Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sermon for Year B Lent 1

Take this bread

Sara Miles begins her book Take This Bread with these words:

One early, cloudy morning
when I was forty-six,
I walked into a church,
ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine.

A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans—
except that up until that moment
I’d led a thoroughly secular life,
at best indifferent to religion,
more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades.

This was my first communion.
It changed everything.

It changed everything, she writes.

I think I have read this first paragraph of her book
about fifty times this week.
It is the heart of our worship as Episcopalians.

It changes everything.

If you look up the word communion in Webster’s Dictionary
you find these definitions:

A condition of civil unrest or insurrection.

No, wait!
That’s not right.
That’s the definition of commotion.
(Not to be confused with communion—
though sometimes our churches and our lives
seem more focused on commotion than communion!)

Communion is defined as :

An act or instance of sharing

A Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed …as symbols of the spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ

And there’s still a third definition:

Intimate fellowship or rapport

In our reading from Genesis this morning,
God makes a covenant with the people.
God will no longer destroy or cause commotion.
In the beginning God takes the chaos and transforms into communion.
And everything is changed.

In our gospel reading this morning,
Jesus is baptized.
And a voice from heaven calls out,
“You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Every time we come to this communion rail,
every time we take the bread in our hands, the wine to our lips,
we need to listen:
to listen with our hearts.
because what God is saying to you and to me
are those same words:
You are my beloved.
With you I am well-pleased.

Now you, like me, may sometimes question that.
You might think,
How on earth can God be well pleased with me this week?
My thoughts, my words my deeds
did not exactly make Jesus proud--
oh, not this week!

But God never abandons communion with us.
God has made a covenant
and that covenant is kept.

God unlike some of us doesn’t get mad and stomp off or pout.
God unlike some of us
doesn’t keep a hawk’s eye waiting to pounce
when some one of us makes a mistake.

No! God has no expectation of our perfection.
God’s expectation is that we will keep trying:
Trying to share more, trying to serve more,
Trying to love one another more
Trying to honor our covenant with God
To take those promises we make in our baptismal covenant seriously.

The good news for all of us is
God is infinitely patiently, abundantly loving.

This week I received news from friends at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
in Juneau, Alaska.

Their church—
their beautiful historic magnificent church
was completely destroyed by fire in March 2006.
They later learned
that the fire that was purposefully set.
By a young man in their community
Who people knew—or thought they knew—
wery well.

When Robert Huber, the arsonist, went to trial
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church asked to speak at that hearing.

Speaking directly to Mr. Huber in the court room,
they bluntly told the truth about the pain and disruption
his destructive act of arson had caused—
in both their congregation and their community.

But they also wanted to forgive.
Not the cheap kind of forgiveness--
“It’s OK, it doesn’t matter—at least no body was hurt.”
Because it did matter and people were hurt—
Not only was the church destroyed
but a neighboring family lost their home as well.

The rector of the parish speaking directly to Robert Huber,
the 24 year old arsonist, said:

“Our church members
want to keep the promises they have made to God.

They want to make flesh and blood the prayer they offer every week:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Mr. Huber,
you can’t make it okay.
But we don’t want to make it worse.
The primary restitution we ask from you is honesty.
Honesty about what you’ve done…
and a change in the way you walk through life
that builds up instead of tears down.

None of us want to be known by the worst we’ve ever done,
and we do not want that for you.
We want your life to mean something more than this trial, this sentencing, this pain you caused us, your parents, and yourself.
We forgive you.”

I assure you this congregation did not come to the ability to forgive easily.
Forgiveness for something this immense does not come
without considerable struggle.
And struggle they did.
For over a year.
But they struggled together.
Holy Trinity struggled in communion,
with communion, through communion.
The power of the Holy Eucharist to heal
Is beyond what we can ever ask or imagine.
But if we abandon our communion with one another,
we choose to remain broken.

This congregation chose communion---and they were able to say:
We forgive you.

The people of Holy Trinity understand covenant with God
and communion with one another.

If a congregation who lost everything
can forgive the man responsible for hurting so many,
perhaps we too can lay aside some of our hurts—
some big, some quite petty.

Lent is the season for repentance and reconciliation.
We like Jesus are driven into the wilderness
to confront our own wild beasts—
yet not to forget
the angels that surround us as well.

Our covenant with God
and our communion with one another
do not rest
on many of the details that we fret about at church
or in our daily lives.
We are easily distracted by what does not really matter.

Covenant and communion are grounded in the holy reality
that we are all ONE BODY.
and that body belongs completely to God.


I may only be the big toe,
and you may only be the pinkie finger
and someone else may be this part or that
but to God—
it takes all of us.
We are all God’s beloved
and we are in desperate need of one another.

God knows our weaknesses, our faults and our failures.
God knows that every day
we are assaulted by numerous temptations,
especially the temptation
to believe that we are in control.

Lent is a fine and holy season
to let go of commotion
to embrace communion,
to live more fully
into the covenant
God hopes for each one of us.

As Sara Miles discovered
when she experienced her first communion at age 46,

A piece of bread, a sip of wine.
It changes everything.

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