Monday, May 18, 2015

When love comes to town

Sermon for Year B Easter 7
May 17, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

When  love comes to town

He started out his life as Riley B. King.
Born into a family of sharecroppers
in a little town outside of Itta Bena, Mississippi.
His first work as a young boy was driving a tractor in the cotton fields.
But what he really loved was music.

He loved playing music.
He loved singing.

Soon he was known—not as Riley—but  as Blues Boy King.
Later—just B.B. King.

B.B. King died on Thursday. He was 89 years old.
Death, even a good death, leaves an empty space inside of us.

When we lived in Memphis
Tom and I got to hear B.B. King play
at a club down on Beale Street.
We were sitting at a table so close to the stage
I could have reached out and touched
his Gibson guitar, the one he called Lucille.
He used to say,
“Oh, Lucille, you are the best woman I have ever known.”

B.B. King would probably be the first to have admitted
that he was no saint.
You can listen to some of his songs and easily imagine that.
Let the good times roll…

But as he aged,
he had one of those faces and demeanors
that, to me, remind me of people
who have known the bottom
but never gave up hope that there was a top.

People who have known suffering,
people who have made mistakes,
people who have known what it is
to be persecuted and judged so wrongly.

People like this—
they either become harsh and bitter—
or they completely surrender to God’s love.

B.B. King was a man
who knew the bottom,
but found the way beyond.
Through music.

When love comes to town I’m going to jump that train
When love comes to town I’m going to catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.

Jesus is the love that came to town.
Jesus knows this.
At least he knows it and claims it in John’s gospel.

In the gospel we hear this morning,
Jesus is praying.

Jesus seems to always take time to pray.
I laugh at myself sometimes when I miss
my prayer time and make the excuse (to myself),
“It was just such a busy day ahead.”
What? Do I think that Jesus was not busy?
Yet Jesus seems to always find the time to pray.

Jesus is praying,
he is having a conversation with God
and he is saying,

Look! I love these people that are here,
alive and in the world.
You gave them to me to love and I did and I do.
And if I am no longer going to be in this world,
I need you, God,
to protect them,
to take care of them,
to guard them.
To make sure,
to make sure,
 they know they are loved.

Jesus knows that God’s love is enormous.
He also knows that we humans can be so blind,
so deaf, so clueless
about this great and unconditional love.

Jesus also knows that love will not prevent us
from being hurt
or suffering pain or experiencing disappointment
or making mistakes.

Love is not a magic pill.
But God’s love is real
and present
and available
for all of us.

In the Collect today we pray, do not leave us comfortless.

Do not leave us comfortless but send us your Holy Spirit
to strengthen us and exalt us—
to lift us up from the bottom
and remind us that your arms are wrapped around us,

Remind us
that you are right here, God,
with us.

Loving us through.
Loving us through
whatever difficulties, horrors, hurts, illnesses, messiness——-
that we must get through.

Loving us even through the time of our death.

When love comes to town I’m going to jump that train
When love comes to town I’m going to catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.

There is another stanza in that blues song,
one that some people don’t expect to be there,
but it is:

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.

I like the blues because the blues are honest.
The blues tell the truth that life is tough.
I think Jesus and his disciples would have made an awesome blues band.

When love comes to town…

I like this B.B. King blues song because it is not in the past tense—
when love COMES to town.
Comes to town
not CAME to town.

Because love keeps coming.

C.S. Lewis writes,
Prayer is taking the time to notice that the world is
“crowded with God.”

The world is crowded with God.
Love keeps coming.

If we only take time to look around
we discover the face of love
coming to us from so many directions—
in the people that touch our lives every day.
A family member,
the barista at Starbucks,
the fellow in the parking garage booth.

God’s love comes to us
in the beauty of creation
and fills our spirit.
Lake Champlain still takes my breath away
every single day.

Love comes to town in the word or good deed of a stranger.
Love comes to town in the likely places,
and the unlikely places.

Love comes to town and keeps on coming.
You know that energizer bunny?
The one who keeps going and going and going?

Well, God’s love is like that —
love that just keeps coming and coming and coming.
No batteries needed.

When love comes to town
I’m going to jump that train
When love comes to town
I’m going to catch that flame…..
because I’ve seen love conquer
the great divide.

We are never—-NEVER— left comfortless.

