Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
5 Easter, May 22, 2011
The Reverend Lois Keen
Grace Episcopal Church, Norwalk, CT
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
My family moved to Lewes, Delaware in 1959, when I was fourteen. We attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and I was active in the choir and the youth group, taught Sunday school, played the piano for Sunday school worship, and played the organ at Christmas and Easter when Mrs. A. was on vacation.
As a member of the youth group, I attended the diocesan youth events and often Bishop Mosley would be there to give us a little talk. The big buzz always was the assumed romance between one of the Mosley girls and the son of the dean of the cathedral. These are the things that interest teenagers.
However, I do not remember ever knowing the bishop’s wife, Betty Mosley. And that’s too bad, because just yesterday I learned that Mrs. Mosley had a profound influence on my life and vocation.
Betty Mosley died on May 2nd. Her obituary reports that in 1972, when Mrs. Mosley and other bishops’ wives accompanied their husbands to the annual meeting of the House of Bishops, Mrs. Mosley was among those who invited four women who were seeking ordination to the priesthood to talk with all the bishops’ wives. Ordination was still closed to women in the Episcopal Church at that time. The bishops’ wives all heard from these three women and it caused a great stir. Some of the bishops were, as the obituary reports, livid.
A year later, while some men were being ordained in the cathedral in New York, the women who hoped someday to be ordained were meeting with Mrs. Mosley for refreshments and strategizing.
In 1974 the extra-canonical ordinations of eleven women to the priesthood took place in Philadelphia. “Extra-canonical” means “outside canon law”. Mrs. Mosley was there as the lay presenter for Carter Hayward, one of those eleven women ordained “irregularly”.
In 1976 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church changed church law to allow for the ordination of women to the priesthood, thanks, in part, to Betty Mosley.
So, you see, I owe the fulfillment of my vocation as a priest to her, and I give thanks to God for her advocacy.
I owe my vocation, as well, to at least two other women. I graduated from seminary in 1997 with no promise of ordination. The bishop allowed me to substitute for vacationing clergy during that summer so I would have something to do. In one of those places an eleven year old girl saw a woman leading worship for the first time when I was allowed to supply as officiant for Morning Prayer.
The child’s grandmother took me out to breakfast between the two services. In short time I was re-examined by the necessary committees and was shortly made a candidate for ordination. I have been told that the woman with whom I had breakfast was the most influential lay woman in the diocese and she had commended me to the powers that be. I had no idea until after I was ordained.
And then there was Blanche. Remember that irregular ordination service in Philadelphia in 1974? Blanche was there. She helped plan the service. In due time she herself was ordained a priest, and for my first two years as a newly ordained priest, she was my mentor. Blanche was a huge influence on me for good.
The collect for today contains these words, “…that we may steadfastly follow his steps…” I stand on the shoulders of countless women and men who have gone before me, who followed in the steps of Jesus, and these three symbolize them all.
Every Christian community, as they follow in the steps of Jesus, stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. Take another look at the reading from Acts – that tiny, short reading about the death of St. Stephen. I notice two things right off: the witnesses “laid their coats at the feet of a young man…” and, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.
When did we first read about the crowd throwing their coats at the feet of someone? Was it not Jesus, as he entered Jerusalem in triumph? In the gospel of Luke, who also wrote Acts, we read, “As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.” Luke also has, in some texts of his gospel, the words of Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke is building the story of the acts of the apostles on the story of Jesus, just as God’s Holy Spirit builds us on the story and acts of Jesus and of the apostles.
The young man at whose feet the crowd spread their cloaks was Saul, who would later become Paul. At the time of Stephen’s execution Saul was persecuting zealously the followers of Jesus. As Luke reports Stephen seeing the heavens opened “and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”, so Saul, on his way to Damascus, saw a great light from which came the voice of Jesus calling to him.
In God’s good time, Saul became Paul, a devout follower himself of Jesus, standing on the shoulders of those he persecuted and following in Jesus’s footsteps even to death.
The writer of the first letter of Peter reminds his readers that God promised to lay a cornerstone in Zion, one that would be rejected. We are to be built up as a spiritual house, with that rejected but precious stone as the head of the corner.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says that in God’s house there are many dwelling places. He doesn’t say, “In heaven there are many dwelling places”, he says, “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places”.
