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Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Broken Rocking Chair.


 
“What signs are you going to give us then, so that we may see it an believe in you?”
A Sermon for Pentecost X – Proper 13B 
August 2, 2015 – St. Philip’s, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

So, this is a sermon about wanting signs and evidence and proof and how sometimes, they are not what you want, or even expect. 

Because, once the Holy Spirit breaks through, you never really know what's going to happen next.

If you’re one of those people, you are obviously not alone. And, it’s clearly not a modern problem. It’s been going on since antiquity.

We come to this morning’s piece of John’s Gospel right after Jesus had just fed five thousand people. Five. Thousand. People. !!! From five fish and two loaves of barley bread that a little child had brought to Peter. There was not only enough to feed everyone, there were actually twelve baskets left over.  Imagine!!

That evening, Jesus and his disciples slipped away in their boats because Jesus was concerned that, in their enthusiasm, they would try to make him King. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, a strong wind came upon the sea and, about 3-4 miles out, they saw Jesus walking on water.

Clearly, there were lots of signs and wonders around Jesus!

The next morning, some of the people who had been fed looked around to find Jesus and his disciples had already left that area on that side of the Sea of Galilee and had traveled to Capernum. So, they got into “the boars” and went to Capernaum to find Jesus.

Imagine! Scripture doesn’t say how many people there were, but there were enough that scripture says they took “boats”. So, maybe a couple dozen. Maybe even more.

Having witnessed this feeding miracle, they come asking Jesus for more signs.

"What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

They are referring, of course, to the story of Moses feeding “the whole congregation of Israelites” which we just heard in this morning’s passage from Exodus (16:2-15).   

Questions arise: Was the feeding of the 5,000 which Jesus just accomplished a “sign” the way Moses gave the hungry, wandering Israelites a “sign” of God’s work in him? Is Jesus the next Moses come to liberate them from the occupation of the Roman government? Is Jesus going to set them free the way Moses set his people free from the bonds of slavery?

Signs and wonders. Evidence of God’s direct intervention in our lives. We all want them, even though we would strenuously deny that we are superstitious. Or, that we are lacking faith or confidence in God’s presence and power in our lives so we need evidence.

Let me tell you a story from my own family. 

My grandmother was a Portuguese immigrant and a devout Roman Catholic. Until well into her 80s, she walked to early morning mass every day – I went with her until I started school. She also said her rosary at least once a day and here bureau was covered with statues of saints and there were lit votive candles in front of each and every one. She loved Jesus and trusted in God . . . . but . . .  there was this time . . .

It was right after my grandfather died. Very suddenly and without any warning. He got up from bed one morning to go to the bathroom. Had a stroke, fell to the floor and died instantly. He was 85.

My grandmother was absolutely bereft and inconsolable. I remember coming home from the funeral and cemetery and the house being filled with people eating mounds of food (It’s just what Mediterranean people do. We eat. For any reason. Happy. Sad. We eat. And, miraculously, there’s always enough food.)

My grandmother was in the parlor (remember when houses had parlors?) and was rocking in her rocking chair. Rocking really hard. She was also wailing loudly, calling out to God in her grief.

Her rocking became more and more vigorous as she cried, “Why did you take him from me, God? Oh, Precious Jesus! Come and help me! Come bring him back! Come and take me! Yes, Jesus! Come and take me. Not him! Bring him back and take me!”

And, as she rocked harder and harder, in the middle of her plea for Jesus to come and take her, we suddenly heard a loud BANG! We all went rushing into the parlor to find my grandmother on the floor in the middle of her broken rocking chair, crying out, “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!”

Signs and wonders. We all want them. Except, when we think we’ve gotten one we don’t want. Or, as the old saying goes, “Careful what you pray for because you might get what you want and then what will you do?”  

Is it wrong to seek a sign or look for a wonder? The story makes it perfectly clear that it’s neither right nor wrong. It’s simply human.  Does it mean our faith is weak, that we don’t trust God to provide, so we need evidence? It simply means we are human. Even as Jesus was simply human when, from the cross, he asked for a ‘sign’ from God that “this cup be passed from me, if it is your will.” 

Jesus said to those who asked him for a sign such as Moses gave to the people who had been freed from slavery, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

For those who follow his way, Jesus is miracle enough. The bread we break and the wine we drink are signs and wonders of the true and real presence of Jesus. 

They are sufficient to feed our spiritual hunger and thirst so that our minds and bodies might be strengthened to serve the people of God in His Name.

And if, from time to time, and in our grief or anxiety, we might look for other signs and wonders, well, I think Jesus will understand. Because He was once human himself. 

He might even send a sign or wonder our way, every once in a while. Sometimes, they may not be what we expect. Might not be walking on water. Or, calming a storm. But it may even include, as it was for my grandmother, a bit of unexpected humor in the midst of great sadness. 

Like a broken rocking chair.  

Because, once the Holy Spirit breaks through, you never really know what's going to happen next. 

Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Baptismal Love Letter for Ella Ann

 

A Baptismal Love Letter to Ella Ann on the Occasion of her Baptism
July 19, 2015 – St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Dear Ella,

I am writing this to you on the day of your baptism in the hopes that your parents will tuck this away in your baby book, along with your birth certificate and the certificate from the hospital with your footprints and cards and other mementos.

