Saturday, May 31, 2014

This is the day!

Installation Day
May 31, 2014

Today I will be installed as the Twenty-third Rector and the Sixth Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington, Vermont. It is a glorious day here. So many people have worked so hard and traveled so far to make this day the celebration it will no doubt be. It all starts with brass and timpani at 5 pm.

I slept well until about 2:30 AM when my mind suddenly began making the "oh-no" lists--oh no, did I forget to tell Anthony to block off a parking place for the Bishop? oh-no, did we ever find a copy of the diocesan canons? oh-no, do we have enough seats reserved for the presenters, for family friends, for clergy? You know those "oh-no" lists; all we adults have made those lists on various occasions.

I was not willing to start my day at 2:30 AM so eventually I fell back asleep, to later awaken to a messaged video from our four year old granddaughter Penelope shouting, "Congratulations! Congratulations!" It was such a heart felt and enthusiastic greeting (do four year olds greet any other way?) that I just kept playing it over and over. Congratulations!  Yes! What a day this is!

I found this photo of now Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when he was the Dean of the Cathedral in Liverpool. He was jumping down the side of the Cathedral as part of a fund raising event. Just to be clear, I don't plan to do this today--or ever--but I thought it was a perfect photo for how I feel today.

I am excited, delighted, truly overjoyed and I know the music, the flowers, the liturgy, the sermon (thank you, dear Lauren Winner), the reception, all the people present and all those who are not present but praying, are a true blessing to me and to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.

But the photo also reminds me of the touch of terror I feel in beginning this journey. A great number of people have such complete faith in me, in my leadership, in my vision.  There is that little voice inside that says, "Oh gee, I sure hope you don't disappoint everyone, Jeanne!"

And of course I hope I don't. But the good news is that I am not on this journey alone. The Cathedral is an alive and dynamic parish filled with active and committed people of God. They have been doing amazing work long before I arrived. There is also a gifted and dedicated staff, a supportive Diocesan and faith community. Plus I have an amazing family and good friends. There are so many blessings to  number.

The best news is that God is the one who holds the rope. God is the one who will prevent my crash and smash, because God is the Creator and I, along with the Cathedral community, have been lovingly invited to be co-creators in this marvelous journey. It is a wonderful invitation.

It is important to realize that all our faith journeys will have ups and downs. It's important to be tethered by a strong rope. There is only one who holds the rope and that is God. My biggest challenge (it always is) will be to remember to enjoy the journey, relish the relationships that come each day, take in the grand view, trust, leap, and joyfully shout WHEEEEEE! That's what I will be shouting inside as the procession begins.

And yes, remember to be grateful. Be grateful for all that has been and for all that is and for all that will be. Thanks be to God!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Ascension Day 2014

Ascension Day Sermon
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
Thursday, May 29, 2014
The Rev. Jeanne Finan


We have this beautiful gossamer banner
created by artist Judith McManus
that appeared in the window for Easter.
The banner proclaims: He is risen.

One early weekday morning
I was sitting here in the nave--
thinking, pondering, praying--
and I found myself staring at this banner.

As I looked at it
I began to imagine....
to imagine
that if I were technolgically saavy,
wouldn’t it be awesome
for the Ascension
 to have this banner move.

He is risen would go up up up
and float away and move through the windows
and rise up into the clouds.
Above and over the penthouse floor of the Courtyard Marriott--
up up up
and over Lake Champlain
and we would all stand and rush to the window
and see the banner floating away until it was nothing but a tiny speck
and then we would see,
written in the sky--
NOT Surrender Dorothy--
 but instead--
we would see--
...while he was blessing them, he...was carried up into heaven.

While he was blessing them, he...was carried up into heaven.
Ascension Day.

Only in my imagination am I technologically saavy.
But isn’t it wonderful to imagine,
that we, like the apostles on this day,
receive this blessing, too,
as Jesus is carried up into heaven.

While he was blessing them, he...was carried up into heaven.

