A Work for All: A Sermon on Luke 13: 31-35

May God’s everlasting work in the world

reveal a light

a way

and a Truth.

Amen.

 

On Friday, we had a guest preacher at Yale Divinity School named Susan Sparks.

Using the powerful imagery of a gravestone,

she posed this question to us:

“What’s your dash going to be?”

The dash, she meant, was that space between our birth and death.

She couldn’t answer the question for us, of course.

And left that task to each individual in the room.

In today’s gospel reading from Luke

we get only a glimpse of Jesus’s dash moment

but in many ways, this teeny section sums up

his entire mission on earth.

And 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.”

Despite a death threat, Jesus knew the importance of his “dashed” life.

He knew that work to do.

So he came to earth and did it despite the consequences.

 

Can you imagine carrying out your daily life

knowing that someone was going to kill you?

When I was a kid I was terrified of the dark

and used to run home from my friends house at lightning speed

because I was sure that someone was going to get me.

I couldn’t function in any other mode but survival mode.

Jesus on the other hand?

[hand]

I’ll deal with you later. I’m working.

We often complain to one another about all the work we have to do.

Work is, after all, tiring for all aspects of the body, mind, and spirit.

I’m sure many of you can recall hearing a sermon

Where someone told you to set aside your work.

The body and the mind do indeed need rest.

I wonder, though, if we’ve lost track of what our real work

That is, our work in Christ Jesus.

In Luke’s we see Jesus diligently at work–

curing the sick, casting out demons, healing the lame—

answering question after question after question—

He does all of this knowing full well that his other work on earth

called him to die at the hands of his persecutors.

But what does this passage tell us about the work we have to do?

 

Just before we see Jesus casting off a death threat

in favor of casting out demons

we hear two parables on the kingdom of God.

In the first parable

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed

that someone takes and sows in the garden.

The seed grows and becomes a tree big enough to hold bird nests in its branches.

In the second parable

Jesus says that the kingdom of God

is like yeast that a woman takes

and mixes with flour so that all of the bread gets leavened.

Without getting to buried in the slanted speech of parables,

both of these stories show that the Kingdom of God needs human labor.

After all, a mustard seed cannot plant itself.

And yeast and flour do not naturally combine on their own to make bread.

 

So this work.

Are we all supposed to be gardeners and bread makers?

Point of order, God:

I don’t have a yard.

And no one really wants to eat that too salty,

oddly shaped bread that I made one time

 

Perhaps yet one more story can help us better understand

the nature of our work.

 

While volunteering with AmeriCorps, a national service organization,

I ran 2-week long summer camping programs

in four different native Alaskan communities.

When my co-worker Kyle and I arrived to Ambler, our last assignment,

we met a young boy named Marvin.

Marvin was about ten or eleven years old,

stood about this tall

had bright brown eyes

and a giant smile that was as big as his body.

Soon after Kyle and I settled in,

Marvin came and knocked on the door of the house where we were staying.

With whole body excitement,

Marvin told us that he wanted to take us on a tour of his village.

Eager to learn more about our new surroundings,

Kyle and I agreed to let Marvin shepherd us around Ambler,

And so we said yes.

That afternoon Marvin wound us through the forest and across a small bridge;

he showed us an underground house that no one could live in anymore

since it was starting to sink into the ground;

and then he brought us to an open field

where we could pick fresh blueberries.

We did. And they were delicious.

All in all we had a lovely afternoon thanks to Marvin’s hospitality.

In many ways, Marvin was very hard at work that day.

He guided our footsteps over the decomposing bridge

so we wouldn’t fall into the creek.

He answered our million and one questions.

And, then, he graciously said goodbye when Kyle and I looked at each other with exhaustion and told him that we had to go home and get to bed.

Marvin’s “work” wasn’t a job title or a student label.

His “work” with us was simply being Marvin

and doing all the things that Marvin loved to do in the world with other people.

At the end of our stay in Ambler,

Marvin made two little picture books

and gave one to me and the other to Kyle.

Inside this little book was the story of our tour around Ambler.

He drew the little bridge.

The underground house.

And all the tasty blueberries that we picked together in the field.

 

Here at Grace Church, we too know that we have work to do.

In our Bible—

our Big book,

Luke shows an image of Jesus hard at work

despite his impending death.

And in choosing to follow Jesus,

we too choose, to heal the sick,

to gather disciples,

to spread the good news of the God’s kingdom

knowing all the while that one day our “dash” will end.

Wherever will we get the strength to say to our own persecutors—

our addictions,

our selfish desires,

our worldly distractions—

No! Tell that fox that I’m busy doing the work that God has called me to do?!