I’m hoping you’ll take this out and read it as you prepare for your Confirmation – that day in the church when you take for yourself the vows that were made for you at your Baptism into the Body of Christ.

There are five vows, actually. (Look at page 304 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer)

The first vow asks if you’ll continue to read and follow the teachings of Jesus the way the apostles understood them and the way we have come to understand their meaning for us today in our day and time. It also asks if you’ll continue to receive communion and say your prayers.   

Others may try to tell you differently but these three things are the basics of what it means to be a Christian who is an Episcopalian and an Anglican. 

There’s more to it than that – lots more – but these are the basics. If you do these things, it will make the other vows, especially the last two, a whole lot easier to fulfill.

The second says something that makes a whole lot of people uncomfortable. It asks, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

Not a whole lot of people like to talk about ‘evil’ much less ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’. That’s because a lot of people like to define ‘evil’ and ‘sin’ as the things they think are wrong or that they think you shouldn’t be doing. 

Some people get really carried away about that stuff. You can always tell when people are going overboard because those very people will be insisting that you ‘repent’.

So, let me say this much about evil. It’s not a thing to be joked about or fooled with. It’s serious business. 

Sometimes, evil is cloaked and disguised in many deceptive forms but, for the most part, you’ll know evil the minute you see it - or, at least, as you look at the damage it has done. It hits you right in the middle of the stomach. It looks a whole lot like the world did after 9/11 (Look up that date and see the pictures). 

Or, you’ll see the effects of evil on faces of starving children. They are not evil, but what has been done to them is. The effects of war also bear the face of evil. 

Evil is often about the abuse of power.

And sin? Well, I think sin is whatever it is that separates us from God. There are some things that pretty commonly separate all humans from God. Some say there are seven. They also say they are deadly. They include things like greed and gluttony and laziness, but mostly they are about abusing or not using what God has given you, or taking things from others that don’t rightly belong to you.

Sin can be different for different people. Take the sin of pride. For some people, pride is something that blinds them from seeing the goodness in others. 

But, you know, for other people, not having enough pride can blind them from seeing the goodness in themselves. And, believe it or not, that can lead to wanting and taking things from others that don’t rightly belong to you, which can be pretty deadly to your soul.

That said, just remember this: You may have a hard time forgiving yourself, and others may never forgive you, but there is always plenteous redemption, absolute forgiveness and unconditional love with God.   

You can trust in that.

I like to remember something author Anne Lamott once said, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” 

If you remember nothing else, try to remember that.

The third vow is “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” 

Well, I like to remember something St. Francis of Assisi once allegedly taught his brothers, “Preach the Gospel always. Use words if necessary.” 

Supposedly, St. Francis also said, “Your life may be the only gospel anyone ever gets to know.”

The fourth and fifth vows, as far as I’m concerned, are where the rubber meets the road. 

They are: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and 

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

That’s the Big Kahuna of Christian life, right there. It’s not about judging other people or telling them how sinful they are. 

It’s about you. YOU! How you live your life. How you not only seek the divine spark in others but how you serve the divinity in others.

The gospel appointed for today (Proper 11B) is from Mark (6:30-34, 53-56). Oddly enough, there are a lot of good miracle stories cut out – Jesus walking on water and feeding five thousand people after the beheading of John the Baptist. I’m not sure why that’s so because they’re great stories, but here’s a few things I hope will be helpful to you in living out your Baptismal Vows – especially the last two.

The first is that Jesus is speaking to his disciples after they’ve just returned from their first mission trip. They’ve done some good work and he is well pleased. So, he tells them to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

Here’s the thing, Ella. The world is often a dark and broken place. Sometimes, it seems the face of evil is all around and it is inescapable. The needs of the world will sometimes seem overwhelming. 

Even Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” That is so from generation to generation. Sometimes we can shut down and close our eyes and be tempted to say, “Well, that’s not my problem.”

As important as it is to do the work of God and follow the teachings of Jesus, it is also important to take some time for yourself. An important lesson of the universe is this: You cannot give away what you do not have.   

I don’t know what air travel will be like when you are thirteen but today, flight attendants always say at the beginning of the trip, “In the event of an emergency . . . put the oxygen mask on your face first and then tend to any dependent children or adults sitting next to you.”

That’s not a bad rule to follow in life. Yes, you must take care of others. Yes, you must “seek and serve Christ in all persons”, but listen to the rest of that vow, “… loving your neighbor AS YOURSELF.”   

First, you gotta love yourself and let the love you have for others flow from that place of love in you. Let it be real. Authentic. When you do that, God will replenish that love, sevenfold, pressed down and overflowing.

The other thing I want you to know about this gospel passage is something that is absolutely key to understanding what it means to be a Christian – before you take these vows for yourself at your Confirmation.

Jesus heals. That’s what he does. That’s who he is. He is Love Incarnate and love heals. It always has. It always will. 

It may sound pretty cliché but it’s really what this world needs more of. The love that heals. 

Unconditional love heals unconditionally.

I hope, 13 years from now, we have ended racism. I hope we have ended sexism and ageism and classism and homophobia. I hope I don’t sound too cynical when I say that I don’t think we will. 