We really cannot stop ourselves from looking UP
on Ascension Day.
it says it right there in scripture--
he was carried UP into heaven.

But as twenty-first century people
we have a hard time visualizing and understanding
and believing in a literal Ascension.

It was easier in the first century
because the Hebrew people had always placed God
up above the dome of the heavens.
After all, the world was flat,
Greek mythology of the day always placed the gods
high up on a mountain top,
ruling over the earth.

These were the cultural influences of the time of Jesus,
so the ascension of Jesus into the heavens
would have made sense in that time.

For us, however,
flying up into the sky
brings images of Superman soaring off into space
or being beamed up by Scotty into the Starship Enterprise.
Those are our cultural images today
of someone being lifted into the clouds.

I think a better image for the Ascension
comes from Pope Francis.
He describes the Ascension
as if Jesus has climbed to the top of  a high mountain,
but before he left,
he tied a rope to our waist that connects to the rope around his own waist.
We are connected.
We are never without help,
never without hope.

We make promises in our Baptismal Covenant,
and say,
I will, with God’s help.
God’s help is that rope.
That unbreakable rope
links us to the holy and to hope.

The Ascension really is about hope.

Remember how distraught the disciples were
after the crucifixion?
They felt, just like we do after an unspeakable tragedy,
heartbroken, smothered by despair.
Because this was certainly not how they imagined it all ending.
And it felt like the end.

But then remember,
Jesus comes back.
And the stories in the Bible have him meeting the disciples
on the Emmaus Road and in the upper room
and even cooking fish,
inviting his friends to come and have supper.
And the disciples know
that it is not over.
The crucifixion, which is the overpowering of good by evil,
is not the end of the story.

The Ascension is not about standing around,
looking up,
longing after what once was.
The Ascension is really about looking AROUND.
Paying attention to what is happening in the world
and to where the Gospel,
in both word and action,
is so desperately needed.

The Ascension is about hope.
The disciples finally get it,
they understand.
God is always with us,
but we are the ones here on earth.
We are the hands and the feet and the eyes and the ears
and the voices that are here.
The Ascension calls us to stop looking up now,
and start looking around.

We do what we do as this Cathedral community
because we have hope.
We have big hopes and we have small hopes
but together we believe that God has put us here in this world,
in this community,
to make a difference--
in the lives of others
and in our own lives.

We can help goodness overcome evil.
We can live our lives to show
that love is always stronger than hate.
And when we get discouraged we just tug on the rope
wrapped around our waist,
the rope that connects us to the top of the mountain.
I will, with God’s help.

Teresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic, prayed:

You have no body on earth but ours.
No hands but ours.
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion
must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which you bless people now.
Bless our minds and our bodies
that we may be a blessing to others.

Dear friends in Christ,
there is nothing wrong with looking up.
But we are here on earth for the time being
and we also need to pay attention
to where the world needs us right now,
here on earth.

We need to hold on to the rope tied around our waist,
and open our eyes to what is all around us.

Just look around.
Just look around.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In the words of Jesus....


If you have ever seen the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, you get the joke here--people at the back of the crowd when Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, can't quite hear. Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers...", but by the time it reaches the back of the crowd and someone asks the person next to him, "What did he say?" The person replies, "He said, 'Blessed are the cheese makers..."'. I always laugh at this film, especially this line.

Living in Vermont now, where they say there are more cheese makers per capita than any place else in the country (I think there are at least 40 artisan cheese makers in the state), you come to have great affection for these dedicated cheese makers.

I decided it could be great fun to try a different Vermont cheese each week. So this week I started with a cheese named MOSES SLEEPER, made by Jasper Hill. Now I am no cheese expert but I love cheese and so did my mom...she used to joke that we must be part rat! (Speak for yourself, Mom!).
This cheese, made from cow's milk and aged 4 to 6 weeks, comes in small rounds (I think they refer to them as discs) and reminds me of a Camembert.

With a little research I also discovered that the name, Moses Sleeper, was a real person-- a Revolutionary War scout in Vermont. Jasper Farms makes another cheese named Constant Bliss who was also a scout with Moses Sleeper during this same period.

