Living from the Heart

A sermon preached at Altadena Community Church on August 13, 2017,

Romans 10:5-10
I have to say that it is difficult to breathe today let alone preach. While the KKK is marching openly in the streets. After they attacked a prayer meeting Friday night in Charlottesville, VA.

The text we heard this morning are the right words for today.

I want to tell you three short stories. If like me, you need a break from the headlines

Let these be today’s headlines of Good News.

Last week a chaplain colleague shared a podcast at a meeting of chaplains, social workers, and music therapists. The podcast was called The Hidden Brain, and the episode was called Dream Jobs. This episode, had a researcher was discussing her work looking at how people approached their jobs and job satisfaction. She interviewed people who cleaned hospitals and she found a profound differences between them. Some, when asked what they did, provided the list of duties in their job descriptions.

Then there were others who shared that while they cleaned, they would notice which patients had visitors and which didn’t and when they finished clean they would go back and visit the lonely. One janitor shared about the work she did in a unit where all the patients were comatose.

The staff expected these patients to awake. They provided all the medical interventions for this. In describing her work, on this unit, the janitor shared how she would periodically take down the art in the paitents rooms and rearrange it. No one asked her to do this, She simply felt any change might help the patients The janitors who did a bit extra in the shared one thing in common–they extra bit they did were things most of us would do for a loved one. They behaved like human beings, imagine that today. And these people, rather than describe their role as janitorial, were more likely to describe themselves as part of healing team.

As our group of chaplains, music therapists, and social workers discussed the podcast and the approach the janitors took to their work, one of our leaders, Yelana, coined the term “positive insubordination”. The janitors had gone beyond the written requirements of their jobs and worked for and towards others with their hearts.

The second story I must warn you is more difficult. In downtown San Diego, and elsewhere, the police do sweeps of homeless encampments.In San Diego, there is a group that films these and posts them on FB. While watching one of the videos, I found myself near tears. A homeless person had left the homeless encampment for a bit and was not there at the time of the sweep.

Not only did the police put all of this person’s belongings in the trash  but the homeless individual had left their dog tied up in their tent. So the police called animal control who took the dog to the pound. In the video the dogs appeared well cared for. 

I can not imagine being that homeless person who returns to find their home and their pet gone. Most homeless persons can not afford to retrieve a pet from the pound. To find a home and loved one–perhaps your only companion–gone is nothing short of a disaster. And then I look at the video again. There are human doings this to other human beings. Yes it is the law, that the streets need to be cleaned up, and for good reasons. And yes, laws are on place protect animals from harm. But how might such situations be different if we, as society, empowered law enforcement to be “positively insubordinate”? Empowered them to act from the heart as well as from a strict interpretation of law?

Lastly, I want to tell you the story of a man who delivered produce. He worked for a produce warehouse that delivered all types of produce to high end restaurants and farm to table establishments. In his work, he found fulfillment knowing that what he did keep people fed.

After sometime, he noticed the amount of food waste generated in restaurant kitchens. He also saw the amount of vegetable and dairy waste  generated by the warehouse in which he worked. Now those of you have worked in food production, or even the food pantry, will know there are laws about giving food away. But as this man drove around town he also passed the homeless.

Soon this man quietly began to take action at work; he was “positively insubordinate”. If he saw leftover bread bagged for the trash or give aways in a kitchen e would offer to take it away for the kitchen. He would pick up a bag of baguettes, day old–but edible and often such bread would find a homeless person before the end of the of the driver’s route.

His warehouse, would often discard dairy days before its sell by date because no kitchen wanted to buy it with so little time to use it. The driver was able to take these discards and distribute them to people who were hungry… all unofficially. The warehouse also prepared various vegetables to be use by kitchens. One day this driver frantically called his wife; it seemed 150 pounds of peeled carrots were going to be trashed as they were a few days old.  Would she please call local agencies to find someone to take them. He dropped the carrots off on the way to one of his paid deliveries. Eventually, the warehouse started diverting some its waste to Feeding America. But before the institutional shift could be made the delivery driver had a choice to make he could follow the laws strictly, protect his job and not become involved with what he saw or he could live from his heart and respond creatively to issues that stared him in the face.

So those are my stories today.

And what about our text for this morning?

I tell you these stories because they are in many ways illustrations of what the apostle Paul was writing about.