I think we human beings have been judging people by the color of their skin and the shape of their bodies and the houses they live in and the cars they drive and the school they went to and that will probably be so when you are growing up.

Which is why today is so important. And, your baptism is so important. It’s important that your parents and grandparents and godparents do everything they can to make sure you become a good Christian woman who takes on the vows made for her at baptism and lives them out for herself.

Don’t worry if your parents haven’t yet found a church that they like or feel comfortable attending. Find one for yourself. 

I would love for you to find an Episcopal Church but, bottom line, that’s not what’s most important.

I pray you may find a faithful community which takes your baptismal vows seriously enough to help you find your own way to live them out. 

Not their way. Your way.   

But, mostly, my hope is that the prayer we all pray for you today will find its way to be true for your life as an infant, a child and as an adult. It’s on page 308 of the 1987 Book of Common Prayer. And, it is this:

“Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”

And let all of God’s people here today and throughout the ages in the great Communion of Saints into which Ella is to be baptized, say together, “Amen”.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Prayer of Gratitude for The Mill Girls

Pepperell Mill Girls

First the yoke, then the collar, then the sleeves, then the body.

I hear it as a mantra in my head.

Start with the pieces then onto the body. That's the proper way to iron a shirt.

I grew up with Mill Girls - women who worked as what was also known by its more lofty name of "Textile Factory Workers" and the more lowly but accurate "Sweat Shop Girls".

There were many mill towns in Massachusetts, Lowell, Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Pepperell, Worchester, among them. English women, brought from across The Pond by the owners of the mills were the first. As immigration provided a steady stream of workers, then came the Irish, the French Canadian and then "my people" - the Portuguese.

Fall River Mill Girls
Many of us lived in the city, a short walk from the Textile Mills, in crowded tenement houses with steep walk up leading to apartments behind thin walls and doors that barely muffled human voices that spoke Portuguese and played Portuguese music and could not prevent the amazing smell of Portuguese food from filling the stairwells.

We were fortunate. We lived with my grandparents in an apartment above their home outside of the city proper.

We had a vegetable garden and fruit trees and a grape vine in the back yard and my grandmothers rose bushes in the front yard.

Even so, in our home and all around us were The Mill Girls. Many from the same villages in Portugal or the Azores.  Many with the same first and last names. So, they became known by what jobs they did on "piece work" - the assembly line in the Mill.

Mary on Buttons.

Mary the Presser.

Bella in Finishing.

Bella on Zippers.  No, not that Bella. Isabella. Mary on Buttons' cousin. Joe's wife. You know, Joe. He works night shift down at Firestone Tire and Rubber. She made that big pan of Bacalau for Rosie's daughter's Christening that was so good. Ahhh, right. Her.

When we were kids, we learned Nursery Rhymes and Mill Girl Rhymes - both probably left over from the English.

One I remember was: "I'm Gerty Schmirtz. I iron shirts. I iron shirts 'till me fingers hurts." We sometimes sang that one as we jumped rope.

It was a prayerful mantra that, no matter how much we might have hated school at the moment, it was important not to end up as a Mill Girl.

Sometimes, these women surround me when I'm ironing.

I can hear them calling to me. "Stop being a Lazy Mary! Unbutton that cuff! Now, slide the end over the end of the ironing board. That's why it's narrow like that. Wait! Put more water in the steamer. Now, work that wrinkle out there. You want people to know you don't know how to iron a blouse? A little more steam . . . a touch of that spray starch . . . There! See? Good job."

It's not only a good skill to have, it's a wonderful way to pray.

It's a bit like a Buddhist mantra or praying the Rosary.

Repetitive:  Yoke. Collar. Sleeves. Body.  Hang on hanger. Repeat.

Mindlessly mindful. Accomplishing nothing until, suddenly, it's done.

Unlike many prayers, the immediate results are visible: A finished product. One of many. Hanging neatly - crisply - in a row in the closet.

The Irish Mill Girls
Like so many other prayers, the long term effects are unknown: Surrounded by an invisible cloud of witnesses, who knows the long term effects of a heart filled with gratitude?

Prayer as piecework.

I am the daughter and granddaughter and niece and cousin of Fall River Mill Girls.

I know how to iron a shirt.

Sometimes, when I can't use the Book of Common Prayer, I iron a shirt.

And, my heart overflows with deep gratitude.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Owen Thomas: The Priestly Potter

Priestly formation.

When I first heard the term I was young and arrogant enough to think that the term itself was pretty arrogant. At least, to my young ears.

I thought, since God calls priests, God must form them. Right?

Well, I've come to understand that God sends people into your life to help shape and form "a priest after the order of Melchizedek"  (Hebrews 7:13-17). 

Some help to shape the heart of a priest. Others help to form the mind. Still others assist by nourishing the soul.  And, if you're really fortunate, some do all three. 

Some are ordained. Most are not. Many are not even Christian but, whether they know it or intend to - or not - they follow the teachings of Jesus. In so doing, they provide role models and icons to seeing and knowing God more clearly. 

Others - many of whom are ordained and think themselves pious and holy and learned - provide perfect examples of how NOT to be priest. 

