Love, Love, Love

I have decided that Michael Curry is now my favorite preacher. No offense to Nadia Bolz-Weber and Thomas Long. You’re close seconds. But Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding was a barnstormer. I hope to God, literally, that everyone was paying attention.

…[Pierre Teilhard] de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

If only we could take the power of transforming love and apply it to ourselves right now, the world would be a different place. Love envelopes a grace and mercy not available anywhere else. It contains forgiveness that passes all understanding. It is the energy that drives compassion. If we could take the rose-colored glasses of love and apply them to every relationship, romantic and platonic, it would indeed set the world on fire.

It begs the question, if love is that powerful, why don’t we use it?

The simplest answer is that in all of our fallible “humanness,” we get stuck. It’s easy to love the people that love you, especially the ones that believe in your dreams and try to help you reach them. It’s so much harder to love people who have treated you badly, have stomped on your feelings, and though they may have done nothing wrong, the people you don’t know. We tend to be conservative with love when it comes to those people, even though people who have acted badly and the stranger need love the most.

For people who have behaved badly, it is the much needed peace of feeling secure in the fact that their sins against you aren’t held against them. No one should be trapped in the worst moments of their lives, unable to move forward. It is soul-crushing to lose important relationships because you were in an emotional place that carried no light, and aren’t anymore… but people still treat you as if the darkness is your only narrative. What would it be like to live in a world where we automatically assume that eventually, one’s internal candle will once again burn? What if we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that people recover more quickly when they see that they haven’t lost love while their flames were deprived of oxygen?

For strangers, it is the extravagant welcome that makes them strangers no more. There is a reason that the parable of The Good Samaritan is incredibly powerful. We recognize how badly the people who just walked by look to us, but often we are unwilling to apply the parable’s lesson, because we are frightened. It is hard to overcome fear of the unknown, especially when society perpetuates it by demonizing strangers so that the extravagant welcome they deserve is lost. What would the world look like if no one merely walked by? What would happen with recognition that we are all citizens of the world, not just the community in which we live?

Both philia and agape are the tools we need the most right now. Philia is defined as “brotherly love,” and agape is defined as “the highest form of love and charity, loving one’s neighbor as they love themselves.” We are often capable of philia, because loving each other is so much easier than loving ourselves. Relationships with others become a reflection of how we see ourselves, and if we look in the mirror and see ugliness, that is how we move in the world. We may not treat everyone that way, but often those closest to us. It is easier for us all to treat people we don’t know well with kindness, because we haven’t let them into our inner circle. They don’t know us well enough to know our flaws and failures. It takes loving ourselves to be capable of both kinds of love, the higher power for which we reach, but often fall short in the process.

We can’t help it, because again, we are human. It takes reaching into the divine to see perfection…. and it doesn’t matter what you call divinity. For some people, it is the love of God. For others, it is the power of secular humanism. It is a spectrum that encourages divine love no matter what, because whether you believe there’s a God, or that we are all connected to each other through human bonds, that is the power of the universe. All we need to do is tap in.

If we are capable of finding fire a second time, this is the form it will take. We will have a collective recognition of chords run between us whether we are partners, friends, or neighbors across the world. Each of the candles that burn inside us will set the world ablaze……………….

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for Pentecost, Year B

It’s not often that a scripture hits me as hard as the Gospel did today. I actually shed a few tears as I was reading when I got to the part about “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Because he’s right. I cannot bear anything right now that means Jesus is further away. I do not want Jesus to preach from the cloud. I want him HERE. I am in the place in my life where the Mediator, Advocate and Paraclete means so much to me that there is nothing more I want to do than touch the hem of his robe and be healed. To have Jesus turn around and say, “who touched me?” To be delivered from my distress, and there is a lot of it. In the past few years, I have lost a lot of friends, most notably my precious Argo and my precious Dana. They both carried me, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a new reality, one that I knew I needed but was reticent to give hope. They are my Holy Spirit Incarnate, which is a big phrase, but apt in this case.

I don’t normally do confessional sermons; they seem self-serving instead of serving God. But at the same time, the story of this Gospel and the scriptures set forth by the Lectionary are too personal. They got under my skin, the words tattooing themselves in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. There are just so many.

Why in the world would I say that Dana and Argo are my Holy Spirit Incarnate? Hear the words of Luke in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

They were so disoriented that Peter had to stand up and tell everyone they weren’t drunk. It is in direct opposition to Jesus’ message, or at least, it is to me. Jesus is telling the Disciples that if they don’t let him go, they will never know the peace he has to offer. The peace? He is a member of the Trinity. Hearing about the Holy Spirit just does not compute.

Luke writes that the Holy Spirit is like the sound of “a violent wind.” Where could they possibly meet in th middle? They just don’t……….. unless?

