Unconditional Peace

A Sermon for the Feast of Saint Francis & Blessing of the Animals

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas. Text: Isaiah 11:1 – 9. 

We are here today to celebrate the life of Saint Francis – a man whom we remember in this service by blessing the animals who make our lives so full. St. Francis was known in his lifetime for a particular communion with ALL the animals around him – and part of his love for all animals, beautiful and not-so-beautiful, was because he literally lived among the animals – St. Francis was a homeless man. He was a church reformer who believed the best way to know Jesus was by begging with the poor in the streets, because the poor know Jesus the best.

St. Francis was also known for being a broker of radical peace between humans and animals. He famously befriended a wolf that was terrorizing an Italian village and brought both the wolf and the people into a reconciling relationship where the people would feed the wolf in exchange for the wolf’s protection and companionship. Continue reading

Who Told You?

Texts: Genesis 3:8 – 15 & Mark 3:20 – 35

During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees. The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

The man replied, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree, which I commanded you not to eat?”

The man said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit[c] from the tree, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?!”

And the woman said, “The snake tricked me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the snake,

“Because you did this,
    you are the one cursed
        out of all the farm animals,
        out of all the wild animals.
    On your belly you will crawl,
        and dust you will eat
        every day of your life.

I will put contempt

    between you and the woman,
    between your offspring and hers.
They will strike your head,
        but you will strike at their heels.”

 

Good morning St. Luke’s. For those of y’all who don’t know, my name is lizzie, and I am an Aspirant for Holy Orders supported by all of you and this parish. And we, my spouse and I, are preparing to move to Austin, Texas, in August, so this will be my last sermon for you all for a little while.

And I really wanted this, my last sermon, at least for now, here with you to be about God’s love, about God’s tenderness, you know, I was just so inspired by the buoyancy of Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon but, uh, the text for this week is Genesis 3 so… here we go: original sin!

If the Bible were a series of movies, this story – the story of the first people God made, the story of  “Adam” and “Eve” – this story would FOR SURE be in the “Top 40 Classics.” This is a story taught in Sunday School classrooms from wee ages, a story illustrated in stained glass windows of churches around the globe. This is a story we all know

… Or do we?

Sometimes, stories in the Bible take on a life of their own. This is kind of the point of Scripture: this is why we call it the “LIVING Word.” These stories – stories of Eve and Adam, of Mary and Jesus – these stories are not just dried-up old tales. They are alive. This is, by and large I think, a good thing. When the stories really “live” we know we are working to know the LIVING God through a LIVING Word wherein God still has something to say to us.

But this also means that, sometimes, the retelling – and retelling, and retelling, and retelling –  of the story starts to overshadow the original story.

For example: it was not until I was in college that I had a critical revelation about this story of “Eve and Adam.” My whole life, I was told that Eve was a TEMPTRESS. That she, with long luscious Renaissance locks lured Adam into eating the forbidden fruit.

And you know what Genesis 3 actually says?

The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”

The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees  but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”

The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.

… And this is where our reading for today picks up. They have BOTH chosen to eat; they BOTH listened to the serpent and they have both decided: it would be good to be like God.

They decided it would be good to be like God.

Have you ever been tempted? I don’t mean by a Renaissance Eve with her well-placed long hair because, good riddance, can we give that trope a break?

I mean to be tempted be lured by your own cunning, your own insight, your own intelligence or beauty or power, to think you knew better than God?

There are times, certainly, when we do know what is best for someone else. I think of every parent who has ever rushed to stop a child’s hand from touching the stove, of every child who explains, again, to their aging parent why the nurses are here.

That is not the kind of “knowing better” that I’m talking about. I’m talking about the temptation to play God. I’m talking about thinking we know who deserves to be in the garden, who most certainly must be cast out.

I’m talking about lust for power. I’m talking about a greed. I’m talking about envy. I’m talking about desire to be in control.

I’m, well, I’m talking about sin.

Here it is: the moment of original sin. Eve and Adam have eaten of the forbidden fruit and – immediately – they see that they are naked.

And then they hear God approaching in the time of the cool, evening breeze.

So they hide – they hide themselves in the trees, hidden in the very foliage of their folly. It strikes me that the snake told Adam and Eve the fruit would help them know good from evil, but what they see is that they are naked. They decide to cover themselves because they have decided their vulnerability is evil even though they have been naked the whole time.

And God calls: “where are you?”

Does God know? Does God know what is about to happen? I mean, surely, yes? God is all-knowing. God has a vision to cast the universe into place, and yet – what happens next feels like a shock. The man emerges, sheepish, from behind a tree and confesses: “I heard your sound in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked.”