Some can be found in church or church-related agencies like seminaries or at hospitals or psychiatric facilities during Clinical Pastoral Education, or internships at food banks or homeless shelters or transitional housing agencies and domestic violence shelters.  

But, many of them have nothing to do with church. They are members of God's creation. Some are two-legged. Some four-legged. And, some are winged.

I call them "priestly potters". 

They take the lump of willing clay of those the church calls 'aspirants' and help to shape and form them into a vessel of God's message of mercy and justice and hope. 

Some are as gentle as the kiss of a butterfly's wing. They lead you into insights and plumb the depths of wisdom you didn't know you had that are often only discernible years after the encounter. 

Others are as rough as sand paper, literally annoying and frustrating you until you fear you may lose your mind. It is, however, at what Martin Smith called the "crucifyingly obscure boundaries of faith" that you learn things about yourself and the human enterprise you'd never learn any other way.

One of my blessed spiritual directors called that "Divine Sandpaper" - people who come into your life and literally rub you the wrong way.  

"How else," she asked, "would your natural grain come through so you could shine with authenticity?"

I was prompted to reflect on these priestly potters when I recently learned of the death of a beloved former seminary professor at the Episcopal Divinity School.

Owen Thomas was my Systematic Theology professor. That assignment provided him, I have no doubt, a Herculean effort if ever there was one.  I mean, teaching someone like me something like theology is not for the faint of heart. 

Systematic Theology? Well, let's just say that as developed as the left side of his brain was, my left brain was underdeveloped to the same degree. Perhaps even more.


I don't even really understand how radio transmission works, much less the technology behind the laptop on which I'm writing this, and he worked in the Naval Research Lab in Washington on advanced radar. Not just radar. Advanced radar. Indeed, he was in a  doctoral program in Physics at Cornell when WWII broke out.

He also had a doctorate in Philosophy from Columbia University and another from Union Theological School. 

Our kids called him "Mr. Spock". His affect was pretty flat and he spoke in a maddening monotone, both of which sent this highly emotive Portuguese woman into a tailspin.

I have no doubt I provided him with an equal but different challenge. 

See also: Divine Sandpaper.

He caught up with me in line at the refectory one morning, after I was lector at Morning Prayer. I have long forgotten the particular passage I read, but his criticism was that I ought not read with so much . . . he paused, searching for the right word  . . "expression," he said, because I was, in fact, "interpreting the text," which, he assured me, was not the job of a lector.  

I do remember telling him that I could no sooner read without expression than . . .  than . .. (looking at the breakfast buffet) ...  why, eat those blasted grits without a ton of butter and lots of salt and pepper. 

I remember him looking at me with that maddeningly blank look,  and then, as a wonderfully silly smile began to cross his face, his eyes lit up and he said, in perfect monotone, "Well, grits are pretty bland, I'll give you that much." 

I was so delighted to see him smile and his eyes light up that I burst into laughter (Those of you who know me will know that I am incapable of a demure little giggle).  

He was so startled by it he couldn't help himself and joined in. We stood there, blocking the breakfast line for a few minutes, in one of the best laughs either of us had had in a long time. 

I fell in love with him that very moment. 

We had breakfast together during which he told me about his own call to priesthood. After the war, he was very disillusioned by the loss of so many of his friends.  The emptiness of war filled him with questions about God and he found himself searching for answers at the (then) Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA. And (much to his surprise), seeking ordination in The Episcopal Church.

He came back, eventually, to teach at EDS. He was there for forty years. 

Owen wrote many books but there were two, in particular, which helped me enormously. 

The first is "Introduction to Theology" which did two things simultaneously. First, it gave an overview of theology - the what, why and wherefore of the enterprise. And then, it broke things down into bite-sized pieces so I could more easily digest it.  

It was his "Theological Questions: Analysis and Argument," however, that saved my butt. 

I passed all seven canonical areas of my General Ordination Exams. Which was, in a word, a miracle. I am absolutely convinced that it was because of these two books. 

That, and my one and only prayer was answered. 

I prayed for good readers.

And, I got them.  Thanks be to God.

But, I also had Owen Thomas, in whose hands I entrusted part of my priestly formation.  

My trust was not misplaced. 

I would not be the priest I am today without his guidance and instruction. 

I have come to know that while it does, in fact, take a village to raise a child, it also takes one to raise and then shape and form a priest.  

And, I can tell you from personal experience, that that formation continues long after one has "mastered divinity" and the ordination ceremony has ended.

Many people have many different opinions about what constitutes a "good" priestly formation. I have my own "recipe" for the "priestly potter's clay".It is this:
Take equal parts of intellectual stimulation, transformative pastoral care and a creative, imaginative spirit, add several heaping spoonfuls of challenge, a few healthy dollops of questioning and doubt, and several cups of tears and sorrow. Pour into a broken and contrite heart, mixing well with an abiding love for all of God's creation, and a deep passion for God's justice and mercy. Whisk together over some 'fire in the belly' for the painstakingly slow work of finding and creating the "thin spaces" in the world. Fold mixture into the intersection of the sacred and the profane, garnish with a keen appreciation for the absurd and sprinkle liberally with laughter and joy. Allow priestly potters to work with the basic clay mixture until shaped and formed to the glory of God.
Thank you, Owen, for you invaluable contributions.  You were a wonderful priestly potter.

