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Homily

Homily: "I’m Looking for the Shepherd"

Homily: "I’m Looking for the Shepherd"

Image Credit: Pixabay.com 

Image Credit: Pixabay.com 

 

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:1-10

There are seasons for all disciples to wander: to be the widow looking for the lost coin, to be again the lost sheep, and to try to figure out where you are. This journey in Luke is about remembering when all of us are in that season. It is a great period and a great way to start this fall. Jesus takes these ideas of the lost sheep and the woman with the lost coin to say that’s who you need to be. You need to be remembering when you are lost and when you have been wandering. We have all been in those seasons. Whether we’re wandering fisher folk, or we’re students inquiring and asking questions about everything, or just remembering that all of us are broken vessels, trying to find that place where we take that brokenness and move it into compassion. We’re supposed to question, lose our way, and feel that sense of rejoicing at being found. Jesus takes that as a launching point for the next four chapters. It’s amazing. Jesus is going to say this is how the lost sheep lived deeply with intention, this is how those who are lost and have been found live. He gives us all these beautiful attributes of good discipleship: How do we live as found people who have a sense of rejoicing after this feeling in our season of amazing wandering?

I have wandered beautifully all summer. Never, ever have I had that time in my life. Never that I remember. I have learned to see the cicada as a gift. That was huge for me. To really vibrate with that timbre, that sound they make with their wings, to be able to dance and move in the woods with them was awesome. Getting to learn how to do the crow in yoga was huge for me. Closets cleaned, television watched, book written—check, check. This whole book on how love heals.

Nothing will make you feel sicker than to try to remember what it is we truly believe and to wander for hours and hours out in the woods. What I have learned in that wandering about lost sheep is—lost sheep don’t really want to hang out with other lost sheep. It is good to be alone in that. You don’t need other people who are wandering and confused. I’m looking for the shepherd. I’m looking for some answers. I’m looking for some clarity. And when you are in that space, that is what it is like. When people are grieving, they ask, “Tell me how can I negotiate a path through this?” When people are in pain, “I would like some helpful hints for relief from this pain.” When I am questioning everything, I want to feel there is a place that will ground me again. Lost sheep are looking for that rooting, as I, when I am wandering and looking for that rooting.

The second thing I learned about lost sheep is that they spook easily. When you are wandering and wandering, anything that stirs in the bushes can wish you harm. You know you are in that place where every fortune cookie might really mean something. Where all that free-floating anxiety you think might actually be a cancer in your life could be real or some kind of illness not yet manifested. When we are in that space, we remember lost sheep are not hard to find. You can look around you and see them all day long. What’s hard is to keep them in a fold where they feel safe enough to get healing and help—to know that sense of rejoicing. Another thing I have learned about lost sheep is there is nothing like the rejoicing of finding some clarity and hope in our lives. When Jesus talks about that rejoicing, that is real.

One of the places I went this summer was New Hampshire to a community that is starting a whole anti-trafficking program for women around the whole diocese. I took with me Karlee, one of the emerging leaders of Thistle Farms, who is doing beautiful work. I baptized her baby, Skye, a couple years ago. She was talking to the group and in the middle of her talk, she said, “God believed in me enough to come find me.” We have heard a million times, “I believed in God enough. I wonder about God enough.” But the idea that God is believing enough in us to come find us again is a beautiful testimony to what it is like to be lost and found and then rejoicing. God is faithful. God is not the issue in lost sheep’s lives. There are a lot of other issues, plenty, but the faithfulness of a God who comes searching for us is a holy beautiful gift that we are called to remember. God believed in us that much to come one more time looking and gathers these beautiful sheep in a community.

Luke’s Gospel lays out beautiful attributes about what you and I are supposed to do with this knowledge, that it is okay to be lost and amazing to be found. What do we with that? That is the reality of our discipleship. So Jesus starts off and says that the first attribute is you need to be shrewd. Shrewdness is good. He tells the story of the shrewd business guy. The community of St. Augustine’s is about that. We are going to take that attribute as we have bought into this idea of a green burial. We are going to have the first conservation cemetery in Tennessee. We are going to bury each other cheaply, and we’re going to conserve land with theological integrity. We can use those business concepts and turn it around to be good for the kingdom. We don’t need to be afraid of it.