Like Susan Sparks, I can’t tell you what your work is supposed to be.

I’m still figuring out what mine is.

Though to give some hints.

I suspect, that our work is something that’s kind of been there all along

even though we might not have been able to recognize it.

Or name it.

Or label it with some kind of pretty box or package.

Our work doesn’t have a name

other than our very own.

And it is this name that God shouts to each of us

every day

and for all the days to come.

It’s been there all along.

It’s not just that person staring back at you in the mirror, though.

It’s more of a feeling—

That time when Joy came and swept you away.

For Marvin, it was the gift of hospitality and a thirst for adventure

For me, it’s how I feel when I play music or teach the Ancestors program.

For you?

Well, it starts with your name.

Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

Amen.

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Sudan.*

“Two million,” they say.

It sounds better than 1, 999,999.

Don’t you agree?

“Two million.”

Of course,

we all know the real estimate

is closer to 2,000,356.

Or 2,000, 357.

Or more.

But, no.

“Two Million” sounds just fine

in the bedtime story we mumble

when we drift off

to a sound

sleep.

*Rough draft. Comments welcome.

Apocalypse at the Grocery Store*

Babies weep
in long lines
as mothers gnash their teeth
“This water is mine.”

A furor erupts in aisle six
when two brothers transform
their flashlights into light sabers.

“What the hell,
I have always wanted to do this.”

Just when I think I am home free,
an Energizer battery whirls into my right cheek.
I turn my head.

“Here have this one too.”

 
 
*Rough draft. Suggestions welcome!

“Created and Called for Crap” Regains It’s Rightful Title

I began my second year of undergrad at Messiah College as a transfer student. For the second semester of that year the school’s revised academic catalog required that I take a course entitled “Created and Called for Community.” Designed for first-years, this class tied up the loose ends of the first-year seminar and aimed to give students a communal lens for the rest of their studies. By the mere name of the course alone no one wanted to take it. I myself had worked as a camp counselor for years and did not enter college to take a class that so strikingly resembled the icebreaker games I used to lead for angst-ridden teenagers who didn’t know how to say “Hi” to the person sitting right next to them. I perceived that I was more mature and well-rounded after spending one whole year of my life at a school on Long Island and could not possibly imagine what I—a left-wing Christian and “experienced” college student—could have had in common with a mostly right-wing, “inexperienced” crowd. Alas, the course was a requirement and I had to comply.

Our work moved slowly: twice weekly we read short essays, poems, and stories from various Christian and non-Christian writers. In tandem with this reading our professor—the head of the nursing department—ran a discussion-based seminar that encouraged us to share what we discovered while reading. Little by little the other students and I began to share deeper and deeper insights into our journey in faith. We exposed our victories alongside our vulnerabilities and in doing this I began to recognize from these high and low moments that: “Yes. I am created and called for community because I belong here.”

Through the work of the holy Three in One, I believe that the healing of fractured communities will take place through shared experiences and stories like the ones I heard in my undergraduate classroom. Despite my initial disdain for the class I discovered that I have a life-giving gift to share the world. I also discovered that others in that world have their own gift to share with me. The personal anecdote is often frowned upon in the academy…but since academy represents but a slice of the whole life I invite you to share.

Scenework: Pachelbel’s Angels

Friends!

I have used up much of my writing energy this week composing a scene for last night’s Yale Divinity Drama performance. (My apologies for being redundant to those who saw last night’s show.)

Also: Since this piece will travel outside of our divinity bubble and into the real world I have changed the name of the Chief Angel. For those of you who are a part of this Yale Community, the Chief Angel formerly held the name of that beloved figure who occasionally sends us messages with criminal contents. In no way, however, does the Chief Angel character actually portray this person; any actual resemblance to this person is purely coincidental (and more telling of how many movies I have watched).

Enjoy this week,

sarahthetree.

Pachelbel’s Angels

Delores, a guardian angel, sits aimlessly atop the skeleton of a new construction site, smoking a rainbow cigarette and waiting for her two guardian angel friends to arrive.

DELORES: (Turning off her smartphone) Off! Time for this guardian angel to take a break. I hope you don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone, Harold. DD needs a smoke after that damned PhD application season. I never guarded anyone who had such a hard time with packaging tape!

Enter Judy, another guardian angel. She’s out of breath from running.

JUDY: Hey Delores. Sorry I’m late. After all those panic attacks and sleepless nights last semester, Jaime’s doctor told her to start exercising more. The poor thing doesn’t know a damn thing about exercise! Yesterday she almost drowned impersonating Michael Phelp’s dolphin flutter—right into the bottom of the pool!—and today I had to run with her on the treadmill for seven miles just to keep her from falling off and cracking her head on the floor.