Your memory will always be a blessing to me.
Thomas, Reverend Owen C. Passed away on June 29, 2015 at The Berkshire Retirement Community in Berkeley, California. Owen Clark Thomas was born in 1922 in New York City and grew up in Port Washington, New York. He graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York, and studied Physics in graduate school at Cornell as World War II broke out. During the war, he worked in the Naval Research Lab in Washington on advanced radar. After the war, in which many of his friends died, he re-thought his vocation and entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1950, and completed his doctorate in Philosophy at Columbia and Union Theological Seminary in 1955. Dr. Thomas taught Theology and Philosophy at the (renamed) Episcopal Divinity School for over forty years, retiring in 1993, and is the author of ten books. He also served as the summer rector at Emmanuel Church in Dublin, New Hampshire for 22 years. Dr. Thomas was a lifelong, liberal Democrat, member of the ADA and Cambridge Democratic City Committee. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Margaret Miles, of Berkeley, California; three sons by his former wife, Bernice Lippitt Thomas - Aaron Beecher Thomas of Seattle; Addison Lippitt Thomas of Oakland; and Owen Clark Thomas, Jr. of Brasilia, Brazil - five grandchildren and one great-grandson. A memorial service for Dr. Thomas will be held at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Albany, CA on Saturday, August 15, 2015, at 2:00 p.m.
- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=owen-c-thomas&pid=175214146&fhid=10654#sthash.odJ7sOQB.dp
Thomas, Reverend Owen C. Passed away on June 29, 2015 at The Berkshire Retirement Community in Berkeley, California. Owen Clark Thomas was born in 1922 in New York City and grew up in Port Washington, New York. He graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York, and studied Physics in graduate school at Cornell as World War II broke out. During the war, he worked in the Naval Research Lab in Washington on advanced radar. After the war, in which many of his friends died, he re-thought his vocation and entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1950, and completed his doctorate in Philosophy at Columbia and Union Theological Seminary in 1955. Dr. Thomas taught Theology and Philosophy at the (renamed) Episcopal Divinity School for over forty years, retiring in 1993, and is the author of ten books. He also served as the summer rector at Emmanuel Church in Dublin, New Hampshire for 22 years. Dr. Thomas was a lifelong, liberal Democrat, member of the ADA and Cambridge Democratic City Committee. He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Margaret Miles, of Berkeley, California; three sons by his former wife, Bernice Lippitt Thomas - Aaron Beecher Thomas of Seattle; Addison Lippitt Thomas of Oakland; and Owen Clark Thomas, Jr. of Brasilia, Brazil - five grandchildren and one great-grandson. A memorial service for Dr. Thomas will be held at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Albany, CA on Saturday, August 15, 2015, at 2:00 p.m.
- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=owen-c-thomas&pid=175214146&fhid=10654#sthash.odJ7sOQB.dpuf

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Take nothing for your journey

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“Take nothing for your journey” (Mark 6:1-13)
Pentecost VI – 9B – July 5, 2015 – St. Philip’s, Laurel
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson from Mark, we have two very different stories pieced together that seem, at least at first blush, not to have anything to deal with each other, much less have anything to say to us on this July 4th weekend.

The first part of the story is of Jesus returning to his home. The second part of the story is of Jesus sending his disciples away from their home and into the mission field. 

In the first part of the first story, Jesus does pretty well. The hometown boy is coming to bring the morning message. He's bringing his entourage with him, as his family and former neighbors sit waiting for him to speak. 

I bet they were preparing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They're prepared to excuse the shortcomings of someone safe and familiar who is from where they live and known by all of them. At least, that would be my hope – that was my hope when I first preached. 

They think they're waiting for the boy, the carpenter’s son, who knows how to make the best shelves in town. They think they're waiting for the familiar sibling of James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and his sisters (unnamed!). They think they're waiting for the obedient son of Mary.

Mark, with his usual reticence, simply tells us that "he began to teach." Luke 4:16-30 gives us a much fuller account of what he said, why they responded as they did, and what they then tried to do. Luke has him reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, strongly implying a Messianic identity, and then offering a litany of non-Jews who had more faith than his hometown congregation.

Not exactly a smart move. No surprise that this lovely homecoming ends not with a strawberry festival in the grove, but with a mass attempt to hurl the hometown boy off a cliff.

And, isn’t that always the way of it? People think they know you  - especially the ones you grew up with – but they don’t. Well, maybe they know about the essentials of you – the good parts of your character like honesty and loyalty and trustworthiness and a good work ethic – but some just don’t want you to change and grow in any other way. Or, experiment with your life. Or make mistakes. Or, well – LIVE! No matter how old you are.

And, God forbid you turn out to be something different than they thought you’d be! Depending on where you come from, that can turn out to be a fairly nasty situation. Except, of course, when we read about these characters in novels by great authors and story tellers such as Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty or Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Authentic lives lived fully, mistakes and all – okay, especially the mistakes – seem to be much more interesting to people in novels than in real life.