It’s like he is saying: “I knew you would see me as I now see me. Flaws, bumps, lumps, bruises, scars, stretch marks and all. I knew you would see me, vulnerable. So I hid myself.”

And God aks: “how did you know?

“How did you know? And why did you hide, when I have made you just the same in that body before you ate and after?”

And then, the man, not only wanting to hide himself from God – he decides to shift the blame. “The WOMAN, whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit and I ate!” The woman is not much better; she admits that the snake tricked her. But she doesn’t speak of her desire to be like God, too.

Sin is choosing to hide from our own vulnerability. And sin is blaming someone else – anyone else – our spouse, God, the snakes in the grass – for our decision to hide.

Sin is choosing to turn away from God. Sin is choosing our anger, our fear, and our shame, instead of facing God.

And yet, God does blame the snake, in part. God tells the serpent there will forever be enmity between its offspring and the woman’s. Take note: God specifies the offspring of the woman; Gods claims all humanity as coming from Eve.

I don’t think the “point” of this story (if such a thing can be sussed out) is that these two people were factually the first people who lived, and I certainly don’t think the “point” of this story is that women must forever suffer the fate of Eve who was clever enough to talk to snakes and foolish enough to believe them. I don’t even think this is a story of how humanity was always doomed to fail.

I think perhaps this story asks us to dare to believe that God believes in us.

Do you hear that shock, that pain, in God’s voice when God realizes what they’ve done?

And don’t you remember what God does for us? God comes into the world through another mother, Mary. Mary who is fully one of Eve’s offspring, and Jesus who is Mary’s child – and Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine stands today in our Gospel lesson, in the thick crowd of hungry, irritable, sick, pushy people and says: you are my mothers.

You, who were told by my own self that there would be pain, and suffering – you are my mothers, and my brothers and my sisters. You are my family. No matter what.

I said at the beginning I wanted this to be a sermon about God’s love. And, actually, I think it is. I think this story of sin and sadness is ultimately a story about God’s love for us. God’s ridiculous belief that we can be good, and God’s shock and hurt when we choose otherwise.

We are God’s family. No matter what.

 

For When Christmas is Hard

A ‘Blue Christmas’ Service Sermon

A woman – no, a girl, a teenage girl – is miles and miles from home, away from her cousin and her mother and with only her husband for company- and he is really just a stranger to her.

The pains in her womb are tightening, her breathing is sharp. No one has room for her, for the burden she carries in her belly, this weight that will bring her to knees. At last, someone takes pity on her, and her husband, and their mule, and they are given the barn – where her crying won’t disturb anyone else. Continue reading

There is no Safety: Sermon on Philippians 4

I was so humbled, and thankful, to share this sermon at Binkley Baptist Church on October 15th, the church my father and his wife attend. It’s a bit longer than usual for this Episcopalian, but “when in Rome” and all that 😉

Text: Philippians 4:1 – 9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.

Loved ones, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to an agreement in the Lord. Yes, and I’m also asking you, loyal friend, to help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life.

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.

 

Our Scripture today begins, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown stand firm in the Lord. Beloved, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntche to come to an agreement in the Lord.”

Did you catch it?

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The Opposite of Fear is Faith, a Sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-22

All readings from the day can be read here. Preached at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 21, 2017.

1 Peter 3:13-22 Common English Bible (CEB)

13 Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? 14 But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. 15 Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. 16 Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. 17 It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

18 Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do good?”

So opens our reading from 1 Peter today.

“Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”

While this letter is attributed to Peter, the Apostle famous for denying Jesus and then walking on water with wobbly feet, this letter is from the first century – some fifty years, or so, after Jesus’ resurrection. Continue reading

Trans-Figuration of the Lord

Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Petimg_1625er and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


“Six days later,” our story begins.

“Six days later.”

If this were a novel, the prologue would go something like this: Jesus has been sparring with the Pharisees and Saduccees, the religious elites of his own native Judaism. They’ve heard wind that he might be a prophet. They want to see for themselves.

And Jesus does his usual thing, of telling them exactly what they already know and exactly what they don’t want to hear and generally mystifying everyone.

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Peace in Revolt

IMG_2097To every person who has shown up for protests, who has engaged in painful conversations: thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Jesus was a refugee when his parents had to flee Bethlehem; Jesus is the refugee babe in the ambulance too shocked to speak.

And to everyone who cannot protest: thank you, too.

I mean this with all humility and love: showing up matters, but showing up doesn’t always look like being physically at the protest.

