Saturday, June 18, 2016

Remembering Bernard Mizeki


As we celebrate each week our relationship with Mozambique and our brother and sisters at St. John's in Magumeto, we have come to the yearly feast of their saint.

A quick bio:

http://satucket.com/lectionary/Bernard_Mizeki.htm

A very good article (to relate Bernard to our lives):

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-bernard-mizeki-catechist-and-martyr-in-africa/

Sermon: June 19

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP)

[On this day, when we welcome Mateo into the body of Christ; let us think about our lives as disciples of Jesus, how we are called to love in the midst of fear…]

How can I love my neighbor as myself
When I need him as my enemy –
When I see in him the self I fear to own
And cannot love?

How can there be peace on earth
While our hostilities are our most
Cherished possessions –
Defining our identity,
Confirming our innocence?
-Eric Symes Abbott

These lines written in 1989, remind us that the command to love others by Jesus is difficult, especially as we consider those we fear, the enemy all around us and even inside of us, for fear drives out love. And yet, that is what Jesus calls us to do, to love one another and to live in peace.

And yet, too often they know we are Christians not by our love, but by our fear. Fear that seems to control us and make us judgmental, critical, that sees enemies all around us, even in our friends. Instead of the liberating, freeing Gospel, we live in fear with an oppressive religiosity, and we forget that God given grace & love that is always with us and we need to share.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus entered the area of the Gerasenes outside the Decapolis, a gentile region, he is confronted with a man filled with demons. He lived alone among the tombs, naked, separated from his home & community. In a symbolic way, this man whose demons are known as “Legion” – a Latin term for a unit of the Roman army comprising of 3000 to 6000 soldiers, is not only possessed personally, but the whole region with the Roman occupation is possessed. The demons know who Jesus is, and Jesus having compassion for the man, casts out the demons into swine (unclean animals to Jews!), who plunge into the lake, and the man comes to his right mind.

But the people are very afraid. Jesus heals the possessed, casts out the demons, confronts the power of Rome. The people are not ready for such an act, and they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus sends the man home and tells him to proclaim all that God has done for him. He becomes the evangelist to the people living in fear in that community. Again God acts in the midst of fear, reminding us that God is in charge, no demon, no legion, will stop that. But we have to believe that or our own fears will take charge.

I think of a poem: The Peace of Wild Things (Wendell Berry)

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For the time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
We are called to be free of our fears. To rest in the beauty & grace of God’s creation. And to respond out of love. [in baptism we renounce Satan and sin, and turn to God & Jesus…]

In light of the tragedy in Orlando last Sunday early morning – there have been many moving stories about the Pulse & those nationwide reaching out to any community affected, but a story that I missed the first time through (thanks Dick!) – is about a Washington DC Orthodox Jewish community that visited a local Gay bar. Here is their story told by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.

When our synagogue heard about the horrific tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was at the same time that we were celebrating our festival of Shavuot, which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah. As Orthodox Jews, we don’t travel or use the Internet on the Sabbath or on holidays, such as Shavuot. But on Sunday night, as we heard the news, I announced from the pulpit that as soon as the holiday ended at 9:17 p.m. Monday, we would travel from our synagogue in Northwest Washington to a gay bar as an act of solidarity.

We just wanted to share the message that we were all in tremendous pain and that our lives were not going on as normal. Even though the holiday is a joyous occasion, I felt tears in my eyes as I recited our sacred prayers.

I had not been to a bar in more than 20 years. And I had never been to a gay bar. Someone in the congregation told me about a bar called the Fireplace, so I announced that as our destination. Afterward, I found out it was predominantly frequented by gay African Americans.

Approximately a dozen of us, wearing our kippot went down as soon as the holiday ended. Some of the members of our group are gay, but most are not. We did not know what to expect… but it turned out that we had so much in common. We met everyone in the bar. One of the patrons told me that his stepchildren were actually bar-mitzvahed in our congregation. The bartender shut off all of the music in the room, and the crowd became silent as we offered words of prayer and healing.