Perhaps Jesus had this in mind when he sent out his disciples. He called the twelve and sent them out, two by two. I always have to stop here and wonder how Jesus would have sent out disciples today, in the Age of Technology. Centuries ago, he sent out his message two at a time. Four sandals at a time. Today, I’m thinking that would be two gigabytes at a time. Or, maybe four texts? Or two tweets? Four well-placed emails?

Anyway, Jesus sends them to leave their homes and, interestingly enough, to take nothing for their journey. No bread. No money. They are completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers. Which, come to think of it, considering what we just saw happens to you when people know you real well, might just be a safer bet.

So, I’ve been thinking: what do we have to learn from Jesus about “home” and “leaving home” on this weekend when we celebrate our Independence? What does independence mean in the context of community? What does  ‘home’ mean? What does it mean to be ‘home sweet home’? Especially when this land, for most of us, is not our ‘native land’.

Everyone comes to America from a different place which was once home. It’s “The Great Melting Pot,” right? Now, it’s more like he Great American Stew, or the Original Tossed Salad.

English French. Irish. Hispanic. Asian. Southeast Asia. The Middle East.  When you think about it, all of us come from immigrant families. Maybe, in your family, that was more generations ago than anyone now remembers, but unless you are a “Native American” – from one of the great nations like Cherokee, Choctaw, or Nanticoke – then America may be your “home sweet home” and, even if you, yourself were born here, this it is not precisely your “native land”. 

My ethnic heritage is Portuguese and Azorean. My grandparents on both sides came here when they were young or young adults because they heard and actually believed the stories that the streets here were paved with gold. They came for the Great American Dream which was often a nightmare but far better than the poverty they suffered in their native land.

My grandmother arrived here from a little village outside of Lisbon at the age of 14. She was the youngest of seven and the only girl. After her mother died, and after she wiped the tears from her eyes, she looked around and saw her future: caring for her father and six brothers. She made a decision right then and there: She was leaving.

While her grief was real, she feigned really deep grief, lifted only by moments of melancholy. The other women in her village conspired with her and told her father that she really needed the solace of a woman. Just for a little while. Perhaps, just the summer when things were a bit slower on the farm. Perhaps she could go to stay with an aunt and cousins on Beacon Hill in Boston and help with the domestic work and earn her keep as well as some money to bring back home. 

And, wouldn’t that be good for everyone?

So, before she knew it, she was packing a very small bag, put her Portuguese guitarra on her back, took no food or money, and boarded a cargo boat for Boston.

She never went “back home”. Oh, she talked of it and sang songs of her beloved country. She told us stories of her village and her brothers – several of whom she helped provide passage for to immigrate to Boston – and, interestingly enough, she never really learned the English language. 

Indeed, she insisted that we all learn to speak HER language. She said, “You’d better learn how to speak Portuguese now, because when you get to heaven, you won’t be able to understand the angels.”

Some of you know that I’m a Hospice Chaplain, so I often have conversations with people about “going home”. And, what heaven is like. And, if there’s really a hell. We talk about how the one who created us and called us into life also calls us “home” – “back home” – with the one who created us. And, some of us wonder what the Eucharistic prayer in the Prayer Book means when it says “we believe life is changed, not ended”?

Here’s what I know about ‘home’. Home is less a ‘place’ than it is an ‘experience’. It’s not a “where”, it’s a “when”. In that way, ‘home’ is like faith. It’s less a tangible thing than it is a feeling. An inkling. An idea. A concept of being right where we’re supposed to be right now.

I don’t know about you but I’ve had that feeling of home even while I’ve been thousands of miles from the place I’ve always called home. Like here. Like now.

And, I know this much about ‘home’: You don’t need a lot of ‘stuff’ to get there. Indeed, you’re more apt to find it when you, as Jesus says, “take nothing for your journey.” When you are dependent upon others for the basics. When you do not necessarily expect to be greeted warmly everywhere you go but you treat others with warmth and courtesy.

We’re all just trying to get to that place. Home. 

Like the wonderful game of baseball on a hot summer day, we’re all just wanting to get home. Some of us strike out or hit foul balls while up at bat, but there are more innings in which to play. Some of us can only make it to first or second base, while others get all the way to third and then the sides retire and another inning goes by and we don’t make it home. 

Fortunately, however, it’s not just about us. We have a whole team to help us win the game. 

Well . . . Unless, of course, you’re playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As we celebrate our Independence as a nation this weekend, I hope you’ll spend some time thinking about our interdependence on one another in community. What does ‘home sweet home’ mean to you and where is that for you? Who makes it that for you? Before this was ‘home’ for you, where was ‘home’ for your family of origin? Whose home is this, anyway?

And, hopefully, you’ll consider the words of Jesus about home – about being accepted in your own hometown and what it might mean to leave home to find your own home. And, what it means to be ‘homeless’. Or to ‘be at home with Jesus.” Or, go “home to God.”

“Home,” as Robert Frost reminds us, “is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  And, the sweetness of that home is beyond compare.

Amen.
 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Giants and Ancestors

 There is so much to celebrate.

SCOTUS has upheld the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.

The President gave a stirring eulogy for Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, a victim of the mass shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., which provided a sound theological context in which the oppressed - especially, but all of us - could find hope.