DELORES: Seven miles? No wonder you look like dung.

JUDY: Those rowing kids were squat thrusting all over the place and Jaime kept losing it!

DELORES: Mmmm I like watching those squat thrusts…

JUDY: Have you heard from Martha?

DELORES: Just texted. She’s on her way. Apparently Samantha thinks she’s Daredevil when it comes to the night and Martha’s having a hard time keeping up with protection rounds. The Almighty, Chief Guardian Angel Pachelbel Bradley ripped Martha a new one last night. Said she was neglecting her angel duties by letting Sam walk down the dodgy end of Manslaughter Street without proper supervision.

JUDY: Eee. Baby’s not in Kansas anymore. Hey, how’s Harold anyway? Did he ever get that tape out of his hair?

DELORES: Just about. He has a bit of a bald spot behind his left ear…but the boy doesn’t give two shits about his appearance. Mind in the dark ages, that Harold. He’s worn the same outfit for the last two weeks.

JUDY: I must admit, Jaime thinks he’s a bit gross.

DELORES: Hey, now. I help my kid evade car accidents, ward off bear attacks and prevent alcohol poisoning by secretly slipping O’Douls into the Fatted Café kegs. I don’t do bubble baths. I don’t do Stealthy Angelic Axe bombs. Harold’s a big boy and no one will be able to smell him through the screen when they are reading his published patristics translations. You hear that? Published! That’s my MAR and soon to be PhD. How’s Jaime’s Credit/No Credit life working, huh huh?

JUDY: Hey now. Jesus loves my Jaime—even if she’s still dots her “i’s” with hearts and uses the comma as a way to feng shui her paper into proper balance.

DELORES: Oh God I couldn’t handle that crap. I’ll take package tape hair and smelly clothes over Easy-Bake-Oven nostalgia any day.

Martha bursts into the room, clearly frantic.

MARTHA: That’s it! I’ve had enough! I want a new kid!

DELORES: What up criminal? What did Ol’ Chief Angel Pach-head have to say today?

MARTHA: That celestial nag is so full of himself! He said that if I slip up one more time I’ll be suspended from all guardian duties for a year!

DELORES: A year?!? Rough.

MARTHA: Oh wait it gets worse! He said that have to take remedial coursework on Saying No to Your Obtuse Human, Nighttime Ninja Techniques andTthe Positive Benefits of Distracting Your Human with Sex, Drugs and Hulu.

JUDY: Hahaha! You got it bad, Martha. I thought guarding princess Jaime was annoying but your kid is a nightmare.

MARTHA: I really don’t get how this divinity school thing works, anyway. How are these kids going to be the salt of the earth if they don’t even know how to take care of themselves!?! I can’t do everything to protect her—not with this Free Will nonsense in our guardian angel contracts. I want control, dammit! Stupid human moments aren’t just moments…they are the very substance of human life!

DELORES: Yeah. I’m glad I’m up here instead of down there like little Harold. He’s a mess. Smart as hell with the books but a total dolt when it comes to “the real world.” I had to stop him from running into a wall while reading no less than eleven times last week!

MARTHA: Speaking of running. I just wish Samantha would stop running away from her pain. You know she only goes on these nighttime adventures to prove that she can be just as fearless as her mom was.

JUDY: Christa was a great woman. It’s not every day that an average schoolteacher gets picked by NASA to fly up into space.

MARTHA: She wasn’t average! She was amazing and she was mine! But then she died because I couldn’t protect her. And then I got stuck with guarding her lost little child!

DELORES: Hey, Martha don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re not supposed to be perfect up here. Accidents happen and they aren’t always some guardian angel’s fault. Samantha will find her place. Harold’s first semester was madness, remember?

MARTHA: Last semester she got P’s (it’s like a “C”) on all her papers because she couldn’t bring herself to argue with anyone. She started everything with “I think this piece is interesting and like it because…”

JUDY: Oh God, Jaime does that too.

DELORES: I couldn’t handle that. You know, just go to your training even if it’s terrible. Hell, I’ll even join you. I’m on thin ice with Chief Chicken Pach-Face as it is too for bending the Free Will clause with one of Harold’s Oxford’s application reviewers. Ronnie threatened to take away my rainbow cigarette break if I ever did it again.

MARTHA: No! We can’t let that happen. I wouldn’t know what I’d do without my cigarette break. Hey, why did we start smoking anyway? It’s not like we can taste these things.

DELORES:We wanted to look cool.

They all pause to strike a cool smoke pose.

JUDY: Yeah and then we found these rainbow cigarettes in Amsterdam and stole the whole stock, remember?

MARTHA: I’m a little foggy on that trip.