You are some of those dwelling places when you are built up as a spiritual house, with Christ as the cornerstone. Whoever believes Jesus is promised to be able to do his works, and even greater works than Jesus has already done.
Some of Jesus’s works are St. Stephen, St. Paul, Betty Mosley, the grandmother in my old diocese, Blanche, me, and you.
I am still learning whose shoulders I stand on. On whose shoulders do you stand? You are a dwelling place in God’s house – what are the works of Jesus that you have done and still are doing?
Do you work to reply kindly to angry customers?
Do you work to overcome your antipathy to someone you know? Have you spent your whole life writing letters to people, giving them words of encouragement and support?
Have you given yourself to passing on wisdom and beauty to the young? Do you stand up for the underdog, the despised ones, the rejected ones?
Do you see in yourself, much to your surprise, a living stone of love, of light, of life, of joy? Have you worked to transform a life of pain and disappointment into a life of prayer for others?
You were baptized in Jesus’s name. Somewhere in your story are the footsteps of Jesus. What is your story of following Jesus? On whose shoulders, on whose stories, does your own life stand? Can you feel the feet of those who, even now, stand on your own shoulders?
I wonder what stories they will tell when they realize the legacy from which their lives came – “from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted”, from broken to whole, living stones, built up over the centuries as a spiritual house of many dwelling places, many rooms, stone on stone, with Jesus Christ as the head of the corner, world without end.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Drivers who, when I'm using caution merging onto the Merritt Parkway in the rain, instead of arrogantly and ignorantly driving myself into the lane in front of oncoming traffic, lay on the horn to express their anger and their desire that I "get a move on!".
Monday, May 16, 2011
Sermon Easter 4
May 15, 2011
The Reverend Lois Keen
Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10; Psalm 23
In a blog post at Episcopal Café I read about a Chicago banker who lost her job last year and was facing living on the street with her child. A man who himself has been living on the street for seven years has been paying her rent in a hotel to keep them off the streets.
The man is repaying the banker’s past kindness. He panhandles to get the money for her hotel. [See the whole story here.]
Who is the shepherd? Who are the sheep?
What we read and hear of scriptures on a Sunday morning, from the Hebrew scriptures or the Epistles and Gospels of the Christian scriptures, we hear in bits and pieces that don’t necessarily hang together, and we hear them out of context.
Today’s reading from 1 Peter, chapter 2, is irresponsibly out of context and, on Good Shepherd Sunday, a poor choice. I suppose it is here because it mentions the shepherd in the last line. The reading itself, however, must not go without comment from the preacher.
If you go home and read all of the first letter of Peter, you will find that Peter is encouraging people who, for their faith, are living as foreigners in their own land, and enduring great trials, which Peter says have been sent in order to test their faith as gold is tested, tried, in the furnace.
He reminds his readers that they are living stones, rejected by others but precious to God. As virtual foreigners, for the sake of God, they are to obey all authorities in their pagan society. And then, he writes, specifically to slaves, literal slaves, not figurative slaves, “Slaves, in reverent fear of God, submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”
And then follow the words of today’s reading, words addressed to those slaves, instructing them to put up with abusive masters.
In or out of context this passage is among the texts of terror that have been used by well-meaning ministers, and not-so-well-meaning abusers, to keep women in abusive marriages and to justify all kinds of abuse of adults and children alike. The excuse for this is found in today’s selection: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”
Free men and women who suffer persecution for their faith may find encouragement to endure, and to give their suffering some meaning to their lives from 1 Peter. Certainly in Peter’s time, when abuse and molestation of women, children and slaves was expected, and recourse against abuse was impossible, these words surely did give comfort, encouragement and meaning.
Today, however, now that we know better, now that we know the legacy that abuse carries with it in perpetuating violence and more abuse, this scripture must never be used to justify abuse, or to encourage a person to endure abuse.
And this passage must not be left to just lie there without comment from the preacher.
Clergy or counselors or others in authority who still do misuse this passage, are the thieves and robbers of John’s gospel, who come into the sheepfold by ways other than through the true gate, the Good Shepherd.