Then... THEN . . . there was SCOTUS on Marriage equality.  Obergefell v Hodges. The vote was 5-4.

And, just like that, there was no longer "marriage equality" or "gay marriage" or "traditional marriage". There was just marriage.

I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around that. Seriously.

So then, The Episcopal Church, meeting at General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, made history by electing the very first African American man as Presiding Bishop.

Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina - the self same diocese that flew the Episcopal flag at half mast upon the election of Barbara Clementine Harris, an African American woman who was elected the first woman bishop in The Episcopal Church - was elected on an unprecedented first ballot by a landslide.

Here's a video interview of him here.  (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/06/30/video-interview-with-presiding-bishop-elect-michael-curry/

I had just dried my eyes when General Convention did yet anther amazing thing. Something more than 40 years in the makings. Something which has framed my entire adult life and fueled most of my ordained ministry. Something which I really didn't think I'd live long enough to see.

On July 1, in the year of our Lord 2015, The Episcopal Church once again made history, by making marriage for same-sex couples available throughout the church.

Okay, so this is me, taking a deep breath here, clearing my throat and wiping my eyes.

Let me say that again: Marriage for same sex couples is now available throughout The Episcopal Church.  

We did provide conservatives the same "pastoral generosity" which liberals asked of them six years ago. Bishops who voted against the canonical change as well as the liturgies for marriage may refrain from offering the sacramental rite of marriage in their dioceses, but . . but . .  BUT . . . they must make provision for the couple to be provided with that sacramental rite elsewhere.

Fair is fair and that will be fair enough for some but not fair enough for the seven dioceses where bishops have said they will not allow LGBT people access to the sacrament of marriage, even if they have been granted that civil right by the highest court in the land. 


Score one for the Traditional Anglican Via Media

As Susan Russell wrote
Carefully and prayerfully crafted, the changes provide as wide a tent as possible for the historic diversity that characterizes the Episcopal Church — guaranteeing access to marriage liturgies to all couples while protecting the conscience of clergy and bishops who dissent theologically.

The genius of these actions by the Episcopal Church is that the conscience of a dissenting bishop is protected but not at the price of denying same-sex couples access to the sacramental rite of marriage.
We did what some asked us to do. We "waited at the asterisk" (like the one at the psalm) so that others could catch up with the rest of the church. 

I suspect it will take another six years for some bishops to retire and others to "evolve" but I don't think it's going to take that long for full sacramental equality in our church.

In 2015 the challenge from the Queer community (LGBT people and our allies) to the church was framed in Jesus’ words from the Gospel according to Matthew (5:37) “Let your yes be yes.”

I know one thing: My 'yes' is most definitely 'YESSSSSSSS!'


So, I've been thinking these past few days, about how far we've come by faith and all the shoulders of all the Giants on which we've stood to walk above the madding, homophobic crowd to get to this day and this time and this place of celebration.  Especially in The Episcopal Church.

Oh, there are the obvious ones: Louie Crew Clay who started Integrity in 1976 when he and his Beloved, Ernest Clay, moved to San Francisco - the gayest city in the U.S. of A. - and were excited to call the Episcopal Cathedral to ask if they, as a gay couple, might find welcome as new members. 

They got passed along to several different people who apparently thought it was an absolutely HYSTERICAL question and took turns laughing uproariously each time it was asked. 

It wasn't a laughing matter then. It isn't now. But, that derisive laughter sparked a movement in The Episcopal Church that, forty years later, has reached a significant, historic, sacramental moment, but is far from completed. 

And, of late, Susan Russell has been front and center, providing important sound bites in an age of 24 hour news cycle as well as sound, accessible liberation theology, all the while being an enthusiastic, seemingly indefatigable evangelist of the Really Good News for absolutely everyone. 

Both Susan and Louie would rush to tell you that this movement is more than its stars. Of course they would look to Bishop Gene Robinson as well as Bishop Mary Glasspool as two of our major spiritual leaders, but there are more. 

So many, many more. 

There are those who sacrificed jobs and the possibility for 'upward mobility' by coming out and being authentically, honestly who God made them to be. They are articulate, intelligent, well educated people who laid the foundation for this journey on their very backs. 

It's always a very dangerous thing to start naming names but I have to call the name of Kim Byham, who probably authored 80% of the legislation which paved the way in previous General Conventions for us to travel this road. 

I have to call the name of Michael Hopkins, who was the major architect of the theological statement "Claiming The Blessing" of the group by the same name. I should know. I was a member. 

Michael listened deeply, took all our thoughts and put them into a magnificent statement that not only provided an articulation of the theological foundation of our work, it sent a message to the conservative/orthodox that there was more than a "nice liberal feeling" to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. There was, in fact, a cogent theology.

You didn't have to agree with it. You could pick it apart. But, you couldn't deny its theology. 

It also sent a message - loud and clear - that LGBT people were not going to leave the church, as so many had hoped would happen. We were no longer helpless, hopeless victims who needed to be pitied and taken care of because they "just couldn't help being gay". No. 

Avoiding entanglement in that dead end "nature or nurture" conundrum, we were going to keep on walking forward, just like our baptism prayer, in the full stature of Christ.

