Wakefulness // Lazarus

Our Lectionary Readings from this week ::

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8: 6-11

John 11: 1-45

If you’d like to see these readings and this sermon read aloud, you can find that on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq-G43scrbcZjx6veG3_IUg for RefLuthKS. And if you’re here to read, read on:

Dear church,

Let’s not kid ourselves. The scripture readings this week are heavy with the weight of death. Within them, and within us there is confusion. There is sadness. There is anger and there is fear. But there too is life. Rebirth. Redemption and hope. So at the beginning of the message here today, I offer this: much of the road ahead may be dark, but we musn’t forget the light we know comes at its end. In just two weeks, Lent will be finished, and the Resurrection will again burst upon the world. But today, we walk yet in the wilderness. Let us give strength and encouragement to one another, trusting in Christ as our hope even as we look fearfully ahead to the cross.

I want to place our focus onto a single sentence spoken by Jesus in our (very long) reading from the Gospel of John: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” I point our attention to this one phrase, because I think Jesus utters it to lay a scriptural cornerstone that will remain solid during the uncertainty that lies ahead. Here on Earth, there is some debate amongst cultures and peoples about death, but it really is one of few things we agree is pretty absolute. We know this, and Jesus knows this. But he also knows that God does not come from the Earthly realm – death to God is simply a state of being, not unlike wakefulness, or sleep. It has no real power when compared to the strength of the Creator of all, and so Jesus, with an almost alarming level of coolness, waits two days before even setting out to see his dying friend. Because he knows death is no real barrier for the God given life that comes after it. And when finally he begins the journey back to Bethany, he offers that line, “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” And the question, church, that has been sitting heavily on my chest this week is, are we awake? Or are we asleep?

When I applied to the YAGM program, I was a privileged, ignorant starry-eyed seminary-hopeful. The only time I had experienced outside my native culture and people was a semester abroad in Italy, a nation which I love, and for whose people my heart aches in the face of this pandemic. But I wouldn’t dare to say, that those four months traveling Italy, living with more than a few creature comforts, even came close to breaking me out of the fortress that was my “American” privilege. No, really it just fed a hunger I’ve always felt: for learning, seeing new places and new people. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s that excited hunger for travel, that drove me to apply to YAGM, all dressed down with the humility of the phrase “global mission”. But that wasn’t what God had in store, and I’ll never forget the moment that I first realized my YAGM year would be something altogether different than anything else I’d seen before.

You see, when I was first accepted to the program, YAGM was planning on sending me to either the United Kingdom, or Southern Africa for my year of service. And the biggest part of your placement decision comes from two interviews you have with the respective country coordinators. As I sat down with Reverend Alex LaChapelle for my Southern Africa interview, he asked me a number of questions about my life, my upbringing, my passions, and my reasons for applying to the program. And then Alex asked me a question that, at the time, blindsided me a bit. With a kind smile on his face, moving smoothly from the previous sentence, he asked me, “Are you racist?” And that was the first time I felt God strike my bubble with his fist. Because with that question, I felt every excuse, defusing comment, and rebuttal leap into my throat, urging me to scoff and say, “no!” But the time I had spent in discernment that weekend, talking with my global colleagues, and just listening to them meant the integrity of my shield had been broken, and that now all of Creation (not just the privileged United States part) was poured into me, and I now could see my fear, my insecurity, and my ignorance, and knew the answer to Alex’s question really was “yes”. Even though, if memory serves, I actually just sort of sputtered nonsense for about thirty seconds.

I think this is why, a few years back, the word “woke” came back into the common use within social-justice circles – a term meaning, “one’s alertness to injustice in society, especially racism”. The thing is, a person doesn’t get to declare themselves “woke”. It can only come from somebody else, because to put it simply, if you’re asleep it’s awfully hard to know whether you’re dreaming. It takes something shocking. Something surprising. Sometimes something horrifying, to help us distinguish between dream and reality. Sleep and dreams play heavily into scripture, from Jacob’s Ladder, to this week’s the Valley of the Dry Bones, to our Gospel. Wakefulness versus sleep, death versus life. So in John today, it isn’t all that strange to hear Jesus referring to Lazarus as “sleeping”, knowing well that his friend was already dead. So often though, we assume phrases like, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” or “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” We take those to mean that God does these bad things just so that later Jesus can perform the miracle. Mari mentioned the same dilemma just last week in the story of the man born blind. But instead I look at it in a different way. All through the time and space of Creation, God takes bad things, terrible things, that happen throughout human history, and uses that painful and heart-rending brokenness to create new opportunities for life and for love. Letting free will take its course, letting chaos roam, but making beauty wherever God can in the aftermath.