The cellars at Jasper Hill is a 22,000 square foot underground facility created as an innovative and ideal environment for the aging of cheeses. I'd like to visit there one day. It's up in the part of Vermont called the Northeast Kingdom. Seriously. That is really the name. So cool.

So remember....this blog is not just a place where I post sermons, but I also share some everyday  ponderings as well. And as they say, indeed, "Blessed are the cheese makers!"

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where's the Dean?

Where's the Dean?
Ira Allen Chapel, UVM

One evening back in early April I was reading a Naomi Shihab Nye poem and decided to take a break and google this poet, who is truly one of my favorites. I wondered if by any amazing possibility, she might be coming to Burlington or somewhere close by to do a reading. Much to my surprise, she was. In fact, she was coming the very next day! I was stunned--and delighted--and determined to go.

Naomi Shihab Nye was coming as part of the Full Circle Festival. I could not attend any other festival events, but I was determined that I would hear Naomi Shihab Nye read and speak on Friday, April 11.

And I did. She read from her poems and also read poems from other poets. She gave out little snippets of her poems and suggested we tuck them in our pockets to pull out when we needed a few poetic words. 

After reading poems, she presented the keynote for the Festival. Her keynote was titled, "A Shadow or a Friend: How Words Travel with Us." She shared her reflections about writing, specifically about writing poetry and about her growth as a poet. It was a lovely, lovely Friday evening--the perfect end to a very full and busy week.

The keynote was held in the Ira Allen Chapel on the campus of the University of Vermont. It is easy to find because of the gold domed bell tower. Arriving early (I am perpetually early), I sat and read a bit of the history of the chapel which was completed in 1926.

Even though it looks like a chapel, has pew seating like a chapel, and was originally built to serve as a chapel, there was a clear message sent with these words: "Ira Allen Chapel is not used for religious services." The statement was so blunt, it was as if UVM wanted to really separate itself from that aspect of the chapel's history--almost like saying, "We don't participate in such foolishness any longer." I found that a bit curious. But it was also somewhat of a relief, as the box pews are (as most are) notably uncomfortable. I was happy to find a folding chair near the front (a benefit of being perpetually early). 

It was a very lovely space to hear Naomi Shihab Nye read her words, the words of others and to ponder and reflect about the words that travel with us all, as well as to discover another place in Burlington, Vermont.

Taste and See

Sermon for Year A Easter 3
May 4, 2014


I am one of three children.
I have an older sister and a younger brother.
I am the proverbial middle child.

One of our great joys growing up 
was going to visit and spend the night with our grandparents.
Because for a few days we each got to be an “only” child.
I loved every minute.

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina
and my mother’s parents lived about 30 minutes in away
in the small town of Wendell.

My grandfather was a carpenter and he built their house.
It was not fancy or big
and did not have a guest bedroom.
I slept on the living room floor,
on a pallet of quilts my grandmother had made,
all stacked up, one on top of the other,
to make a soft-ish bed. 
For me it was absolutely divine.

In the morning we would get up early
and go in the kitchen
and sit next to a tiny oil stove--
their house had no central heat--
and have breakfast.

My grandfather always made me a cup of coffee.
Now since I was only about 8 years old,
my coffee was about 1/8 of a cup of coffee, 
the rest milk and then about as much sugar as he could pour in the cup.
It made me feel so grown up--having my cup of coffee.

And then we would make what my grandfather called
You took a hot homemade biscuit,
punched a hole in the biscuit by sticking in your thumb,
put in a pat of butter in the hole
and then filled the rest of the hole with black-strap molasses.

You waited a few minutes and let the butter and molasses
soak into the biscuit and then...
oh my!
Talk about heaven on earth.

I probably have not had a soaky-roaky for well over 50 years
but somehow,
if I were to make one tomorrow morning,
even making one in my kitchen in Shelburne, Vermont,
that first bite
would make me think of my grandparents,
especially my grandfather.
His presence would be there at my breakfast table.
Right there.