His was not the first articulated theology of being LGBT - many authors had done that well before him and to whom we also owe a huge debt of gratitude - but it was the first time a theology was written with The Episcopal Church as its primary audience and it was made available to every bishop and deputy attending General Convention.

John Clinton Bradley also set the bar for the Integrity Nerve Center at General Convention - a technological marvel that allowed us to be in communication by riding the beginnings of the wave of electronics and exploration of the architecture of cyberspace. 

Sending emails and text messages by smart phones between the visitors gallery, the Nerve Center and the various deputations proved to be absolutely invaluable in terms of developing on-your-toes legislative pivots and shifting strategies. 

Even before all of that were folks like Robert Williams , an openly gay man who was ordained by Bishop Jack Spong in a ceremony at All Saint's Church in Hoboken, NJ that was, I have absolutely no doubt - attended by more international press than Episcopalians. 

Bishop Spong was also dissociated by his colleagues for his efforts. And, one of his assisting bishops, Walter Righter, was brought up on heresy charges for ordaining Barry Stopfel to the priesthood. 

And then there are other straight allies like George Regas who started allowing the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships at All Saints, Pasadena more than 25 years ago. And, Ed Bacon who said on Oprah, "Being gay is a gift from God." And, Bishop Barbara Harris who preached, "How can you initiate someone and then treat them like half-assed baptized?"

There have been so many, many more Giants of Justice, some of whom are not theologians or even leaders - elected or assumed - in the church. I'm thinking of people like Chris Mackey-Mason whose organizational skills are so superior as to have absolutely no comparison. She has organized more group meetings - from Beyond Inclusion to Integrity to Episcopal Women's Caucus to General Convention presence - that it makes my head spin. 

And then there are the blessed most chaste spouses of those of us who have trekked all over God's vineyard to labor in the Fields of Justice. 

They have made sure the bills were paid on time and done the laundry and mowed the lawn and gone grocery shopping while we were being interviewed on CNN or writing pity Letters to the Editor or on a Conference Call developing a strategy with colleagues or just listening patiently as we ranted about the latest horrible exchange we had with yet another homophobe. 

You can get a much better picture of the past 40 years by looking at this wonderful video put together by IntegritTV. It's here

While you're there, check out the tribute to Louie Crew Clay. That's here

And, don't miss Bishop Mary Glasspool's sermon at the Integrity Eucharist. I really think her discussion of "home" and "family" begin to build on the liberation theology already articulated and form the foundation for a spiritual life after SCOTUS. You can find that here.

As grateful as I am for all of these amazing Giants of Justice - and, I am, deeply, and there are so many, many more - I can not shake the sense that we would not have come this far by faith without "a great cloud of witnesses" who have been "behind the scenes" but at the soul center of the Spirituality of this Movement. 

I'm talking about all those amazing, blazing, shining souls we lost to AIDS in the 80s.  

I remember clearly holding the hands of so many who were taking their last breaths and promising them that their death would not be in vain.  That their deaths may have been hastened by beurcratic red tape, but their legacy would live on. 

Some how. Some way. I said. Not knowing what I was talking about but speaking from a place of absolute truth within me.

I think this is it. I really do.

There's a scene "A Call to the Ancestors" in the movie Amistad.  Singbe, the slave, and John Adams, the former President who is defending the slaves of the ship Amistad, are talking just before the trial. Adams is trying to prepare Singbe for what he's about to experience in court. 

Singbe says, "We won't be going into there alone." 

Adams says, "No, of course not. We have justice and righteousness on our side."

Singbe says, 
"I have my ancestors. I am calling to the past. Back to the beginning of time. I am begging them to come and help me with this judgment.  I will reach back and draw them into me. And, they must come. For at this moment, I am the whole reason they have existed at all."
I do believe all those martyrs to the early days of the AIDS pandemic have been with us every step of the way. We may not be 'the whole reason they existed at all', but their young, senseless deaths to a pandemic that could have been avoided have provided the heart and soul of this movement.

So, I want to end by encouraging us to call their name in words of prayer and thanksgiving. They who have brought us to this day.

We are going to need them to walk with us even further, to raise up new leaders, to take on the deeper issues of justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people like housing and employment.

I call their names often. The ones whose names I remember. The ones whose names I never knew.

If "all we need is love" they'd be with us today:
D.J Jimmy Mac (one of the first but far from the only)
Mark Clarke
The Rev. Dennis Dellamalva
Garry Lambert
Bill Urban
Joe Horan
Bob Meili
Lisa Tisti and her daughter Anasthasia
Jay Schaeffer
Dennis O'Keefe
The Rev Bill Lowry
The Rev Bernie Healy
Avon Johnson
Bertha "Birdie" Thompson
"Just call me Madam" Jim Ramp
Paul Risi
"Tall Paul" Wallace
Bob Applegate
and the amazing, the unforgettable, the large and lovely Ms. Beula Lamont, who said,

"We're all born naked, honey; everything after that is all drag."
May their memories always be a blessing and continue to inspire us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. 

Giants and Ancestors. We celebrate their memories and their continued presence with us as we continue to move forward in faith, stopping just now to celebrate all that has been during most this amazing week.