Now church, I want to pause for a moment, because I won’t pretend to have the answers for every bad thing. I can’t tell you why Lazarus had to suffer for days, and finally succumb to his illness, while Jesus took his sweet time getting to him. I can’t tell you why I had to watch my grandfather’s body wither and die to the demon of cancer. I can’t tell you why right now thousands of people’s lungs are around the world are scarring, failing to draw breath against the onslaught of this virus. I can’t tell you why we so willingly took sin onto ourselves and brought brokenness into the flawless beauty of the garden. I deeply feel that pain, the anger of not understanding. But church I can also tell you, that our God struggles so violently for us against evil, that God took on an Earthly body, and let his own lungs fill with fluid and fail upon the cross, so that we might breathe eternal life. Not with lungs but with the Spirit – the Ruach, the divine breath that fills the bodies around Ezekiel in that valley dreamscape today. God pursues us, regardless of the danger – after all, Jesus knew going to see Lazarus meant returning to a town that had just tried to kill him. Our God always pursues us, to enter into our brokenness and pain, so that the Creator might cause new life to burst from the cracks. I know that doesn’t answer everything – goodness how I wish it could right now, but we must leave it there, letting that Lutheran “What does this mean?” dwell in us, and come back to today.

Are we awake? Or are we asleep? I think most of the world is sleeping. I think I am still sleeping. I just wish it wouldn’t take things like the coronavirus to wake us up. For us to realize our neglect of our bodies and our minds. Our neglect of our families and our relationships. Our societal neglect of our fellow human beings, both the millions here in the United States who live paycheck to paycheck and now face absolute uncertainty, and moreover the hundreds upon hundreds of millions around this planet who do not have the privilege to “react” to a global pandemic, and quite simply face life, or death. Our global body is cracked and broken. I would ask where that leaves us church, but Paul has already given the joyful answer: “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead [, or rather if the Spirit of him who raised Lazarus from the dead] dwells in you, he who raised [them both] from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

That is the answer church. We need to keep letting God’s power and Spirit flow through this broken body that it may again have life. That we might remain awake and in God. My siblings in Christ, and all across the world, I end now with that Lutheran twist to the recipe – the reality that this is not something we’re going to be able to do perfectly. There’s a lot of brokenness in this imperial, patriarchal, homophobic, white supremacist body we live within, but when we find our fear and fragility catching in our throats, that is a time to rejoice in the grace of our Creator, which gives us strength and hope, not to utter a no no, but a yes yes! And it’s to that joyous truth in the face of our struggle that I give an amen.

atlas

 

In peace, grace, and acknowledging coffee plays a role in the wakefulness too,

Eric

Cuarentena // Quarantine

Dearest church,

Dynamic shifts, uncertain steps, the balance of our lives thrown askew – these last few weeks are unlike anything our country, or indeed our world, has experienced across most of our lifetimes. That said, on and on our blue planet keeps spinning, its wobbly axis tracing its path ’round the Sun, and even as I write this, the first beams of spring sunlight fill my living room with their warm glow. Yet, as a warm morning breeze fills my nose with the scent of rain, the word “pandemic” flits again across my mind. Forty days Christ walked in the wilderness, this Lent. Latin America calls it cuaresma, taken from the number forty, cuarenta. And as my Argentine home too has begun feeling the effects of the virus, I’ve noticed that the Castellano word for quarantine is cuarentena. I wonder if the similarity is a coincidence.

Humor me for delving again into my YAGM experience, but if I’m to honestly talk about things that jarred me, that tested my faith and trust, last year stands a head above the rest. The rhythm of my life at El Arca was not my own, which may at first sound like criticism, but I don’t intend it to be. There is no question that life in the hogar, home, wasn’t without its distractions and chaos, but the beauty of living in a L’Arche community, is that the beat of your own heart melds with that of your new siblings. You commit to one another, they to you, and you to them, sharing table, sink, home. And like any family, that commitment becomes a dance. Now sometimes yes, that dance means avoiding a certain someone during their first waking hour of the morning, and for another it means singing with them in the shower during the washing of feet, but it’s in those moments that the threads of life intertwine to form tapestry.