This is what happened to the disciples as they travelled from
Jerusalem to Emmaus.
Actually it happened when they stopped for the night.

They invited the mysterious stranger who had travelled with them
to stop and have dinner and stay the night.
This stranger.
At first they had wondered if it might be a spy.
How could he have not heard about what had happened to Jesus?
Surely everyone had heard that news!

But they changed their minds as they walked together.
He began to talk about scripture
and there was something about the way he talked
that set their hearts on fire.
where had they heard someone teach like this before?
It was strangely familiar--
but they couldn’t quite place it.
Who was this stranger?

So they sit down together at the table
and the stranger takes the loaf of bread
and blesses it
and breaks it 
and gives it to them.

And they know.
They know without a doubt
that this is Jesus.

Yes, they know it is impossible
but yet...
they recognize him 
in the breaking and the sharing of the bread.

They know that Jesus was crucified and died.
But they also know, beyond their rational minds,
that Christ is present 
in the breaking of the bread.

Now you may remember that on Easter Sunday
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb
and it was not until she heard this strange man there 
call her by name--”Mary”--
that she knew.
She knew from his voice--

Christ was alive and present in her life still.

And last week,
Stan preached a marvelous sermon about Thomas
hearing his “master’s voice”--
and again,
Thomas knew.
We were reminded 
that sometimes our ears 
see better than our eyes.

Today we discover that sometimes we taste and see.

Jesus becomes present in the breaking of the bread.
And the disciples know.
The disciples remember.

Just as we remember--
every time
the bread is taken, blessed, broken and shared.

This eucharistic action is what 
Anglican Benedictine monk and liturgical scholar 
Dom Gregory Dix calls the “heart of our worship.”

As Episcopalians,
it is what happens at the altar, at this table
that is most important to us.
that binds us together--
with God
and with one another.

We care deeply about the Word, 
the scripture readings,
the preaching--
but it is not the pulpit or the lectern
that is the centerpoint in our worship spaces. 

It is the altar, the table, 
where we remember
who we are
and whose we are.

Gathered around a small green formica table
in Wendell, North Carolina,
I held in my hands a hot, buttery, molasses-drenched 
soaky roaky biscuit
and came to understand 
in a deliciously tangible way,
the love of my grandparents.
Taste and see.

Gathered around this altar
here in Burlington, Vermont
joining with others gathering around thousands of other altars 
around the world,
we hold in our hands 
the bread and the wine of the Eucharist--
taken, blessed, broken and shared--
the body and the blood of Christ
and we come to understand 
in a deliciously tangible way
the immense and unconditional love of God.

We taste and see.
We remember.
We give thanks.

And we are invited--
to ponder and to pray--
how might we share bread 
with an oh so hungry world?

How might we share
so others might see
the face of Christ?
So others might be fed
as we are fed?

How might we share bread
more fully, more widely, 
more lovingly,
more openly,
more generously?

And God's people say...

Sermon for Year A Easter Sunday

And God’s people say...

You are going to need to help me with this sermon.
Whenever I say,
And God’s people say...
that is your cue.
You respond, with joy,
Let’s try it...
And God’s people say...
Great! I believe you’ve got it.
 +    +    +

So...This is the good news--
the tomb is empty.
Christ is risen!
And God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

This is the good news--
the light shines in the darkness
and the darkness can never put out the light.
And God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

This is the Good News
once we were no people
now we are God’s people--
and God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

This is the Good News
this morning,
this Easter morning.
and God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

Here we are,
a diverse people come together.
Here we are,
God’s Church,
trying to co-create with God
a world on earth
as it is in heaven.

Today we celebrate
your resurrection.
Today we celebrate that Christ is risen
and all things have been made new.
Today we celebrate
that God’s love never fails,
not ever!
And God’s people say--ALLELUIA!