Then Jesus takes the concept of being grateful. He uses the story of the lepers, the tenth chapter of Luke: ten get healed and one comes back and says, “Thank you.” The idea that people got cured, but one was made well with gratitude.

The following Gospel is the story of the persistent widow. So not only do we have to be shrewd and grateful, but we have to be persistent, we have to be dogged. And my persistent thought this whole sabbatical has been about those Syrian refugees stuck in Greece. You’ve heard those stories, and you keep hearing about how they were so persistent, risking their lives to escape, and how there is no place to welcome them. I keep thinking about how I want to go, and I want to figure out something to do to give them hope. I want to figure out how to start a powerful social enterprise for the women who are going to be in Greece for a long time in those refugee camps. It may be taking those life vests and turning them into welcome mats that we can have everywhere as a sign of welcome and have real economic empowerment there. New ideas that build up in us could be lost, then found and become persistent in our dreams about justice. We are not giving up. We are going to keep going. We are going to think of a million new ways to do it.

Then the next attribute is humility. Jesus talks about the tax collector standing and beating his chest, with the Pharisee saying, “I am glad I am not as bad as that guy.” So the idea is we have to be humble. We have to do the work that seems so little, the work that seems as though it may be beneath us, to get us back to the earth. I love that we can never get past the same call to discipleship that is about repentance and humility and knowing how much we are indebted to each other.

The fifth attribute and the last in this cycle is generosity. Zacchaeus is in the tree and this idea of his generous gift is huge. All of us could be more generous of the things we are hoarding and holding onto. So tightfisted, it gets us nowhere, but this idea of generosity we are creating, this beautiful place where there is plenty for all, fills us and keeps us great. It lingers for a moment, then is rooted to rise.

So that’s the story. You and I go through various seasons, and we come back together. We rejoice that God believed in us just enough to come find us one more time. To remind us to be shrewd, to be grateful, to be humble, to be persistent, and generous so that we can be part of a powerful community witnessing to God’s love in this world. And to go seek out all those sheep who are still wandering. Amen.

"Love Rises:" Pentecost Sermon, May 2016

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"We are this beautiful gift of God, given to this world to bear witness of what love looks like."--Becca

On May 15, 2016, Becca shared a sermon on Pentecost with the congregation of Marble Collegiate Church. As you watch the video below, we hope you feel inspired by love.

 

Thank you to Pastor Brown and your community for hosting Thistle Farms.

Original Recording Credit: Marble Congregational Church Original Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Sermon: "Our Hearts Were Burning"

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There is a part of our interior lives that almost nothing can touch. It exists in the deep space that holds the memory of what has been forgotten as well as what we hold onto. It is the place that longs for the love of God to be requited like a thirsty deer longs for a water brook. Such places exist in secret, beyond accolades, relationships, or work. They dwell in the sacred part of us that the psalmist said is woven in secret beneath the earth. I have seen glimpses of that space in others and have known it in myself like I know the back of my hand. It is where thoughts grow, fear hovers, and wonderings take on a life of their own.  All of us know that space within ourselves. We conjure up that place without consciousness. Mystics, disciples, entrepreneurs, and pilgrims are guided by some of the lessons from that divine spark that lives within. One of the great forefather’s of the Civil Rights movement, Howard Thurman, was a gifted writer, chaplain, mystic and social justice advocate who also talked about his first encounter with that interior place. He describes being a young child in a segregated south at the turn of the 20th century and going to sit under a big oak tree. There he said he found a relationship that could commune with his loneliness.  He said that the tree was one of his first teachers to show him the vital importance of paying attention to the interior fire and fear within.  As a writer he described this space as a kind of lining around our hearts with sentries standing guard so that nothing can harm that sacred and wounded space held in secret. 

On Wednesday nights this Easter Season, Claire Browne has been leading us through reflections on the practice of living into the truth of resurrection. Last week several people spoke about times recently in which they saw signs of resurrection and the face of God. Such reflections have felt like a call to pay attention to that interior place and to practice letting down our guarded and blind hearts to allow love to sink in. When stone becomes flesh and brokenness transforms into compassion, those are moments that initiate the healing of ourselves and the world.

