Sermon: Falling Scales– Ananias and the Boston Bombing

Photo by Heidi Carrington Heath

Photo by Heidi Carrington Heath

“Falling Scales”

(April 21, 2013) In the wake of the bombing in Boston this past week, we reflect on what it means to forgive, and to reach out to those we might call enemy, drawing on Jesus and the lesser known Ananias of Damascus as examples. (Acts 9:1-20)

Before the sermon, I played this video from MLB.com

During the sermon, I read this letter by Rev. Michael Rogers, S.J.

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But Have Not Love

silenced

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

‘Tis the season to celebrate love, it seems. Last week was Valentine’s Day, and today’s RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-a-Day reflection word is love.

Love is central to my theological and spiritual understanding of the world. I’m not talking about hearts and cupids, schmoopy puppy love here. I’m talking soul-shaking, boundary-shattering, grace-soaked, all-infusing love that is synonymous with the name of the Holy. That stuff. The reason for living. Love between God and creature, between an individual and the world, between two people: lovers, parents, children, siblings, friends, lived out in a myriad of ways as unique as snowflakes. Love. Love Divine. Love that makes us human and whole.

But when we talk about love, when we use and over-use the word, when we say it so often it starts to sound small and fathomable and domestic– like a word rather than like The Word— I’ve found a painful dissonance. Lately, I’ve felt excluded from conversations about love. Felt excluded when it comes to the most inclusive thing in the world. Felt silenced when it comes to the most powerful force I know.

And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling excluded in conversations about love, nor is divorce the only instance where reflecting on love can be painful. What does it mean to speak of love if love has been removed, has withered or faded, was never there? How does a child learn love if one’s parents were not loving? How does a friend trust in love if one’s trust has been violated? How does someone risk loving if love has been a place of pain and loss? How does one claim and celebrate love if that love is silenced or shamed?

What if we have not love?

Our love is our human way of living in love with God, the world, and one another. As such, it is an imperfect reflection of Love Itself. I can accept that there are times and places where we glimpse the Holy, and there are times and places where the word love comes with brokenness and pain and fragile, fearful hope for healing. For people walking that latter road, just starting the conversation– or knowing it’s not a conversation in which they want to participate at this time– can be painful enough.

So today, here’s to love that is wrapped in pain. Here’s to love that has been silenced and closeted. Here’s to love that stretches tender shoots out of the bitter destruction of broken hearts and lives and relationships. Here’s to love that is re-framed following abuse and neglect and betrayal. Here’s to love that is flawed and incomplete and imperfect. Here’s to love we aren’t ready to talk about. Here’s to love that’s too complex to grasp or name. Here’s to love that’s so big we can’t get our hearts, let alone our words, around it. Here’s to love that is a tiny portion of God’s own self.

Even if it hurts, even if we’re afraid, even if we have to whisper when we’d rather shout– or rather be safe and silent: Here’s to Love.

Resisting the wilderness

bones desertI think I’m back.

Huge life and family transitions sucked months and months of my life away; adding the Advent, Christmas, and New Year seasons on top practically turned me into a hermit. I feel like I woke up a few weeks ago, blinking my eyes into the sudden brightness, and marveled that there was a world around me.

Hi.

When I celebrated my 33rd birthday last May, a few of my friends jokingly warned me that in *his* 33rd year, Jesus died and was reborn, and so to watch out. I kind of want to find those people and wag my fingers at them for their unintended prophetic words. Sorrow, grief, pain, anger, shame, challenge, and tentative hope have marked my days these last few months. It’s felt like death, and waiting for new birth. I’ve done a lot of personal work and growth, processing all that. I really really want to be ready for rebirth.

And so maybe that’s why I found myself entering Lent kicking and screaming. What do you mean it’s time to spend time in the wilderness? I’ve just come from there! You want me to pause and reflect, draw closer to God and to my center? Empty myself and die a little to be reborn? Ponder being and having nothing? Been there. If they made t-shirts for that, I’d be selling them. I’m done, right? I get a pass this year, yes?

ash wedIt seems I don’t.

Instead, I find myself reflecting on ashes, how they represent complete death, nothing left, scattered and blow away. Only then, only then, can God create anew. Without total death, there is no resurrection.

I’m impatient. I want to be done. My Advent felt like Lent– a time of death and darkness and sorrow– I want to await with hope and expectation. But it seems the calendar is telling me not yet. Linger longer here. Push deeper into the desert sands of wilderness. Plumb the depths of your own brokenness and need for rebirth. Take this time, not to wallow, but to deeply experience, the complete death, complete surrender, complete journey into the darkness and wilderness. And then see, see what new life might emerge and arise from the ashes.

Sermon: The Songs of Herod, Rachael, and Mary

candle hands topdown“The Songs of Herod, Rachael, and Mary”

(December 16, 2012) In the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, CT, what does it mean to hear again Mary’s song of hope and thanksgiving in the face of King Herod’s murderous jealousy? Are we bold enough to sing songs of praise with her? (Luke 1:46-55, Matthew 2:16-18)

the fire alarm went off at about the 3:30 mark. You’ll hear a change of vocal quality and a little loss of focus as I resume preaching outside, but the full content of the sermon is intact as preached. Not exactly the way I had planned it, but life happens.

