Monday, March 31, 2014

Sermon for Year A Lent 4

This is the sermon I preached on my first Sunday as Dean and Rector 
of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont.

From Darkness to Light

It is a long way from Asheville, North Carolina
to Burlington, Vermont.
961.5 miles.
My iPhone calculated that the drive would take 14 hours and 52 minutes.

It took me 14 days!
I guess I am a slow driver!

It really did take me 14 days 
but I stopped to see friends and family along the way
and I also spent 8 days in silent retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House
in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Eight days of silence and prayer.
I needed that more than I knew.

And now
I am, yes! 
SO ready to talk!
I am SO ready to get to know you and to worship with you
and to do ministry with you! 

I am so grateful
to have been called as your Dean and Rector.
Thank you.
Thank you.

As I read and pondered the reading from 1 Samuel this week.
I could not help but think about the MDC--
the Ministry Discernment Committee.
Samuel is sent by God to find a new king for Israel.
Now finding a new king for Israel,
Especially when you are risking your life to do it,
Is, indeed, a bit more daunting thn finding a new Dean and Rector
but still,  a search is a search.

You don’t know whom you will find out there.
Whom does God have in mind?
Will the Holy Spirit really come through?

And God says to Samuel, 
don’t pick someone because of their outward appearance
or because they are tall.
(Don’t get me wrong--sometimes tall works out quite well—
just ask our Bishop!)

Essentially, God is telling Samuel to look deeper—
Use the vision of your heart.
Don’t jut use the vision of your eyes,
use the vision of your heart.

Samuel finds an unlikely new king--
even unlikely to Samuel--
because the one 
Samuel will anoint is the youngest son of Jesse.
In that time period and that place,
youngest sons never got picked for anything!

David, this youngest of the sons,
had been relegated to sit out in the fields with the sheep.
However we might romanticize it today,
being a shepherd was NOT a position of prestige.

And yes, indeed it is a bit ironic,
that after God told Samuel NOT to pick someone
because of their outward appearance
the scripture proceeds to tell us that David was ruddy 
and had beautiful eyes 
and was handsome.

Aside from this description,
David was in no way perfect.
David was too young, too small, too inexperienced
and had flaws that would almost do him in on occasion.
And yet, God saw in David something that most others—
did not see.

I hope this is true of me too.
Not that I have any aspirations to be a king and
I have no illusions that I am ruddy or handsome, 
young or small.
And I know, like all of us, I have my flaws.

But I believe that God’s heart-vision
Is very present in discernment.
You chose me
And I chose you
And God was behind, before, above, below and beside us all.
And still is.

But just as when David was picked from all his brothers,
my selection may have been a bit unexpected,
a bit of a surprise to some of you.

A woman? 
A Southerner?

Or as we might say in North Carolina,
Well, bless her heart!

The truth is there are fewer women Deans of Cathedrals
than there are women bishops in the Episcopal Church.
(and there aren’t many of those!)

So you--WE--are breaking some new ground together
here in Vermont at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.
This is the first time in its history
that the Cathedral has selected a woman
as Dean and Rector.
That is exciting.
It also takes courage.
All new beginnings do,
all transitions do.
We will proceed courageously and joyfully—

God often surprises us,
Acting in ways we don’t expect.
God is always moving us from darkness 
into light.

God is ALWAYS moving us from darkness into light.
God works to heal us from our own blindness.

In the story of Samuel and the anointing of David to be king,
people could not see, could not imagine, 
that someone young,
someone short,
someone with no prestige or power, not even in his own family,
someone who was a shepherd, for goodness sakes—
how could this person be a great leader?

But God surprises.
God works to show us a better way,
a clearer vision.

In the story in John’s gospel today,
Jesus heals a blind man.

Yes, there is a healing of a man who is physically blind.
But this story is about a much bigger,
much more predominant type of blindness.

To see more clearly God’s dream for us—
for us as individuals, for us as a community, for us as the world,
we need more light.

Jesus says over and over and over in scripture,
I am the light of the world.
The light of the world.
Jesus is not simply an energy efficient LED light bulb,
Jesus is the aurora borealis of light.
And we need that kind of light to really see 
and be healed of our blindness.

Like the story in 1 Samuel,
there are so many surprises and unexpected twists to this gospel story.
First of all,
the blind man did not come to Jesus and ask to be healed.
The gospel just says,
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man born blind.
No one is ever out of God’s sight.