In the post resurrection story in the Gospel of Luke, the disciples were walking down the road to Emmaus and met a man who walks with them. With overwhelming grief and brokenness emanating from within, they don’t recognize him even though he is right beside them. The guards around their sacred hearts were standing tall. But there was that place that burned within them they recalled. Such a burning was a sign that the author of the spirit and the guide on road was close. That place calls us on our spiritual journey.

It is the host at communion that holds the possibility of transforming a broken piece of bread into a sacred meal. This rich interior life calls us to attention, even as we try to ignore it. It burns within and when we allow forgiveness, hope, and all the other gifts freely given to us all to let our guards down, we can feel resurrection.

In the iconic images of the Sacred Heart, the robe is pulled back to reveal a heart with a haloed light. There is pain and holiness in that image, but what radiates is a heart open to the world that burns, for love; the most powerful force on earth. That heart and its haloed sacred lining reveal the truth that nothing stands between us and seeing love resurrected around us while we are walking down the road. The sacred heart beats within us and burns when we walk near the holiness and hope of resurrected love. When we see with eyes searching for signs and hear with ears tuned into hope, we can feel our own healing and sacred hearts.

About 20 folks that gathered last Wednesday nights at the chapel talked about such experiences as seeing Christ in a doctor who came to a friend’s bedside, how they recognized the face of God in a stranger who showed compassion, about hearing creation sing in the song of flowers. All of them describe a well of tears behind their eyes, a burning of their hearts, and deep gratitude that turned an ordinary moment into a sacred path of healing. Such moments are there for all of us to behold.

I have spent so much time in Vans and Airplanes this past year, traveling and speaking to conventions, as thistle farms share the story of how love heals. Whenever I travel I am with a group of survivors who also come bearing their sacred hearts and sometimes it is hard. If you are tired, having a bad day, or grieving, it can close the kindest of hearts. Especially if there is a relapse, death, or someone quits, it feels like there is a heavy blanket that covers a wounded heart and blinds us to the living God walking beside us.

On Friday we were driving through the mountains of North Carolina after sharing a justice tea party and helping start a new recovery home for women out of the work being done by Our Voice, a nonprofit community that works with survivors of sexual violence. It was a powerful and fairly intense event, so after we served the couple hundred of folks gathered the tea grown in Mexico and shared the story of the movement for women’s freedom, and after we sold thousands of dollars in body balm, we packed up our wares and headed on the road to our Emmaus---Nashville.

In that familiar rush of trying to get back, I wasn’t thinking about seeing the face of God or hearing the living word in my midst. But after a couple of hours of phone calls and emailing I stared out the window and just started listening. In the middle seats of a rented van I heard the voice of God. It startled me to hear it, and my chest burned.

There was a conversation between two of the amazing survivor leaders at Thistle Farms.  One was stressing about money, and the other started counseling her, not in broad terms but by getting out a pad and spending the next hour going through every single bill and making a budget and making a to do list to get her finances in order. You could hear the peace of God washing over the woman that was stressed. The flow of grace between them was a balm to all of us weary travelers along the road. The vision of God beside me didn’t come to me in lofty speeches or stunning images. That is the way the spirit works, as we are walking through our lives we suddenly realize our Lord has been there all along and we feel hearts beat to a rhythm of joy that makes it want to break in gratitude. I met the risen Christ in two women sharing a scary part of their lives and healing one line item at a time. Rarely do sacred moments come with rainbows and harps. Instead they come in graceful moments that give us a burning heart and remind us we are in the presence of God.

So today is a simple and deep call. Remember and feel that place in you. Thurman said toward the end of his life, "There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine. It is the only true guide you will ever have.

And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” The call to all disciples is to recognize when your heart burns, and then watch and listen as scenes before you become visions.  Feel the space when you walk beside a friend and know you are standing close to the image of God. Our journey as disciples is to walk into that space, to let down the guards, and feel our hearts burn with the presence of love.

Original Image Credit: Pixabay.com