Sunday, October 25, 2009

A brilliant day

Today was, you know, a brilliant day. The sun was brilliant; the colors of the changing leaves were brilliant; the people worshipping this morning at Grace Church were brilliant. The choir and bell choir were especially brilliant today.

And what a beautiful, sunny, warmish but not too much Sunday afternoon for our second "street service", Worship for All People. At 2:00 eight people, including one child, gathered under the trademark EZup tent which marks the spot on the parking lot for our come-as-you-are worship. We had a bag of Ecclesia-Ministry crosses, cut lengths of cord, strung the crosses and laid them on the altar (actually a metal kitchen cart doing double duty!) and began worship. We sang, said our opening prayers of preparation, and heard the gospel story for today, from Mark: the story of Jesus and the blind beggar Bartimaeus.

We were discussing what we heard in the story when we were joined by a ninth worshipper. We said prayers for those we wanted to hold before God, said the prayers over the bread and grape juice, received the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then handed out the crosses. Since we had not strung extra crosses, I took my cross off, the one I received at a similar street service in New Haven, and gave it to the latecomer, who I recognized from the neighborhood. The people received their crosses with the words, "Receive this cross as a sign that Jesus is always with you".

After worship, we shared coffee and sack lunches, then gathered up the remaining lunches and bottles of water, with donations of white socks, and hit the street. We did not encounter anyone in the four blocks we walked today except a woman with two children looking for directions to the Aquarium, but James met us at the end with his tri-wheeler motorcycle and packed all that we were carrying in the boot of his bike and headed into South Norwalk, a bit too far to walk I'm afraid, to distribute our offerings of food, water and fellowship.

Four sandwich bags were held back for the church fridge, in case of people in need this week.

Next month, November, our service on the 29th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, will include a thanksgiving meal. Those of us who will be in town and intend to be at that service are each making a little more than we need for our own Thanksgiving dinner, to bring on Sunday afternoon to share. This time we will sit down - outside! (maybe we need another EZup tent!) - and eat, making room for anyone who comes "late" and have our service around the table.

A note about "late" and street time: We begin at 2:00 because we're used to doing things by the clock. For people who live on the street, experiencing homelessness, time is when it seems to be. So 2:00, for instance, is when it seems to be about 2:00. Anyone who enters this ministry will learn a flexibility and a generosity of spirit enough, I believe, to carry us through the times we will be frustrated or even disgusted. Generosity toward time is a good place to begin.

Makes me think what I though a few months after beginning at Grace Church: Some congregations, including Grace, could benefit their souls by recreating the "entrance rite", the beginning of the service, to stretch to include those who live time in a different way from the rest of us. I wonder what that expansive "entrance rite" would look like.

A final note: When I went to clear the things from the altar, I found a cross, strung with its cord, a replacement for the one I had given away. This is church; this is Worship for All People.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Busted for Charity!

The Reverend Lois Keen has been nominated for arrest!

On Thursday, December 10 at a little before 11:00 a.m., the Muscular Dystrophy Association Posse will drive up to Grace Episcopal Church at the corner of Union Park and Mott Avenue in Norwalk and will arrest the priest, the Reverend Lois Keen for the high crime of "being charitable and having a sense of humor".

Rev. Lois will be held in jail at the Tuscan Oven on Main Avenue, next to the Motor Vehicle Department, until she can raise the bail of $2400.00 to be donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Her mug shot will be taken at the Tuscan Oven and she will be fed the gourmet version of bread and water while being held in a VIP cell.

The MDA has been kind enough to advise Rev. Lois about her impending incarceration so that she can begin NOW raising pledges toward the $2400.00 bail. Meanwhile, her parole officer will contact her to coach her in setting up her own pledge website, and to give her the opportunity of nominating other likely, charitable, good humored suspects for imprisonment. She will then be transferred to the witness protection program, which RevLois is certain is where the person who nominated her for this rap resides!