And then the disciples—
the disciples—wouldn’t we think they would know better--
the disciples make the same terrible assumption
of most of their culture at the time
that if  someone has a disability or is suffering or is different
then they did something to deserve it.
They were sinners and were being punished.

But the disciples can’t make sense of this theology 
because this man was born blind.
What could he have possible done
if he has been this way from birth?

So they make the jump
(people often do)
to blaming the parents.

And Jesus essentially says,
Don’t be ridiculous.
Neither this man nor his parents sinned.
God’s beautiful work, God’s holy work,
is being revealed through the life of this man,
through the life of this man who is blind.

Jesus is very direct, so very, very clear about this.
Wouldn’t you think 
that by now--our world would have dropped
this flawed theology of blame and shame? 

It’s also a surprise that the blind man does not ask Jesus for healing.
There is certainly nothing wrong with asking God for healing—
I am a big proponent of prayer 
and learning to pray God, help ME, can be a challenge for some of us.
Not just a polite little prayer for generic help,
But help ME!

But the blind man doesn’t ask.
The blind man doesn’t even know who Jesus is at first.
Yet Jesus goes over and heals him.

Even if we can’t or don’t or won’t ask,
even if it has never crossed our minds to ask for healing,
God heals.

Sometimes in a literal physical way—
as the blind man in this story is healed—
and at other times the healing comes in very different 
but no less profound ways.

God is always moving us from darkness to light.
Away from the darkness of prejudice and hate and fear
into light.

Another twist of the story is that this man is a beggar.
This makes him doubly unworthy--blind AND a beggar.
Many would not see him as deserving of healing,
But God sees differently 
and God longs for us to see differently.
God sees with the heart.

So we have this wonderful healing miracle.
A little mud, a little spit,
The blind man does just as Jesus tells him,
he goes and bathes
In the waters of Siloam
And the man receives his sight.

We might expect that everyone would jump with joy at this healing.
But no.
You see, some people, are blind to the happiness and joy of others.
Like the Pharisees, sometimes we, too, bog down 
in the rules and regulations

Another wonderful twist to the story is the interrogation 
of the man who was healed of his blindness.
He doesn’t buckle under the pressure, 
He in no ways plays the victim his questioners desire him to be.
Perry Mason would put this once-blind man
on the witness stand in a heartbeat.

The blind man knows he has been healed
and now there is possibility in his life,
and now there is hope.

He says,
I was blind
Now I see.

Don’t we all long to be able to say those words--
I was blind, now I see?

The Pharisees pose a fascinating and very revealing question: 
Surely not us?!!
There’s our question for the week.

Pray with that –
look in the mirror and ask, in all sincerity,
Surely, Jesus, surely I am not blind? 

Ask that question and then listen carefully.

This is not about physical blindness.
This is about the blindness that causes us to turn our heads
and choose not to see, not to care
when things are hard or difficult or just plain wrong.

This blindness is about the dark places in our lives and in our world
that we don’t even recognize---yet—
places in desperate need of light.
Darkness cast by fear and prejudice, 
greed and ignorance.

How is God trying to move you, to move me, to move us 
from darkness into light?
Where does our blindness 
need healing?

We are called, with God’s help,
to peel away the pall of darkness that binds us.
To let it go.

We are called to open our hearts and our lives and our world
to the light of justice and mercy.
and love.
That aurora borealis of light and love.
Always love.

Always love.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Moon Rise

There was a note scribbled in pencil posted on the bulletin board outside the dining room. When you are on silent retreat, these notes are a way of communicating--finding someone to share a ride to the airport, a poem mentioned in spiritual direction left for you to ponder. The note shared that there was to be a pretty spectacular moonrise last night--at 9:10 pm.

I have entered what I sometimes call my "Benjamin Franklin" years--early to bed, early to rise--but I knew that I wanted to see the moon rise. Around 8:30 I wandered downstairs and took a place at one of the windows in the dining hall. Those wonderful windows that face the sea and teach me each day about the incredible gifts of God's creation--a sea that changes color every day, seals sunning on the rocks in Brace's cove, tides that are ever on the move. Last night the sun had set and the night was dark.

I thought about the darkness that lies between the sun setting and the moon rising. The void. And then, if you are blessed with a cloudless night, you start to notice the stars. Not bright enough to light the darkness but bright enough that you know you are not alone on this journey.

8:45. 8:56. I found I was almost holding my breath waiting for the moon. Others had slipped into the darkened dining room and together we watched and waited.

