted people these days, multi-tasking, following GPS directions, answering emails, texting, trying to get three things done at once in real time. And, as I reflected on why I was so distracted that day I got the ticket, I realized part of it was probably looking for ways to distract myself from the growing reality of my Mom’s death. I just wanted to keep moving.
Martha and Mary lived in a much simpler world, but as we see here in our Gospel reading today, distraction is not just a 21st century thing.
This is the only appearance of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke. They show up again in the Gospel of John when Jesus raises their brother Lazarus from the dead. And later, towards the end of John, we see Jesus at table with them again, and it is Mary who kneels again at Jesus’ feet and anoints them with the precious ointment.
Hospitality was a central value in the Jewish home. Think of Abraham and Sarah preparing a meal t for the three young angels who came to visit; think of that other story unique to Luke, of the Prodigal Son. The Father slaughters the fatted calf for the prodigal son to welcome him home.
In today’s passage we see Jesus enter “Martha’s home.” This was unusual because men were considered the head of the household. It was also unusual for a man (Jesus) to enter into a house headed by a woman. Jesus as the guest sits down and Mary sits at his feet and listens. This is unusual behavior for a woman of that time; she was acting like a man to interact on same social level as a man. So when Martha reacts as she does, this would seem totally reasonable to a first century audience. Isn’t Mary supposed to be in the kitchen?
It’s also unusual for a text of this time to refer to women by name. Luke is careful to say, “a woman named Martha, and a woman named Mary.” They are not anonymous sisters, but real people with real names. We can read the passage as Jesus’ affirmation of women’s humanity.
These six little verses speak to our human proclivity for distracting ourselves while ignoring the deeper, more important issues, including faith and spiritual growth.
The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son, and today’s story are unique to Luke. In the Prodigal Son and today’s story we see contentious sibling interaction. The older son in the Prodigal Son says, “Don’t you care that I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do? and you go and kill the fatted calf for that no-good younger brother. The Father says, “yes, but he’s returned, and I love him. That’s the most important thing.” The older son sounds a lot like Martha when she says to Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister is making me do all the work?” Like the older son in the Prodigal Son she’s missing the point because she’s focusing on herself and fulfilling the societal role that she’s supposed to fill. It distracts her from what’s important: welcoming Jesus, as a guest into her heart, and his call to grow closer to God, and to love.
The Church has interpreted this story many different ways, often contrasting Martha’s active ministry of hospitality with Mary’s more contemplative approach, and sometimes saying that one was better than the other. In popular culture women, especially, say they’re either a Martha or a Mary. It’s tempting to set up a dualistic viewpoint.
Being a preacher of the Anglican tradition, I’m going to say it’s a “both/and” situation. We need both Martha and Mary’s kind of energy in the church.
The Martha and Mary story also intrigues me as a student of the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a framework for looking at personality and spiritual growth. You take the Enneagram test, much like the Myers-Briggs test, and receive a “type” but the Enneagram expects that you will grow over time towards the healthier qualities of another. As a Six on the Enneagram, I’m prone to worry and anxiety, but my Sixes aim to grow towards a Nine, which is more serene and confident. I see Martha being challenged to grow towards Mary’s strengths.
I see some of the Six in the older son and in Martha. They show a resentment that others are not conforming to societal rules as well as they do. And the Father in the Prodigal Son, and Jesus in our story today, challenge them to see what is important: love.
Jesus says to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The word “distracted” has a special meaning here in Greek. It means “to pull away.” It’s the same Greek word used in the Good Samaritan, when the priest and the Levite walk on by. They’re “distracted” or “pulled away” by their duties.
In our lives, it’s not just our smartphone, that’s causing us to be distracted and pulled away, and worried. It’s the state of our country, which we see echoed in the reading from Amos about a society corrupted. Then there’s the cost of living in the Bay Area, and perhaps the health of the church? These are just my own worries and distractions, I’m sure you have your own.
Jesus tells Martha to chill out. “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” He challenges Martha to raise her eyes above her distractions and worries, and move closer to him, and to love.