This is not the first time Rev. Lois Keen has been arrested for the sake of charity. While service at Christ Episcopal Church in Milford, Delaware, Rev. Lois was nominated for arrest on behalf of the St. Jude Hospitals and held at a local auto dealership until her bail was pledged to that worthy children's charity. Rev. Lois admits that while the people at the auto dealership in Delaware were kind and she had a lot of fun, she can't believe her luck in being incarcerated in a VIP cell at the Tuscan Oven. She is coming up in the world of her heinous crimes of charity and good humour.

Now is the time to stand up and be counted as a reader of this blog! RevLois and the Muscular Dystrophy Association need your help. Make your early pledge in the comment section and may God have mercy on your souls!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Formula 1 Standing

Well, with still one more Formula 1 Grand Prix to be run, in Abu Dhabi, we already have the new world champion. Jenson Button, from Great Britain, clinched the championship this afternoon in Brazil, placing fifth for the day, but number 1 for the season. There is no way anyone can get enough points to pass him so he is the new champion.

Congratulations, Jenson! A worthy successor to Lewis Hamilton, who also became world champion, last year, in the Brazil Grand Prix, finishing fifth in the race and first for the year. (By the way, Hamilton finished today in third place. Not too shabby.)

I see a pattern - Brazil as champion-maker!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thought for the Day - Extended

Sermon October 11, 2009
The Reverend Lois Keen
Grace Episcopal Church
Norwalk Connecticut

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“There’s always plenty of work for love to do.”
(From Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Novel series)

“You’re always standing with the demonized, so that the demonization stops. You’re always with the people on the outer fringes of the circle of compassion, so the circle of compassion can expand. You’re always at the margins, so the margins once and for all disappear. And you’re always with the disposable, so the people stop being disposed of.” Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ

I know you’re dying to have me relieve you of the anxiety you might have felt when I read the words of Jesus just now to the rich man: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Scholars much more learned than I have done just that, saying that Jesus meant for that particular rich man to sell everything, but that Jesus does not necessarily mean for you and me to do so. I’m not so sure they are right. After all, the early Christians did just that. Everything they had, everything they earned, went into a common fund, which then supported the orphans and widows and the poor, and then, also, the Christian community. So the early Christians took Jesus’s words seriously and literally.

But today I want to go back to Bp. Laura Ahrens’ sermon last week on forgiveness. Bp. Ahrens told us about the congregation at St. Paul’s, the church at Ground Zero in New York which was so instrumental in ministering to all comers during the aftermath of September 11th. She told us that this church is now working to build a garden of forgiveness, a project that is finding some resistance, but that they are going ahead with it and with building gardens of forgiveness all over the world.

The people of St. Paul’s have an understanding of forgiveness that includes letting go of revenge and not confusing revenge with justice. It is justice that I want to talk about today.

Earlier, in the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark, some people break through the roof of a house to bring Jesus a paralyzed man. Mark writes, When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them.
(Mark 2:1-12)

Now, the scribes’ argument is about justice. In their culture, paralysis and other illnesses and disabilities are God’s judgment against the person, either for his own sins or those of his parents or his forefathers. If there were no sin, there would be no paralysis. Therefore, the paralysis is just. God’s justice has determined the punishment for the man’s sins and the judgment of justice is paralysis.

So who is Jesus to countermand God’s judgment? Only God can forgive sin. It is for men to accept God’s judgment as just. After all, if God had forgiven this man’s sin, then the man would be walking around.

Jesus knows what they are thinking and questioning among themselves, so hey presto, he tells the man to walk and the man gets up and walks away.

Now, going back to today’s gospel, it seems to me that when Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything and give it away to the poor, the rich man goes away sad because from his point of view, Jesus is being unjust. The man has kept the law all his life; he is justified; he is righteous before God; he has earned, by his righteousness, all that he has been given by God. But if he becomes poor, the man will be seen by his peers as a sinner. That’s not fair. That’s not just, since the man is decidedly not a sinner, having kept all the commandments from his youth.

And Jesus can’t do anything for the man, because the man is stuck in the injustice of his culture, a culture that equates wealth and health and good fortune as the definitive signs of a righteous person.