Paul was teaching the people of his time how to follow Christ….

Paul’s time was one in which people believed  that following the law exactly would lead to salvation. Paul’s task was to teach Jews and Gentiles alike  that following the law alone was not what God required. The good news according to Paul, was that the teachings of Jesus were to be lived out in daily life and that these teachings superseded the older law.  

Paul was trying to convey that the role of Christians was to exceed the law and that the heart would need to be involved in their decisions of daily living.

At its heart, the text from Paul we heard today is a call to ethics. How do we go about in the world? Are we bringing God’s love and mercy into the world for all people, or are we shutting it out and pitting people against one another with walls and tiki torches?

In verse eight of our text for today Paul rhetorically asks those who would follow Christ, saying

“The word is near you, / on your lips and in your heart”

This is the essence of the law  that followers of Christ are to live each day. It is a reminder that not only what we say but what we do shows the world what we believe. And how we live our faith teaches the world about God.

As followers of Christ, what are we teaching about God? Do we even know when the Holy Spirit may be calling us to be “positively insubordinate?”

For early the church, proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord” as this text says was not only about about personal salvation it was a pre-creedal idea that required the one who proclaimed it to first live it.

How are we, as followers of Christ, teaching our faith to the world?

This is very much a text for this day–August 13, 2017.

It calls us to ask and to answer. How we as Christians, and as members of Altadena Community Church, live out our faith…in the face of neo-fascist white supremacists hate? And while standing closer to the brink of nuclear war than we have been in decades?

How do we share our values with the world?

Church, listen to Paul; and then go forth to preach.

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Reality Not Satan

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,* will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words* in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’~Mark 8:31-38 NRSV

Many times in Christian tradition we hear Jesus referred to as the “Great Physician”. In this week’s lectionary I think we see Jesus the Great Physician, in rare and honest form. Jesus is giving his disciples a very clear prognosis. Peter, like so many of us, responds with denial –the first stage of grieving. Peter is so like us.

I remember sometime in late 2002, I sat in a orthopedist’s office. He spoke to me about the MRI of my spine. He used words I did not, yet, know.  What I most remember is “by age 40 you’ll be using a wheelchair or in need of spinal surgery.” NOOOOO! My brain, like Peter’s could not process it. I could not conceive of what he said. My mind shot out firecrackers of um so I worked my way through years of painful, confidence shattering physical and speech therapy to cope with Cerebral palsy, and now you are telling me that I am going to need to use a wheelchair anyways? Then what has been the point of all the work everyone told me was necessary and good? What then has been the point of my life if not to exceed expectations? If I can no longer do that who am I?  His words could not possibly fit into what I knew of life.

Peter rebuked Jesus not out of stupidity, although the writer of Mark sometimes portrays the disciples that way. Peter’s reaction to the news that Jesus would die was not really inspired by Satan, but by the very human experience of not being able to connect new information to what was expected based on a very real and human understanding of the world. Peter could no more conceive of the Messiah dying on a cross, then some people can conceive of a woman who used to have a speech impediment preaching. Peter is not very different from the families I meet who can not believe that their loved one on hospice is actually dying.

We live in a society that teaches us that physical change and decline is unacceptable, that it needs to stay hidden or be “put away” somewhere. But that is not how real life is. We are born, we age, we decline, and we die. Jesus is stating a very matter-of-fact truth about human life. Still like Peter we resist it. We resist change. We don’t want to believe that the real plan might be different from our plan. The influence of the Greek cynics is strong, we hear it from the men who die along side Jesus “Physician, heal thy self” / “Save yourself if you can”. That is what Peter expects–triumph against the world and the expectations of history.

Jesus, however, invites us forward into the very history we resist. Jesus calls us to the new. When my chronic pain started in 2002, I hated it. I wanted to go back the time when life itself was not a struggle. I took me a while to learn that was not going to be an option. Life became the unexpected. Somewhere somehow I realized that the pain might change my life but would not end it. I lost the competitive swimming, lost some ability to do the physically taxing book art that I loved, and lost some of the activeness I was known for. It seemed like I lost me. In time I realized that was all wrong. My acquired disabilities invited me out of the shadows. I could not hide my chronic pain as I had learned to compensate for and hide my cerebral palsy. A nun who had spent most of her career working with people with developmental disabilities, and was my supervisor, thought it was great fun to fold her arms over her chest and point out to me my very CP personality traits. Then there were the old ladies who sat behind me at church, who saw how much it hurt for me to stand or hold the hymnal in worship. They forced me to try a cane. I did not like any of it, but recognizing my real needs helped. It was when I could accept my acquired disabilities that I stopped denying my native disabilities. I learned to accept myself. It has made all the difference. To come out as who I am as a disabled woman has also allowed me to become an advocate, to make the world a more welcoming, accepting, inclusive world. That is not the work of Satan, it’s the work of accepting reality and following Jesus wherever he has us go.