+    +    +

When I wrote this sermon and preached it this past Sunday, I thought WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN was written by B.B. King. Later that afternoon I got an email from a parishioner who sent me a YOUTUBE video of B.B. King and his band playing this song with U2. As it turns out, Bono wrote this song for B.B. King. This made me even more delighted to know the story behind this song.  --JF

God's Suitcase

Sermon Year B Easter 5
May 3, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

God’s Suitcase

Our daughter and her family 
were packing for a weekend trip,
when she overhears in the next room,
her little daughter Penelope, who just turned five,
saying to her brother Silas,
who is two years old,
“Silas, we don’t have much room in the suitcase.
We’ll have to leave your pants behind.”

I am the vine and you are the branches.

Or in the case of an older sibling to a younger one,
sometimes it is a bit more like—
I am the vine and you are a branch
and we don’t have room for your pants.

The truth is, we sometimes think that we are the vine
and everyone else is a mere branch, too.
It is easy to think the world spins around us.

Our gospel today reminds us of the truth:
none of us is the vine;
all of us are the branches. 

This is what Jesus says to his disciples in the gospel this morning.

God is the vine grower.
I, Jesus, am the vine.
You are the branches.
We are in this together.

Vines and branches, vineyards, 
bearing fruit, pruning.

These images were all instantly understandable 
to the people 
in the time and place,
the when and where,
that Jesus is talking and teaching.

The people knew about agriculture.
They knew about growing things.
They knew that pruning was necessary
in order to get the best fruit, the sweetest grapes, 
the most abundant crops.

The message here is this:
If we don’t take care of the garden,
of the vineyard,
we are likely to perish.

God’s desire for us is that we will bear fruit.
This isn’t about having children.
This is about living a life of abundance.
God’s call is to come alive!
To be alive in all we do, in whom we are.
We are called to recognize and to celebrate how connected 
we all are,
how connected and how dependent we are 
upon one another,
upon all Creation.

Look around you this morning 
at the artwork created by the children and young people
in our Church School classes. 
If you want to know what it is to really be alive,
look at the artwork of children.

Art—by children AND adults—gives us a vision
that is often deeper than what words can express.
Art helps us feel our aliveness.

This year many of our Church School classes,
including our high school youth, 
studied Creation.
From reading books like Big Momma Makes the World
to intense curriculums 
the theme of Creation,
of our connectedness, was explored.

From the beginning and beyond,
we are connected.

We are connected to other human beings.
We have families and friends.
We know about human connectedness
and we know about our deep longing for that connection.

When our connectedness, our relationships,
with one another
is fractured, 
it is painful, 
deeply and darkly painful.

We are also connected to the earth—
this fragile earth, our island home.
We are connected
to Creation,
to all that God has made,
to the world that God has dreamed.

In the Episcopal Church—
this was actually developed by the wider Anglican Communion—

we have a framework—
These Five Marks
are used to describe and to encourage 
our common commitments
as the Anglican Church and as Episcopalians:

Here are the five:

# 1—To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
This isn’t just preaching, this is what our entire worship strives to do;
this is actually what we want our lives to do. Shout out to the world
the good news.

# 2—To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
Indeed! Three cheers for Church School, our Adult Forum, EFM,                           meditation groups, CIP, and the list goes on and on.
We believe that baptism, communion, and confirmation matter.
We care about our continuing spiritual formation.

# 3—To respond to human need by loving service.
How we do this as the Episcopal Church is very diverse.
Even in this congregation it is diverse.
We certainly are enormously committed to JUMP,
but many of you also serve at Salvation Army Dinners
(there’s one coming up—sign up!), 
some of you will walk in the COTS walk today,
others travel to Haiti 
or support Episcopal Relief and Development
through your generous giving,
of time and money.
Offering pastoral care, praying for someone who needs our prayers,
that, too, is loving service.

#4—To seek to transform unjust structures of society, 
to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

This is what VIA is all about. Changing unjust systems.
Kids4Peace—-its about pursuing peace 
        and making a difference in the whole world.
Hatred and holding grudges and maintaining a hard heart
are all forms of violence.
Asking forgiveness and forgiving are ways we pursue peace.

And finally—
and this one is really what inspired me 
to talk about these 5 Marks of Mission
in this sermon today—
The fifth mark of mission is this:

# 5—To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation
and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Yes, we recycle and compost because it’s the thing to do these days,
but we also do it because it is a basic part of our faith.

We are connected.
Connected to God.
Connected to others.
Connected to Creation.