However, it’s easy to lose oneself in the joint movement, the chaos of L’Arche life. It’s easy to forgo your daily exercise when Osvy starts singing fifteen minutes earlier than usual (his signal that he’s awake) in the middle of your workout. It’s easy to close your devotional and set it aside when Maxi wants to ask you about yet another superhero movie at the breakfast table. Day in day out, you begin to lose your own identity in the midst of the many, and suddenly one day you find yourself feeling drained, overwhelmed, trapped within the walls of the single building in which you now both work and live. But that realization becomes an opportunity to strike a new balance. With time, I began to reshape my identity within my site placement, but what that meant more than anything was to reacquaint my body and mind with the spirit I had lost somewhere beneath all the life raining down around me. Those two scrambled eggs I had for breakfast each day became sacrament for me – shared, buttery, delicious sacrament between myself and my creator. So too was my nap each afternoon, restorative energy given so that I could tackle the evening boldly. And that’s all my spiritual practice was at first, and it was good. And soon, balance found, I brought back daily devotion to scripture and prayer. The playing of music and the beauty of poetry filled the cracks in my mornings, and they too were good. Then finally, at end of day, in the silence of the house, save for perhaps a mosquito buzzing or Maxi snoring down the hall, I began to meditate again. Just five minutes at first, but then ten, fifteen, all the way up to a half an hour each night. And goodness let me tell you, it was good.

The chaos that we feel now in our lives. The disruption. It is human and worldly and difficult, but it is also beautiful. I dare you to think for a moment of the last time America was told to pause, to stop, to shelter in place. Dear church I wish it were under better circumstances, and church I wish it wasn’t so hard to fit Christ into the chaos, but this is the way it has always been. God filling the cracks, seeping into the brokenness and the fear. Let God fill them. Let divinity fill you. Find time to focus on your own intimate connection with the Creator, one that no virus or evil can break, and nourish it. Read, create, pray, meditate, play. Goodness me couldn’t this whole high-strung country we live in use a bit of time for play. And do that how you feel moved. Do it alone, or do it with others. But above all, do it with God. And church, relish in the Spirit you find thriving in that practice.

ocean

 

In peace, shelter, and practice,

 

Eric

Mother Mary Magdalene

The Advent season has wrapped within it, some of our church’s most beautiful traditions. The nostalgia of driving to a warmly lit church on a cold, dark evening, as Holden Evening Prayer’s meditative tones fill the sanctuary, Advent is something that fills my heart with wonder as we share in this time of Holy Anticipation, looking ahead to the arrival of the Christ at month’s end.

The celebration of tradition, especially in this time of preparation for Christ’s coming into the world, is good and meaningful for us as Christians, however a part of the Advent season is also an attentiveness for the arrival of the divine into the world, an arrival that two-thousand-years-ago defied all expectation for what the coming of the Messiah would be. Tradition is a beautiful thing, but like the Pharisees and Herod, it can also blind us to seeing the new and usually unconventional means by which God speaks to us here on Earth. Because the history of Scripture is also that of patriarchy and empire, we often forget or outright ignore the diversity upon which Christ built the church, which is why, during these next few weeks, we will be meditating on the ways three of scripture’s women brought incredible life, and in the case of tonight’s focus, the Christian faith itself, into the world.

Mary Magdalene is a name rarely mentioned outside of Holy Week; in fact, only passing mention is made of her throughout the Gospels, in which scholars now increasingly agree that the Mary who anoints Jesus’ with nard, another, who sits listening to him while her sister Martha prepares the meal, and a third, who visits the tomb early Easter morning are, in fact, one and the same disciple. Mary’s life is beautiful one, fraught with brokenness and holiness, a real humanity and a genuine desire to follow Christ and lead in his ministry, but also one that has been often misunderstood over the ages. The most important of those misunderstandings being that: it’s now generally understood that she was likely never a prostitute (though her ministry would be no less significant if she was). However, multiple Gospels do note that she was possessed by seven demons, and that Christ had cast them out. This language though, is layered with meaning and symbolism. Demonic possession was a common explanation for physical and psychological ailment in Jesus’ day, and the number seven in scripture heavily implies symbolism of fullness or entirety. You can therefore make a solid claim that Mary had fallen completely away from God as a result of mental or physical trauma, and that Jesus was able to bring peace to her body and mind. How incredible is it then, to think of the possibility that Mary Magdalene, rather than a sex worker possessed by demons, was instead a non-neurotypical (that is, someone who struggles with their own mental health), a non-neurotypical woman playing a leading role in the church. Her presence in Christ’s ministry is deeply inspiring, and makes a profound commentary on the diversity of leaders God calls to the church.