This week, I hear Jesus saying, “chill out” to us at All Saints’. This is especially important during an Interim time. We need to slow down, put aside our worries and distractions, and sit at Jesus’ feet for awhile. We have important work to do this fall as we begin the self-study process.
On Tuesday I met via Zoom with Canon Abbott and Leslie Nipps who were here last year at this time working with the Vestry and with the parish. Both of them were complimentary of the work you all did last summer, and the mature conversations they heard in the small group meetings. They encouraged us to take the time to “go deep” and do more conversational work together in the coming months before starting the new traditional Rector Search Process.
There are some of us who are worried about moving forward as quickly as possible on the new rector search, and I understand that concern. But we have some time built in because we must renovate the Rectory before calling a new Rector. This is a great opportunity to take our time.
When you plant something new, the ground must be dug up and turned over. Not to dig up muck for muck’s sake at all. But to prepare the groundwork for new life, and new growth for the future. And we have great buried treasure here to uncover as well.
The Good News is I hear Jesus calling us to choose the better part along this journey of transition. We are called to spiritual growth from where we were a year ago, to a new place of maturity and openness.
After the 10:00 Mass we will talk more about the overall Interim process with Denise Obando. It’s going to be a very positive time because you all are attentive and care deeply about this community of faith. In the coming months, we will continue our usual liturgical cycle, and we will do the important work of moving many administrative pieces forward. Most of all, we need your participation. And we need to tune out the worries and distractions that so easily “pull us away,” from “the better part.” I’m looking forward to sitting at the feet of Jesus for the next few months with you all. Amen.
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, for Pentecost, June 9, 2019
In the name of the Holy Trinity: Creator, Savoir, and Giver of Life, Amen.
On Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church and the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes to empower us in our ministries. I believe the Holy Spirit is always blowing through our lives, we just need to listen to her whispers. Last Wednesday I had a couple of moments where I felt the Holy Spirit whisper a little more loudly, maybe even give me a nudge.
On Wednesday morning I took my 90 year old Dad back to Costco to replace his hearing aids that went missing. The audiologist put some special earphones over Dad’s ears, and had him sit down facing a speaker on the wall. Then she played an audio clip through the speaker. I could hear it, too.
There was a chorus of many voices speaking all different kinds of languages at the same time. It sounded just like the “Pentecostal sounds” we just heard when we read the Gospel together.
The audiologist said the audio clip is a compilation of voices and languages that includes all the sounds the human ear is designed to hear, and with the special earphones she could diagnose what my Dad was hearing and what he was missing.
As soon as she said that, I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me. When this happens (very occasionally) I stop, look, and listen. What was I supposed to notice?
As the week went on, I think The Holy Spirit was nudging me to think about: How do we listen to and hear God’s communication to us especially during a time of transition? How do we listen to the Holy Spirit so we can communicate God’s message of love to the world in our day?
My Dad left Costco saying I was talking way too loudly and he could understand so much more, which was a Holy Spirit moment of its own.
Our readings show us several approaches to this idea of listening to God’s voice and communicating God’s message.
The Genesis reading shows us the fascinating Tower of Babel story, which explains why there are different languages and different groups of people scattered all over the world, and the reason is telling. Though this story happens at the beginning of human history, I think it speaks pretty directly to us in the 21st century. Human beings became too full of them selves, and began to see themselves as becoming as powerful as God.
So God acts, and scatters the people and adds diversity to humanity. People have to learn how to communicate with each other anew, and unfortunately, it became unlikely that they would work together again. We’re struggling with the Babel event to this day.
One commentator I read this week says that our historic human response to the Babel event is the source of individualism, and a survival of the fittest mentality that’s so prevalent in our culture. The Babel event made us into “us” and “them,” which leads to individual and corporate sin.
That is not what God intended for us when God scattered everyone and caused us to speak different languages. God saw that if we were all the same we weren’t going to learn anything new. God wanted to challenge us to grow and mature into the people God formed us to be: like Christ. God wants us to love each other and build a world that embraces all humanity, and protects the beauty and diversity of God’s creation.
Throughout history, humanity has done a fairly poor job of listening to God’s intent, and living up to God’s plan for us. That’s why Christ came to live among us and teach us how to live, and reconcile us to God’s image.
