Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No clever title

I'm off today for two days of clergy conference on mission. I've completed the five week Diocese of Connecticut Eastertide study on mission. I've read, in preparation for these next two days, an article in Christian Century on Gen Y, "The Church and Gen Y: Missing the signs" by Bradley N. Hill.

Through it all I can see Christianity as I have known it and been raised in it and was included in it crumbling away. In its place I see - what? A big question mark.

And I ask myself this question: What does Christianity offer the world today?

When Jesus walked this earth, he brought life to those in his time who were counted as nothing. He took outcasts and made them insiders. He took insiders and made them see what it would be like to be outsiders - the first shall be last, the last shall be first. He brought truly good news to people who were starving for a word of life from God for them, in a time when those words were only for those who were insiders.

In the "christendom" years, the end of which has already come, leaving us in limbo, the message of Christianity was if you are saved, you will go to heaven, and everyone else - especially the people you don't like - will go to hell. For a long time this was sufficient.

Now it is not. Now the old good news - be baptized and be saved from being like everyone else - is not good news. We see it for what it is - the desire to be insiders over and against those who will be cast out. This is not good news.

So the question I am left with this week is: What would be good news in this time in the life of the world?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon for Easter 6

The sermon this morning is in Spanish, Jorge Rosa, preacher. So there is no sermon for me to post.

However, as I have been asking on Facebook and Twitter, Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments...".

Do you love Jesus?
How do you show your love for Jesus?
I propose that loving Jesus is more about actions than feelings.
The opening prayer, or collect, for the day includes the petitions "Pour into our hearts such love for you...". Is it even possible for us to love Jesus without God's help? Is it possible for us to do love toward one another and all people and, indeed, all creation, without God's help?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Social networks

Here's the truth.

I signed up on Twitter over a year ago. In the beginning I tried be faithful to my calling and use it, but with email and phone calls and real people in front of me, after a month I didn't even try, and I haven't been back since.

I signed up on Facebook at the same time. I use it infrequently, for the same reasons. Once in awhile I go there to see what's up with people I know, and once in awhile I try to be a good priest and post things regularly. This lasts about a week, and then I just lapse.

I also, at the same time, accepted one invitation to LinkedIn but never got any other invitations and didn't use it at all. Now suddenly I'm getting a spate of invitations to LinkedIn. I confess to you all, I delete the requests. Of course LinkedIn keeps reminding me once a week that I have an increasing number of invitations to join this business network. I delete those too.

This has nothing at all to do with the people who have friended me or who have invited me to one network or another. It says everything about me. And I'm through apologizing for being me.

I'm an introvert. I love being with people and then I need time alone, unplugged, unhooked-up, to get back in touch with myself.

I like to garden. I like to read murder mysteries. I like to study Spanish. I like to play the piano. I love sitting on the deck with a book, a cup of Assam tea and my dog.

And I know, if someone really wants to get in touch with me, there's the telephone. If I don't answer, there's voicemail. And email. Or seeing me in church on a Sunday. Or a comment on this blog (see below).

And, of course, some people still write me letters - imagine that; paper with the traces of a human hand running over it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sermon for Easter 5


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

Not this time

If you were expecting to be raptured up to Heaven today, I am so sorry is you were not.

Of course, until missing persons reports are made known about three days from now, we may not know for sure.

Meanwhile, if you want to know how we got to where we are, with Mr. Camping of Family Radio predicting absolutely that the last judgment was today, with the just being taking up into the sky and the rest of us left behind to suffer terrible tribulations until October 21st of this year, I commend this link on Episcopal Cafe, "A brief history of the end of the world" to you. I might make you feel better.

See you tomorrow, in church, where we continue to proclaim that Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ramblings etiquette

It is time again to say, I do not publish anonymous comments. I let one go on the Easter 4 sermon because it was not what I usually get from "anonymous", and because I haven't posted this reminder in a long time.

In the future, all comments must have the name of the poster.

And, as always, this blogger reserves the right to refuse to publish a comment at her own discretion, without any giving any reason at all.

Pet Peeves of the Week

Drivers who use a "turn only" lane to go straight through, thus avoiding the line of those of us who are going through, and cutting us off in the bargain.

