Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Lighter Load

Phew. This week is a blessing - after last week's marathon of sermon-writing, I have no written assignments due in any of my classes. Although, as I probably could've guessed, it turned out that preaching three sermons in a week was also an enormous blessing. I really do think sermon crafting is easier to do when one preaches with some regularity. Anyway, Sunday's sermon went well I thought. There was a bit of a mishap at the 8:00 service, and the lessons that were read were not the lessons that were either in the bulletin or in my sermon - although, since I read the Gospel, that one was correct. So, oops. I adapted as I went along,... I think it made for some jumbled sentences because I was only partly sticking to the text, but the basic points were communicated. At the later service, I decided to preach without notes at all because the text was just distracting me - and it went very very well! The topic - helping children know that they have a place at God's table - is near and dear to my heart, so I think that helped in the delivery. It was really a great experience, and exactly the kind of thing one can do in a field ed parish.

Today's classes were a lengthy exercise in death and dying. This morning, in preparation for AKMA's class, I read (most of) Lament for a Son, an emotionally raw and beautiful book on grief, death, and loss. In Litugical Practicum, we spent the time talking about the burial rites of the Episcopal Church, and the role of the presider at a funeral. Then in AKMA's above-mentioned class, we worked with a case study on theology around death - in this instance, the accidental death of a teenage girl and how her family has responded. It really is amazing how these conversations can just push all sorts of buttons. So, I did the sensible thing - called Tripp the hospital chaplain and complained. After he stopped laughing, he was very helpful. It reminded me of a song:

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
Its only life, after all
-Closer to Fine, by the Indigo Girls

It was high time for some more Indigo Girls quotes around here anyway. Have a good night, y'all!

Telling Stories, Making Room - A Sermon for Easter 5A

Here is the sermon I preached at Church of Our Saviour on Sunday, or at least, the text I brought with me
Do you remember your favorite story from childhood? I had a million favorite books and stories – but I especially remember a particular book of fairy tales that I loved. It had beautiful pictures, and a particular story called where the starring young woman was good and beautiful… and smart. My mom liked to read me that story, because it taught some things that she believed in and wanted to share with her daughters– that little girls don’t need to wait for Prince Charming to come along and save them, that women can be pretty and smart and capable, all at the same time, and that even though doing the kind and right thing might not have immediate rewards, it does work out eventually.

Most of the stories we repeat to our children have some sort of lesson to them – children learn through stories! And, this is what the today’s lesson from Deuteronomy is about. This weekend, Jewish people all over the country are celebrating the Passover, and parents will tell their children exactly what we heard in today’s lesson. They will learn how the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and how God led them out through the Red Sea into freedom. It is more than a story about what to do – it is the kind of story that tells children who they are. For thousands of years, reciting the story of the Exodus and sharing the Seder meal shapes the identity of Jewish children, who live in the midst of people very different from themselves. From generation to generation, the Passover teaches children that they are part of a story larger than themselves, that God has an active role in their history – and can have an active role in their own lives.

And isn’t that exactly what we will be doing today, in this place? Every week we gather to share a special meal and to re-tell the story of God acting in Jesus Christ and acting in our own lives. And this week, we will be intentional about sharing this story with our children by celebrating Solemn Communion – they will share in this special meal, and we will have a chance to teach what this is all about: That, here in God’s house, Jesus has prepared a place for them, and it is at this table, and as part of this community.
We hope that they will learn that the story of God’s grace is not just something we talk about, but it is the story of who they are: beloved children of God. We want the story of Jesus – the one that makes us children of God – to make a difference to our own children, so that they know that they can be someone different from what this world they grow up in wants them to be. We may even dare to hope that our children may learn that if Jesus has made room for them at this table, then God might have prepared a place for them in the world –not a place determined by materialism or competition or violence, but a place carved out by faith and love. We hope this story will shape their hearts and their vision so that they will see their place in the world as God created it – a place where grace and love can grow, where faith, community and service matter, where love is the greatest of all things.