I am the vine, you are the branches.

In the movie The Empire Strikes Back,
Yoda is training Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi.

If you don’t know the Star Wars movies,
you need to know that Yoda is small.
I googled, “How tall is Yoda?” and got this answer:
Yoda is 66 centimeters tall
so Yoda is about two feet tall.

Yoda says to Luke:

"Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? 
Hmm. And well you should not. 
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. 
Life creates it, makes it grow. 
Its energy surrounds us and binds us. 
Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. 
You must feel the Force around you; 
between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere.”

My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.

This is what Jesus wants us to remember.
We are not the vine, we are the branches.
But we are connected, 
deeply, deeply connected to the vine,
to a powerful ally.

We are connected.
We are loved.
We are invited to love.
We are invited to care.

In God’s suitcase,
there is room for all our pants.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I have no proof...

Sermon for Year A Easter Vigil
April  4, 2015
The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

I have no proof....

Scholar, poet, professor,
a very faithful Christian.

He was baptized and confirmed
as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

We know him better today as
J. R. R. Tolkien,
the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tolkien loved words.
If he couldn’t find just the right word
he would invent one.

One of his invented words is the word EUCATASTROPHE.


It means: the moment when the light of deliverance 
breaks through the darkness of despair.


When evil falls and righteousness suddenly triumphs.
That moment we feel overwhelmed by joy,
“a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart,
near to or accompanied by tears.”


Tolkien formed this word by affixing the Greek prefix EU—
meaning “good”—
onto the word CATASTROPHE
which classically means “unraveling.”

EUCATASTOPHE: An unraveling that brings good.

We heard eucatastrophe throughout the readings this night,
the readings of the Vigil.

Tolkien referred to the life of Jesus
as a eucatastrophe.
Tolkien saw Jesus’ story
as one that began and ended
with joy.

From the joy of his birth to the joy of his resurrection--
but the middle?

Oh, the middle.
We all have a middle.

The middle is all about the unraveling.

We understand unraveling,
some of us know catastrophe only too well.

It is much more difficult to believe that good
and joy can emerge from the unraveling.

We can believe in Jesus’ life,
but believing in resurrection is much more challenging.

No one saw the actual resurrection,
though a number of artists have given us their view
of what it might have been  like.

People saw many events
that happened throughout the life of Jesus.

People saw the betrayal and the torture and the crucifixion.
People saw Jesus laid in a tomb.

But then Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James
and Salome—
women—-find the stone rolled away.

How was this possible?
How did Jesus go from a very real, very violent death,
recorded in history as well as in scripture,
witnessed by his disciples--
and now--
his physical body is gone.

I have no proof of the resurrection.
But I believe it is very real.

I have no proof that we are changed
when we come to the font of baptism.
But I believe we ARE changed,
marked as Christ’s own forever. Forever.

I have no proof that when a bishop lays his hands upon our head
for confirmation or reception or reaffirmation,
that our path in life will be different.

But I believe if we listen to our hearts,
our feet will be guided to a path
that is more than we ever asked or imagined.

I have no proof that when we come forward
and stretch out our hands
to receive the bread and wine
of communion
that we are transformed.

But over and over,
I see people’s lives changed.
I see my own life changed--
just by showing up,
just by taking a piece of broken bread
and a sip of wine
from a cup.
Just by showing up for a blessing.

We put aside our differences
and gather as God’s people,
passing the peace,
remembering one another in our prayers,
we are changed.
We are not the same.

The light breaks through the darkness.

How does it happen?
I do not know--
any more than I can explain how love happens.
But I know love is real.

I know love is real.

When Gandalf fears that Frodo is dead,
Aragon asks him, What does your heart tell you?

Gandalf replies, "That Frodo is alive.
Yes. Yes. He is alive."

…you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. 
He has been raised….

What does your heart tell you?
What does my heart tell me?

Yes. Yes.
He is alive.

+    +    +

Mark 16: 1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed;; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This Holy Bulb of a Morning

Holy Saturday
April 4, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

This Holy Bulb of a Morning

Today is Holy Saturday.
What this means is that today, this morning,
on our journey through Holy Week
we are standing at the tomb.

Christ has been crucified.
His body placed in the tomb.
Everything we hoped for and dreamed of is over.
And yet....

Holy Saturday, to me, is like a bulb.

Many of you know this even better than I do.

A bulb is not very attractive by most standards.
It’s dry and brittle.
It looks dead and lifeless.

Except you and I know the truth.
You and I know the rest of a bulb’s story.
We know that when this bulb is laid in the ground,
if we are patient,
if we wait,
this bulb will explode into life
and beauty.

This is resurrection.
When all that seems dead is alive again.

We have all been through those “dead” times in our lives.
Times of loss and grief and emptiness.
Times when we felt--or may feel right now--
that we are as dry and brittle as this bulb appears to be.

We all face times when there is really nothing we can DO
to make things better--
all we can do is wait.
Be patient.
Hope and believe that life will come again.

Holy Saturday is the day we remember what it is like to wait.
What it is like to not know
what the future holds.

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting
but we are called to wait with faith, with hope
believing in the deepest parts of our being
that life will burst forth again.

Resurrection will happen.
Resurrection does happen.
Over and over.

But sometimes,
like this morning
we are given the task of waiting.

Many of us cannot just sit still all day.
We have things that must get done.
Flowers to put in place.
Altars to set.
Sermons to be edited and polished a bit.
Cooking and cleaning
in preparation for visitors that will soon arrive.

Our challenge is to not let busyness and worldly responsibilities
overwhelm us this day.
Out task is to keep at least a little corner of this day Holy.
As we work,
we are called to remember why we are doing these things that need doing.

We do this work because we know
there is something beyond the tomb.

I wanted to have a bulb to hold in my hand
as I preached this sermon,
to pass around so you, too, could feel
its dry and seemingly lifeless form.

So I went to Aubuchon Hardware near by home in Shelburne,
and I bought a packet of Stargazer Lily bulbs
(my favorite of all flowers).
But when I opened the package,
this is what I found....

Not dead and lifeless
but sprouting.
Resurrection already in process.

We have seen the face of resurrection before,
and we believe that we will see it once again.

We do this work to the glory of God.
In thanksgiving,
Whether we are working or waiting,
weeping or celebrating,
we know that God is with us.

On this day,
on this very holy Saturday.
On this holy bulb of a morning.

The Fullness of Emptiness

Sermon for Maundy Thursday
April 2, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

The fullness of emptiness

We are gathered around these tables
to remember.
To remember that Jesus gathered with his disciples,
with those he loved,
even when he knew that suffering and heartache was ahead.

Maybe Jesus gathered with those he loved BECAUSE he knew
or at least suspected what was ahead.
Maybe he knew that time was short.

Jesus gathers with some of his closest friends
and gives them a mandate--this is what the word “maundy” means--
Mandatum is the Latin word.

Jesus says,
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.

Jesus gives a mandate. An order.
Today is not “Suggestion Thursday”;
today is Maundy Thursday.

Love one another as I have loved you.

I want to draw your attention to this icon.
It is best known as “The Last Supper”
but I like the Orthodox name,
which is the mystical supper or the supper of mystery.
A friend here in this parish gave me this icon from Greece.
it is a treasure to me.
It sits in my office here at the Cathedral
to remind me of the importance
of gathering together around the table.

Right next to the icon in my office sits a small wooden bowl
and a wooden spoon.
They were given to me by the Jubilee Justice ministries
on the day of my installation as your Dean.

The icon reminds me that our call is to gather around the table.
The wooden bowl and spoon remind me that we are also called
to go out into the world.
To feed the hungry and comfort the suffering.

Now there is an interesting story--a true story--
about this icon and this little wooden bowl.

I told you they sit together in my study--
on top of a low bookshelf.

One day a parishioner came by to speak with me
and she had her little granddaughter with her.
The granddaughter was around 4 years old.

So  we were talking, the grandmother and I,
when the little granddaughter hops up, races over to the bookshelf,
and flips the little wooden bowl upside down.
She then hurries back to the couch
and sits down next to her grandmother.
The little girl says not one word.

The grandmother apologizes,
I say it’s okay,
and the grandmother very patiently and politely goes over
and turns the bowl right side up.

We talk.
Again, the little granddaughter hops up,
goes over and turns the wooden bowl upside down.
yes, the grandmother gets up, goes over and turns the bowl
right side up.

This keeps happening.

Finally, the grandmother,
after turning the bowl right side up for about the seventh time,
“I think it’s time for us to go.”

We say goodbye and as they are heading out of my office,
the little grand daughter darts back in,
turns the bowl upside down--AGAIN--
and then stops and looks right at me,
pointing to the icon.
The little girl says,
“All their bowls are upside down on the table.”
And out she runs.

I look at the icon
and my eyes are opened to something I had never noticed before.
The little girl is absolutely right.
The bowls are all upside down on the table in front of Jesus
and his disciples.

But why?
I tried to find more information about this icon
but nothing was mentioned about the bowls.

It may be just an insignificant detail--
a random element of the icon--
though in truth there is seldom if ever anything random in an icon.

Is the meal over
and the bowls turned down
to say, “We are done” ?
Our time together is over, finished.

Or is the meal just beginning
and the bowls are waiting,
waiting to be turned
so that the bowls might be filled.
This is only the beginning of our breaking bread together.

Holy Week seems to me
the epitome
of simultaneous emptiness and fullness.

Jesus empties himself of everything.
His position, his power, his control--even his outer robe.

In letting go of his fullness,
Jesus releases everything---
he turns the bowl of his life upside down--
because he is filled
with all that really matters.

I see these upside down bowls
as the need we all have to let go, to empty ourselves.
When we let go,
when we empty ourselves,
there is hope that we, too, will be filled
with all that really matters.

By emptying ourselves of judgment or the need for revenge,
there is then room
to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

By letting go of our stubbornness, our pettiness, our self-righteousness,
space is created for love and for generosity.

We turn over the bowl that holds all our past hurts,
resentments and resistance,
so that we might be free
and filled with God’s mercy,
that amazing grace that God offers to each of us.

Every time I look at this icon,
I am grateful for a little girl, a child,
who showed me
the way it is this night,
gathered around a table for a mystical supper.

A little girl
who showed me the importance
of an upside down bowl.
Of letting go.
Of being empty so that we might be filled.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Chair in the Doorway

Sermon for Year B Lent 3
March 8, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

The Chair in the Doorway

...sixteen tons and what do you get
another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the Company Store....

This is an old Johnny Cash song,

A song about the life of coal miners who can’t make ends meet
no matter how hard they work.
By the end of the month the only option to feed their families
is to shop at the Company Store
where everything costs triple--or more---
and where they just keep going deeper and deeper and deeper
into debt.

Today we call it predatory lending.
It still happens.
People who can’t make it to payday get a loan.
The typical two-week payday loan
usually has an annual interest rate of around 400 %.
Yes, you heard me correctly.

These loans are not rare.
The estimate is that 12 million Americans
are trapped every year in this cycle of payday loans.
And we wonder why the poor stay poor?
Why those on the margins can’t ever get ahead?

Now the good news is that in Vermont
payday loans for exorbitant interest rates are illegal.
But yes, there are loopholes
(it seems there are always loopholes)--
but we are fortunate to live in a state
that realizes that the Company Store mentality
is not a good thing
not good for our communities
and certainly not good for individuals.

We hear in today’s gospel
that Jesus doesn’t care much
for the Company Store way of business either.

People are coming
from all over the Roman Empire to Jerusalem.
It’s probably around the year 32
and it is the season of Passover.
A very holy season.

According to their traditions,
each family is expected to make an offering to God in the temple.
This offering is usually a lamb, perhaps a calf,
or if you are of limited means, a dove.

But if you own no livestock,
if you’re poor,
or if you have had to travel a long distance
which means you could not bring an animal with you,
you have to purchase the animal
once you arrive at the Temple.

The temple merchants are greedy.
Their livestock offerings are priced off the charts.

In addition you also must pay a temple tax.

Here’s where the money changers come in.

You cannot use your regular money,
you cannot pay in the currency from your own region.
These coins are not allowed in the Temple,
because Caesar’s money--
or any coin with the image of a secular ruler-- was “unholy”.

You have to change your everyday coins into temple money,
into shekels, the local Jerusalem currency.
The money changers made quite a hefty profit
on each exchange.

It would be a very shallow interpretation of this scripture
to think that Jesus is upset
about items being sold in the temple.

Jesus is upset--very upset--
because people are cheating other human beings,
people are very purposefully taking advantage of others,
especially the poor.

Jesus is not turning over the money changers tables
because he thinks money is bad.
He is not chasing the merchants out of the temple
because he doesn’t want anything sold there.

We must not forget that there are very good merchants,
generous corporations,
who care about individuals and about communities.

Even in today’s market-driven world
so many of you
work incredibly hard on the various events and fund raisers
here at St. Paul’s.
So you can give money to others.

You don’t get richer.
The Cathedral doesn’t get richer.
We raise money
to give it away.

But in so many ways that DOES make us richer.

Christmas wreaths.
Tree saplings.
Silent auctions.

Spaghetti dinners.

There are many ways to work for justice.
Yes, our labor is important.
Our voices are essential.
But we must not scoff at raising money
or writing a check or giving away money.
Because this is another way
to make a dent in an unjust system.

We must not forget prayer and worship
for these, too, weaken the ropes that bind
the oppressed.

To give for the common good--
whether with our bodies, our creativity, our worship
or our wallets--or all of the above--
this is the good news made real and alive.
This is all justice work.

Jesus is standing in the Temple,
whip in hand,
looking a bit like Indiana Jones.

Jesus is calling for a boycott of the Company Store mentality.
Jesus is angry about injustice
and those who perpetuate it.

Jesus calls us to be angry too--
not a senseless violent rage
but an anger that is born of love and compassion
for our fellow human beings and this world we inhabit.

An anger that will strengthen us
to believe that we can make a difference.

One of my many favorite poems is one by Libby Lindsay.
Here it is:

My father left when I was eight years old.
Mom had six kids to raise.
She was educated but never worked outside the home.
Father didn’t allow that.
She had never written a check.
The money was his domain.
She didn’t know about debts he had made--
debts she became responsible for.

She went on welfare.
In 1965 the maximum benefit was $ 165 a month.
We were strangers in Boone County--no family,
no one to turn to for help but the
church we attended.
Men came to repossess our furniture.

Mom called the pastor.
He came to our house and sat in a chair
in the doorway
and wouldn’t let them take the furniture.

I’m forty now but I’ve never forgotten that.

I’ve never forgotten that.

We are constantly called
to be the people that will come and sit in a chair in the doorway
for someone else,
for someone who has been pushed to the margins,
for someone who is being beat up by bullies
over and over and over.

You do not need to be a pastor or priest or ordained in any way
to block the doorway against injustice.

We promise in our baptismal covenant
to strive for justice and peace
among all people
and respect the dignity of every human being.

We need to show up to sit in those chairs.
We need to care more about others than ourselves.

We all need to do a little spring cleaning of our own lives,
It is so easy to judge and criticize others,
especially the poor, the excluded, those who are different--
when really,
we ought to be turning over some of the sharp-edged tables
in our own lives,
and looking deeply into our own souls.

And yes, I feel certain that the merchants and the money changers
have their own story to tell as well.

But the gospel story today is clear.

Injustice is not alright.
Keeping silent is not acceptable.
Being too busy is not an excuse.
We are called to work together to protect the vulnerable
from having their souls
owed to the company store.

This fight against injustice
is the journey
to save our own souls as well.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bear Season

Sermon for Year B Lent 1
February 22, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan


Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

On Ash Wednesday,
we began our journey into Lent.
But I really think Lent began on Shrove Tuesday.

We gathered in this nave and sang.
I mean we really sang.
People of all ages and preferences
called out numbers from the hymnal
and Mark Howe played and we sang.
The nave was full--
of people and of music and of great joy.

some hurried straight downstairs
to pancakes and maple syrup and bacon and sausage.
Because you see, while we were upstairs singing
there was another crew downstairs,
setting out silverware and flipping pancakes and frying up sausage
and getting the dishwasher geared up--
making ready.
Getting ready to practice what we preach about loving and serving others.

Did I mention that the entire church was filled with glorious smells
of those pancakes getting done just right,
to that bacon crisping?
An incense everyone can live with!

After the hymn sing, a few of us went out into the cold,
into the Memorial Garden where Anthony had set up a metal fire pit
and we set a great bundle of dried palms on fire.
We stood there as they burned into ash.
For our Ash Wednesday service.
Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.

Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are, to me,
the double doors into Lent.
We embrace all that is delicious,
and then we let it go.
We embrace how much we enjoy life
and then we acknowledge
that yes, we know life is very short.

This is Jesus talking here in Mark’s gospel.

What does repent mean?
Essentially it means CHANGE.
Turn around. Go a different way.

Find a new door that will open your heart.

Speaking of doors,
ome of you may have seen the video I posted on my Facebook page this week---
the one with the bears?

This video was made in North Carolina, sent to me by a friend,
shot from a second story balcony overlooking the driveway.
Now in the driveway is our friend’s brand new Honda CRV.
And she’s shooting this video to show off their new car
and then, enter on the scene
these four bear cubs.