Diana Butler Bass, a marvelous writer,
a scholar and a historian,
writes and speaks widely about the history of Christianity.
She is a leading voice today in what might be called
“progressive” or “emergent” Christianity,

She recently shared an experience she had while traveling.
She had checked into her hotel after a long day of multiple flights,
after which she went down to the hotel lounge
for a glass of local red wine.

There she got into a conversation with a woman,
a woman about her own age--in her forties,
a woman who had never heard of Holy Week
and she asked Diana to explain,
to explain Palm Sunday and Easter to her.

“I told her the story”, Diana said,
 “of Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem,
of his betrayal, death, and resurrection.
About how human it is;
how our betrayals turn into our rebirths.”

The woman she was speaking with got tears in her eyes,
and said to Diana,
"That's so beautiful.
How come no one has ever told me this before?"
How come?

This is the world we live in today.
People do not know the story.
Why are we not sharing this Good News more widely?

we don’t want to seem like religious fanatics, right?
We don’t want to align ourselves with the fellow on the street corner
shouting fire and brimstone into a portable microphone.

Maybe this doesn’t happen in Burlington, Vermont,
but I will tell you it happens in Asheville, NC--
and lots of other places.

And even I, a priest in God’s church,
I don’t want people to think I am “that guy”.

But we miss the point.
We miss the point that people are hungry.
We miss the point that people are lonely.
We miss the point that people still feel hopeless,
captive, imprisoned.

We miss the point that people do not know this story,
and we do.

We know the story of the resurrection.
And we need to tell others.

Now there are those that say Jesus’ resurrection was a physical reality.
And there are those that say resurrection is simply a metaphor.

I wonder--does it have to be EITHER/OR?
Can it not be BOTH/AND?

When we read the Gospels,
resurrection is not a metaphor.

The disciples are so terrified after the crucifixion
that they go and hide
behind bolted doors.

This makes sense to me.
I’d hide too.
Because I would believe that I,
as one of Jesus’ disciples,
would be the very next one arrested and crucified.
Why else does Peter deny even knowing Jesus?

There was no death sentence
more cruel, more humiliating
than crucifixion.

Those in authority were making a point.
Go against us
and you will be sorry.

But something happens to those disciples.
Something happens that was so real
and so powerful
and so unexpected
that they make a complete turn around.
They are willing
to do anything,
to go anywhere,
to tell any one.

They throw open the closed doors and go out into the world
to tell the story.
The story of Jesus’ life and of his resurrection
and most importantly, of his love.

Were they lying?
Were they drunk?
Were they confused or hallucinating?
Was it all part of some great scheme
to make them all rich and powerful?
Nothing points in that direction.

Going around proclaiming resurrection,
telling people that God loves them no matter what,
telling that story
was most likely going to get you arrested,
imprisoned, killed--
or at the very least,
ridiculed and humiliated.
And it often did.

So why would you make up a story like that?

No one was expecting resurrection.
They felt a tremendous loss when Jesus was crucified.

Mary Magdalene, when she finds the tomb empty,
runs back to the disciples and says,
 “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb”
She did not arrive
and play out a pre-rehearsed scene exclaiming,
Look! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.

Experiencing a risen Christ
was at least as shocking to Jesus’ disciples of the first century,
as it is to us today in the twenty-first century.

We each must decide how we will listen, how we will hear
and how we will share the resurrection story.

A friend’s grandson will graduate from high school
in just a few weeks,
but I remember him so well as a little boy,
holding my hand and pulling me
into his Sunday School class room--
to show me a model they had made of Jesus’ tomb.

This is the coolest thing, Taylor said.
And he holds the tomb
and pulls away the papier-mache stone at its entrance
and instructs me,
Look inside!
What do you see, Jeanne?

I peer inside and reply,
It’s empty.

That’s right! shrieks Taylor.
But quickly adds,
Don’t worry, Jeanne.
He comes back.
Jesus comes back.

When Jesus comes back.
When Jesus shows up in the life of the disciples,
when Jesus shows up in the heart of a little boy,
when Jesus shows up in our ordinary but extraordinary lives today.

