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.


Sermon for the Conversion of St. Paul
January 25, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan


Paul is telling his story to King Agrippa.
Most likely he is standing there in chains
before this august group of Roman leaders,
royally seated upon their ruling seats of power.
Agrippa is the last of King Herod’s descendants.

Paul is telling his conversion story
and all the story that came after that experience on the road
to Damascus.

What does it mean to convert?

We can convert inches to centimeters,
kilograms to pounds,
dollars to euros.
Our bodies convert food to energy.

But Paul’s conversion has nothing to do with learning the metric systerm,
or getting travel money
or learning to count calories.
Or even making a conscious decision to convert from one faith tradition
to another.

Paul’s conversion is a conversion of the heart.
And it was dramatic and unexpected and stunning.
Even as he stands here in front of the King,
twenty-five years or so after he saw the bright light and heard the voice
that would change the entire course of his life,
even now, it is still so vivid it feel like it was yesterday.
Paul tells his story with passion.

On the morning of that day of conversion,
Saul woke up---
that’s right, he went by the name of Saul at that time--
he was a Pharisee and he did not like the “saints”--
his name for Christians.

It wasn’t that Saul was evil or cruel;
he was a faithful man
he believed these Christians were way off base.
He did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah
and he resented those followers of Jesus going around
spreading the “good news”
because it was upsetting his orderly world.
Saul believed he was doing the right thing to persecute Christians,
to get rid of them.
Saul had not a doubt that he was right.

But on that day, traveling to Damascus, everything changes.
There is a light, there is a voice, and in the course of three days,
Saul realizes how wrong he has been.
Saul is so changed that he receives a new name--Paul--
and a new life.

The Hebrew word which translates to “convert”
means to turn back or to return.
The word can also mean restore--
as it does in Psalm 23--
God restores my soul.

God converts my soul.

Convert in a religious context, in a scriptural context
means to return us, to restore us,
 to what we are created to be.
Conversion restores us to the relationship with God
that was always intended.

Somewhere along the way
we may have gotten lost,
or maybe we never even got started,
but something happens
and we find ourselves changed beyond rational explanation.

The direction of our life takes a turn.
It as if a compass is placed in our hand
and now we know how to find the way home.

This is what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus.
He wasn’t seeking conversion.
He thought he knew the direction and purpose of his life.
Paul is just as amazed, just as stunned, as everyone who knew him.

There is another amazing thing about this story in Acts.
King Agrippa is almost converted.
He almost believes Paul.
We have to read ahead a few verses
but if we did, in verse 28 we would hear
King Agrippa speaking to Paul and saying,
Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?

King Agrippa is almost convinced.

Paul will not be freed. He will go to jail. He will be executed.
But King Agrippa hears the passion
of a man who has found his way.

Many of us would love to have a conversion experience
as clear and as dramatic and as convincing as Paul’s.
Probably some of you have had that type of experience.
It might not be something you share very often
but dramatic, mysterious conversion experiences still happen.

Why is it full steam ahead for some of us
but only “almost” for others
and for some, it is never more than “you must be kidding me”?

Frederick Buechner writes:

“If only Paul had been a little more eloquent.
If only Agrippa had been a little more receptive, a little braver,
a little crazier.
If only God weren't such a stickler
for letting people make up their own minds without forcing their hands.”

Buechner is right.
God lets us make up our own minds.
God gives us free will to make the decision.

Conversion is a total overhaul of our hearts.
It can happen in a split second flash of brightness
or it can happen slowly,
following one teeny tiny blinking LED bulb
along a winding path.
Or we can keep the door barred and say, No. No, thank you.

Some of you have spent the last three days here at the Cathedral
watching the simulcast of the Trinity Institute.
Some of us, for a variety of reasons,
followed along on our iPads at home or as we traveled.

This year’s theme “Creating the Common Good”
focused on economic inequality,
the growing gap between the have’s and the have not’s,
and the gospel imperative to fight economic oppression.

This conference has not been about personal conversion
but about collective conversion.
How is God working with us, with our churches,
to speak out against injustice?

St. Paul has some wise counsel for us.
Remember that he was not afraid to speak the truth to power.
He stood in chains before King Agrippa but he stood.
And he spoke.

The Bible--both Old Testament and New Testament--
calls us repeatedly to confront the powers and principalities
and speak up.
Many of us are very fortunate, very blessed,
and God calls us
to use our privilege and power
to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.
Nothing tells us to wait for heaven.