Not little tiny bear cubs
but more like teenager bear cubs.
Two of them immediately bound up the steps onto the deck
just below where she is standing.

But the other two go right to the brand new Honda CRV.
And guess what?
A bear can open an unlocked car door.
I kid you not.
One of the bear cubs immediately,
opens the car door--
and climbs inside.
Climbs inside their brand new car.
And then the second cub
climbs inside.

And then the two cubs up on the deck look down
and it’s as if they say,
“Hey! What are you guys doing? That looks like fun!”
And down they go
and a third cub climbs into the car
and the fourth one is just about to hop aboard
when the owner of the car,
the husband of the woman making the video,
just can’t take it any longer
and he comes bounding out of the back door,
door slamming behind him,
and the bears start coming out of that car
like clowns exiting a circus car.

Out they come and out of the driveway
and back across the road towards the woods.

And then,
and then the man
(he must be insane!!)
goes down the steps towards the car--
the bears have now turned and are watching him--
he goes to the car door and sticks his head into the car.

My brothers and sisters in Christ,
I don’t care how much Jesus loves you,
do not stick your head into a car to check if there are any more bears
still in your car!

The car must be bear free
because he slams the car door shut and
looks over at the bears
as if to say,
‘I win.”

And at that moment,
the largest of the bear cubs starts running right towards him.
Have you ever seen a human being fly up a flight of stairs?!!
It can happen!
He quickly realized that

So what on earth do bears have to do with Lent?

Lent is a season to remind us of the bears.
The bears in our lives that come out of nowhere.
The bears that surprise us, that shock us,
that throw us off balance.

Sometimes we believe we have created an impenetrable and safe fortress
to surround us and those we love--
no one can harm us.

But then we learn that some bears
are far more clever
than we ever imagined.

The bears open the door
and take their place in the driver’s seat.

The place where we thought only we sat.
We realize we have lost control.
We probably never really had control
but we thought we did.

Those bears are not named Papa and Mama and Baby bear.
These bears are a medical diagnosis we did not want,
the breakup and loss of a relationship that we believed was forever,
a spiral into an old addiction.
or even
someone we love moving on to a new adventure--
without us.

And yes, we can take a run at chasing the bears away--
and sometimes that works, that’s helpful--
but sometimes the bears turn around
and chase right after us.
Bears are fast.

Lent is a good season to be mindful of  the bears.
To pay attention to those things in our lives
that we can’t control.

I know for some of you,
it was quite a surprise to learn
that our Priest Associate Diane
is leaving the Cathedral in April.

It is hard to let go of people who have become a vital part of the life
of a community.
Change is difficult
even when a decision might be for the best,
it doesn’t make it less difficult.

Even before Diane’s decision,
a parishioner said to me,
“It feels like the Cathedral has been in transition for ever.”

That comment took me to my bookshelf
where I pulled out William Bridges’ book,
It was on my bookshelf but I had never read it.
And I thought,
I better read this book
and get some help on how to move the Cathedral out of transition.

Only what I discovered as I read
is that we never move out of transition.
That is impossible.
Because we are always in transition.
We are always changing.
The challenge is to accept,
and yes, even to welcome, change.

We need to learn to step away from our fears--
yes, there may be some bears out there
but we will never get to enjoy the ride
if we lock ourself in our house.
God is constantly calling us to change,
to accept challenges
that are outside of our comfort zone.

Diane has made a decision
to involve herself more fully
in her ministry with Kids4Peace.
That decision changes things for Diane
and for us.

Jesus goes to be baptized by John.
That decision changes things for Jesus--
and for us.

When Jesus calls us to “repent”
maybe what he is saying is,
“Come on in.
The waters of change are just fine,
the temperature is just right.
Well, just right after you’ve been in the water for awhile!”

Change is not the bear.
Our fears of change are the bears.

Back in Advent,  I had the gift of reading a manuscript,
loaned to me by a friend.
The manuscript is titled
Good News, Bad News (According to Mark).
It's pretty magnificent.
I am re-reading the manuscript in Lent.

As I read this week, the line that struck me was this:

We don’t walk into the kingdom without the hope of something better.

We don’t walk into the kingdom without the hope of something better.

Lent is the season that calls us to keep walking.
Bears or no bears,
keep walking.
Keep walking.