And now we come to John’s gospel and the true gate. When John was writing his, the good news of Jesus gave real life to all sorts of people who were otherwise outside the pale – not just adulterers, and prostitutes and tax collectors and women and the little children, but undertakers, and people who tanned hides or worked in gold, and, yes, shepherds. It was, therefore, imperative that this gospel should be held up as the only way to that real, true, abundant life.
The Christian communities were breaking down barriers between insiders and outsiders, righteous and unrighteous, holding all property and things in common, as Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles, and living in a way that was turned against them. They did not comply with the civil cult, the civil religion. They did not burn incense to Caesar nor would they call him “Son of God” as the law required. This put them at constant risk of persecution, so it was necessary that they protect one another – only letting in the true shepherds, and those who had been tested and found not to be spies, because all others could cause the sheep to be scattered and even slaughtered.
Having said all this, while the bits of scripture chosen for today have some things in them that require rehabilitation, things that raise red flags, they are scriptures and as such we take them seriously, while not literally or out of context. So how can we reframe these readings?
Today, to be a Christian may just feel like being a foreigner in your own country. Christianity is getting a bad rap because of the beliefs and practices of some, the most vocal, whose understanding of their faith in Christ makes them enemies of other Christians who do not believe as they do. As we Christians war with one another about “absolute truth” and just what is the “faith once delivered to the saints”, atheism is becoming a militant religion all in its own right.
A very tiny example of what makes Christianity a mockery in the world today is my experience of an extremely conservative Episcopal Church in another part of this country. There, one day, I observed milk crates of bag lunches being guarded by women in the church porch while the poor and homeless were inside having to attend Bible study before they could receive their “free” lunch.
The expectation that the poor have to earn their lunch by attending revivals or prayer meetings or Bible studies probably goes back at least to the Dust Bowl era in this country, and it makes a lie of the gospel it hopes to preach.
But mostly we are foreigners in our own land because so few people today know anything about us except through the media, which is interested only in the sensational. So 1 Peter can bring us some comfort: We are living stones, precious to and loved by God, even when we’re despised by others. And, at the same time, we can push past Peter to realize, after 2,000 years, that all people, because they are created by God, are living stones, precious to their Creator.
We can even reframe the instructions to endure abuse. We all experience trials, sickness, pain, and anguish. While we are experiencing that part of those trials which we can do nothing about, we can make of them an offering to God on behalf of others who are also suffering.
Those of you who have shared with me the journey through breast cancer treatments may relate to this. Chemotherapy was horrible. Over the months of my visits to the infusion unit I got sicker and sicker. My time was hard, and at the same time I saw others, every week, who were having a worse time than I, whose cancer was worse, whose treatments were worse, who were much sicker.
Their trials did not diminish mine. Instead they united me with these other living stones, for whom I offered to God on their behalf my own trials and whatever measure of healing I was receiving. You can do this, too.
We can also reframe those parts of the Gospel of John which seem to say that only baptized Christians will be saved and get into heaven. We know that God has been at work from the beginning working to restore and reconcile all people to God, one another and creation. We Christians are baptized to participate in that work which is God’s, the work of restoration and reconciliation. We know that for us, Jesus is the true gate into that work. When we hear and recognize his voice, we try to follow him.
And, after 2,000 years of following, and failing, getting it right, and getting it wrong, we begin to see that Jesus, as he says earlier in the gospel of John, does indeed have sheep from other folds about which we know nothing and about Jesus’s way with them that we also know nothing about, though we might catch glimpses once in awhile, even in atheists!
So Jesus is the gatekeeper of our souls, but not a gatekeeper who keeps out non-Christians. We are coming to recognize that God’s enterprise of salvation may be a greater mystery than we ever thought, and much more far-reaching than we imagined.
A story from one of the Desert Fathers of the 4th century which might be helpful. A soldier came to the holy man as asked if God could accept him. The old man asked the soldier, “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn do you throw it away?” The soldier replied, “No. I mend it and use it again.” The old man said to him, “If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?”
My friends, the world needs to hear this about God, especially when scriptures and life seem to fly in the face of a loving God. If you yourself are so careful about your cloak, or your house, or your yard, will not God be equally careful about all God’s creatures?