Praying by Singing

Bless the Lord my soul / and bless God’s holy name….

~Prayer Song from Taize “Bless the Lord”

The chants of Taize captured me the very first time I heard them. They became something I could not live without during seminary. It started with vespers. One of the most profound prayer experiences I have ever had occurred during the silence of a Taize service. I ended up leading the Taize vespers on campus.

I eventually moved from the campus to an intentional community modeled on monastic and ecological principles. In my community at Myra House we gathered in the early morning for prayer. We prayed using Taize chants often. So often that they became the natural part of life. Singing “Omni Gentes” while loading the dishwasher after community dinner seemed natural and life-giving.

The Psalm for this Ash Wednesday starts “Bless the Lord, o my soul / and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.” (Psalm 103:1). It is an affirmation of life to bless. To bless one’s creator is also an affirmation of all creation. That affirmation of life-givingness is something I want to hold on to. The Psalm does not stay in life affirmation but it does start and end there. The Psalm elucidates God’s gifts, forgiveness, salvation, judgement of the righteous, knowledge given my teachers and prophets, and yes the fact the life is short, and then, back to God’s mercy and blessing. The movement of the Psalm is also the movement of life. As we grow we experience awe at the world. Sometimes life gets messy and blessing may not be foremost on our minds, yet in the life cycle we generally return to some affirmation of life, some review of what we’ve experienced.

Ash Wednesday. This is a day we remember our mortality. A day we traditionally start the journey to the cross and facing death.

What if this year, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the retelling of the Psalm? What if this year we bless the Lord ? Rather then solemnly following behind Jesus as if the journey of Lent is a tragic duty.

Life is messy. I continue to be astounded by the number of people who expresses surprise that Lent can be done differently by taking up a spiritual practice rather than giving up something. This year I am forgoing the giving up chocolate. This year I am taking up the practice of responding “yes” to God. I am seeking to bless God by following where God may lead. Thus even if the road leads to the sorrow of the Garden in Gethsemane, my journey will be a joyful one of returning the blessing of making a full life out of what I have received. On the road, I will sing and pray as if I am loading the dishwasher even when I do not know where I am going.

Bless the Lord, all you hosts,
   you ministers who do God’s will. (Psalms 103:21)

 

Crazysauce

Another Wonderful post from Rev. Dr Sarah Lund! Gee, I wonder whom that friends she was talking with was…sources who know say it was another Woman Who Speaks In Church!

Sarah Griffith Lund

I’m listening to the audio book of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and I’m in love with the voice of Hazel, the 16 year old cancer patient. Driving down Florida’s turnpike in the torrential rain, hazard lights flashing, white knuckles gripping, I hear Hazel describing what it feels like to be young and dying and in love.

Hazel says things like awesomesauce, which according to the urban dictionary means “more awesome than awesome.” As in “that home churned Georgia peach ice cream is awesomesauce!”

Does adding the word “sauce” at the end magnify a word’s meaning?

Like annoyingsauce or stupidsauce?

When things get really crazy, are they crazysauce?

What about all the school shootings that have happened like rapid fire in the past weeks?

Is that because of some people with guns who are crazysauce?

Is it primarily mental illness that causes an otherwise normal person to violently…

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Maundy Thursday: Who Do You Say That I Am?

Genesis 12 ; Gospel of John 13, 18

I miss read the lectionary for today. I went to Genesis rather than Exodus. But that is when I realized something I had never thought of before.

It occurs to me that Sarai, the wife of the patriarch Abram, has something in common with Jesus. Both had their identities betrayed by someone they loved and trusted.