This realization is made most impactful during the death and resurrection, where Mary Magdalene is mentioned most clearly by the Gospel writers. In these most-solemn moments of Christ’s ministry, as he hangs from the cross, where do we find his followers? Peter has denied him, and like most of the other apostles has fled in fear deserting their teacher. Yet we find Mary and the other women with him at Golgotha, mourning but remaining at Jesus’ side as the life leaves his body. And it is here that we find the most incredible piece of Mary’s story, one we know well: her role in the resurrection story. On Easter, we see her fear and confusion as she finds the empty tomb, and even as her announcement of the risen Christ is dismissed by the men to be an idle tale, Mary Magdalene gives birth to our faith. To quote Reverend Lenny Duncan, “From the time when [Mary] left the empty tomb to the time she told the men cowering in fear that she’d witnessed the resurrected Jesus, she was the entire Christian message and the only one who knew the stunning truth: Jesus Christ of Nazareth was alive. For perhaps hours, she was literally the mother church.”

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Mary Magdalene was a woman of devotion and conviction, she dwelled in Christ’s presence while he lived on Earth, and after he had left it, she remembered what He had told her sister Martha, went out into the world with resilience of faith, and began to build the body of this church. Advent is a time to celebrate the ways we can prepare for Christ’s arrival into this world, and a time to nourish that body as it grows in strength and power. I look with such awe and humility at Mary’s ministry, and believe we have much to aspire to in following her footsteps. Though we live in an age that so often feels full of brokenness, it’s comforting to know that the disciples too struggled with the brokenness in themselves and this world. And that ultimately this Advent, rather than a season of sadness, is truly a time of anticipation and hope for the celebration to come.

 

In patient expectation, and devoted action while we wait,

Eric

Hindsight & Holidays

As the summer has faded into fall, or rather slammed into winter with that October cold snap, I’ve lately found myself day-dreaming off into the coming Holiday season. It’s been two years since I’ve celebrated an “American” Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I admit: I’m nervous for the celebrations, even as they rush quickly into view.

It’s hard, in the wake of my Young Adults in Global Mission experience, to know when I’ve tooted my own global-mission horn one (or ten) times too many. But frankly, YAGM took my reality and broke it, taking something ordinary and radically imbuing that reality with sacramental meaning. The spiritual incarnation that happens at the global table, in, with, and under the experiences of our years of service left us changed: permanently, powerfully, and radically changed.

But this isn’t because of anything we did; we missionaries were not the breakers of bread – we did not present the cup. We were seated at the table, receiving our bread and wine, trying to make sense of the words being spoken to us from the Teachers in our midst. In some small way, or rather in many small ways, we witnessed the following days in Christ’s journey: we saw families break, and the disciples scattered. We saw political turmoil and violence; empire, oppression, and histories of persecution. We told ourselves lies, and ran from our faith. We saw death. And we mourned, waited, and hid from the resurrection.

But the resurrection did come, though I would bet it never came in the way we expected. I thought the Christ-ly body of my YAGM year would be strong, a King to lead my life on the right path, and one who would lift me up as greater for my dedication to the experience. But reality was different; reality was better. The body of my year is indeed risen, in life and love, but still bears the scars and the wounds of its death. My memories are full of earthly experiences, terrible and beautiful. The meaning and depth of the world has grown because things have descended beneath it and ascended above it. YAGM opens the eyes of its volunteers to realities and cultures, to human lives that we could never have known before our years of service. We could have seen them. We could have even met them. But we would never have known them.

And it might be now that you’re asking, “Eric, but we’re headed into Advent and Christmas, not Lent and Easter”, and you’d be right. But the divine manifestation of Christ’s birth cannot be understood without also understanding the end of his journey: the sacrifice of the cross, and the silence of the tomb, and the joyous life of the resurrection. Christ’s birth means nothing without the resurrection, just as YAGM’s meaning has grown ever stronger in the time after our return to the United States.

As I look now at our country. At our world. The brokenness and political divide. Our hungry consumption of the Earth and the treasures it holds. I see Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and the many other religious holidays that are celebrated as the northern hemisphere of our planet moves towards its deepest darkness.. I see them differently. I see the light that has come into the world. It is good and warm and bright, like the firelight flickering behind a Thanksgiving banquet. But I also see the darkness that surrounds it: those that are denied a seat at the table, those without the privilege of knowing the taste of mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, and frankly the absurdity of a celebration rooted in relationship with our country’s indigenous peoples, even as we continue to deny their voices and their equity.

The Thanksgiving meal, and the Advent season, are a time of thankfulness and wonder at the expectation of God’s coming into the world. The tradition and joy of that celebration fill me with so much happiness and love. But they are also a moment to remember that God has been baked into Creation since its beginning, and that Christ’s coming into the world was to save us from the fate of further destroying God’s handiwork – in the world, and in one another. Celebrate this time with loved ones, but rather than turn inward on our immediate families this Advent, turn outward, to embrace the fullness and diversity of our Godly family.