As we were singing, I looked over at some members of our congregation and saw tears flowing down their faces. I felt the reality that we are living in a time of enormous pain. But I also felt that the night was a tremendous learning experience for me. I learned that when a rabbi and members of an Orthodox synagogue walk into a gay African American bar, it is not the opening line of a joke but an opportunity to connect; it is an opportunity to break down barriers and come together as one; it is an opportunity to learn that if we are going to survive, we all need each other. [https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/06/15/what-happened-when-an-orthodox-jewish-congregation-went-to-a-gay-bar-to-mourn-orlando/]
We all need each other. And when some are suffering, living in fear, struggling with pain, then we become Christ to them & bring love and hope. Today, may we trust in God to guide us so that we can overcome our fears with faith, and be the Christians that God needs us to be in our world today. As Thomas Merton put it

“My Lord God, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Amen.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#PrayerforOrlando



O Gracious God, our hearts are heavy in sorrow for the 50 who died in Orlando at the hands of one who had hate in his heart. May those who died in Orlando through your mercy, O God, rest in peace and rise in glory and may your love and compassion enfold those who love and mourn for them. May your healing presence be with the injured and their families. May your grace be upon the first responders, the law enforcement agencies, the grief counselors, those who are donating blood, and for all those who have responded from a need to do something to help. We pray for the LGBTQ community in Orlando (and throughout the US), reeling from this horrific outburst of hatred and fear, and all those who are feeling vulnerable in the wake of this act of terror. We pray for our nation that we refuse to give into fear. That we return love for hate, light for darkness, reason for panic, acceptance for rejection. And in the aftermath of this tragedy, may we stand grounded in our sure and certain knowledge of the Resurrection, for we are disciples of Jesus, and as such, people of hope and love. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Another though on the Gospel for June 12


Masao Takenaka and Ron O’Grady write in The Bible Through Asian Eyes:
Jesus behaved in unorthodox ways for a Jewish man of his day. His attitude of friendship and acceptance of the despised and rejected people in society have made a strong impression on this woman who entered the Pharisee’s home to anoint Jesus’ feet. Knowing how upright citizens denounced prostitutes, she nevertheless had the courage to enter, uninvited, to perform a sacrificial act of love – pouring out expensive ointment upon the feet of Jesus and drying them with her hair, oblivious or uncaring of the disapproval of the other people present.

Sermon June 12


O Holy God, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law of love, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When a king wants power or control, those in their way often end up dead. Thomas Beckett of England, Joan of Arc of France, Janani Luwum of Uganda, each of them were killed because they were seen as an obstacle to what their ruler wanted. "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Henry II is said to have uttered against Thomas Becket, it could have been true for the others as well. And sometimes, what the King wants, is not a thing like power but a person…

It was a time of war in Israel. King David had dispatched his troops with Joab in command. David was living in Jerusalem. One day on his rooftop of his palace, he sees a beautiful woman bathing nearby…He is captivated by her beauty and sends someone to find out about her… She is Bathsheba…wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s top soldiers… She is married…but David doesn’t think about that, he wants Bathsheba… he takes her, he knows her (in the biblical sense) and Bathsheba becomes pregnant.

David brings Uriah home so that he can be with his wife so that he will believe that the child is his…but Uriah refuses to leave David, his King, and go to the comforts of home while his fellow soldiers are in the field…David tries and tries…Finally, David sends Uriah back to the front. He carries a note from the King to Joab, the note says to send Uriah into battle and to pull back the troops and thus have Uriah killed. And thus, David’s problems would be over… Joab does not get the chance to implement David’s plan, for Uriah is killed in battle, in a mistaken error on the part of Joab and his siege of the city… When the news arrives in Jerusalem…David celebrates, Bathsheba mourns, and Joab covers up his mistake… After her period of mourning for her husband, Bathsheba becomes David’s wife, the child is born and all seems to work out for David.