9:00. 9:10. No moon rise. Then a whispered voice--"Come in to the small dining room. It's happening." We all moved into the small dining room and there it was. This big big big orange moon lifting itself out of the sea. The retreat may be silent but I could not help but say, "Wow!"

Someone slipped back to the dining room  and brought a pair of binoculars that he passed around. I took my turn and could see the shadows on the moon. Oh my. I see the moon and the moon sees me.
The beauty was beyond all imagining.

Tom told me to take a picture so I went outside into the cold and tried. The photograph (at least one from an iPhone) could in no way capture the glory of the moon. Strangely enough though there is a little blue orb in the bottom of my photograph. I haven't a clue what that is.

Later I searched on line to try to find a photograph that would better reflect what the moon really looked like, the moon that made me gasp, "Wow!" Here's what I found. This is pretty close to that big orange moon that came and shattered the darkness with beauty and delight last night. This is almost exactly what I saw when I looked through those binoculars. Not a telescope. Binoculars. That's how close I was to the moon last night.

Thank you. Thank you.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunset Moonrise over Brace's Cove

The sun is setting and the moon is rising. Such striking colors---the pinks of the sky and the blues of the sea and all the colors in the rocks and grasses. Another day at Eastern Point Retreat House comes to a close.  Amen.

Friday, March 14, 2014


informal, adjective

Situated somewhere between two extremes or recognized categories; intermediate.
"I am not unconscious, but in some in-between state"

I haven't been posting sermons recently because I haven't been preaching. This is an  in-between time for me--in-between leaving St. John's in Asheville, NC and arriving at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, Vermont. I like the above definition of the word in-between---"situated somewhere."  Yes. Somewhere. I also like the example they used in the definition: I am not unconscious, but in some in-between state.  That makes me laugh! I am glad to know I am only in some in-between state and not unconscious!

Sometimes, amidst the overwhelming task of packing up our household, I have felt that being unconscious might be a preferable state. In-between times have their challenges. But no, I have not given up preaching;  I am only in some in-between state.

Sometimes that in-between state is quite literal. I left Asheville and went north to Valle Crucis. This was for both joy (being with my husband for just a few more hours--he is still working in NC until the end of the year) and torture (getting all our 2013 tax stuff organized to go to the accountant. God bless that dear man!!).

Then I did change my state--literally. I left the state of NC and headed north to Charlottesville, Virginia to see friends. That was a delight. Well, seeing friends was a delight--the numerous traffic jams and sitting still on I-81 was not so much a delight.

At one point along the journey, seeing another traffic jam ahead, I decided to exit to get some gas. After refueling, I turned my phone back to Google maps and a voice said: "I can get you there a shorter way." Seriously?!!! Well, why not? So being led by the voice of my iPhone (and a satellite that obviously had a bigger picture), I turned right instead of the left that would have led me back to the interstate and followed the verbal directions down a dirt road or two and indeed! we bypassed the entire logjam on I-81. Amazing. Who says technology isn't friendly?!

In-between is as much a journey, if not more so, than having arrived (or never having left). Sometimes we have to leave our spiritual interstate and head off down a bumpy dirt road, trusting that God has a much bigger picture  than we do.

I was blessed to see Danby and Mike, some friends in Charlottesville we have known and loved for almost 40 years. The highway then led to Tarrytown, New York for an overnight with Susan and David, friends from seminary and the gift of worshipping at Susan's church on Sunday morning. I felt truly blessed to sleep in their daughter's bed, as Megan is now a freshman at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Hard to believe I met these friends when Megan was 5 years old, just starting kindergarden in Alexandria at the same time the three of us were beginning seminary at VTS.


From Tarrytown I headed to Mattapoisett, Massachusetts for treasured time with our daughter and her family. Nothing like a few days of play dough and playing with baby dolls and grandchildren to remind one of the truly important things in life. I love this painting that Penelope did--as she was painting she said, "I am painting a circle of love."

I am at Gonzaga now, the Eastern Point Retreat House of the New England Jesuits, for an 8-day silent Ignatian retreat. I came here last May during my sabbatical and that time was pure gift. I am discovering that gift once more in my time here.

My spiritual director this morning offered a definition of prayer as "wasting time with God." I believe that is a Henri Nouwen quote. By the time I got to my journal I wrote that prayer was "wasting time with someone you love and someone who loves you." That certainly describes God, but my paraphrased definition makes me realize that our whole journey is holy, prayer-filled. My slow journey northward to our new home of Burlington, Vermont is full of "wasted time" with those I love and those who love me. God is in every step of this journey, every crevice of this in-between time.