There are infinite legitimate reasons why people cannot always march. PTSD. Anxiety. A shift you can’t miss for risk of losing the job. A shift you need to pay the rent. A paper to write in a class that is doing the slow and steady work of transforming your spirit to be ready for constant revolution. Schoolwork that needs doing because you’ve been so eaten up with anxiety it has sat untouched for so long. No babysitter. No money for a babysitter. Children who are too young to know this isn’t the time for a tantrum. Children who are sick. Parents who are sick. You are sick. Your body isn’t cooperating today. Your body is one that wears faster during long walks and standing outside. Your body is not welcome.

By the looks of things, we are going to be praying with our feet a lot these next four years. As my friend Jes Kast said: “This is not a sprint. Run the race with endurance.”

Taking time to be ready is not disengaging. Taking time to be present to joy is not uncaring. Taking time to rest is not a lack of resilience.

It moves me beyond words to see how “thoughts and prayers for those affected” has transformed into people showing up in the streets to pray with their bodies.

But as a person of faith, i still affirm the power of prayer. Contemplation needs action. And so prayer is absolutely protest. But it is also stillness, and furious dancing, and time apart, and presence.

Our hearts are being challenged and pushed to grow wider, which means there is more room for heartbreak, more people to love and hurt for. This is leaning into our calling to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor and walk humbly, love mercy, and do justice.

Giving yourself permission to seek peace is not the same thing as being at peace with the status quo. 



 

Mary Did Know

Maybe it was my middle school crush on Clay Aiken, or maybe it was a bent toward feminist theology at a tender age, but “Mary Did You Know?” always makes my top 5 for Christmas songs.

(And, yes, i know it’s barely day two of Advent, you snooty Christians. I need a little Christmas, right this very minute, okay?)

A couple of weeks ago i was leading a Bible study on the Magnificat and the encounter in Luke 1 between Mary and Elizabeth. Our deacon then commented that if you were only to have the first chapter of Luke, one might presume that this promised Messiah would go on to be a great king, an uprooter of worldly power through his own majesty. Mary’s song, after all, falls in a great line of Biblical womyn singing praises to God for giving them sons, sons who would go on to do stuff quite like that.

We wondered then about what, exactly, Mary knew.

And, worryingly, what she consented to.

Gabriel doesn’t say precisely what “overshadow” means, nor does he detail how God will protect Mary from being, say, dying in childbirth or being abandoned for her indiscretion. We know she will give birth to one who will be called God’s Son. But God doesn’t detail that Jesus will die, gruesomely, as a criminal. Before her very eyes.

Maybe that’s because God didn’t know; maybe this is evidence for free will, that it was not some magnanimous gesture of wrath on God’s part that killed his kid, but humanity’s fear of what God on earth looks like, acts like.

I really like to think God asked Mary. That consent was required for the conceiving of such a gift, and such a curse.

But what becomes clearer and clearer to me is how much Mary knew. No, she probably didn’t know Jesus would “calm the storm with his hand” and give sight to that particular blind man, but did she know that her baby boy was going to be “Lord of all creation”?

“Surely,” she sang, “all generations will call me blessed.”

 

 

In other news…

Ya’ll, there is just so much right now. I’m not sure i’m ready to talk about Jesus and this election. What i’ve been trying to do is stay present, and hopeful, and to do so by being plugged in with people i love and art that nourishes.

So a few weeks ago i finally launched a photography business, because apparently, i just can’t do one artistic thing at a time. And right now i’m running a sale of goofy Christmas card photos. You can read more about why here

But just in case you’re as mired in the muck of sadness and anger and resignation and rebuttal as i am, here’s a picture of our step-dog, Tupelo:

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Love you. Here’s to laughter!

God, the Persistent Widow

In the Gospel of Luke, there’s this parable. (I originally wrote: “this bizarre parable,” but i realized that was redundant.) And in it, there is a judge who “neither fears God nor respects people,” and there is a widow seeking justice.

Widows are kind of a big deal in Scripture; they are one of the few categorically specific people whom God tells the people over and over they must care for.

Widows were also the most commonly targeted people in medieval witch hunts. Widows were women bereft of a patriarchally-sanctioned identity – that is, a husband or father to claim her.

Widows, too, are an emblem and embodiment of grief: as much as they threaten power structures with their liberty, in this parable her namelessness seems to speak to the cavern of loss. She is a spare, an excess – a bereaved excess. Maybe she loved her husband; maybe she didn’t. But in this story she is known only by the absence – widow – and her grief is no less significant than her gender or her powerlessness.

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