You are standing on holy ground.
This week in the Old Testament reading, we are reminded of Moses’ direct encounter with the divine in the form of a burning bush. It’s dramatic imagery of a burning bush that flames but is not consumed! and it called out to Moses, calling those him out of his exile and sending him back to Egypt. It is so so dramatic and so compelling that sometimes we forget exactly what God is calling Moses about!
Has that ever happened to you? Do you ever have such a dramatic or emotional encounter that you are stuck with the memory of the moment but have perhaps forgotten the content of the conversation? I think that happens to us when we learn about the death of a loved one, or an unexpected job opportunity, or a new relationship or even a broken relationship. And a day or so later we find ourselves wondering, what exactly did that doctor say? Or what exactly am I supposed to do now?
So it is, perhaps, with the burning bush. We as people of the book, hear the story and remember the moment but forget what God calls us to. So let’s take a moment to remember.
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
God doesn’t call Moses to talk to Moses. Just as God has not called us to talk to us. But God called Moses to send him to free his people. God has seen their misery and heard their cries And needs Moses to do something about it. And so perhaps God has seen misery and heard the cries today and needsus to do something about it as well.
What will you do then with the burning bush? what will you do with the misery that surrounds us? Complain? Vent on Facebook? Move? Give up?
Or listen to God’s call for I go into Egypt, into the slave pits, into the challenge and seek to free Gods people?
But perhaps it is you that needs liberation? Perhaps you feel trapped? Stuck? Perhaps you feel like you have “impostor syndrome” and are worried of being found out? This is serious business.
Then join us - for bible study on Wednesday’s, for the Stations of the cross on Friday, for liturgy and living on Sunday and ask those questions of your faith. Or join us for confirmation classes starting in April if you have real questions! Real challenges! Because God embraces your challenges and loves your questions — and seeks to provide you a way forward in faith and in community.
For lent we asked the Children to really look outward and think about someone else and not themselves. We are making blankets for St. Jude’s Hospital! We are trying to make sure that the kids who have to stay long in the hospital know other kids are thinking about them! We are also looking into what else we can do for them. The kids had so many ideas and really get excited about the thought of service!
During Lent we have also connected with the other two churches Children/Youth person. We are all contributing a night of fun for the kids each of the Tri-Church Lenten Wednesdays! My Wednesday is the first one TONIGHT! We will be making Lenten Finger puppets! It should be a really fun time and hopefully all the kids will meet some of their church neighbors!
We have loved being in the library the kids already have a sense of ownership over the room. They feel much more comfortable sharing and opening up in the room than they did in a corner! Thank you so much to everyone for helping and supporting us!
“Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.” Luke 13:31-32
What path will you take?
When faced with danger, worry, fear, heartache — do you run away? Or do you keep moving forward?
When faced with discomfort, with challenging truths, with disquieting realities — do you stop? Or do you lean int to the challenge?
This is the question put before Jesus in the gospel today, and perhaps the one put before us as well. ‘Jesus - don’t go that way! Its dangerous!’ If you are a new arrival to Baltimore you have likely heard this from family, friends and others — ‘don’t move to Baltimore! Its too dangerous!’ And certainly it might have turned out better for Jesus the man if he had not continued on to Jerusalem - but it would have been significantly worse for us. There would be no salvation available for us. No opportunity for us to connect to God, to walk with a living God in our own life if Jesus had simply taken the easy way out.
What path will you take?
Sometimes it is easier to burn the relationship than repair it. Sometimes it is easier to move out of the neighborhood, the city, than to work to heal the problems. Sometimes it is easier to ignore the truths in front of you; whether it is about the racist history of an institution, the challenging reality of your current situation, or how you really feel about the world - and just keep going as if everything is okay. But the reality is, ignoring the truth doesn’t make it okay.
If Jesus simply hid from Herod and waited till the coast was clear - the demons would not have been cast out, the people wouldn’t have been healed, and salvation wouldn’t have been offered to all. If we simply hide from the challenges and difficulties of this world, what demons will be left unconfronted? What illness will be left uncured? What salvation will be left un-fulfilled?