The rich man is not the only one trapped by this cultural injustice, however. The disciples are perplexed because they, too, believe that riches are proof of salvation. If a rich man, clearly righteous, will have trouble getting into the kingdom of God, what about them? What hope do they have?

Jesus says, “For mortals, it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”

Now lest you think this has nothing to do with you and me, because we are not like the people of Jesus’s day, please think again. For we in this the wealthiest country in the world have been formed by the Calvinists who colonized this land. We, like them, do still consider poverty a manifestation of God’s judgment, or at least of personal moral failure. Our idea of justice, when it comes to the poor, is to reward those who “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps”, which is, of course, a physical impossibility without falling on one’s face, but still, it is one of our favorite expressions.

Fortunately for all people, including us, God’s justice is nothing at all like ours.

God’s justice looks like this: Humankind killed the only Son of God. In our idea of justice, God should have wiped out all humankind from the face of the earth, or at least the Romans and Jews. Instead, God raised Jesus from the dead, and through the risen Jesus God poured his love out on all people.

In God’s justice there are peace gardens everywhere.

In God’s justice, our failure to sell all we have and give it to the poor is met with forgiveness and an invitation to the banquet of the Lamb.

In God’s justice we engage more expansively in the work there is for love to do.

In God’s justice, people who experience poverty and homelessness are holy just as they are.

In God’s justice, we forgive all sins perpetrated upon us, just as God has forgiven us.

Impossible? Not with God. For God all things are possible.

It’s kinda funny. I prepared this sermon at the beginning of the week. Yesterday I was sent a reminder that today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day, the day before the eleventh anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepherd. Matthew Shepherd was killed for the high crime of being gay, of being hardwired to be affectioned toward persons of the same sex as he was. National Coming Out Day is a day to celebrate those men and women who are naturally affectioned to their own sex and who have come out to friends, family and community as gay or lesbian. It is also a day to support those who have not yet come out but want to. And it is a day to support those who remain afraid to come out because this culture of ours is still hostile to homosexuality.

It is my hope that God’s expansive justice will come to bear upon those of us who have the unearned, unwarranted privilege that comes with being affectioned toward persons of the opposite sex from us. It is my hope that God’s expansive justice will move us to advocate for and uphold gay and lesbian persons, who in the final analysis are no different from anyone else – they live, they die, they work, the play, and they fall in love.

Unlike most of us, however, they are subject to verbal, emotional and physical attacks, and they die, for no reason other than that they are gay or lesbian, and since the ever growing movement of legalizing marriage for people of the same sex, those attacks and even murders are on the rise, fueled in part by the place of religion and scripture being brought to bear against them, and that is unjust.

The scribes who condemned Jesus’s ability and right to forgive sins did so on the basis of scripture and tradition. Everyone knew what sin looked like – it looked like paralyzed limbs and leprous skin, poverty and disease, widowhood and orphanhood. And only God could reverse that by making limbs whole, skin clean, and reversing poverty, disease, and the state of the widow and orphan. For the scribes, that is justice.

But God’s justice is not like the scribes’ justice or even our justice. And for that we should give thanks. Because the judgment we pass on others often comes around to fall on us as well, and but for the grace and mercy of God, we would not be able to stand against that judgment.

It is impossible for human beings; but for God, all things are possible.

Because there is plenty of work for love to do, this is what God’s justice looks like: With God, we can pass through the eye of the needle. We can forgive the sins of others against us. We can widen the circle of compassion; we can stand with those who are being demonized even now, this moment; we can give up our privileged position in the center and move instead to the margins so marginalization can at last disappear; we can make common cause with, and stand up for, and embrace those who are deemed to be disposable, so people stop being disposed of.

Impossible? For God, with God, all things are possible, in the Name of Jesus Christ, through the expansive power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thoughts for the Day

"There is plenty of work for love to do."

"Until you hear the whole story, until you dig deeper, and listen, she thought, you know only a tiny part of the goodness of the human heart."

(The wisdom of Precious Roamtswe, in Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith)