In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easter 3

Blog post for Easter 3C 2010: Acts 9:1-6, 7-20, John 21:1-19 by The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy

Conversion seems to be the theme of the day. Of course it’s obvious in the story of Saul that we have been hearing as long as we have been going to church. This tormentor of the early Christians is knocked from his horse, blinded by a light from heaven, and hears a voice that he comes to identify as the Jesus he has been persecuting. After three days without sight and food, he is transformed and converted. As a sign of his conversion he is baptized and then, we are told, “Immediately” goes out and begins proclaiming that Jesus is the son of God. We know from the “rest of the story” that he became Paul, Apostle, evangelist and martyr.

Those are the kinds of conversion tales that we might be used to. Dramatic tales of coming from darkness to light, not knowing to knowing, a complete turning of a way of life from one thing to another…once and for all. But of course not all conversions are like that.

In the Saul conversion story is another slightly less dramatic one…Ananias, who appears to be already on a first name basis with God seems to have to undergo a little conversion as part of that tale, too. For despite Ananias’ obvious recognition of the Lord when he spoke to him, he seemed to have a little problem with trust when it came to doing what the Lord requested. “Oh, no….not Saul…I have heard about HIM….he’s a bad actor….” God has to do a little work with Ananias, before he is willing to see things God’s way and go out and minister to Saul. Ananias has his own little conversion experience here, too. Less flashy and dramatic, but no less important in his relationship with his God. No less important in his own formation as a disciple.

And speaking of the disciples….our Gospel this morning finds them again wandering about in need of a bit of their own conversion. We know that it is sometime after Jesus has appeared the second time to the disciples, and a group of the disciples decided to go fishing. Not too strange. They were, after all, fishermen. This must have been an odd time for them. Still in their minds was the memory of Jesus’ death. They knew one of their own had handed him over. Possibly they were remembering their own behavior during his trial and crucifixion. May they were thinking about their confusion and joy when it became clear to them that Jesus was in some very real way alive among them again after the resurrection, talking and teaching again, wishing them peace, talking about forgiveness and the Spirit being among them. You know, I’m guessing that even though the disciples were thrilled to have Jesus with them, they also were somewhat disconcerted and puzzled, and maybe they not quite sure what to make of it all. Remember, these are the fellows who didn’t take direction very well when Jesus was right there alive with them, and were fairly clueless about his, and their, mission. Simply having the post-resurrection Jesus with them didn’t make them get purposeful! So, it seems they did what we tend to do when we aren’t really sure of the right thing to do…they fell back on the thing they knew, the thing that they were sure of and in which they felt comfortable. And who knows, they might have just been hungry and broke and needed to earn a few denarii besides!

Among them is Peter. Peter who very soon after encountering Jesus for the first time falls to his knees and says “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Peter, who when he sees Jesus walking toward him on the water says . "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." But then who a few minutes later is sputtering in the waves, half drowned, having panicked and lost faith. Peter, the one who, when Jesus inquires about who it is the disciples believe him to be blurts out, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Peter who wants to build tents at the transfiguration. Peter, who like the others, falls asleep when Jesus asks them to watch with him. Peter, who asserts "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Hotheaded Peter, who on the day Jesus was arrested cut off the ear of the high-priest’s slave to defend Jesus, and within hours denied that he ever heard of Jesus, to save his own skin.

Oh-so-human Peter, who, in today’s Gospel, when he realizes it is Jesus on the shore, jumps into the sea and lets the rest of the disciples haul in the catch. This catch so reminiscent of the one on the first day they met Jesus. He must of have been thinking of that day. I wonder what else he was thinking. About the crucifixion and his part in that whole awful drama? Was he wishing that he could turn back the clock and have a “do over?” Was he thinking, “How will it be with us when I meet Jesus one on one again, how can I face Him, what will I say, what will HE say?” We have no record if Jesus spoke with Him at the other gatherings, but we know that today, Peter and Jesus do come face to face.

Jesus has fed them, and when they finished, Jesus turns to Peter. “Simon, son of John,” Jesus addresses him by his full name, “do you love me more than these.” These? These what? These other fellows around us? These boats and nets that he used to catch the fish he made his living with? We don’t know. Jesus is not specific. But Peter knew. And he answered Jesus, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.” And Jesus responds with a charge for Peter....”Feed my lambs.” But once is not enough for Jesus with Peter. Once is not enough to ask, “Do you love me?” Again, Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter answers again in the affirmative, and again, Jesus gives him a task, telling him to “Tend my sheep.” And again a third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And Peter, God love him, is hurt at that, that Jesus needs to keep asking. Oh, How quickly we can forget our own failures and betrayals! Ever been there? “Oh, How could ask me, you KNOW I love you!” But Jesus never loses either His patience or His focus. Again, He responds with the task, “Feed my sheep,”

Yes, this is a conversion story, too. That day on the beach Peter was healed, reconciled, converted and called again to his life. He knew beyond a doubt that day on the beach with Jesus that he was forgiven and reconnected to Jesus. He experienced that his act of betrayal was wiped away by a power that was stronger than anything he had ever known before. We know from the “rest of the story” that Peter did indeed follow the call and that he did become a leader in the new faith movement that followed Pentecost and that he did die a martyr’s death “to glorify God.”

Peter often ends up serving as a kind of alter-ego for me. Often when I encounter Jesus, my first thoughts are how absolutely unworthy I am, and my first inclination is to run away, afraid somehow that He will see and reject my sinful self. Forgetting of course that He created me, loves me, knows and graces me, not in spite of who I am but because of it.

I am this Peter who has in one moment such faith, believing that if Jesus commanded it, I too could walk on water, and in the next, screaming in fear and sinking in the waves. And somehow, I believe I am not alone in this!

So sure one breath that God is who God is, but then in the next, faltering, confused, questioning and unsure.

I too have a hard time staying awake, staying conscious, paying attention in the way God asks of me. It is too hard sometimes, too painful to see the things God asks me to pay attention to, listen to, have compassion for, do something about. So, like Peter and his friends, I fall asleep.

And like Peter, it is so much easier to just haul out my sword and whack off someone’s appendages (figuratively of course—we ARE in Minnesota) than it is to stand by quietly and own the truth. Yes, I do stand for Jesus. Yes I am with Him. And with them, too. Those He touched, and ate with, championed and healed. Yes, I am here for them, too.

And, like Peter when I realize it is Jesus on the shore of my life calling me back, I want to hide myself, run away, have a do over. But like there was for Peter, there is something in that invitation that is so gentle, so welcoming, so full of grace and peace….come and eat, be fed….that I, that we cannot resist. And so we do come and are fed. And the conversation can begin….”Do you love me”….not once the question is asked but again and again until the answer satisfies. And not simply “do you love me” but do you love me MORE THAN THESE. Peter knew what it meant. What “these” were. Friends. Boats. Nets. Fish. Being “Peter the guy who catches the most and shiniest fish on Tiberius.” Whatever it was, he knew. We know. And Jesus asks us, “Do you love me more than them?” Hard question. Scary question. Question requiring something in the answer.

And then, if we answer yes, what happens? We are given a task, work….and not easy work. The work that Jesus did…the care and feeding of the least and the hardest. The stuff that got him killed, and he wants us to participate in it, too. It’s no wonder by the third time Jesus asked him, Peter was feeling sad. Two weeks out from “He is risen Alleluia!” and we are into the hard nitty gritty of the gospel. We are called to the task of creating God’s kingdom on earth. We are fitted to this task not by virtue of our own great strength or virtue but by grace. God’s promise to us is not that that it will not be hard work, that there will be no struggle, no pain, no times when we will fall flat on our very human little faces. But God’s very real promise to us is that in the resurrected incarnated redeemer, we have a risen One who has destroyed the power of death, the “big d” Death and our own little daily deaths. God says to us in Jesus that He asks us to do nothing that has not already been done for us. This is what we say “Alleluia” about!

Peter finally understood. No fear is too great to overcome, no sin too great to be forgiven. This Love, indeed, conquers all. And so we -- like Saul the persecutor who became Paul the Disciple, like Ananias, like Peter, and every other follower who has been converted and transformed by the grace of God can join the psalmist in proclaiming: "You have turned my mourning into dancing....O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever!"

So accompanied by them and all of those in the great cloud of converted witnesses before us, we go back once again to the sea shore. Breakfast has ended, and Jesus calls us by our name and asks, “Do you love me more than these? Do you love me? Do you love me? Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter 2

“When it was evening that day, the first day of the week the doors of the house where the disciples met were locked for fear...”a reflection on the Gospel for Easter 2: John 20:19-31 by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

As this gospel reading begins we are in the evening of Easter Day. Jesus first appears to the disciples that very night. And he finds them hiding in fear. Their fear is justified, of course. Any of us would do the same thing if we had lived through the same three days as these disciples. If our friend had been killed, if we had abandoned that friend in her hour of need, if we had learned that somehow that friend was now alive – or something – because the body was missing. We’d be traumatized and afraid of what was coming next. Whenever we experience a series of bad events coming at us quickly, events that leave us suffering and confused we tend to shut down and hide in fear. It’s natural.

Several years ago Joan Chittister spoke on the subject of suffering at a conference at Chautauqua in New York State. Her presentation “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, the 9 Gifts of Suffering” has now been printed in a book by the same title.

The premise is that all people suffer. Each of us has this one common denominator in life, times of suffering. They come she says, just when we think life is perfect. Wham. Everything changes. Someone dies. Someone get sick. Depression hits. A job is lost. The list could continue on. We all suffer when life changes dramatically for unexpected reasons when we least expect it. These struggles are not just some mere inconvenience. These struggles are irreparable change. Life will never be the same again.

And the point is, how do we go about living through these times of great suffering with out giving up the soul?

She lists 9 struggles and the gift that comes from the struggle. By gift she means what we learn about ourselves, our lives, our faith, by living through the struggle.

The first struggle is change. Struggle brings unwanted change. The disciples have faced an unbelievable change: Jesus has been crucified. From this place of profound change comes the gift of conversion, we learn to recreate ourselves. For the disciples this struggle began with them running away but led to the resurrection. Throughout the Easter season, for the next seven weeks, we will hear resurrection stories in our Gospel. On Pentecost we learn that these stories led to a conversion of strength and courage in the disciples. It was the disciples new found strength, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, that built the Church. And from the early church came a legacy of human transformation that has lived over 2000 years.

The second is isolation. The struggle leaves us feeling alone, and in deep pain. The disciples are hiding in the room with the doors locked. They are hiding in fear. From isolation comes the gift of independence. Actively working to move through our suffering days leads us to a place where we can become independent from our pain, we learn to insist on living despite the pain. Anyone who has lived with a chronic illness or suffered for a long time knows this reality. Buddhists call this “mindfulness” having an observing eye, able to look with some detachment at the circumstances of one’s life even as one lives and feels life fully.

The third is darkness and its gift is faith. In the darkness of losing everything we come to believe in a life beyond the life we know, something greater than we are is acting in the world. On our darkest days it’s that something that gets us up in the morning. God stays with us in these dark moments. We are not abandoned. Jesus returns to the disciples, finds them in their darkest moment, in this room, and assures them that they are not alone. He is with them always. “My peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you.” His resurrected body bears the marks of his tragic death , resurrection did not remove the marks. Those marks of suffering remain and become part of his new life.

Forth is fear. In our struggle we face things we do not understand and cannot name. We are paralyzed by our unknowing, but in moving through the fear we come to know the gift of courage. Every tiny act of courage: getting out of bed in the morning. Going to work each day. Seeking help. Each step we take to move through the fear produces in us a little bit of courage. Each little step puts us back in control of our lives, even if on a small scale.

Fifth is powerlessness and its gift of surrender. It is not defensive. And it is not a giving over of the self. It is not an absence of self. However, it is the realization that we are not in control of everything. This surrender is trusting that someone greater than we are is there to hold us up and keep us going. For Christians this is clearly the message of God’s love poured out in Christ. We sing, Christ beneath us, Christ above us, Christ behind us, Christ before us…where ever we go Christ is there.

Sixth is vulnerability and its gift of self acceptance. In moving through the struggle we come to a place where we have to admit that we are wounded. We need to accept our own weaknesses. Especially the way we hurt others. It is from their vulnerability that the disciples finally changed. Their weakness becomes their strength. Like the disciples when we are able to accept ourselves for being who are we acquire a position of humility and grace. We come to know that God loves us in our brokenness, just as we are. Being loved like this by a gracious God enables us to love others just as they are.

Seventh is exhaustion – moving through struggle wears us out. But the gift of moving through struggle, of living though the exhaustion, the gift is endurance. We learn that life begins again. Endurance brings us hope.

Eighth is scarring. We cannot move through struggle without becoming scarred. Our woundedness leaves marks on us. These marks can make us bitter. Or they can make us better. We can become better people through our struggles. The very process of moving through the struggle, of becoming scarred, is the same process that makes us better people. Our woundedness, our scars, become the source of our compassion, our hope, our faith, our strength. We wear our scars gracefully when we are gentle with ourselves and others, when we live with compassion.

Jesus is marked. He appears in the room and shows these marks to the disciples. It is a sign to them that he is who he is. He is their friend. He is Jesus. He loves them just as they are. He has come to help them move through their deepest struggle. He has come again to help them be more fully who they are meant to be. The gift of scarring is hope.

Like Jesus our scars, our wounds, can be the source of transformation in to new life. We all know people who do not move through struggles with grace and hope, people who become angry and bitter. That is one way our struggles can change us. But Jesus offers us another way. Jesus, though scarred is now even more, a fuller expression of the love of God poured out for all humanity. This love is now able to be fully present to all of the disciples, and all of us, all the time. In the resurrection Jesus becomes the bridge for us between the divine world of God’s love and the human world of suffering. Jesus offers us a way, a path, a means, for moving through the struggles of life into new life. The process, the struggle, the transformation, is the peace of Christ.

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.'"

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Reflections for Easter, April 4, 2010 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

In 1999 I was a university chaplain, and our Sunday services were held in the afternoon. On Easter that meant reading the gospel story of the disciples encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Our congregation had walked through all of Holy Week together, including a late Saturday night vigil at the cathedral. Some even attended Sunday morning services at local churches. But our communal Easter centered on this reading from Luke, of the two friends on the road and the mysterious stranger they meet.

In 1999, different wars were raging than the ones that rage now, so when you read this sermon, insert the conflict that preoccupies your conscience in place of the one I mentioned then. But profoundly, the date – April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King –is the same this year as then. Something not to be lost in the frenzy of last minute Easter preparations as we rush to Alleluia.

It is true! Jesus was raised from the dead, walks, talks, eats, drinks – it was too astounding for the disciples to believe.

Death is far more believable. Struggling and discontent are more frequently our companions than one who makes our hearts burn within us, one who opens our minds to truth and reason.

On Friday, when we walked the Way of the Cross on campus, I was struck with how life continued to swirl around us, life in all of its mundane, ordinary splendor. In the back of my mind all week, though, has been the war in the Balkans, the suffering of the Kosovars, the apparent futility of NATO’s heavy bombing.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life – and death – was a witness to the power of non-violence. Imagine this: NATO troops marching into Kosovo like the civil rights marchers did into Birmingham, into Selma, into the face of violence, hatred and for some death. What if they put their bodies between the Kosovars and those who hate them, as did the young Episcopal seminarian, Jonathan Daniels, whose body stopped a bullet intended for a black woman trying to register to vote? It’s a foolish fantasy of mine. The power of those who hate and kill is too strong.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus lived in the same reality we live in, a reality marked by finitude and scarred by pain. Not enough good things happen to us for us to take on face value something spectacular that appears before our very eyes. We may feel it in our hearts, but our minds, world-weary and skeptical, can’t quite take it in. The currents of despair, filled with the flotsam and jetsam of day-to-day life, swirl around us.

Yet the astounding thing about this story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, is that the appearance of the risen Lord is so ordinary. He walks and talks with them on a familiar road. He sits down and shares a meal. My favorite painting of this story is by the Italian artist, Caravaggio. It shows three men sitting around a simple table, a peasant’s table, with a meal of wine and bread and roast chicken in front of them. One of the men is obviously, to our eyes, Jesus. The other two men are brawny (probably Italian) peasants, with strong, working-men’s arms and rough hands and sturdy, no-nonsense faces. The painter catches them at the moment of recognition that this man sitting with them, talking with them, is Jesus. You can see the movement in the painting, the men catching their breath as they rise out of their chairs, their hands beginning to reach out to their beloved friend.

Jesus comes after his death as he came in his birth: in the humblest of circumstances to the simplest and poorest of people. No chariots of fire, no Roman legions converted en masse, no temple rulers falling at his feet. The astonishment of it is that this is how Jesus comes to us: in the middle of our ordinary lives, when we least expect it, in the simplest of settings. In a gesture of hospitality and welcome, Jesus is known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Our prayers in the Easter season rise to heaven, yearning that more people will hear the simplicity of this astounding fact: the death that seems to reign supreme in so many parts of this troubled world is vanquished. Put down your weapons. Join hands. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!