A Homily on being a Community

Today I delivered my first homily.  Good Shepherd Sunday, Easter 4a, 5/07/17.  I hope that in some small measure it touches you.

Today is often called “Good Shepherd” Sunday, referring to the wonderful pastoral images of how God comes among us to lead incarnate, in spirit, and in majesty. Yes our triune God is indeed a Good Shepherd.

However, if we look only at that aspect of today’s lessons we may have missed an essential part of the mystery being revealed, community.

Have you ever wondered why in Matthew 18 we are told: “(Mt. 18:20): “Where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”   Why two or three?  Why not just one? I have. I am really a bit of an introvert, not in the sense of being shy, but in the sense of being recharged by quiet and solitude. Perhaps that is true for some of you as well.

Maybe it’s not so much that you want to be on your own, maybe for you it’s just that the covers are really comfy, and getting out of bed, dressed and venturing out of the house is all such a hassle.  Perhaps you own that coffee mug that says don’t talk to me until … and it has the markings indicating when you have been safely caffeinated and are ready for social interaction.

If any of this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Solitude can be quite a temptation. Why do I need all these other people? Don’t I just need me and my personal relationship with Jesus?

Back in the mid 13th century, even  St. Thomas Aquinas  wondered  whether solitude (living like a hermit) might not be just as good as community for religious folk,  even sometimes better while he was writing Summa Theologica. However, when he turned to the scriptures, the highest authority of Christians, he quickly realized that complete solitude is not God’s plan for the religious.  In fact Aquinas concluded that there are only two really good reasons to be fully alone:  beast-like uncouthness of mind, or being a God, wholly divine and superhuman.  Well I’ve met us and I’m fairly certain that none of us are beasts or Gods.

In today’s lessons we see a glimpse of how our loving father expects us to live – in community, with all that that entails.  In our first lesson from the second chapter in Acts, we learn a bit about the honeymoon phase of early Christianity. The Holy Spirit has just come, the people have started sharing the story of our risen savior, Living together they worship and develop a strong community which is growing by hundreds and then thousands. They eat together, pray together, and work together. In Acts we see a wonderful spirit-filled communal life, with “glad and gentle of hearts” having “goodwill of all people.”  

This is all made possible because of Jesus. You see our God has provided the Holy Spirit to mankind and one of his main jobs is to give us glad and gentle hearts, not to placate us, but because we recognize our role as parts of the living body of Christ, and we recognize that same image of God in the others in our lives. Our first lesson is about a community which has fully embraced this style of living.  Sounds like a nice place.

When we humans don’t lean on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that’s when the troubles of community living begin.  

Most of us have lived in a few of communities even if we have never left Decatur, small ones like families, medium sized ones like Decatur or Central Illinois, big ones like the entire country, even global ones, If you open up the paper or your favorite device this morning and look at the news, it doesn’t take long to see that we humans don’t always rely on the Holy Spirit completely to guide our relationships with one another. Imagine what our communities could look like if we did.

Turning to our second lesson this morning. Flash forward just few years and decades from Acts 2, the honeymoon period is over and the people have made community more challenging,

there have been some complaints

as we see in 1 Peter.  The people of Asia Minor are experiencing some challenges because they are once again thinking of their individual needs, trying to rely on themselves, and not the Holy Spirit. No one really knows what the people of Asia Minor had told Peter that prompted this response, but I imagine Peter reading it, and, were he transplanted to today, muttering something like “first world problems.”  First world problems, for those who may not know the expression, refers to the complaints of people who have no just reason to complain.  In fact the circumstances of their complaint are really very good

Here are a few examples you might have heard,

  • “ I need a vacation from my vacation.”  

  • “One pillow is too low, and two pillows is too high.”

  • “I’m so cold, somebody set the AC on 72.”

  • “I got a splinter from my hardwood floor.”

The trouble with first world problems is that you can only have them if you are already in such a great situation that if we see ourselves in relationship and community with all of humanity it should seem as if there are no problems in our privileged world.  After all, many people work for such low wages that they can never take a vacation, many people have no pillow, and even no bed.  Many people live in harsh climates like deserts and tropical forests and have never had air conditioning, and still others live in areas where 72 is warmer than a mid-summer day.  Not to mention that if you can afford AC, you can probably afford a sweater.  And seriously, seriously a splinter?  Your God came to earth and dies a horrible death on a cross to redeem you.  I think you can handle a splinter.