But that’s when in today’s reading, it becomes clear that the whole affair has displeased the Lord. The adultery or rape (!) and the attempted murder, the lust and deceit, the Evil plans… the Lord was angry about it all… So what is the Lord to do with his anointed king? Enter Nathan the Prophet. Nathan tells a parable, one that David is not ready to hear…

A rich man without pity takes from a poor man his only lamb whom he loved and cared for, when the rich man could have used any of his flocks to feed a traveler who has entered his house…he takes what is not his… David is furious. The rich man should die for an act such as this! Returning the lamb four fold… Stealing from the poor He deserves no pity… David stands self-condemned for Nathan says to him; You are the man! His sins are brought into the light…David is shamed…you are the man.

David acknowledges his sin, he is forgiven, but like a pebble thrown in the pond, the reverberations from his sin reach his family, and tragically the child becomes sick and dies… It is a story as old as the bible and still alive today… How does God expect us to act? Not like David in this story (save for his repentance at the end).

Not deceit or greed. Not lust or anger. And certainly not adultery or rape! We are to choose gratitude for our lives, which David didn’t. For when we choose gratitude, we often look at the larger picture and consider what God expects of us: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. On that hangs everything we read in the Bible. Love God, Love Neighbors – when we choose to live out of gratitude.

In the Gospel, Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home for a meal, he is curious about him. But a woman in the city having heard where Jesus was, also entered Simon’s home, bathing the feet of Jesus with her tears and anointing his feet with ointment… Simon is upset that such a sinner had entered his home, and he questions how prophetic Jesus is because he is letting this woman touch him.

Jesus knows what is in Simon’s heart, and tells him a parable about two debtors; one who owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, the creditor canceled the debts for both of them. Jesus asked, “Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."

And Jesus goes on to tell Simon that he is right BUT as Jesus entered his house; Simon did not respond with hospitality or but the woman from the city chose love; she gave Jesus hospitality by washing his feet & anointing them with oil. Jesus says, “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven and Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

The woman’s sins were forgiven by her loving acts. Simon, on the other hand, did not love much and is not praised for his inaction. The woman chose gratitude. It’s a choice even a king can make…

Once there was a monk who found himself in possession of a marvelous jewel – the gem was worth an unimaginable amount of money. But he realized: I am a monk and have no need for such riches. Better to give this jewel to someone who is poor. But there are so many of them. Who should receive it? I will ask the abbot.

The abbot was a wise old man who understood the ways of God. The monk presented his difficulty to the abbot and asked him to designate a fitting recipient. The abbot thought for a moment, and then said the monk should give the jewel to the king. Now the king was very wealthy and powerful. Though he did not understand, the monk trusted his abbot, so he went to the king’s palace and was granted an audience. The monk appeared before the king and humbly presented the monarch with the jewel. The surprised king accepted the jewel, asking for the reason for the gift. The monk explained, “I thought I should give this to someone who is poor. Not knowing whom to choose, I asked my abbot, and he said I should give it to you.”

The king thought this was quite strange, since there was probably no one on earth richer than he. So the king went to the monastery and asked the abbot himself why he had chosen him when asked which poor person would best be provided for by the gem. “It is true,” the abbot said to the king. “Without a doubt, there is no one wealthier than you in the world; but there is also no doubt that there is no greed as great as yours. That is why I told the monk to give you the gem, that you may know the blessing of giving.”

Gratitude is the first response we can make to the realization of God’s love for us. The woman in today’s Gospel becomes the model of such a grateful response made in faith-filled praise for the forgiveness and compassion of God.

Like the king who realizes his greed in the poor monk’s magnificent gift, we realize our need for forgiveness and reconciliation in Jesus. May we embrace gratitude as a state of mind and a practice of faith, that we may realize our blessings and share those blessings with others, for by such blessings we are truly blessed. Amen.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Loving our Transgender Neighbors

Ever since the "bathroom wars" began in North Carolina, I have been trying to listen to the effect that these type of laws have on our fellow citizens. Sadly, lots of people are not being treated with the love and respect they deserve.