The Lenten Call for Christians is a call of discomfort. We often interpret this as a call to diet. To exercise. To the things we don’t want to do for ourselves. But in reality, it is a call to be uncomfortable with the state of the world around us. To allow ourselves to be challenged by the injustice we see at our doors and the hurt we carry in our hearts. So this Lent perhaps we should reflect on this famous Franciscan prayer — about the blessing of discomfort.
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
Stations Of The Cross and Conversation
New Stations of the Cross have arrived! They are created by renowned artist Peggy Parker and on loan to Memorial for this Lent. Join us every Friday, beginning March 15th, at 5:30, to pray the Stations in the church. We will then move to the Peace Chapel for reflection and conversation about a few select Stations each week. This set of Stations is the subject of an upcoming book being released this fall which includes reflections by noted theologian the Rev. Dr. Katherine Sonderegger. On April 7th both Kate and Peggy will join us at Memorial – to preach and lead a program and reception after the service.“Parker's woodcuts are stark depictions that capture the Passion narrative with wrenching power. The images convey in graphic terms Christ's Passion and his gradually diminishing energy. But they do not appeal to the viewer's pity; rather they show Christ's compassion and strength in the face of suffering.” (Visit www.margaretadamsparker.com for more information about the artist).
What Can We Bring to the Cross?
This Lent, everyone at Memorial is invited to reflect upon what they could be called to bring to the cross. What things in our lives, both for us personally and for us as a society, feel like crucifixion to us? What things make us feel like our world is turned upside-down? What things are so death-dealing that we cannot fix them by ourselves and need to bring them to the cross, with the intention of joining our suffering with Christ as we pray for wholeness and resurrection? With this intention of journeying closely with Christ this Lenten season, beginning this Sunday, there will be a wooden display featuring a cross upon it. Everyone is invited to bring in representations, images and words, that will be nailed to the cross. For example, an image from the newspaper of a refugee child being detained, or the word poverty written on a piece of paper, or the name of someone lost to violence, or the image of someone who you cannot forgive. All of these things may have felt like crucifixion to us. All of these things are instances of our lives, our world, that need transformation. What will you bring? The items on the cross will be added to each week and will remain on display through Good Friday. In each service we will offer a prayer of blessing for all we have brought to the cross and pray that God will transform those things through the resurrection. Please bring in your items to the cross during any service and during Stations of the Cross.
Ash Wednesday ‘Get Dirty’
You may have notice a trend in our common life lately. A trend towards purity.
Everybody needs to go on a cleanse diet. To rid their body of impurities. To sweat out their ‘micro-toxins’. We don’t drink water we drink High PH water. Or anything that is high in Anti-Oxidants. We plan our meals not just on whether it has the right amount of protein and carbs and fat — but does it have enough roughage to scrape our bowels — enough potassium electrolytes — Does it have enough Ketos?!? I admit I have no idea what a Keto diet is. Do you? There even is a new rage now in clean eating — its called, get this ‘fasting’ — Obviously these people need to read their bible more.
Now there is nothing wrong with eating healthy.
But I would argue that this trend towards ‘purification’ towards ‘clean eating’ or ‘cleanse dieting‘ is not good for us.
BUT a lot of people a lot of good people are going to start doing these things during lent! They are going to embark on these as good spiritual trends to follow in lent BECAUSE they have a mistaken idea of what God is looking for in sacrifice. ( this might even be one of you! You are forgiven! Don’t worry I’ll help you redeem it —- because what does Isaiah say “If in your fast day you found pleasure while all your affairs you pursued —— Your fasting THIS day will not make your voice heard on high’.
If these cleansing, purifying, sanitizing diets are done only for US. Only for OUR needs. Then they aren’t for God. They are for us - and are ultimately selfish and shameful.