JUDY: Yeah, well, it was during your bereavement. Remember? We took you away for a break because you were having a hard time when…

MARTHA: Christa died. And then I got switched to watching over Samantha the Do-Gooder. Lame.

DELORES: Not everyone can be an astronaut, Martha. I’m telling ya: divinity school is tough. It’s supposed to be. Sam’ll get better. Just keep guiding her into Marquand. They referenced that transformation speech in Romans 12 at least twenty-two times last semester.

MARTHA: Haha. Yeah, they did. That one’ll never go away. I do love watching these kids find their place in the world.

DELORES: I think she’ll make it out alright.

MARTHA: I really hope so.

Martha takes a long drag on her rainbow cigarette.

JUDY: Alright Angels. Rainbow cigarette break is over and we’re back on duty. You ready, Martha?

MARTHA: Nighttime Ninja class here I come….

JUDY: Same time tomorrow?

MARTHA: I’ll be here.

JUDY: Delores?

DELORES: Of course.

Dance, Dance, Ecclesolution.

On Wednesday nights you will find me dancing, formless and without care alongside my classmates–the future priests and priestesses of the Episcopal Church. Occasionally the ordained will also join us. It goes like this: Following our weekly Eucharist/Dinner a bunch of us hang around the Berkeley Center to help clean up the mess of the night. For half an hour or so we jive and mime our way through catchy pop music. This dancing is one of the ultimate highlights of my seminary week–a much-needed hump day treat (but without the humping because we’re classy…or prude…or both?) Think semi-innocent like this but with clothes on:

While dancing I feel fully loved, fully loving and fully entrenched in the body of Christ. However, I am sad to report that the my able-bodied movement often does not carry over into my worship experiences. My immobility comes often as a result of my own self-sensoring yet I have difficulty replicating my holy moves during inter-generational worship services because the multitudinous non-joiners create an unsafe dancing environment. (It’s like that time in middle school when you were getting your groove on but then got shoved to the outside of the dance circle to the preying eyes of your history teacher. Ew. His lazing wallflower eyes made you want to crumble and die. Which you did. Which is why you don’t dance in public anymore…)

Back to the present: During Marquand worship, for example, our daily ecumenical worship attended by some of the foremost religious scholars in the world my grooves are severely stymied by non-joiners. Way down below, my concealed little feet are going go wild with love despite the rigidity of my upper body. Occasionally I throw an awkward T-Rex armed move into the air…but my movements are nothing like the ones of the wild child who comes out to jam to secular music on Wednesday nights.

And then there’s your standard Yankee Episcopal worship service where I move mechanically through my pew aerobics and stay on script. I fear that I will lose all ability to move my hips from side to side after 20 more years of this. While I recognize that some Episcopal parishes dance and clap with ease, the vast majority of the 50 or so ones I’ve visited (mostly in the northeast) do not.

My Question: Are non-dancing Episcopalians missing out on something Great as a result of their rigidity?

Bootyshakes,

sarahthetree.

And these children…

It’s the start of the second semester of seminary and I couldn’t be happier to be back in the classrooms of New Haven. Over break I spent time simply existing with friends and family at a variety of choice locales like churches (I visited 4), movie theatres (4 again…) and restaurants (an embarrassingly high number).

But being back at school means works and I’ve vowed to make some improvements on that whirlwind of a first semester. Academically, I fared okay but there’s always room for growth in these vast subjects. As a priest, they will be my life…so I’d better befriend them or else I’m in for a shocker of a transition from student to teacher.

One of the areas in which I need major growth is in my knowledge of the bible. I’m sick of the stereotyped Episcopal Church “God is love” sermon (even though I believe in this to the utmost degree). Given the current state of the church, trends in pop-culture, and attitudes toward religion and “knowing” in general, the God is love sermon will die in the 21st century if not built on a firm foundation of why Christians do all the things they do. The life of a Christian is too hard, too counter-cultural, and too demanding to carry on backbreaking commitment to the road ahead.

The coming political debates will (and already do) bring the lived Christian life into the conversation whether or not politicians name their Christianity and whether or not voters profess belief. I firmly believe that the Episcopal Church is alive and strong these days despite shaky numbers. God is not about numbers, folks not matter how much our current world is.

The point:

I believe in that the youth of this Episcopal Church have much to teach the older members. I witnessed this last summer at the Episcopal Youth Event in Minnesota and, I hope, I will witness this even more throughout my own life. I pray that the youth will step up and embrace their call, I pray that the Episcopal Church will give them a purposeful, challenging, meaningful way in which to live out their own priesthood as baptized Christians.

I leave you with my favorite song lyric:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

-David Bowie “Changes”