Let Christ prepare to manifest in you, at your tables, and in your lives this Advent season, not just in the manger at the front of the sanctuary, but in a world that so desperately needs our Creator’s love.

wine_wedding

 

In joyful expectation, and even more joyful action,

 

Eric

We Are Church // Act

First Reading :: Genesis 15: 1 – 6

Psalm 33 :: 12 – 22

Second Reading :: Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16

Gospel Reading :: Luke 12: 32 – 40


To finally stand before you all, this my family in Christ which has supported me with so much love and encouragement in my youth, my early steps into ministry, and now my year of service in Argentina – from which I returned a month ago is… overwhelming. And to be honest, I’ve looked ahead to this day, when I’d share my first message with all of you after my time as a Young Adult in Global Mission, with a heavy mixture of both excitement and fear. What can I say? What can I do? How can I explain what has happened to me? I’m sure many of you would struggle with the same questions were I to ask you to summarize the past year of your life into a single pithy phrase. How was it?? Goodness, how was it… Well, at least I was given a break this week preaching. After all, we find ourselves as a country, and as a church, more unified than ever before, right? No, instead I found myself sitting at the keyboard, a knot in my stomach because not one, but two, mass shootings have again bloodied our soil, and I am supposed to find the God in this. In our grief. In our humanity. So, with heavy hands this Monday morning, I opened my Bible to the scripture, from which I prayed would blossom a sermon worth giving – something to balm my heart and yours.

And in Genesis, I find the Lord’s words to Abram: “‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” “You’re kidding me”, I said. Well at least it seems like Abram and I are on somewhat of the same page, because while maintaining politeness he replies to God with an honest skepticism of “‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’” In other words, “‘God, I know you made me this promise, but I’m like 65 years old, and my wife is in her mid-eighties, what are you talking about, “my reward shall be very great?”’”. But then Abram does the impossible – the sermon wrecking decision: he trusts God’s word. God says again to him, to us, “have faith”. And Abram does. Now I don’t know about y’all, but I haven’t had any visions this week, and there were plenty of times in Argentina where I would have liked one too, but didn’t get to see a multitude of stars in the night sky. And yet God asks us still to trust in the divine – that which we cannot see or feel or touch: faith. Faith, which Paul describes in Hebrews to be “the assurance of things we hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, so that through this we might be able to “understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible”. This week’s readings hit me like so many dull punches as I read them again and again, and then panicked to Mari a bit, and then read them three times more. The reality is that oftentimes, the Bible is uncomfortable, confusing, scary even, but that in its words lie a deeper meaning, one outside of our expectations, that shapes us, and can guide us to places of incredible beauty.

That’s what Young Adults in Global Mission felt like to me – the breaking of expectations and a not-so-gentle shaping that led me to some incredible places. When I applied for YAGM, I knew I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but I also knew that I loved travel. I knew there were many peoples and places I feared, but I also knew that I have a gift for ministering to others. I knew I wanted to be broken out of my understandings in favor of the reforming love of Christ, but I didn’t know how violently I’d resist it. In a hundred million moments, I thought I had laid aside my power and my privilege: my hetero-normativity, my whiteness, my “American”-elitism, my sexism, and my pride. Oh man my pride. And in a hundred million equal moments I was shown how I closely I held those systems of power and privilege to my heart, and Jesus’ words from Luke now echo in my mind, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Our gospel today, like the rest of our readings, leaves us with a sick kind of “uh oh” feeling in your stomach. Man, isn’t this a fun, light-hearted sermon so far? Nothing makes us feel love for Jesus like his comparing himself to a thief breaking into your house. However, there is a warmth in these readings too – hope and love to hold onto amidst the discomforting words. The problem is that there’s all this “earthly” stuff clouding our minds to see it without doing some digging. Listen to the first line of our Gospel reading again: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amidst all the talk of disobedient slaves, fearing God, and thieves breaking in at an unknown hour, the Creator wants, desires, deeply to give creation to those which God created. God is seeking us out, earnestly and constantly, but the problem is we have so many other things in our hands, minds, and hearts that we fail to see what is really good. What’s more, sin and brokenness flow freely within and throughout the universe, and break into grace’s endless bounds clouding our world with violence, injustice, and pain.