Resurrection wore the face of Christ on that first Easter morning
and resurrection wears the face of Christ now.
A face that tells us:
Remember how loved you are.
Wildly. Passionately. Unconditionally.

Easter is the day of leaping and dancing.
Easter is the day of laughter and joy
This is the day to go home
and put on your “life is good” t-shirt
and really mean it.

Adam of Saint Victor in the twelfth century wrote--

Done is death.
Even the serpent can come to the feast...
Here all are safe, lion with lamb.
The sparrows have nested in the tree of life.
The scapegoat, too, pushed off the cliff,
has landed in paradise.

Remember Jesus’ commandment as they gathered around the table
the night before he was crucified--
Love one another as I have loved you.

Wildly. Passionately. Without any reservation
without any hesitation.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
I have seen the Lord;
and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

If this resurrection story was not true,
I don’t think in a million years
any of these gospel writers
would have allowed Mary Magdalene,
a woman,
to be the first witness.

Jesus calls her by name.
And that is the moment when she knows.
Without a doubt.

Easter is the day
when God calls each of our names.
With the hope that we will know
how much we are loved,
how we are never forgotten,
nor will we ever be abandoned.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
And again.
And again.
And again.

And God’ s people say--ALLELUIA!!

Note: I have used the story of Taylor and his papier mache tomb in a previous sermon. It is still one of my favorite experiences of resurrection (and Taylor is still as awesome as ever!

God With Us, Us with God

Sermon for Holy Saturday 2014

God with Us, Us with God

On Holy Saturday we wait at the tomb.
We wait.
We pray.
We think about the death of Jesus
and we also ponder our own deaths.
Because we will die one day.
All of us.

Christ has died
but Christ has not yet risen.
On this day it is beyond our theological comprehension
that Christ will come again.

All we can do is show up, be present.
and pray
and be present.

There is a story told by Joseph Bayly
in a book he wrote titled A VIEW FROM THE HEARSE.
Mr. Bayly lost three children to death over the short course
of a few years.

He writes this about comforting those who grieve:

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he would go away. He finally did.

Someone else came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat with me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

Holy Saturday is not a day
to try to determine the WHY of or explain the crucifixion.
Christ has died.
That is all that we have on this day.

Holy Saturday is a day to be present.
To not get so overly busy with our preparations for Easter

(and yes, I know there are things that must get done this day)
but to take at least  a little time
to be fully present
sitting at the tomb.
Sitting with total emptiness.

Just as the word “Emmanuel” means GOD WITH US,
perhaps there should be a special term
for Holy Saturday that translates

Us with God.
That we are willing
to show up,
to sit,
to be present
at the tomb.

Traditionally this day is known as the harrowing of Hell.
Hell used in this context is not a place of judgement
it is the abode of those who have died--
all the way back to Adam and Eve.
In the Apostle’s Creed we say that Christ.... suffered,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead...

Christ has gone down in the grave,
has gone down into the pit of Hell,
and reaches out to pull anyone who will grab his hand
out of that pit.

When we are willing to sit with someone
who grieves,
someone who feels they have lost everything,
someone who feels they have done despicable things
of which they are truly sorry
but cannot believe they deserve any kind of salvation--
our silent presence
is how we reach out,
offer a hand,
to help someone climb out of the depths of despair.
Out of the pit of grief and sorrow,
of fear and shame and hopelessness.

And just maybe
when we sit in the quiet of this Holy Saturday,
we will realize
that we, too, have been offered a hand
to climb out of our own dark pit,
to rise again--soon to rise again--
to the newness of life.


Holy Week happens...

Every year I seem to be blogging along quite regularly and then I hit Holy Week and everything comes to a halt. Well, not everything, but certainly keeping up with this blog stops. Then finally, I catch my breath and play catch up. So today is catch up day. You'll find multiple posts, including Holy Week and Easter Day sermons as well as a bit more of "Where's the Dean?" Hoping for more mindful and regular posting now (until Holy Week next year!).