Whoever said that the people didn’t NEED to be shaken out of their complacency? I once said of Jesus that he doesn’t so much comfort me in my distress, but distress me out of my comfort. Perhaps I was putting emphasis on the wrong entity? When Peter preaches, he quotes the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I know this is old language, but there is just so much here that is relevent to progressive Christianity. The first thing is that Joel is all-inclusive. Sons, daughters, slaves. It doesn’t matter. We are all going to be taken forcibly out of our comfort zones because what is right side up will be upside down and vice versa.

In my own story, Dana and Argo were my violent wind, taking me forcibly out of my comfort zone and forcing me to accept my own upside down and right side up. Dana and I were married for seven years. We got comfortable. We created our own family dysfunction and because it seemed normal, we stayed there. Lost in our own little world. The sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood when our dysfunction showed even to us when Argo came into our lives. She became a catalyst for both of us to look at ourselves and see the patterns we’d developed over time, both positive and negative. As time progressed, Dana became a mighty wind herself, because she could see the catalyst happening within me and shook me up as well. Both of them were justified in their anger at me. I said and did things that haunt me to this day, because a month ago I took their anger and let it motivate me. I took their Holy Spirit warnings and realized that their work wasn’t done. I had to believe them, I had to submit to them, I had to internally accept what I had done, and the violent wind I’d become in my own right. I also shook them up, in a way for which they did not ask.

Whether I motivated positive change or negative, I do not know. I am not entitled to their opinion unless they want to give it. However, I can accept that getting me out of their lives might have been the best thing for them. I can accept that my blood and fire was unwelcome. It is a situation we all face at different times in our lives….. whether we can own it or not.

The question now is whether we can recover from it, and if so, how in the hell do we do it?

By reaching out. By reaching up. By accepting the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Most people think of that day as The Second Coming. I do not think that in the slightest. To me, the Lord’s great and glorious day is when we reach inside ourselves, own our sins unto other people, and ask the Paraclete to make us whole……

Do you see what I did there?
Do you see it?

There’s the meeting of one and another. The violence and the promise. The internal struggle and the need for comfort as we face it head on. Moses gave us the Caduceus, now used as the symbol for doctors the world over. It is no accident that hundreds of years later, Jesus was called The Great Physician. You go to a doctor when you need a cure. The Great Physician can heal your heart, but only if you make the commitment to ask. To keep asking. To see the violent, mighty wind coming and ask for help.

After the storm comes the rainbow. What does that rainbow look like to you? In my own life, it is prayer. It is the constant joy of speaking out loud and believing that someone is listening whether they are or not. Believing in God is not a requirement for prayer. Believing in prayer is a way to channel your own distress into prosperity. The longer you pray, the more you listen to your self, your inner being, your godspace.

When I realized that I was a person even I didn’t like, submitting to the power of Jesus’ messages of hope, redemption, relief, and comfort gave me strength inside myself to take the violent, ugly changes in my life and walk away from them so that I could forgive myself and be the person I wanted to be. I did not want to participate in violence. I did not want to add to the mess I’d already created. I wanted to be whole.

When I touched the hem of Jesus’ robe metaphysically, my mental health changed. I started to feel a peace I hadn’t felt since childhood. An ever-present rage went out of me and I started to send both Dana and Argo constant prayers of safety, comfort, relief, atonement for the things I felt they’d done and wishing for their peace as well. Wishes became reality when I realized that I did not need their forgiveness, because it had come from sending the prayers themselves.

Christ gave me an invitation to peace once the violent mighty wind had passed and the raging storm became the calm he said he would give.

I ask that wherever you are in your journey, that you are given peace as well. That you are able to reach out in distress and metaphysically touch Jesus’ hem as well. Because he preaches from the cloud, he won’t have to ask who touched him.

He’ll just know.

Amen.

To This Day

Dana and I were just having the most interesting conversation about Doctor Who and the Bible, because the canons are strikingly similar. The conversation started when we remembered The Master.

I said:

I hope they show The Master as a little boy, looking into the schism for the first time. You know who it reminds me of? Moses and the story of the burning bush. God actually tells Moses not to look at him because the sight is too overwhelming. When The Master looks into the time vortex, it’s like getting an answer to the question “what would have happened?” Keep in mind that since I am not a fundamentalist, I am not talking literally. There’s just a lot of wisdom in looking at them together.

And Dana said:

The Doctor is a Christ allegory because in dying for our sins, he’s still protecting us to this day. For years, the story has been that the doctor is atoning for the sins of killing all of his people and the canon has changed to now having locked them in a slice of time so that he can rescue them one day. And he’s over 2,000 years old now.

My eyes started to bug out of my head.

I love being married.