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Easter 2016 Sermon: "I Lay Me Down"

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I want to lay me down in wildflowers; the silent harbingers of spring. During the Lenten season just as we are called to new life, flowers become the best preachers. With unaffected modesty larkspur blush in morning light. Dancing with the slightest breeze, Dutchmen’s britches celebrate everything. Trout lilies in long lines genuflect every sunset. Wildflowers seem to pass so quickly, yet their roots lead us back to Eve’s mother, and their descendants and distant cousins were witnesses in the garden on Easter morning. After Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethemane, his trial and crucifixion, the Gospel of John tells us he was carried by Joseph and Nicodemus to a garden with a new tomb. There they took spices and oils, wrapped his body in a shroud and laid him in the tomb. On the 3rd morning the Gospel places Magdalene with some assortment of other women in that garden searching for Jesus on the wings of that morning in Jerusalem. I can imagine wild lilies and geraniums greeting Magdalene as she and her sisters set out to anoint their Lord’s body. Carrying spices along with heavy hearts and fear, they followed the worn path just as dawn was breaking. Surely such a path was clearer because of tender blossoms pointing the way. I wonder if Magdalene, burdened with leadership and love, looked down long enough to consider the lilies as they bore a regal witness to hope. I wonder if the path she took smelled rich and offered her hope as she prepared to face the stone and saw them as a sign that in the midst of death love was rising. I wonder then if she remembered Jesus’ words as he led them on their first mission, “Don’t worry about your life.” “Seek the kingdom, and all else will be added unto you.” “Consider the lilies and how they neither toil or spin, yet even Solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these.” Then breathing in the abundance that flowers offer, Magdalene reaches the tomb and finds angels, and discarded shrouds, and drops everything to run and proclaim the good news, “He is risen.” 

Just after finishing the clinics, sewing, tending the gardens and organizing the school in San Eduardo on our 19th annual trip to Ecuador, our group from St. Augustine’s headed into the mountains. We walked on rocky soil 13,000 feet above sea level draped in native paper trees, wild flowers and beautiful orchids as hawks soared  along vertical rocks from long forgotten volcanoes. Wildflowers are universal and timeless, and when we consider them in the hills of Tennessee, the Gardens of Jerusalem, or the mountains of Ecuador, they remind us of the abundance in God’s kingdom. The whole gospel is a reminder, even in death and injustice that God’s abundant love for us is more than 500 denari worth of sins that have been forgiven 70 times 7 times. When we are thirsty, 60 gallons of water can become wine and when we are hungry 5000 people can be fed from a few baskets. The gospel preaches that once barren nets spill over with fish, and we can pour out our hearts as lavishly as lavender oil on feet.

Leaving the mountain and flowers, we headed back to the city where I found myself early in the morning sitting in front of a big flower market by the Sanctuary Mariano. Aproned women made quick work of making arrangements for weddings and graves. Tuber rose filled the air with thick memory. It was an ever flowing stream of flowers that could fill anyone’s well of longing. There on an ordinary Saturday morning with a full heart, I bore witness to enough wild and cut flowers to sate new grievers and young lovers who long to mark ordinary days as sacred. With a heart full of gratitude, I stepped into the sanctuary with gilded lilies and bronzed saints to pray and was taken aback by the huge purple shrouds covering everything…the altar, the saints, the flowers. It was all hidden, as though it was too much for us to bear in our Lenten state. 

The abundance of love is right there, in the beauty of the flowers and the eternal hope of Easter, but sometimes we can’t see it, either because of the scarcity of wilderness, the shame clouding our vision, grief pressing like a heavy stone, and its too hard to bear in real time that everything we love passes. Sometimes the sting of death makes us feel as fragile as the spring beauties and it’s easier to drape a shroud over it all. But can’t you imagine the flower sellers, like Magdalene herself, on the dawn of Easter, letting the purple fabrics fall to the floor like the shroud in the tomb? And how the women will drape their saints and altars with garlands of herbs and flowers. Working through the night, they prepare for the pilgrims searching for the hope of a glimpse of love’s abundance.

This is what I believe. In the sacred and imperishable truth of resurrection, there is abundance. We have all grieved for people we love who have died. Magdalene knew suffering and grief, yet those pains did not outweigh her longing for love and the hope of resurrection. It is that longing and hope that carried her through the flowers to the tomb. I have known grief my whole life and have thought about that truth and believe that inside us is a well of tears that pour out in abundance as we remember that love washes away the scarcity that the fear of death holds over us. We know it like wildflowers know to bloom and like Magdalene knew, that before we make it to a graveside, love rises. Just like we know how to grieve, we know how to love beyond death.