Of course, the storyteller is never the same after sharing a story – telling the story is as formational as hearing it. This story is not just for the kids who will join us today – it is for us too, no matter what our age. If we teach our children that God makes room for them at the table,
then we must make room for them – and in the process, discover that there is more room at the table than we ever could have imagined.

In helping our children see themselves the way God sees them – as precious and beloved – we might remember how to see ourselves that way too. In our assurances that God has made a place for children in the world – a place that is not determined by the pressures and pulls of our culture – we just might find that God has prepared a place for each one of us, at this table and in the world. God’s story really does shape who we are, and the story is for all of us. And, thankfully, God will happily tell the story as often as we want to hear it, or until all of us children know that we are loved and that we have place in this house.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Urged On

Here is sermon number one for the week - preached in Seabury Chapel, on the (transferred) feast of Mary Magdalene.

Did you know that instant messaging can be a spiritual discipline? Well, alright. Maybe not a discipline all by it self – but it can help. My friend Heather and I have a kind of private cheering squad going on our IM chats. When I’m having a hard time with a paper, or she is having a rough day at work, we’ll check in online. And for me, one of the reasons I check in with her is because I know that when I say “okay, I really gotta work on this stuff” I’ll get a message all in capital letters that says “GO SUSIE GO” followed up by another one saying “YOU CAN DO IT! GO SUSIE!” I like to think of myself as the kind of person who gets things done – but I’m really the kind of person who thrives on encouragement.

This is why Mary Magdalene –especially in today’s Gospel is so curious and inspiring to me. She seems to be a woman of action: a confident woman who gets things done, even if she tends to be on the stubborn side. She might be the kind of woman that some of us would call ‘assertive” while others might say… well, you get the point. She is up and at the tomb before dark, and she doesn’t seem to need a cheering squad at all. Mary Magdalene exemplifies what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: She is a woman of action because she is urged on by the love of Christ.

The love of Christ urged Mary on in the early hours of a Sunday morning, to find the tomb where her friend Jesus was laid. This would not have been a particularly safe excursion, for a woman to go out by herself before dawn – especially not to visit the grave of a man executed for treason and blasphemy. Yet, her love for Jesus outweighed her fear, and she was moved to action.

Even when the tomb is empty, she is not deterred from action. Her love of Christ moves her to action as soon as someone appears who might have some answers to her questions. Sure, she is confused and mistakes Jesus for the gardener – but since when did following Jesus with our whole heart mean we wouldn’t make mistakes? Even through her confusion, her commitment to action and the urgings of her love lead her to see the risen Lord. Then, her love of Christ moves her beyond the garden. She is sent to share the good news. Mary Magdalene becomes the first witness to the Resurrection, and earns the title “Apostle to the Apostles” for her action, her willingness to go, to proclaim. This woman of action is a wonderful role model for all us 21st century mission-minded folk: no maintenance mentality here!

But with all this doing, we might easily miss the most important action of all: Urged on by her love of Christ, Mary Magdalene waits and weeps. Mary is both unable to leave and strengthened to stay because her love for Jesus was so compelling and so strong. Call it perseverance, or patience or loyalty – the pull on her heart that kept her there can only be produced by profound love. The love of Christ is a powerful thing – it brought Mary Magdalene to do the unexpected, to witness the glorious and surprising Resurrection on the first Easter morning.

If the love of Christ could urge on Mary Magdalene – who didn’t have the advantage of already knowing the end of the story in the garden – how much more powerfully might we be urged on by our own love of Christ? We are surrounded by stories of people moved by the love of Christ. We uproot our lives and our families to come here, in order to follow a call to ministry as students and teachers. The love of Christ moves a congregation to feed the hungry despite the neighbors complaints, leads others to serve people they have never met in a country devastated by war.