Our Reading from Acts shows us the opposite of the Tower of Babel. When the Holy Spirit whooshes in she empowers the disciples to speak many different languages so that the scattered peoples are able to hear and understand the Gospel.
Diversity is honored, and embedded in that diversity there is one, unified message: God’s love is active and God wants us to share it.
The Pentecost story is about gathering many diverse peoples together under God’s flame of love, and sending us out to share it in many ways of expression.
When I first arrived at All Saints’ in February, I started to read Larry Holben’s history of All Saints’. As an Interim, it’s a pretty amazing to have a 400 page book about the history of the parish where I serve.
In his forward, Larry Holben writes about the way All Saints’ has been challenged to transform itself many times, and that embracing diversity has always been a strength of All Saints.’ In the 1950’s Father Leon Harris reached out to a Haight-Ashbury Community that had become more diverse after WWII, and brought people together under the Anglo-Catholic style of worship. He famously reached out to the Hippies in the late 1960’s. But then, when the Haight went through its rough times with crime and heavy drugs, there was a deep trough in membership at All Saints’; the church almost closed.
Rev. Lloyd Prader and Neil Little reached out to the LGBTQ community, which built up the All Saints’ community again, continuing under Rev. Kenneth Schmidt. The AIDS crisis was a major blow for All Saints’ but the parish ministered to their members and stood by the needs of the neighborhood.
All Saints’ has successfully listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the past, and that is what we are called to do now in our Transition period.
It takes a lot of time and energy to do this sort of listening to the Holy Spirit, and we will be doing more intentional parish listening through all parish meetings in the coming months. We’ll review the past and celebrate our history and our ministries.
And we’ll do serious work on who we are now as a parish without your Rector of thirty years. The identity of the parish and the identity of the Rector became tightly woven together over the years. We need to untangle that, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
At our Vestry Retreat last Saturday our Vestry began some of this discernment work on a leadership level. It takes more time than we thought to have these conversations, and I was very pleased by the Vestry’s willingness to engage and by their level of mutual respect. I believe the Holy Spirit was drawing us out and encouraging us, like a good coach does. I’m grateful for the work we’ve begun to do together.
My other nudge from the Holy Spirit happened after Wednesday’s 6:00 Mass. We had a visitor is a professional coach of Episcopal clergy. She came to the Bay Area from Seattle for a silent retreat at Mercy Center in Burlingame starting that evening. She had a hunger for taking the Eucharist before starting her retreat. She did a Google search to find an Episcopal Church that held a mid-week evening Eucharist in San Francisco, and guest what: All Saints’ came up as the number one hit on her search! She also read my statement on the website about the Interim time being a time of renewal and congregational growth, and was very interested in talking more about that. In turn, I was thrilled to meet her, and may use her coaching services.
Again, I felt the Holy Spirit giving me a nudge. Stop, look, and listen. This is what I heard: Our improved online presence is working well enough that she could find us. Our online presence is a ministry of communication that’s become extremely important. I also heard that our Wednesday 6:00 Mass is something significant we can celebrate. And sometimes the Holy Spirit sends along a particular person as their messenger.
In our Gospel reading, the Risen Christ stood among the disciples and said, “Peace be with you…As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and left them with a message to continually forgive others as they went out into the world with God’s message of love.
I believe the Holy Spirit blows through our lives and through All Saints’ all the time, and we need to be ready for her nudges. Stop, look, and listen!
Come Holy Spirit! Come refresh and empower us for newness of life. Amen.
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, at the 8:00 Mass, May 12, 2019.
This last Wednesday we had a special 6:00 Mass to honor Julian of Norwich, whose Feast Day was May 8, and I preached about her theology of God’s motherly love. As the week went on, I realized that we are celebrating Mother’s Day today, and that the people at 8:00 might enjoy hearing about Julian. Our first reading this morning was “A Song of True Motherhood,” by Julian, and I’d like to share some more about her this morning.