Many a parent has tried to teach this humility to our children.  How many of us recall complaining about being made to “eat our vegetables” only to be told about “starving children in” Africa or Appalachia or some location.  As adults we sometimes need to be reminded of the larger community as well.  So, Peter reminds us that the vast majority of the strife and difficulty we encounter in our communities are a product of not fully abandoning ourselves to community, not listening to the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Or as Aquinas put it being uncouth. And if we have to endure the consequences of those choices, we don’t have the right to complain.

He also reminds us that there is real suffering in our broken creation.  Real problems like starvation, cancer, hearing loss, mental illness, autism, blindness, seizure disorders, loss, loneliness, war, famine, poverty. Problems which you didn’t create and suffering which you do not deserve. To those of us who suffer from these very real concerns, Peter has a message. God sees you, God knows you. God loves you, and God calls you to be an example for others in our community as Christ provided the ultimate example in his Grace upon unjust persecution and crucifixion.     

Several centuries before Peter wrote his letter or Jesus came to redeem us, the psalmist provided us with a similar picture.  Not a life of no suffering, but a life when God walks with us through just suffering and through communion.  Mixed in with the beauty of the 23rd Psalm there is death, evil, and enemies to be contended with.

But this is something we never have to face alone.  For he is with us. Not only that, he is carrying a rod to protect us and a staff to guide us.

So how do we find our way back, back to this communion and community which is our Lord’s vision of how humans should live in this world show to us in the first lesson this morning?  And how once we are there do we keep the communion and community going?

As we see in today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus gives us two parables about knowing and trusting Him.  Perhaps we can find an answer in there. In the first parable we learn

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

From this parable we see how our flock needs to behave. we must know and trust God to do what is his to do.  God should be like the good friend who doesn’t have to call first and comes straight in through the kitchen door to join us for a cup of tea,  We should know him by his voice, we should trust him for his honest and direct simplicity.  

Houses like mine also have another door, that door where you know it’s a stranger because anyone who knows you would never have come to that door.  Much less would they come through a window.  Just as Jesus tells us in the gospel lesson anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

Those thieves and bandits, who are they?  Could they be people like us?  

To stick together, we need to know and trust the others in our community, and be knowable and trustworthy community members ourselves.  We cannot steal others trust, or let our friends or ourselves be culled from the flock.  There will be times when our community struggles and it’s easy to feel that the grass will be greener somewhere else. But the gospel warns us, those feelings will “only to steal and kill and destroy”  

We are stronger together, when we come together, when we are gracious to others for the sake of the whole body of Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit he sent to us, gracious radical hospitality to everyone is how we prepare for the future when he returns, because when Christ comes to us and for us as ou Good Shepherd, As he describes in today’s Gospel, note that we are not alone.  We are members of a flock, a community, prepared to love one another through the spirit and ready to trust and follow Him.  

In the name of the father, son and holy spirit Amen.

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On Central Things

I have spent my first weekend intensive at Nashotah House. Yes, you read that right. A female bleeding heart low church liberal is a seminarian at Nashotah House. 

And I wasn’t tarred and feathered. Quite the contrary. I was welcomed.

I was in a class with every imaginable part of the communion. Focused on liturgy.  Our professor, Fr. Kevin Maroney, began with Lathrop’s Central things. I wrote a reflection paper on the book before the House, but my reflection after the House is what Fr. M. would call,”confused on a more informed level.”

On the one hand, Nashotah was a good example of walking together overall.  On the other hand prejudices were not absent.  In particular women serving in the chalice bearer role each day met one visitor who refused communion until a man could provide the service. It was handled with grace as it should be. But was in staunch opposition to the openness we seminary sisters would otherwise have felt.

The central parts of our worship of Bible, baptism, table, word were present, always present. It is after all this theology which is our common liturgical dna. But when table was disrupted, God was nonplussed. These family squabbles were not central.