Earlier in this Lenten season we found ourselves confronted by the call of God to Abram to leave Ur, when we follow that narrative to Genesis 12 we find Abram and Sarai called again to leave for a new land. This time they are traveling from Haran into Egypt. Verses 10-20 are often left out of the lectionary which stops at verse 14. It’s almost as if the lectionary is trying to avoid the issue of true identity as it is fully raised in the text. You see, in the narrative Abram asks Sarai to pretend to be his sister rather than his wife. Thus, Sarai briefly becomes one of the wives of Pharaoh. When Pharaoh discovers this he returns Sarai to Abram and sends them on their way richer than when they arrived. So the patriarch seems to pimp his wife for wealth and power. Why would the lectionary avoid that!?

We don’t hear Sarai’s thoughts on these events. We can imagine what a wife might say to a spouse who asked her to pretend to be a sibling rather than a spouse~I’ll share my popcorn we can watch the show. But that is not in the text. What is in the text is that Sarai’s husband had to the power to change her identity, to say who she was. Furthermore we see that the redefinition of Sarai’s identity leads her to yet another whole identity completely.

It is Maundy Thursday, one of my favorite days of the Christian year. (Should I offer a prize for the reader who can guess my other favorite?) Jesus has gathered with the disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover feast, to wash their feet, to proclaim that his body and life are given for them (and us), and to proclaim his coming betrayal. The text tells us that it is as Jesus does these things that the decision is made in Judas’ heart to betray the Master. Jesus even tells Judas to go and do what must be done. Judas, one of the twelve disciples, one of Jesus’ trusted friends is the one who betrays him. It is Judas who must decide who he thinks Jesus is, and then Judas based on that decision will collude with the powers that be. It is Judas who will signal Jesus’ identity with a kiss in the garden.

In both these texts the issue of personal identity are the key issues. In both of these texts someone else decides whom the other is and takes action that will radically alter the both the life of the other, the life of the decider, and the unfolding of history.

As a woman with disabilities, many of which are hidden, I know what it is like to have others decide who I am. I know what it is like to be “in the closet”, having relationships in which there is little knowledge of my disability, and the anger others show when I come out of that closet and let my full identity be known. I know what it is to be vulnerable with others to let them know the depths of my experience and have to trust that they will know with whom and when to share that knowledge. I know what it is like to feel that trust betrayed. To watch at the annual school-house parent night as your parent outs you sharing with the teachers about your disabilities in front of classmates and other teachers. I know what it is like in the workplace when co-workers sense there is something different about you, but not knowing what it is decide they will name it–and I know what it is like when others redefine your identity so far from your known truth that it disrupts and utterly re-routes your own sense of self. With disability it is not so much identity politics as it is identity of individuality/self that is intertwined with experience of living in a body so different from the norm that with world around you is rife with barriers that disable. Life with disability is asking each individual you encounter, in some way–who do you say that I am?

Loving God, You who know me better than I know myself. You who created me to be fearlessly and wonderfully made. Help me to know myself, to share myself, and delight in the friends I break bread with. Empower me to raise my face even when others define me in ways that threaten my identity or life. Grant me Your strength and love, to always know myself, and to do Your will. Amen.

Lent Six: In the Crowd

Reflection on Matthew 21.

This year as I hear the Palm Sunday texts, I find myself wondering about the people who were there welcoming Jesus. Who were they and what were they thinking? There were likely a variety of people there as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Many had gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. The city was full.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, as the people prepared for the major religious festival of the year, it has been said that something else was going on as well. The Roman Governor was entering the city from the other gate (Rev. Jerry Lawritson, New Testament Scholar/preacher). If this is so, it tells us a lot about the people who laid palms at Jesus’ feet and sang Hosannas.  The people who celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem were the people of little to no social standing, who would not be missed at an official welcome of the governor.

I wonder who the people who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with palm and song thought Jesus was. Did they think he was the Messiah come to meet the Roman occupier/governor? Did they think him a spiritual leader come to the temple for the holy days? It hardly matters for whichever of these the people believed,  the end result is that they recognized that a change had come, the world was about to shift. And they were brave enough to proclaim it.

The people who welcomed Jesus were a people who hoped. Who believed that occupation and oppression could not last forever and were brave enough to say so. They were people who believed that God would respond even to those whom the world did not respond to.

This holy week I think of the people who may not always be missed at the major social functions. I think of the people who live on hope. I think of the people who risk all they have to proclaim that another way is possible. I marvel at their faith.