Imagine living in the Lady Chapel for the rest of your life. That’s probably about as much living space Julian of Norwich had as an anchoress, or recluse, in her cell attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England in the 14th Century. And maybe she had a cat to keep her company. There are lots of icons that show her with a cat. But we don’t know.
We don’t know a lot about Julian of Norwich, but she was the rare medieval female mystic whose voice has come down to us and she speaks powerfully to us here in the 21st century. Julian’s work, Revelations of Divine Love is considered the first book published by a woman in English.
Julian was born in the English town of Norwich in 1342. Norwich was a prosperous town in the extreme East of England, closer to the Low Countries and Scandinavia than London. With a population of 13,000, it was the second largest city next to London at the time. Norwich was known for the valuable wool trade and for fishing. During Julian’s lifetime, the entire city was surrounded by a tall, thick medieval stone wall that protected the city. Mary Rolf writes in her work, “Julian’s Gospel, “Growing up in a walled city must have had a lifelong influence on Julian’s understanding of what it meant to feel enclosed, safe protected. The “holy city” would figure strongly in her Revelations as a metaphor for the inner sanctuary of the soul itself.”
In 1349, when Julian was a child, the Bubonic Plague swept through Norwich. Scholars agree that at least half the population of Norwich perished, and it would never regain its position as the second-largest city in England.
It’s difficult to imagine the trauma of a child living through the Plague. No doubt she lost family and friends. There must have also been the guilt of surviving when so many around you had died. It must have branded Julian with the connection between suffering and the need to pray.
Julian grew up in the midst of this trauma as an upper middle-class woman who was well-educated in her native English, but not considered high educated because she did not learn Latin, which was the language of the elite, and the male clergy.
At the age of 30, Julian became gravely ill. On 8 May 1373 she was receiving the last rites in anticipation of her death. The priest held a crucifix above the foot of her bed, and she began to lose her sight and felt physically numb, but gazing on the crucifix she saw the figure of Jesus on the Cross begin to bleed. Over the next several hours, she had a series of fifteen visions of Jesus’ suffering, and a sixteenth the following night.
Her visions brought on a sense of great peace and joy. “From that time I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning,” and I was answered in ghostly understanding: “Wouldst thou learn the Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was his meaning? Love was our Lord’s meaning.”
Julian completely recovered from her illness on 13 May. She wrote about her visions, what she called her “shewings,” shortly after she experienced them.Her original manuscript no longer exists, but a copy survived, now referred to as her Short Text.
Twenty to thirty years later, perhaps in the early 1390s, she began to write about the meaning of her visions, now known as The Long Text. After her visions, Julian became a recluse, or anchoress, living in a cell attached to the Church of St. Julian. Becoming an anchoress, a recluse, was a solemn thing. You took a vow in the presence of the Bishop in a ceremony that was like a funeral, because you were renouncing life outside the cell. In many cases anchorites/anchoresses were bricked into their cells. But records show that sometimes there was more freedom, and sometimes there was a small community of recluses who retreated together. One hopes that you got along with your fellow recluses.
There was usually a window between the church and the anchoress’s cell where she could visit with people who came for prayer and advice. Medieval people supported their local anchoress or anchorite and in turn they prayed for and counseled the local people. Julian became well-known in her own time as a mystic, spiritual counselor, and a person of great wisdom. Margery Kempe, one of the other few well-known medieval English mystics, wrote about visiting Julian.
As we heard in our first reading, Julian’s mystical theology made a daring comparison of divine love to motherly love. According to Julian, God is both our mother and our father. In her fourteenth revelation, Julian writes of the in domestic terms, comparing Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving and merciful. Julian compares the bond between mother and child as the only earthly relationship that comes close to the relationship a person can have with Jesus.Julian also wrote about Jesus metaphorically in connection with conception, nursing, labor, and upbringing, and she saw him as our brother as well.
Julian lived in a time of great turmoil and suffering, but her theology was optimistic. She spoke of sin being “behovely,” or lovely, something for us to embrace because it can bring us closer to Christ.
In our time, when we are worried about so many things going wrong in the world, I find Julian’s trust in a loving God, who loves us like a good Mother, to be comforting and affirming of our faith in Christ. Julian is best known for the message she received from Christ, “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” May it be so. Amen.