The House has a reputation of conservatism and slow change, but I was not left with the feeling that such circumspection was a problem when a commitment to walk together is present. When focus on God’s presence is the main course at a table, it simplifies things.
The marriage vote in Canada this week cautions me that all inclusive means all.  I wonder that so many “inclusive” types wish to disown their brethren who are conservative, and so many conservatives want to run. Do they not understand these central things?

Nashotah House Seminarian

I have been accepted to the Anglican Studies program.  This once again makes me nervous, which reminds me that I need to pray more. Praying more reminds me that I need to stop getting lost in my own b.s. and focus on Him.  cause he put this path in my way, and he knows the plan.

Newness of thought on the Holy Spirit

I haven’t blogged for a bit. I’d found myself wanting to, and yet so often realizing that the things on my mind were not things I wanted “on the record.”

They were frustrations, irritations, times I let myself overthink. And I’d start to write about them, and then stop. That was the Holy Spirit interceeding with his better nature I think.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time asking the Holy Spirit to get active in my life. Part of this was due to the novena celebrated by the Diocese of Springfield. The concept of a 9 day wave of prayer was new to me. Apparently it started as a call from the C of E and grew. I enjoyed learning both the form and super fun words like Parachlete. (The first encounter with this term had me wondering why I was praying to a small pet bird).

It also made me aware that I tend to ask for Jesus or the Father when I pray. I don’t tend to think of the Holy Spirit as a being I can chat with. That was surprising since I’ve been comfortable with a Triune God for as long as I can recall. Yet, here I was, 41, feeling strange talking to the Holy Spirit as a person. I mean, God in 3 persons has been a phrase I’ve uttered regularly, but it seems I thought of the HS as less persony in his personness.

So, HS and I have gotten chatty. Well I chat, he seems to listen. I think I can read his expressions, although he is sometimes inscrutable. The thing about a great discussion with him is that my thoughts change in subtle and new ways. They seem logical before, but after, the newness has a streaming efficiency that makes my earlier logic seem pale by comparison. HS also is sometimes silent. Not as if he doesn’t care, more like he trusts me to not need his input at every turn.

Most importantly, is that I’m starting to feel like I know this person, the way I’ve felt for years about Jesus. I’m glad to have encountered the person of HS.

The COM

Today, I met the group known as the COM, or Commission on Ministry. I was surrounded by mostly familiar faces, my Spiritual Director, a woman from the Sunday School class I teach, the grandfather of my future goddaughter, a Deacon whom I’d previously discussed the prospect with.  There were of course others with whom I was less acquainted.

I believe I comported myself well, but moreover I was distinctly lacking in concern. As faith bears out, then I am on a path and follow where led.  My life has been forever changed this last year. I am who I am now in His service, and I find that diakonia with or without orders is where He wishes me. I await the decision of the COM, which will come in the form of a call from the Bishop.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. We say it in every office, but today those words hold new meaning for me. Peace and contentment.

-C

Painting, Pennance, Poetry, Prayers and Photographs

It is a busy week.  I’ve been trying to get up to speed with the new job, take care of lose ends with the old job, pray about my upcoming meeting with the COM, paint and furnish the new office, and get ready for the meeting with my new spiritual director and confessor.

I must admit that at the end of the day I have questioned myself in my exhaustion numerous times this week.  The office furnishing/painting seems silly to me at the same time as I recognize the need for a change of culture and feel.  My husband, wonderful support that he is, keeps reminding me that God set me on this path and God’s plans are good.

Yours in Prayer

-C

Instruction and calling

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the instructions Jesus left us.  Loving one another, even when we’re committed to it, is a huge task. There are after all 7 billion or so of us to love.  So I admit that when I hear of needs there is sometimes a bit of melancholy – both at wanting to be there and being unable to be all things, and at sometimes humanly not even wanting to try.

Today, I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room. My son is having arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee. It’s hard to focus on much else.  In the waiting room, I encountered some old friends. They are here with a member of their church.  I had a moment and then I realized something I rarely realize – God’s instructions are for all of us. As much as I feel personally called, I am not alone in service. God’s instructions are not my personal instructions to deal with. I am but 1 simple piece of a much larger team.  That’s incredible and humbling to think.

So, it’s OK today to be here praying for my son and his caregivers. And it’s OK for my friends to be here for their friend.  We don’t all need to do it all, because He gave us the gift of each other to share in this life.

-C

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