However, we as creations of divine beauty, are called to push back against this brokenness, with God – that is love and power through the Spirit. Jesus explains in the Gospel that the slaves need to be prepared for their master’s return, and not in a passive way, but “dressed for action” and “alert”. Folks this is the important part, because I thought by applying for YAGM that I was dressing myself for action. I thought by working in camping ministry I was staying alert. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I also knew I was trying. However, then came the charge onto the beach – then came the main assault, which I thought was going to be serving in the UK, but… okay turns out it was Argentina, fine. Then our plane left the United States for Buenos Aires… and promptly broke down. So! We took a second plane to Buenos Aires and made it, and yeah I didn’t remember any Spanish at all, cool… Okay, now I’m arriving at my site and realize I have no experience caring for adults who are dis-abled. It felt… it felt like one of those circular moon bounce rides where the part in the middle spins, and you have to jump over or under the arm or you get clotheslined. But the thing is, in every one of those instances, it wasn’t God or Argentina or my site El Arca who was at fault – it was my own inability to let go and just love people. To just trust that the world was moving erratically, but that the Spirit would help guide me through it. And it was so hard. To be alert, not necessarily knowing when the time would come, but not getting complacent when things calmed down. But every time, after getting flattened to the floor of my year, I’d lift my face out of the mud, and look up to see the beauty of everything that was around me. To try and explain the love I found for seventy-year old Osvy… who needs help in the shower and the bathroom and eating; it’s precisely because I had to do those gross, exhausting, frustrating things, that I came to love him like a member my own family. And in the end, the things which I had first hated more than any other, let’s use our fiestas en el baño as an example… those ended up being the moments I treasured most.

Brothers and sisters, here at Reformation we are doing so much good: serving in community breakfast, Fill the Gap, and our church’s endowment committee, which gave me the opportunity to do YAGM, just to name a few. But what our Gospel is crying out to us today is this: we can never think that “we are doing enough”. Our church, our country, our world is broken and hurting. God’s nurturing arms are cradling its sick Creation, straining against the weight of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, and empire. Brothers, sisters, my fellow humankind, our beings are pulled from the ether and crafted together through love. It was love that knit us together, and our Creator, love incarnate, that molded us. God has put torches of Spirit-fire in our hands and dressed us for action against the ways humanity denies its fullness. Lament and grieve the pain in our pasts, rest for a moment when you’re knocked to the ground, but then lift your face to Christ’s waiting hand, take it, and stand up. The whole point of that dark-skinned migrant Jesus of Nazareth was to fight injustice till even death fell beneath him – we are called to do the same.

Amen.

reformation

 

I gave this sermon this week at my home congregation Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas while sharing experiences and parts of my site-placement’s culture during the weekend’s worship services. Thank you once again to everyone who donated to my year, and made my YAGM experience possible. I have so many thanks to give for this opportunity, and I am forever changed.

 

Peace, love, and action,

Eric

 

Unknown. RLC Memorial Park. Hanney & Associates Architects, date unknown. Photograph. https://www.haarchitects.com/memorial/refmem.htm

Vapor // A Message on a Meditation

First Reading :: Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12 – 14, 2: 18 – 23

Psalm 49 :: 1 – 12

Second Reading :: Colossians 3: 1 – 11

Gospel Reading :: Luke 12: 13 – 21


A month ago today, I returned from a year of missionary service in Argentina with the E.L.C.A.’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program (a very long title, that I will shorten from here on out to the very attractive acronym: YAGM). From the onset of our Chicago orientation last August, until our planes touched back down on U.S. soil, we were away from our homes, our families, and our cultures for just under a year. I had good friends living in both the desert of the Australian outback, as well as beside the Indian ocean on the coast of Madagascar; we seventy-six missionaries were spread across the world to do . . . what exactly? Well, as you might guess, we served in all sorts of different capacities: there were English teachers and office workers, resident assistants and chorus members, runners and cooks, but the word that tied all our forms of service together, coming from the Spanish acompañamiento was “accompaniment”. Accompaniment blossoms from a Latin American cultural custom, where in relationship with others you do not walk before them, leading them along, but neither do you walk behind them, pushing or taking second place. Instead you walk alongside one another, in equity – listening and learning what you can, and in that balance and trust lives the Holy Spirit. Christ between us, walking with us on the road to Emmaus as we disciples share the journey together.