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector
Several years ago while I was serving at St. Anne’s, Fremont, we took a field trip to the local multiplex to see “Risen”, a movie about the Easter story from the perspective of a jaundiced Roman tribune played by Ralph Fiennes.
The Tribune supervised the crucifixion of Jesus—just another day on the job for him. When the tomb is later found to be empty, Pilate charges the Tribune to find the body of Jesus. The Tribune finally hunts down the disciples in hiding and walks into the room where the Risen Christ is meeting with Doubting Thomas.
Movie snob that I am, I was not expecting much from “Risen.” But I gasped when the Tribune recognizes the Risen Christ as the man he’d seen dead on the Cross. It is life-changing for him.
“Risen” was just good enough that it made me really consider what it would have been like to be one of the people who saw the Risen Christ.
The 21st Chapter of John we heard this morning is an addendum to John’s Gospel, and it’s almost like a stand alone parable. We find the disciples back in Galilee fishing. What are they doing there after the Resurrection?
Lately I’ve been dipping into the work of best-selling author Brene Brown, who researches vulnerability and shame. Her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” really spoke to me in the last few years, and I’m currently reading her book, “Dare to Lead.” I highly recommend her work.
Brene Brown says that Shame is not the same thing as guilt, but they do overlap. Guilt is about something we did, shame is about who we are. Both immobilize us because they leave us feeling vulnerable in our deep human imperfection. These feelings are painful. And so we avoid feeling shame and vulnerability at all costs, and continue on our usual path. We keep on fishing.
Brene Brown says it’s human nature to avoid these difficult states of mind. It takes courage as she says, to “dare greatly,” even if we know we will experience failure. She calls embracing the hard stuff and doing it anyway, “whole-hearted living.”
It seems to me that Peter and the disciples go back to Galilee to the comfort of what they know—fishing on the Sea of Galilee— and as usual, they aren’t too good at that, either. They’re flawed individuals, like us, and I have a feeling they are overwhelmed by what has happened to Jesus, and their role in it. Did they measure up? Did they love their friend Jesus enough to save him from a gruesome death? I’m sure they were feeling guilt, and shame, especially Peter.
Here, in the 21st chapter of John, the disciples experience the same amazing catch that they experienced at the beginning of the Gospel of John. I noticed that John says they caught 153 LARGE fish. That’s important because the large fish were sold to the Romans; they would have only kept the small fish for themselves. Out of despair the disciples experience abundance again. It’s through that miracle of the amazing catch that they recognizes the man on the beach as the Risen Christ.
They share the abundant meal on the beach. And then it all comes back to Peter. Maybe it happened when he smelled the charcoal fire; remember he was warming himself around a charcoal fire when he denied Jesus three times. He remembered his betrayal. He feels ashamed, and vulnerable.
What does Jesus do? Jesus guides Peter to counter his three denials with three “I love you’s,” absolving Peter of his guilt and shame. It’s simultaneously consoling and challenging.
The Risen Christ turns Peter’s attention from ruminating on the mistakes of the past to a new call to lead the church in the future. He ends with a new call for Peter, “Follow me.”
The Good News of the Resurrection is challenging. It turns the world inside out. Jesus took one of the worst things in the world (the Roman Cross) and turned it into one of the best (the Tree of Life). He recruits Peter, who denied him three times, to be the cornerstone of the church. We see it also in our amazing reading from Acts, the conversion of Paul. Jesus chose Saul, who persecuted the early Christian movement to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
I also find some resonance with our Interim period. Even positive change can be a lot to take in. Like the disciples, we would prefer sometimes to keep fishing and have the safety of familiarity.
The Good News turns the world inside out. The Risen Christ calls us to leave our tombs as well, and step out into the unknown. To live “whole-heartedly” as Brene Brown says, and to risk failure for the sake of the Gospel.
At the end of the movie “Risen,” the Tribune has a one on one conversation with the Risen Christ as they look up at the night sky. Jesus asks the Roman, “what can I do for you?” and the Tribune says, “I want to leave behind so much death.”