Sermon: Dwelling in Darkness

stars“Dwelling in Darkness”

(December 2, 2012) Before we rush to celebrate the light that is coming into the world, we pause to first take sock of the darkness in ourselves and in the world around us. The powerful stories of the Advent and Christmas season are not always easy to hear, and for those of us dwelling in a season of darkness, we may feel that Christmas is anything but Merry, the Holidays anything but happy. The journey begins here. (Luke 21:25-36; Isaiah 64:1-9)

The music for reflection I played following this sermon is “The Sound of Silence,” by Simon and Garfunkel, on YouTube here. Or, you can listen to the 2011 live performance by Paul Simon at ground zero in NYC.

If you are grieving, separated from loved ones, struggling with a health concern, or otherwise in need of light in the darkness this holiday season, and you are in the Montpelier, Vermont area, please consider joining us for an observance of The Longest Night. This special service of light for those dwelling in darkness will be held in the Fellowship Hall of Trinity UMC, 137 Main Street, Montpelier, on Wednesday, December 19 at 7 pm. If you wish, you may bring a flower, memento, or picture to represent whom or what you are grieving. 

 

Video Sermon: Grown Together

I also created a video of last Sunday’s sermon, “Grown Together.”

With lots of love and thanksgiving to Jim and his family. Love you magnificent women!

Diary of a Delegate: Yeah, so that happened

JoAnn, Annie, and I share communion in the midst of the Body’s brokenness. Photo from the UMNS.

Earlier this week I tweeted: just because it’s expected doesn’t make it hurt any less.

We– whoever “we” are– did not expect to win any ground on the church’s position about homosexuality this quadrennium. But I’m a believer in the resurrection promise. That sometimes means that I every so often and ever so naively hold on to hope.

I was hopeful because Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter had come to the place where they could not only support but speak for, advocate for, even write, legislation that simply said our church could not agree about sexuality. I was hopeful because I had heard delegates from Africa say that, while they could never vote for full inclusivity for persons who are GLBTQ, they did not want to stand in the way of us doing ministry with all people in the United States.

Like I said. I can be overly optimistic sometimes.

It didn’t happen that way.

And when it didn’t happen that way, when the body rejected first Adam’s petition (by about 53/47%) and then an amendment to the Global Young People’s petition (53/47), and then debated with hateful words, equating loving and faithful same gender relationships with illness, perversion, and bestiality with only mild rebuke from the chair, and then defeated all changes by over 60/40%, when that happened, we did the only thing we could do.

Lifting the bread and cup. Photo from UMNS

We set the communion table in the center of the room. We welcomed the visitors and supporters from outside the voting bar and delegates from the floor. We blessed bread and cup. I was the elder closest to the bread, and I lifted it in the air, breaking it as we are broken. I looked across the table and through my tears I saw my new friend and fellow laborer for justice, Gregory Gross, holding the cup.

We sent servers with (gluten free) wafers and cups of juice to serve those around the room. Some bystanders received communion with from those with whom they disagree, and some refused. I served those around me, offering them the Body of Christ as we all wept.

We stayed at the table when the session attempted to reconvene. Unable to get the delegates back to their seats and the visitors off the floor– indeed unable to even to get people to stop singing, the Bishop had no choice but to call for an early lunch.

Lifting the broken Body of Christ, tears in my eyes. Photo by UMNS

I later tweeted- Becca Clark@pastorbecca: You cannot legislate love. Grace is never out of order. The communion table has no bar. #GC12love #gc2012 #nowalls

We were told that the police were called. They never came.

For the next three hours we sat, stood, prayed, sang (okay, I didn’t), and waited. I stayed on the floor, without any intent of getting arrested, but with the full intent of protecting my friends as a human shield if need be, and with the intent that if one or two particular friends were arrested, they would not be going anywhere without me. We also had conversation with the bishops and it was decided that no further votes on human sexuality would be taken that day, in an effort to do no harm. Hey! Protest making legislative change! Awesome.

An agreement reached to shuffle human sexuality legislation to the end of the calendar and hopefully therefore do no further harm, the protestors took our seats on and off the floor, and legislation resumed. The topic was pension; an important topic, but I couldn’t focus. I called in a reserve and left the floor intending to return, but ended up seeking food and drink and long, healing conversation with a friend, and going to sleep.

Steve and Leigh Dry do the only thing one can do in the face of such brokenness. Photo by UMNS

I’m actually in an okay place about the vote on this legislation. We didn’t really expect improvement on the church’s policy here. I felt good that the response in protest was an act of love and faith rather than anger coming from the deep pain we all felt.

What is so discouraging to me is that this vote was only a symptom of the entire General Conference’s pattern, moving away from the Wesleyan principles of prevenient grace, social holiness, and commitment to hearing and honoring the voices on the margin. We are becoming more totalitarian, more Calvinist in our theology, and more exclusive of voices and people who disagree from the majority– a majority that has been using its power to assure that they will have a super-majority in four years.

That will be the subject of many a blog post to come.

Today, we wrap up business, and then Saturday I will return home to my family and to rest. Monday morning, we live into a new quadrennium, and begin building a new church.

We have built strong coalitions and allies here, people who can come together across the continent and the world, across theological and sociopolitical divides, united in our love of Christ and the Wesleyan heritage of the UMC. I told you I’m naive, but I have hope once more.

Becca Clark@pastorbecca: Also, let the record show that @RevAdamHamilton & I hugged it out. He’s a man of integrity, & was bold to try for inclusion today. #gc2012