My site placement for my year was serving at a small Lutheran congregation on Sunday mornings, and during the rest of the week, living and working as a live-in assistant at a home for 5 differently-abled adults: El Arca. In English, “The Ark”, is part of the global network of communities founded by a French-Canadian Catholic theologian named Jean Vanier, where volunteers live in close-knit community with those challenged by a wide set of physical and mental hurdles. Known in the rest of the world by its French translation, L’Arche poses an incredible set of trials before any volunteer who enters into one of its communities, not the least of which to two white Lutherans from the United States: myself and Tara, another YAGM, with whom I shared my year of service. Life at El Arca means sacrificing one’s privacy and independence, so that we might come to know and love others in ways we ordinarily might not. To wash another’s back and feet in the shower, to cut food and spread jam on bread for another at mealtimes, and to accompany yet another on their journey home from work – this was the ministry of El Arca. However, as you might guess, our normal spiritual customs, like Lutheran hymns sung with an organ, daily journaling and prayer, or even going to worship, were often not possible in our Argentine context. This meant finding meaning in new things, and worshiping in new ways. One of the most powerful for me, meditation, came from a Podcast called The Liturgists. Diving into the ways various parts of our lives related to science, art, and faith, the first Liturgists meditation I listened to was built on a few verses from Qoheleth, the Teacher, we find today in our reading from Ecclesiastes: “‘Vanity of vanities’, says the Teacher, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” Or, in other words: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says Qoheleth. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’” How very chipper. I admit as I read this scripture for the first time this week, I panicked. Not exactly your easy-going sort of sermon material we guest preachers like to work with. But you know? I thought to myself, “no problem, it’s just the Old Testament reading – let’s see what the Psalm says.” So, I flip over to Psalm 49, and where to my eyes fall, but “fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others”. Awesome. Thanks lectionary, what an easy sermon this will be to write. So I flip to the New Testament reading: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” And sweat now pouring from my brow, I turn to the Gospel for what I’m praying is my sermon’s salvation, and find “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” You know, I admit the thought crossed my mind as to why David is out of town this weekend…

I looked around at my life, and at our world; at its chaos, its prejudice, at its corporate greed and the power of empire, and I couldn’t help but wonder “God, what is happening? Where do we turn in the midst of this storm?” And the words from Qoheleth, our optimist extraordinaire said to me, “Meaningless, meaningless . . . Everything is meaningless”, and I realized the connection to the meditation I heard nearly a year ago, titled “Vapor”. As I’m sure many of you know and remember, Apollo 8 in December of 1968, was the first manned mission to orbit our moon, only six short months before the first lunar landing, whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrated two weeks ago. From the command module, the men of Apollo 8 watched for the first time as our planet, the Earth, rose quiet and small above the lunar surface – Earthrise. This moment, just over twenty years later, prompted NASA to rotate the Voyager 1 spacecraft, as it left our solar system, back around to face its home world for the last time, to take another portrait of the Earth. That photograph, full of the dark blackness of space, is interrupted by one tiny pale blue dot: us. A “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Vapor. “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

Our scriptures each week are tied together through the lectionary by common threads, and while at first glance this shared meaning may seem a disheartening one, I find peace through Qoheleth’s words. They can certainly be a depressing set of ideas; the transience and impermanence of the life on this earth we share, but it can also be a beautiful one. How often do we become caught up in partisan bickering in our government? How often are we heartbroken to hear of migrant boats overturned at sea while seeking refuge? How often are we frustrated by the car in front of us who decides not to use the turn signal before welcoming themselves to our lane? All of these things sit with a weight on our heart, feel so large, and looming. But now, if I take my arms and outstretch them, and that distance were to represent all of Earth’s geological history, and if then I were to file off just the edge of one of my fingernails, I would have just erased all of human history. Dust. Vapor. Meaningless. We preoccupy ourselves so much with the “things of Earth”, in Paul’s words today in Colossians, that we forget the transience of all this pain, this strife, this humanity. We are not meant to hold onto this brokenness, because our minds and bodies were never meant to bear it. It’s for that very reason that we were given that Lutheran grace, the Christ who came to Earth and bore that burden for us.

However, brothers and sisters, this line of thinking, this newfound peace may leave us with a new problem – some of you may already have realized it. If we ponder Qoheleth’s words, the Psalm’s theme of death as the equalizer, and the words of Jesus in the parable of the rich fool. If we let our preoccupations for this world cease, we might find ourselves doing little to better it. Our scriptures, our Gospel, do not encourage apathy, no, quite the opposite. To see it, we look to the last sentence of our reading from Luke, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Richness towards God is the key to this lesson, and at first it may seem simple: prayer, thanksgiving, confession, communion – perfect, I can knock all of those out each Sunday! But God’s rebuke of the rich fool is for not giving tangible offering to God, the fruit of his labor: the harvest. Yet, how can we give, truly give, to God – the time of burnt offerings and Passover has well… passed. Where does God reside among us? The answer here of course is Christ, but we quickly find ourselves in the same dilemma. Christ’s body has not walked the Earth for thousands of years, how can we give – truly give our harvest to him? We can find the answer in Colossians, for Paul writes we “have been raised with Christ”, and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God”. We strip off our old selves – not a jacket, but our way-of-being, and clothe ourselves with a new way. Humankind has the Spirit and Christ living within us. We had this bestowed upon us, in all of us, whether we asked for it or not, through the death of Christ on the cross, and now it is our challenge to seek and to serve that Christ in others through God, that God being composed of the most true and intimate love. And that Christ exists with in us regardless of nationality, of our bodily make-up, of our past, our culture, or our alliances. Paul writes “Christ is all, and in all.”