So for me, this Easter Season, I realize that the Resurrection has a real effect on my life, and on the life of our church. There’s so much to “feel bad” about in the world; and I tend to build up defenses against it all. It’s a kind of negative loop that can repeat over and over. I yearn to let go of that.
I believe the Risen Christ meets us where we are, in those times when, like Peter and the disciples, we keep fishing over and over in the same way and expecting a different result. And we continue to have empty nets because we do not have Jesus with us.
The Risen Christ understands this predicament and absolves us of our sin and calls us to freedom, and like the Tribune, to “leave behind so much death.” He points to the other side of the boat and says, “put down your nets over THERE for a catch.” There are new ways of freedom when we follow Jesus.
In the Season of Easter we leave off the Confession of Sin as a sign of our salvation by the mighty power of the Resurrection. Christ is Risen, the work is done. The Resurrection frees us from sin and death, and offers us a way to follow him in freedom and newness of life.
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Davidson Bidwell-Waite on April 28, 2019
Jesus breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit”. This is such a powerful image. Imagine for a moment that we are gathered, maybe even huddled together in the undercroft with the doors locked, sitting perhaps in small groups around the room in murmuring conversations, and suddenly Jesus appears in the middle of us. The first thing He does is say “Peace be with you” which is a logical opener since we would all be pretty freaked out. Then He shows us his hands and his side to confirm that the image we are seeing is not an apparition but rather that it is a person and that person is actually Jesus.
He then says a second time “Peace be with you” but rather than telling us again to stop hyperventilating, Jesus is changing the subject from greeting to command. He then breathes on us and we inhale, deep into our lungs, the breath of the Divine.
Jesus has often said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, and so that same life generating, divinized air that has animated his risen body, Jesus has just pushed out to us, into our nostrils, penetrating our lungs transforming the oxygen that is sucked into our veins and pumped into and through the chambers of our heart. Just close your eyes for a moment and image inhaling the breath of Jesus.
I imagine that it might be dizzying like breathing in pure oxygen that you can feel permeating your body and flowing out to your toes and finger tips. Maybe it would be like breathing ether not just the giddy gas formerly used as an anesthetic, but the ether of ancient times which filled the upper reaches of the heavens, or the ether of current wave theory – the medium that permeates all space and transmits transverse waves oscillating through the cosmos.
This idea of breathing in and very literally internalizing the Divine has been percolating in my thoughts for the past week as I read Vince Pizzuto’s book “Contemplating Christ”. The Rev. Dr. Pizzuto is a professor of New Testament and Christian Mysticism at USF and is the founder of the New Skellig Contemplative Community in Inverness. In January, I spent a weekend in conversation with Vince at the Bishop’s Ranch during the School for Deacons annual retreat, and we did a deep dive into his concept of Divinization and Deification.
Dr. Pizzuto writes: “Deification is an ancient Christian doctrine that affirms the belief that through the incarnation, through which God took on human nature, so too humanity has been made, as Peter termed it in his First Letter, ‘partakers of the divine nature’ ”. Fr. Pizzuto goes on to say that “The spiritual life can no longer be understood as humanity in search of God, but God in search of humanity…” and “…discipleship is not about us serving Christ but Christ serving others in us.”
If you’ll permit another quote from Vince’s book, he says; “The tradition of discrete appearances of the risen Christ dissipates not because Jesus has gone away to some distant heaven but because He has made of us his very body through grace. Insofar as the church is the Body of Christ, we might also understand it as the embodiment of the Holy Spirit in the world. “
Now returning to the Gospel, in saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, Jesus is telling us that our mission is to take His peace-FULL-ness into the world to all with whom we will engage. Being bearers of Peace is how we most fundamentally enable Christ to serve others in us. This is the foundation of our and the church’s ministry of Reconciliation.
This idea was laid out succinctly in today’s Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.”
Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection reconciled Humanity and God. It created a new relationship, which is what reconciliation means, and that new relationship is of oneness with God through our Divinization. As Christ’s body in the world, filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to seek reconciliation between persons, and groups, and between humanity and The Creation.