I wish we could all lie down in flowers and feel our hearts beat with that truth coursing through our veins. We would lie there and breathe in the knowledge that even though these spring beauties pass in a moment, they return despite drought, floods, and grief and remind us that what seems dead rises in splendor. When we follow in the footsteps of Magdalene, through the garden, we can dance among the wildflowers as we glimpse the stone rolled and feel that all those who have died live on in love and the memory of God. All we grieve rises, like the wildflowers in spring. There are enough long winters over hard and hallowed ground, but today let the shroud fall and sing with Magdalene among the flowers that even in the face of disparity, fear, and injustice love blossoms. The wildflowers, the very preachers of how there is a time for everything, demonstrate that we can live in hope dedicated to justice and truth. Flowers are ours for the beholding and allow us to make our song even at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

image credit: pixabay.com

Revisiting A Psalm: Holy Week 2016

I remember when I wrote this piece. It was during a holy week, and I was walking through the park and noticing how the chestnut tree was thriving above the cemetery of unmarked graves of former slaves. The whole scene was vision of the harm we cause, the enormous grief in the hills, and the enduring power of love. I still walk through those hills in holy week and marvel at beauty of the earth that makes this journey so sacred…Alleluia.

With arms outstretched on the hill

An American chestnut tree stands resurrected.

In powerful silence she draws new life from an old stump.

Its blighted roots died with millions

Of her brothers and sisters

A hundred or so odd years ago.

She is a witness to the truth that love thrives,

As she casts a shadow over shallow graves lying

Stoneless and invisible in her valley.

The sunken earth is the only marker showing

Where our brothers and sisters enslaved were laid

A hundred or so years ago.

They were laid to rest in hallowed ground,

Wreathed in wildflowers, acorns and vines.

Laid among scattered paw paws and May apples.

Their graves are filled with the memory of seasons.

Beneath tulip poplars that witnessed

The solemnity of these graveside wakes.

This is the valley in the shadow of death where I am not afraid.

I want to lay down in her green pastures and weep.

This valley holds our broken history in her belly

And the hope of new life that sprouts on hilltops.

On this sacred, holy, ground you can hear

Owls flying at half mast cry out,

“We cannot kill what the creator knows is beloved.”
Nothing is forsaken since love runs deeper than

Shallow graves and dead stumps.

Love seeps through roots into hearts and blesses everything.

Over the shallow graves and under the resurrected chestnut,

We remember our treasure lies in these woods

Where thieves cannot break in and steal or rust ruin.

This land is where our hearts live and

Where we weep for blights, floods, and injustices.

But even if we wanted to hang up our lyre,

The bluebirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, like a faithful choir,

Raise a song that makes the weary believe there will be love after death.

The woods themselves join forgotten bodies, blighted stumps, and birds

In “Alleluias” for this sacred, hallowed ground . Amen.

As we walk through Holy Week together, may your soul be challenged and may it find rest. #loveheals

--becca

image credit: pixabay.com

Sermon: Going to the Mountaintop

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The dog ate my sermon. I had something so beautiful. The dog didn’t exactly eat my sermon, but basically my two dogs in my life, and the million distractions, and my lazy attitude, and my fearful self, and the hours I spent fretting over things I cannot change instead of reciting the serenity prayer, all ate all the time I was going to use to write something magnificent. What’s your excuse? What’s your excuse for not doing what your potential was for your spiritual journey? That is the way today started out for me with when I was reflecting on this gospel. Those disciples with our Lord did not start out on the mountain. This is the end of Epiphany, not the beginning. This is the conclusion. You don’t get the mountaintop without a lot of other things and there are a lot of reasons people don't want to go to the mountaintop. “I would love to go with you all, but the weather is supposed to be awful.” “I would love to go to the mountaintop, do you know how much I have on me right now? With my work and my kids and my finances, there is no way for me to go.” “I just got out of jail and I am on parole, there is no way I can go to the mountain.” “I’m sick. I can’t go.” “I’m not supposed to go to the mountaintop, I am supposed to tell you all to go to the mountaintop.” What’s our excuse? This season started with an idea of looking up at the stars. “I can’t look up at the stars, I will trip every time if I am trying to go on the path.” And then the season continues with the idea of the gift of prophecy, not about telling the future, but about the spiritual gifts of all of us speaking love into the present. Or else we are nothing but clanging symbols. “I would love to talk about love, except it sounds ridiculous sometimes.” In the fields that are political and the fields of economics, in the fields where you think you are talking about global issues, it seems silly to talk about love. There are a million reasons we don’t, we don’t head out on this journey.

But this Sunday is the last Sunday.The disciples have wandered around, they have preached, they have gone through the valley of the shadow of death. They have climbed in spite of their fears and wanderings up to a mountain, and they glimpsed the face of God.

Last night we had a celebration and it was beautiful, wasn’t it Hal? The Light Bearers’ night. And we invited some of the long-term, big givers and volunteers of Thistle Farms to come sit in a room. And in that room you could not remember who the givers and who the receivers were. Everybody was bathed in a light. And it was a light of gratitude. It was all of us feeling grateful. That was the warm and beautiful light going on in that room. You’re giving to me. I am giving to you and we’re both so grateful to be there.