So yes, the universe, this life, and this world are vapor. Meaningless, and transient. But they are only transient because of the infinite love and existence we share with our Creator. The challenge then, is to use this fleeting moment of life lived together to boldly and radically share that love and joy for acting and creating with others. To be with Christ is not placing a check-mark in a box at birth, baptism, confirmation, or membership, but as Luther and our church attest, and as we read in Colossians, a constant renewal “in knowledge according to the image of its creator”. The weight which hung heavy on my heart after returning to the United States, the realization of all that there is to do in the world. How far humanity continues to fall, and how blind we are to so much injustice. The fear of that evil is washed away in Qoheleth’s words of transience, and replaced instead with a joy of action found in the Gospel – albeit an oftentimes anxious and frantic joy of “Lord, I adore sharing your love, and your service, but am I enough in the midst of this storm?” And the Lord answers with Martin Luther’s words that “this life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but is actively going on. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.” So go, reform, love, and above all, do.

Amen.

Earthrise

 

I gave this sermon at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Salina, KS this Sunday morning, and decided to share it with you all on here.

 

Peace, love, and action,

Eric

 

Anders, William. Earthrise. Time Magazine, 1968. Photograph.

http://100photos.time.com/photos/nasa-earthrise-apollo-8

Faith Tectonics

When applied to Young Adults in Global Mission, my crust was cold, hard – locked into the rigid boundaries of the only world I had known: one of privilege, of rampant white-ness, of traditional liturgy and church, of ignorance. My tectonic plate sat comfortably unmoved, surrounded by the hundreds of other people like me; people who use the terms “United States” and “America” interchangeably, who say they aren’t racist, but feel discomfort in the presence of black and brown bodies, who claim to stand for gender equality, but refuse to claim the word “womanist” for fear of being too progressive.

And then the Spirit, or maybe a blunder by my own ignorance pushed me to pursue and know others, some small fraction of the greater spectrum of our world and humanity and faith, and something beneath me shifted. The hot burning mantle of liquid stone – the true chaos and uncertainty of our reality realized it had a new way to the surface: that slender Kansas man who unawares above sat reading for the first time Barbara Kingsolver, Nadia Bolz Weber, and Eduardo Galeano. And suddenly my rock and foundation, that privilege which had long been stable on its plinth built on the bedrock of the US Constitution – on white supremacy and elitism, trembled. I felt heat coming from below, from within myself, and tremors began to shake the dust from the world I thought I knew.

And then in Argentina, the world was in a hundred thousand moments laid bare: my ableism, fear of the other, ignorance of the other continent and a half of “America” which I had until then only really considered to be 48 contiguous United States. And my soul, my crust, my being was rent – torn – shattered. The fire pours from me now, even though I have only just begun to see and know our world. We are not above the brokenness of creation, we are not post-racial or post-imperial. The cries and lament of the migrant burst up now from below the surface of the 1%, as the broken body of Christ himself cries out “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”, and I find myself a volcanic vent. Unable any longer to suppress the brokenness and evil that hide within our world.

This is what I feel; the post-YAGM experience. The slopes of the mountain that is my soul have been shaped and forested by the love of my community – green and bountiful and Latinx and good. But from within me pours out gas and fire and lightning because I see the world and cannot stand any longer to stay silent in the midst of our beautifully broken humanity.

It is so hard to share. To explain. Once the valve has been opened – the pressure released, it is not so easy to close or control. This, I believe, is a good thing. I am an emotional being – one of love and rare moments of anger – so hear my shouting and know that there is a reason for it. This world, this country, this Church need to change. Change to accept all, and love all, because Christ. Is. All. Not white, not “American”, not housed, not wealthy.

Forgive me brothers and sisters if I cannot explain or fully share right now, because there is more feeling than I understand at present. So many questions and uncertainties. It does not mean I do not love you when I cannot text, or call, or explain. I am trying, and slowly doing. But I need time. And I also need all of you to understand that we also do not have time. The moment of action is now. Leave your ignorance, your privilege. Read Lenny Duncan’s Dear Church, and get involved in your communities. Find the brokenness hiding in your churches and workplaces and accompany it. Listen to the woman, the queer, and the migrant. We are all human beings, and it is time. To. Do. Boldly and in love. Let your cool static “American” crust be broken in favor of the heat and passion that is selfless love for one another – a global humanity. We need you. Now go. GO.

Paint

May the Spirit give you strength to break chains,

Eric