And it gets worse — if your focus in Lent is on purifying yourself? Cleansing yourself? Sanitizing yourself? How might you respond to this less than sanitary city around us?
You might try and keep yourself a little farther away from that panhandler on the corner. From that addict mother outside the church doors. A little farther from the corner boys down the street and the users looking for a sandwich or a hot cup of coffee in the parish hall. You might try and push away anything unclean this lent and seek to ‘elevate yourself’ above all that ‘mess’ out there.
If you don’t think this is in our blood already witness how we responded to the Jacquelyn Smith story. The poor woman whose husband reported she had been attacked and stabbed by a panhandler and his pregnant wife. We believed it right away! Because she was us and those, now we know fictitious panhandlers, were them. And we never want to associate with them.
AND our need for purity might get even more holier than thou! Right? Because its not just the corner stores and stoplights that are dirty in our city. Its the halls of power — and we might say we’re not going to get involved in politics. We’re not going to engage with the mayors office, the city council, the police. We’re not going to engage with a new Hopkins police force, with our city schools, there’s too much corruption, too much incompetence, too much too much... We’re going to pull OUT of this city all together. We’re going to keep ourselves CLEAN by not getting close to all of THOSE problems.
And pretty soon its just you. And Jesus. And your Juice Cleanse.
Except.... friends.... Jesus.... isn’t there!
No! Jesus is out there with the kids on the corner. Jesus is out there with the teachers in the school systems. Jesus is walking that Median at Mt Royal and North, he’s with that man in his blanket on MLK, he’s even working on the hearts and minds of those who leverage power in this city and God forgive me but I’m going to say it anyway Jesus doesn’t care about your KETO.
“Is not this the fast that I choose, to unlock the shackles of wickedness, and loosen the bonds of the yoke. To set the downtrodden free and to break every yoke?
Is not THIS the FAST that I CHOOSE — Yes to offer bread to the hungry, and bring the wretched poor into your house, when you see someone naked you should clothe him, and your own flesh do not ignore.”
Jesus doesn’t want you to purify yourself this lent! Jesus doesn’t want you to be clean!
Jesus wants you to get Dirty.
To get Dirty and to to do the work of God.
The point of this season of lent is not ‘self improvement’ it is ‘Spirit improvement’. I don’t mind if you take some time over the next 40 days to work out at the gym — But work out with the Bible too. I don’t mind if you cut back on chocolate - but cut back on fear of your neighbor as well.
Because The only way for our fast to be pleasing to God is if they serve to right some of the many wrongs of this world. We have to get our hands dirty, we have to put a little bit more of ourselves on the line if we are to have our fasts, our sacrifices, our penance be pleasing to God. If we want it to work Be like ‘incense’ to the Lord on high.
And the only way to do THAT is to - in the words of Bryan Stevenson - ‘Get Proximate’. In this season of Lent friends we should seek to get proximate to those in need in our city. To the panhandlers on our street corners. The squeegee kids at stop lights. The kids and teachers in our schools and in our playgrounds. We should see them not as other or as foreign or as a problem but as Isaiah says as our own flesh. As brother and sister. As mother and father. As friend and neighbor.
Friends this Ash Wednesday - in our Episcopal tradition we mark our foreheads with ashes. And we do this to remind ourselves that we are dust and to dust we shall return. that as important or unimportant as we may seem. As high or as low as we came here today we are all headed for the same fate. And all will have the same wait ahead of us at those pearly gates. We are all merely ashes and dust.
BUT.... this year.... we do it for another reason too. We mark our heads with ashes to remind ourselves to ‘get dirty’ this lent.
To get dirty — challenging our civic leaders to do right by this city.
To get Dirty — providing food, water, clothing, shelter to those in need.
To get dirty — praying for the drug users and the drug sellers on our street corners.
To get dirty — praying for the victims of violence FAR TOO many of whom meet their fate up and down Druid hill ave.
To get dirty — lighting up the eyes of children at the head start program here. Or at Eutaw Marshburn Elemetary, or Furman Templeton.