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 for 4 Easter

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?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger cyberproblems

Just in case you have been having trouble with this blog and any other hosted by Blogger, Blogger has been down twice in the past three days for significant amounts of time.

But it's back, for now anyway. You never know when or if it will happen again. So if you ever have trouble posting or viewing comments, it's Blogger!

Have a lovely weekend.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thought for the Day

From The Phantom Tollbooth: "The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between."


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers' Day to Jesus, our Mother

Today Iglesia Episcopal Betania hispanic congregation at Grace Norwalk moved permanently to the main church for the 1:00 p.m. misa en español. They had graciously been worshipping in the undercroft of the church for almost a year while we worked out a way for a congregation of Haitian Baptists to continue to worship at Grace. This has all been worked out and the people of Iglesia Betania now have parity with their fellow Episcopalians at Grace.

It was a joyous service and included a baptism. A big surprise, even for Padre José Díaz, was the band from San Lucas y San Pablo, Bridgeport that showed up with José's musician wife, Marjorie, to make today a really big celebration. The front doors to the church were wide open so all the sounds and joy went out into the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Haitian Baptists, because of the arrangement we made, are now worshipping at their preferred time of 11:00 a.m. and their singing and praying had already been wafting out into the neighborhood. And at 10:00 the English service of Grace began the day.

Truly, a joyful noise is being made to the Lord at 1 Union Park in Norwalk, Connecticut, and it is truly, truly good.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Altar

Today I wrote a petition
a prayer to God
"Thank you for Dorothy;
Healing for Leslie"
and I kissed it
and lifted it up
and I placed it on the Altar
right in the center.

And I thought,
"I never would have done that when the altar was on the stage platform like it was until this Easter."
Why not?
"Because it seemed so inaccessible there."
But you're a priest.
Even if some people feel they ought not to approach the altar,
surely a priest would anytime she wants to.
"But it doesn't occur to me.
Now that it is down on the floor,
amidst the people,
even I, maybe especially I, find it more approachable."
So what does that say about you and God?

There's something to be said for the transcendence of God.
God, high and lifted up, "in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes."
There's truth in that.
There's also the incarnation. God, here, now, among us,
God with us, God in the midst of our lives,
our pain, our joy, "in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer,
til death do us part".

I used to stand behind the altar sometimes, when the church was empty,
and look out at the empty pews below and before me.
I was delighted.
But never did I feel I wanted to embrace that table.
Today I did.
Today, I do.

Preaching Easter and the Risen Christ, or bin Laden?

Over at The Lead, on Episcopal Cafe, they're asking how we preachers are going to preach on the big news story of this week, the death of Osama bin Laden.

I'm not.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

Happy independence day - feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Monday, May 2, 2011

More death

I have only just learned that my Aunt Ronnie died on March 26th. On top of that, her son Robert died on June 24, 2009, and I didn't know it, and his wife, Marie pre-deceased him on September 26, 2006.

How did my side of the family drop off the radar of Aunt Ronnie's side of the family so that we knew nothing about the deaths of people with whom we had been so close when we were kids and young adults? I can see why I was cut off, which I will not go into, but my brothers surely should have been told before now.

Things happen in families. Some things worse than others. Then we lose touch, maybe on purpose, maybe just through neglect. I'm not going to tell you to go hug your family, or tell them you love them before it's too late, or get in touch with them if you haven't heard from them in ages. Things aren't that simple. Maybe they should be, and they're just not (yes, the use of "and" is intentional).

A photo of cousin Robert was included in his obit. He looked awful. I thought of him and Marie and the kids often. That's the best I could do. Rest Eternal grant unto them, O Lord, Robert, Marie and Aunt Ronnie, and may Light Perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, and of those of us who remain, be in Peace.

The death of an enemy

Osama bin Laden is dead. The dog and I were returning from our 5 a.m. walk. I picked up the newspaper from the driveway and read, "bin Laden dead: United States has body".

The Lead at Episcopal Cafe posts the question: How should Christians approach this? I asked myself the same question. The news came in the midst of the ordinary of life. My first feeling was relief. It is over. My first thought was:

Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

As a Christian, and a priest, this is my first thought always when I hear of a death. I thought it over after the words came into my mind, and the words still stand. God's justice and mercy are one. They are not like ours. If they were, not one of us could stand.

A man is dead. Long live God.