But in the next phrase, Jesus speaks about Forgiveness, and this for me raises the question of whether there is a difference between Forgiveness and Reconciliation.
After breathing on them, Jesus says “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” We traditionally understand this as authority to given to priests in Apostolic Succession to administer the sacrament of Absolution.
Receiving forgiveness can enable one to move past the guilt or sorrow which has impeded the work of the Holy Spirit in them and to create new relationships, with God and others. But what about the retaining of sins? This, I would suggest, is not so much about the granting of an authority, but a description of how the human heart works. Sins that are retained, by either the one seeking forgiveness or the one refusing it, fester and block the work of the Holy Spirit, which is in itself one of the definitions of sin – that which separates us from the redemptive love of God.
There are several very powerful examples of this in the documentary, “A Long Nights Journey into Day” about Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the work of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It focuses on 4 stories, 2 of which I’ll deal with here.
The first is about Amy Biel, the Stanford student murdered by a group of young men in a Township outside Capetown where she was working and serving them. Amy’s parents wanted to meet the boy who killed their daughter. The rules of the TRC required that in order to receive amnesty, the individual had to 1) tell the whole and complete truth, and 2) the act had to be politically motivated – not an act of personal animosity. The object is to create a space for healing by answering the tormenting question “Why?” In getting to know the young man, the Biels came to understand the vicious way in which Apartheid warped the souls of the oppressed. They eventually were able to actually forgive the young man and eventually supported his legal defense that the act was politically motivated.
The fourth story is about the Guguletu 7. Here 7 mothers were confronting a black African police officer who helped his white colleagues entrap and kill their sons. They considered him a traitor to his race, a morally bankrupt collaborator, an animal, and a soulless being unworthy of amnesty or redemption. The women spoke of how they had carried the pain of their sons’ murders and how their anger and hatred of this man had infected and spoiled their lives.
Then one mother rose and addressed Archbishop Tutu directly. She said: “If you are asking me to forgive this man, this murderer who killed my beautiful innocent son, I have to say No – I cannot – ever. BUT if you are telling me that if I reconcile with this man, he can have his humanity back and I can have MY humanity back, then Yes – Yes I will reconcile with him.
This reconciliation was an agreement to engage and live in community, not forgetting the past, but not allowing the past to poison the future. Reconciliation creates a state where the Holy Spirit can begin to create something new. When forgiveness is not possible or seems an insurmountable challenge, choosing reconciliation is in effect Practicing Resurrection.
Taking this concept to the personal level, Bishop Marc, in his Easter sermon at Grace Cathedral, spoke about the dreams we may have cherished, around which we devoted much of our energy and imagination, and which for whatever reason – died.
We may have moved on, but Bishop Marc suggested revisiting those dead dreams. To stare at and engage with that moldering. To acknowledge the failure and whatever or whoever contributed to it, and to reconcile with it.
In doing so, he suggested that a space would be opened within us which the Holy Spirit could fill and begin a New Work. This is connecting with the Divine within- with our divinized being – to reanimate our entire being. Again, I would call this – Practicing Resurrection, which by the way is the title of a wonderful book by spiritual writer Nora Gallagher.
The willingness to reconcile, always and everywhere, creates the opportunity for transformation and for peace – the kind of fullness of Peace which Jesus continually gave to the disciples and that He continues to offer to us if we will but receive it. He invites into New Life through our Divinization as His continuing body in the world, as rartakers of the divine nature.
In this time of deep division, where fear-mongering and hate are shaping our society and constraining our civil discourse, we have an even greater obligation to breath in the Peace of Christ; to acknowledge, engage with and live out of the divine nature within us; and to Practice Resurrection as reconciling instruments of the Holy Spirit.
Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith. Amen.
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on April 21, 2019
Good Morning! The Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed!
I am very glad that we are here together at All Saints’ on this beautiful Easter morning.
The question I’d like to explore this morning is, How did we come to know that the Lord is Risen? And what does it mean to us today?
In today’s Gospel we hear that “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.”
Naturally, Mary Magdalene went to tell Peter and the beloved Disciple that Jesus’ body was gone. They run to the scene and check it out. They seem to spend a lot of time noticing the condition of the linen wrappings, and that the body is not there. John says, “Then the disciples returned to their homes.”