To get dirty — inviting a new person to church this lent. To this preaching series this lent.
Most importantly — we mark ourselves with ashes because we remember that whether we are 27 or 72 ‘Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be swift to love, make haste to be kind’ so we should spend this precious time - this holy season of lent seeking to get as close to Jesus as possible. Knowing that Jesus is found not in the purifying of our physical bodies — but in the outpouring of our soul — our love, our heart, strength mind faith out into the world.
The View From Bolton Street
The Pain of the Gospel
For I wrote to you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 2 Corinthians 2:4-5
Warning: this post contains conversations about sexual abuse, trauma and anti LGBT activism.
This week we have witnessed a tremendous amount of pain meted out in the ‘so-called’ name of Jesus. From the continuing revelations of abuse in the Catholic Church, to the Southern Baptist efforts to cover up sexual abuse in their denomination, to the Methodist Church’s determination to marginalize and isolate LGBT and LGBT affirming Christians within their tradition - it has been a painful week in the Church. So these lines from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians are especially poignant: that when pain is inflicted in the name of Jesus it does not hurt the religious leaders — but it hurts all of you. So like Paul I write to you this week out of distress and anguish, not my distress, but the distress of the whole Christian Community.
We all suffer in these moments, and we should, as a faith community, take special stock in those who suffer the most today; those who are reminded of their own abuse and isolation, those who worry it could happen again, and those who have been told they are ‘less than’ as Christians AND as people for who they are or who they love.
Perhaps most of all, we should remember that for far too long, and still today in some corners of the world, the issue of LGBT equality and child abuse have been conflated. Far too many people still believe that child abuse is a result of the acceptance of LGBT inclusion, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, careful study of scientific literature and of scripture informs us that it is the opposite. Child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, is about power, authority and control. It is criminal and it is evil. Not being an expert on psychology, let me instead speak about the scriptural and moral aspects of this.
A good amount of scripture that is used to argue against gay marriage is actually about sexual abuse. Whether it is the abuse of children, women, the poor, the foreigner, the outcast. Throughout scripture God takes great care to remind us that we must protect the physical sanctity of the body from those who would see to violate it using their strength, wealth, political or religious authority. And yet it is often those very authority figures that take advantage of ‘the least of these’ while sidelining important scriptural discussions of sexual morality to only be about two consenting adults in loving relationships.
This week we have seen what happens when these teachings are co-opted and this message distorted on both sides. The allowance/ignoring of sexual assault on the one hand, and the marginalization and degradation of the LGBT community on the other. A sad, sad moment for the Church Universal.
It is tempting, of course, to say that the. Episcopal Church is innocent in all of this. And while I agree that we are better at inclusion and have strong policies in place to prevent abuse — this is a good moment to take a look at what we do here at Memorial and in the broader church to ensure that we are living out the full gospel story in word and deed. We will continue to, from an internal policy and external advocacy perspective, look at how we can do more to make the world safer for Children and our church more inclusive for the whole of. the. LGBT+ community.
February 27, 2019
Lent is almost here! It may be surprising to think of being excited about Lent. I grew up, as many of you may have, believing that Lent is a time to give up something that I love – chocolate, potato chips, tv, etc. But let’s think about this… for the five weeks in Lent, we are already preparing ourselves for loss. We know that we are about to lose someone we love very much, Jesus Christ. And for the five weeks of Lent, we get to decide how to prepare ourselves for that. What if we could look at this time of the liturgical year as an opportunity to expand ourselves in love? What if we could open ourselves to things that make us draw closer to Jesus? There will be several opportunities to do just that during Lent with our church community, beginning this week at Liturgy and Living, at 9:30 in LFH. Come and learn about all that Lent can be, from new and contemporary Stations of the Cross to weekly speakers who will challenge you to consider the realities of our world and our place in it. I hope we can be together this Lent, supporting each other to find new and deeper ways to connect with Christ and with who we are as the Body of Christ.