But more importantly, the love of Christ urges us on beyond who we are to who we might be. It makes the impatient and action-oriented sit still in a garden long enough to see the Risen Lord. It keeps us moving forward towards a new understanding of life, death and ministry even when we’d really rather stay with what we know. The love of Christ urges us on to see Jesus alive and active in the world, and then urges us on beyond the encounter – however much we would like to hold on- so that we can bring others into the knowledge of God. It keeps the beat in this ongoing dance of action and inaction, of seeking and sending, of doing and being. The love of Christ urges us on, and keeps us looking for the next surprise, the next action to take, the next time we will be able to claim with joy and love: I have seen the Lord, and Christ is risen!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Open My Lips, O Lord

Well, first things first: Congratulations to Jane, Jeff and Rebecca!! God was glorified at a beautiful and joyful service on Friday night, and there are three new deacons in the Episcopal Church. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Now, I need to get some writing done this week. By a crazy scheduling fluke, I am actually preaching three times this week!
The first sermon is for the regular Seabury Eucharist, this Wednesday. We are commemorating Mary Magdalene, a feast we have transferred from July. Her Gospel reading is the Easter morning story from John 20, but currently I have a line from the epistle running through my head - "The love of Christ urges us on".

The second sermon is for our "play church" class - the class where we take turns presiding at liturgies. This week is the play church wedding, and we'll be reading the Beatitudes from Matthew.

The third sermon is for this Sunday, at my field ed parish. It is a big Sunday - we have "Solemn Communion" in the morning, as well as a Confirmation service in the afternoon. The Gospel is from John, and includes Jesus saying "In my Father's house are many rooms..." and "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life". This is one of the options for the Gospel reading at a funeral too. Perhaps I will talk about that.

Anyway, back to work on all this! Have a good week - and if i don't post much, consider this post my excuse!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Performing Songs

I had a Trevor flashback in chapel yesterday. For the offertory, we sang a piece from Wonder, Love and Praise (one of the ECUSA supplemental hymnals) called "Hallelujah, We Sing Your Praises". Its an upbeat, carribean-type piece, and its a lot of fun to sing. We might even have had some drums? Maybe that was the day before. Anyway, the words for the first part of the song, which is kind of like a refrain are: Hallelujah, we sing your praises, All our hearts are filled with gladness I was all of a sudden struck with how singing the song effects what it says. You simply can't sing this song and not feel a little bit better about the world, and have a little more gladness in your heart. What a masterful piece of work.

(On an unrelated note, somehow the little link the blogger tool bar that says "recover post" is making me very nervous.)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Seeing Red

I'm working on a paper for that Biblical Theology class on conflict and anger, and I ran across this quote:
"Anger denied subverts community. Anger expressed directly is a mode of taking the other seriously, of caring. The important point is that where feeling is evaded, where anger is hidden or goes unattended, masking itself, there the power of love, the power to act, to deepen relation, atrophies and dies" - Beverly W. Harrison

This is a crazy notion to me, at least at first glance. I think that anger tends to get in the way of the commandment to "love thy neighbor as thyself", to turn the other cheek, and to forgive as many as seventy times seven. I know anger can be harnassed and focused into productive emotions - but is it really still anger at that point? I am not sure. It is probably too late to be thinking about this, but I thought I'd share the quote. More thoughts to come soon, although they may be over the Biblical Theology blog instead of here.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Clearing Up the Cobwebs

Gee... its getting a mite dusty in here with all this inactivity! Perhaps the lack of things to say is a side-effect of the " (Seabury Plague" (the nasty little respiratory infection going around) because not even Ryan has had much to say lately. And that, my friends, is saying something!

So, for a few quick updates:
I've added another link to my list - a friend by the name of James. He like music and quotes, two things that I also like.

The Biblical Theology class I am taking has a blog some of you might want to check out. I have (shamefully) not managed to post there either, but I will, very soon.

My mom is visiting this weekend, so we spent the evening having a fabulous dining experience at The Parthenon in Greektown. Saganaki, vegetarian moussaka, baklava... I am very full and very content. I really love the art of eating well and enjoying food. And making it, even though that was not part of the evening for me. Food is just great - and thank goodness for Food TV, and all I've learned about cooking from those folks. Also, its great to have a couple of friends who can reliably give you good restaurant advice.

And now, I'm going to bed. Sweet dreams to each of you!