What? They returned to their homes? That could have been the end of the story. We might never have heard that Christ is Risen.
Mary Magdalene tried to tell her male colleagues what she experienced. They took in the information she conveyed, but it didn’t make sense to them so they decided they were done. They went home.
But Mary Magdalene stays. There is a pause in the story. John writes, “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.”
Let’s step back for a moment. John’s Gospel is the most mystical of the Four Gospels and it shows us a slightly different Resurrection Story. The other three Gospels show us Mary Magdalene, and other women returning to the tomb.
But John’s Gospel is different. It is set in a garden.
The story of humanity’s relationship to God began in a Garden, the Garden of Eden in Genesis. Here the relationship between God and humanity begins again, in a garden. There’s definitely some symmetry between the two.
The early church saw Christ as the second Adam, who gives humanity a fresh start by reuniting heaven and earth in the person of Jesus. Here we have the second Adam appearing in the Garden, emerging from the Tomb.
Gardens are places where we connect with nature and the earth. In the Celtic tradition, the presence of Christ is found most commonly through nature, because through Christ all things were made, especially the Earth. Celtic spirituality saw places in nature as “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth was thin, and we can suddenly be in God’s presence.
The Garden in John’s Gospel is a “thin place” where Mary comes into the presence of the Risen Christ, and has an extraordinary personal encounter with him.
Mary Magdalene weeps, and then looks into the empty tomb. There she sees two angels in white who ask her a silly question, ”Woman, why are you weeping?” She tells them why, and then she turns around and sees someone standing there. It is Jesus, but “she does not know that it was Jesus.” He asks her the same silly question, ”Woman, why are you weeping?” Consumed by grief, “She supposes that he is the gardener.” Then Jesus said to her, “Mary!” and she recognizes him. “Rabbouni!” she says. “Rabbouni!” OMG, it is you.
John gives us a remarkable personal encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ. In a way, it’s a “nevertheless, she persisted” moment. While Peter, and the beloved disciple look for the body of Jesus and do not find it, Mary weeps for the person of Jesus, and he finds her in her tears.
This scene makes me wonder, how many times have I missed seeing Jesus when I have been too quick to judge and too busy to pause and enter into a moment of deep reflection, and maybe painful emotion.
There’s a lot of action in the first half of our Gospel passage: Mary runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciples, they run back, then they go home. That business, that action is what we are mostly good at. It’s often too much to ask of us to take time to stop and wait in the moment. So we do not understand. Like the disciples, we return to the comfort of what we know.
In a society like ours where weeping is looked down upon, I think that tears are a sign that the spirit is breaking through to us. “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she stood weeping, she bent over to look into the tomb,” and through her tears she sees beyond the obvious. In her weeping, her heart is opened to see the Risen Christ.
Karoline Lewis, a Lutheran professor of preaching wrote recently, “At a certain point, the reason for Holy Week (and Easter) then ends up being this — to teach us to detect the holy when the world denies it. To show us that the holy is present when most will resist it. To witness to the holy in those places and spaces where the holy is deemed not to be and not to belong.”
We are called to open our hearts and see the Risen Christ in places and spaces where the holy is deemed not to be and not to belong.
In the past few days, we saw the holy present itself in the young people of Paris singing Ave Maria as Notre-Dame burned. The spirit still moves through a society that is highly secular. Where do we see the Risen Christ here at All Saints’ in our highly secular place and time? This is a question for us as we move forward in our Interim time together.
Mary Magdalene had an open heart. She wept with grief for the loss of Jesus. She wept with love. It is through love that we reenter the garden that is so green with possibilities for hope and growth.
Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “go to my brothers,” Jesus entrusted her with the Good News of the Resurrection and he empowered her with the truth.
Notice that John writes, “Mary Magdalene went and ANNOUNCED to the disciples.” She spoke with the authority of love.
She was the bearer of the Good News, and it was heard then, and today we heard the Good News from Mary Magdalene in the midst of our liturgy in 2019. Alleluia, Alleluia! The Lord is Risen Indeed.