And now I am convinced that my lesson for Epiphany of this year that will carry me up the mountaintop is gratitude - the path of the mountaintop is gratitude. Gratitude for it all. For everything we have gone through and everything we know and everything we have forgotten, and everything that has been done to us, and everything we have done to find a sense of gratitude that will lead us to a place to know that we have communion with God.

Just the day before, before the Light Bearers’ gift, before Isabel (Allende) and her beautiful team came, we gathered together as a community at Thistle Farms. In this big community of 72 people who are a part of the circle, now continuing to shine that light, there was a new woman, 24 hours into the program off the street. I was looking at her and I was thinking do you have any idea how many candles we have lit to get you here? 25, 30 thousand candles were waiting for you. I felt so grateful and it was like meeting the biggest celebrity I could imagine. Not that I know any celebrities. I am saying, it’s huge. The most honored guest, the beloved one, the prophet sitting amongst us. Nothing but gratitude that she was willing to come and what happened was when we acknowledged her is all she could do is weep, to be sitting in the middle of a community that had been waiting and loving her for a long time before we even knew her name. So we all just cried. You don't have to speak.You don’t have to have words for it. When you feel that kind of depth and gratitude after going through a lot of epiphanies and trying to understand prophesy and speaking love and when you encounter the other, it is easy to see the face of God. And to feel that transformation and gratitude that takes you to your knees. It is not foreign to us, what they experienced on that mountain. Is it? No, we have seen it, we have glimpsed it. We have glimpsed love incarnate in our midst.

I want to go to the mountain with you all more than anything in my life. I want to go with everybody who believes that love heals. I want to go with a community that wants to be with each other. To remember how it is we speak love and how it is we recognize God in each other. Think of what we would miss if we didn’t go, right? We would miss that wonderful feeling of bad cell coverage, of laying all that stuff aside that we thought was so important and just being together. We would miss those moments that are hysterical—where somebody trips and you are not supposed to laugh, and everybody laughs and one person maybe has just a tiny bit of an accident. And their laugh is so hard that it makes it even funnier. We would miss that moment when we were done for the day and we worked so hard and we sit around and we light a candle or a fire and we tell stories and recount the moment. We would miss that surprise when out of nowhere we hear the flutter of a hawk’s wing that cuts across our path. My God, the view we would miss.

When the disciples and Jesus left the mountain, they headed straight towards Jerusalem. Their hearts were so full, they were finally ready. I do not want to miss that mountaintop. I want us to keep going through all our valleys and all the meanderings and all the wanderings. I want us to head up there together. No excuses. Just to walk in love with all our hearts and minds and spirits grateful for all of our lives.

Amen.

original image credit: pixabay.com

For Hal and Michael

On the Occasion of Their Wedding: In the beginning was Love

One of the foundational properties upon which all mathematical truths are built is the transitory property. If A=B and B=C, then A=C. Scripture teaches us that God is Love. It also teaches us the Word is God. Therefore, the Word is Love. In the beginning was Love, and all things came into being through Love. Without it, not one thing was made. Darkness could not overcome Love, death could not kill it, laws and institutions could not banish it, fear could not drive it out. Love has remained from the beginning, woven into the fabric of creation like the transitory property that knows Love from God is the light for all people.

The love professed at this altar tonight by Michael and Hal is a shining ray of that same light that has been shining since the beginning.

It shines through their journey, through green pastures and through and over the tall mountain oaks. It shines through the secret depths woven in the earth. Their ray of light shines as generously as the scattered wildflowers blowing with the wind and in the sacred memory of God that holds love in an eternal heart, a heart that can roll stone and shine through the darkest times.

Hal and Michael’s love is filled with light that lives beyond feeling and is powerful enough to cut through dense forests to light new paths for others. The overflowing cup of their light spills over into the world to shine on others as they work for economic freedom and justice for all in their care for the most vulnerable. Their marriage is a powerful union that will feed the light that burns bright, but does not consume. It is a light that doesn’t burn out.

The word that is Love is costly. And so it makes sense if when seeing Michael and Hal stand and prepare to make their life vows brings a well of tears from the depths of our hearts, we weep in the face of Love.

Love that from the beginning asks us to lay down our lives for its sake, to hold it as our highest principle, and create a longing as a deer searching for its water brook. And so as we witness Michael and Hal swear their lives to each other and love, we weep, as we behold Love before us and watch them vow to live into its covenant.

So let us pause in the face of the love we behold. Let us bow our heads to the haloed bands of light pouring down upon you, Michael and Hal. Let us dance with the candle flames lit by hope and joy. Let us stand as still as a single ray in awe and thanksgiving for this moment where we hear the word, and the Word is Love.

Wherever the light carries you, the Word will be with you.

Whenever long and restless nights cast long shadows, the Word will be with you.

However you continue to share the light through your work and marriage, the Word will be with you.

This is the Word, and the Word is Love.