I’m a Woman Who Got Kicked Out of Women’s Bathrooms

Of course, Christians differ in their views on sexual ethics and gender ontology. But even as we hold our different convictions, we can all agree it’s important not to target others based on narrow gender constructs that exclude people like me. Because when someone hears she is not feminine enough, not girlish enough, not pretty enough to really be a girl, what she will hear is that she is not enough, period. And that message seems in its own way abusive.

I’m Proof Bathroom Bills Are Not Just a Transgender Issue
I am a biological female who identifies as a woman. I am not, for any intents or purposes, transgender. But as a non-gender conforming butch lesbian, I have my own tiny window into our nation’s current political debate about bathrooms—the always looming fear that easily slips into shame, and the occasional outright harassment, all because I have to pee. And that’s from using the bathrooms that I “should” be using according to vicious anti-transgender bills sweeping the nation.

The Other Bathroom Wars
Today, a father who took his disabled daughter into a men’s room in a public building in North Carolina technically would run afoul of the state’s so-called “bathroom bill,” which requires that people over the age of 7 use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificates. While the law is aimed at transgender people, disability advocates worry that it also could affect people with disabilities who, because they need assistance from an opposite sex caregiver or parent, also use opposite sex bathrooms...

Jenifer Kasten, a mother of two daughters, one of whom uses a wheelchair, and a lawyer and special education advocate in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that creating accessible bathrooms isn’t just an issue for people who are transgender or disabled, but something that may affect all people as they age or as their health circumstances change.

“Accessibility has unintended consequences that are good for everyone,” she said, “How we think about accessible bathrooms says a lot about how we think of people with disabilities in general.”


In light of such things, here is how some in the Episcopal Church have responded:

North Carolina bishops issue statement regarding HB2

A Letter from the Bishops of Virginia to the Church Schools of the Diocese of Virginia regarding transgender persons in our communities

Gender Identity, the Messiness of Life, & the Mercy of Jesus (eCrozier #301)

http://blog.transepiscopal.com/  (although the blog is not current, it is a helpful voice)

TransEpiscopal is a group of transgender Episcopalians and our significant others, families, friends and allies dedicated to enriching our spiritual lives and to making the Episcopal Church a welcoming and empowering place that all of us truly can call our spiritual home. We are an informal group meeting mostly through the Internet and though many of us are affiliated with the Episcopal Church we have no official relationship to the Episcopal Church.

Understanding Islam in America


There has been a lot of discussion about Muslims in America and too much of that conversation has been dominated by misinformation (some quite deliberate).

So as Muslims enter their holy season of Ramadan, here are some resources to help in our understanding of their religion:

A Ramadan Lesson for Understanding Islam in America

Fear is a powerful motivator, and American Muslims have the lowest approval rating of any religious demographic in America. That fear isn’t based in education; it’s based in ignorance. Too few Americans have ever met a Muslim, and therefore too few can differentiate between true Islam and what extremists teach.

This Ramadan, Curious George Teaches Kids About Islam and Muslims

Hena Khan, 42, an American Muslim author, thinks children’s books and increased religious literacy might be a partial answer.

“A lot of the Islamophobic rhetoric out there tries to paint American Muslims as a threat, or as un-American somehow. It’s a dangerous and distressing narrative, and an inaccurate one,” Khan, who lives with her husband and children in Rockville, MD, explains. “I hope that my books help to counter these notions and to reinforce the idea that American Muslims are as American as anyone else, that we are valuable contributors to society, and that we have made this country our home since its founding.”

Khan, who holds a graduate degree in International Affairs from George Washington University, has published 13 kids books including Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, and most recently, It’s Ramadan, Curious George.

Five myths about mosques in America
Through their mosques, U.S. Muslims are embracing the community involvement that is a hallmark of the American experience. In this light, mosques should be welcomed as premier sites of American assimilation, not feared as incubators of terrorist indoctrination.

Here is Muhammad Ali’s full statement from last December:

"I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.

“We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.

“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is."