Saturday, April 13, 2019

My Final Sermon at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

Madeleine L'Engle "Rather than feeling lost and unimportant and meaningless, set against galaxies which go beyond the reach of the furthest telescopes, I feel that my life has meaning. Perhaps I should feel insignificant, but instead I feel a soaring in my heart that the God who could create all this — and out of nothing — can still count the hairs of my head."

Today’s Gospel:  At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Pope John XXIII welcomed a delegation of Jewish visitors early in his pontificate, by walking over to them with open arms and saying: 'I am Joseph, your brother'   

This week in New Zealand a man in a mosque called out, “Hello brother” and then was shot to death by the man he had just greeted.

Today’s gospel reading, as well other New Testament passages have been used to inspire hatred towards our brothers and sisters of other faiths. There are far too many Christians who celebrated what happened to the Muslims in New Zealand.  These Christians will also tell us that the holocaust never happened or it was a good thing.

When I tell someone I am a Christian, do they wonder if I hate the other? Do they ponder how I can be such a thing?  How can Wayne associate with such a religion? When I was a teenager, I decided that I couldn’t and I walked away from the church. Ronald Reagan and the moral majority’s lack of compassion for the hungry, the homeless, and the environment; just confirmed in my head that I had made the right decision. I’d rather spend time with birds on a Sunday morning.

If you described yourself as a bird, what would you choose? A robin, Bald Eagle, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Great Blue Heron, Canadian Goose, Red-bellied Woodpecker, or possibly a sparrow? How about a chicken?

The day before I wrote these words I told a student holding a water bottle to make his one spray of water a good one. Then I got wet. You see, we were dampening the seeds we had just planted when a student dared me to spray his friend, who was the student with the spray bottle. I did, and then explained to the shocked student that I had no other option. I said, “I was dared and if I hadn’t done it; then the class would have left and told everyone I was a chicken. Isn’t that what being a real man is all about.”  Then I let him spray me with water.

We don’t want to be called chicken. The flavor of chicken is described with a lack of enthusiasm and their meat are not respected in fine restaurants. We probably would not want our God to be a chicken, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus compared himself to a chicken.

Not a  powerful male fighting rooster, but a female hen, who will not fight the fox. The passage that has inspired people to feel righteous in the killing of the other faith, is transformed into an image of a God that is feminine. It is a favorite of theologians tired of male pronouns for God. Tired of the paintings of God as a man. Tired of God the father. Why not she sent her son? Why not mother, son, and Holy Spirit?

And I’m left to ponder why so few paintings display God as a domesticated bird?

DOMESTICATE: to tame, especially by generations of breeding, to live in close association with human beings as a pet or work animal and usually creating a dependency so that the animal loses its ability to live in the wild.

Did we domesticate animals or did they domesticate themselves? Did we take the fiercest wolf and convert it into a poodle? Or was it the wolves that tolerated humans who domesticated themselves by entering our communities, and then became our pets.

We have created chickens that have no choice but to quickly become obese and die. Other chickens live in tiny cages laying eggs in their own filth. Some now celebrate eggs coming from chickens who have a chance to roam free, a bit less domesticated.

The idea of a God who became domesticated into the incarnation continues to be hard thing for people to believe, but an incarnation who was covered with the filth of lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors was blasphemous. Why would God do that?

One painting in 1940 has been reproduced half a billion times showing us how so many Christians truly wanted to clean up and domesticate Jesus, from a leper touching Arab to a cleaned up white man.

If Jesus was truly God, then can you imagine God not as an old dude sitting on a throne, but as an unclean servant or as a mother hen protecting her brood. “Here,” God as a mother says, “I will die if I have to in order to save my children.”  “The fox is approaching. All I can do is hope that if have my body broken for you, if I shed my blood to feed the fox; then you will escape. Let me gather you together.”

Christians gather together in congregations with the hope that God will be with us. To father us. To mother us. To send us out into the world filled with foxes with the hope that we can once again gather together to feel safe. To speak of gathering at this time is no easy task for us at Holy Trinity. I read this week that on average nine churches close every single day here in the US. On Easter Sunday we become one of those.

And my mind goes back to the first Sunday of Advent in 1997, when I had walked back into a church on my own accord for the first time in nearly two decades.   At one point in the service the UCC minister welcomed visitors and suggested that since we had chosen the first Sunday of Advent to visit, that maybe we could return for all the Sundays of Advent. As Christmas approached I was being drawn into the community, but my anger towards certain Christians remained. On Christmas Day I went for communion. The minister explained that he was asking us to try something. He explained how extreme unction was a Catholic sacrament given to those near death. He spoke of how we carry with us things that need to die.  Then he broke the bread and offered us a chance to release something that hindered our spirit.

I am still saddened by those who would rather worship an Eagle God calling us to destroy those of other faiths, versus a mother hen that gathers up the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the joyful and the sorrowful, but by releasing some anger on that Christmas morning I was able to enter into a new life.  

Making the choice to close our doors is facing financial reality. Walking out of these doors on Easter will be brutal. I was challenged by the UCC minister to enter into a journey with God. I was not promised a good life, but hopefully a more meaningful one. I invite all of you gathered here today to walk with me to Easter. And when we break bread between now and then may we come forth to release any anger we hold in our hearts over our need to  leave this building.

 So release the anger you may be holding for past ministers or our current minister. Release your bitterness towards past and present vestries. I do believe this vestry could have done it better, but no one gave us the perfect guide to close a church. And release the frustration of friends who left 22 years ago, or 22 months ago, or 22 days ago. I believe most of those who have worshiped here will grieve with us when they hear the news. Remember all who have been guided to a more peaceful and generous life because of the spiritual seeds we have planted at Holy Trinity.

Take the bread. Drink the wine. Release the feelings that create darkness and celebrate the beauty of Holy Trinity.

So much of what I have written is contained within a short quote by Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker and writer who worked with her father to help many Jews escape the Nazis by hiding them in her home until she was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. She wrote, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."

 Maybe it was God the father that whispered some wisdom in my ear during a vestry meeting, “Enough already, close the doors on Easter.”  But it is God the Mother who will guide us to gather. We will likely scatter like a bunch of scared young chicks. But wherever you gather next, please speak of your present spiritual home, which we have shared together, with love. This place and community deserves it.