Paul also shows us that we all have need for repentance,
for a change of heart in some ways.
Paul had no agenda when he was persecuting Christians,
just as we have no agenda to oppress the poor.

But God always calls us to listen and to look closely--
especially when we think we are so very right--
and so very not-guilty of any offense.

We are already at work.
JUMP provides direct services.
VIA works to change systems that are broken.
SASH offers our senior citizens, often some of the poorest of our citizens,
    care and comfort.
Cathedral Square Housing has almost 800 people on their waiting list.
800 people who need safe, clean affordable housing.
We recycle. We compost.
We cook meals and serve at the Salvation Army and other shelters.

We pray.
Yes, prayer matters.
Never believe that it doesn’t.

We are blessed to have so many ways to engage,
to engage in creating the common good.

Everyone is needed.
God’s heart is open to all of us.
Conversion is about opening our hearts to God
    but also opening our hearts to one another,
    even the others we don’t know,
    the others we don’t know much about.

In the words of our patron saint St. Paul,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Conversion is about love.
God loving us so much that the desire is to draw us closer
   and to have us live the life God dreams for us.

Conversion is about love.
Us loving God so much
    that we really believe
that we can change the world.

Listening for God

January 18, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

Listening for God

Hannah wanted a baby.
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about her husband Elkanah
and his desires,
but we do know that Hannah longed for a child.

She prayed to God for a baby
She sat at the doorway into the sanctuary of the Temple in Shiloh
and prayed and prayed.
Please, God...listen.

The priest Eli saw her and heard her praying--
she was praying so fervently and so non-stop
that at first he thought something was wrong with her--
this constant mumbling of prayers over and over and over.

But when he Eli talks with Hannah,
he realizes the goodness of her heart.
He blesses Hannah and she is then blessed and becomes a mother.
She has a little boy
and she names him Samuel.
Some say that Samuel means God has heard.

God has heard your prayers, Hannah.

In gratitude Hannah dedicates Samuel to God
and after he is weaned he goes to live in the Temple
to serve and to be educated by the priest Eli.

One night, when Samuel is around 12, maybe 13 years old,
he hears a voice calling his name.
“Samuel, Samuel.”
It is so distinct that it wakes him from sleep.

Samuel thinks it is the priest Eli calling him.
So he gets up and goes to Eli
and asks, “What do you need?”

Eli tells Samuel,
“I don’t need anything. I never said a word.
I was asleep.”

So Samuel goes back to bed
and back to sleep.
But he hears the voice call his name again.
Samuel. Samuel.

And again Samuel goes to Eli
and again Eli says,
“Samuel, I did not call you.”

But then,after this happens three times,
Eli understands-- that someone IS calling Samuel.
It is not Eli.
It is God.

God is calling Samuel to become the leader that is needed at that time.
God is calling Samuel to do a new thing,
to restore what is falling apart,
to build up what is being torn down.

God is calling Samuel to break the news to Eli
that his own sons will not take over his position of authority and power,
but this boy--this young boy Samuel--
is the one that God has chosen to lead.

How do we know when God is calling us?
Often that voice is not as clear as it was for Samuel.
We may not have an Eli handy to interpret for us
in the middle of a dark night.

What is God saying to YOU? What is God saying to me? To us?
What is God calling us to be, to do?

We need to understand that answering God’s call
is not always easy or pretty.
Indeed, Samuel is going to face many challenges.
as will Jesus and his disciples.

Even in this season of Epiphany,
as we count the stars shining in the heavens,
we are on a journey that will soon cross over into Lent
and Holy Week and we will find ourselves once again
at the foot of the cross.

Listening to God is accepting risk,
Doing the right thing often has a hefty price tag.

About a week ago Tom and I went to see the movie SELMA.
We both found it to be an excellent film,
a film which brought back memories,
both good and very bad
from the time when we ourselves were teenagers.

I remember Selma.
I was not there.
But Selma came into my house via the television
in our living room in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Selma entered into my very protected white middle class world
as it was spread out upon the front pages of the newspapers.

Like many people in the United States,
my parents
were horrified at what happened in Selma.

My parents were not activists in the civil rights movement.

but they knew wrong from right
and they knew that people were people.
regardless of the color of their skin.
They knew it was wrong to bludgeon an unarmed person with a billy club.

People marched in Selma
because they had heard God calling them to freedom from oppression.
They did what they believed was right,
what they believed was right in God’s eyes.

The first march took place on March 7, 1965.
They were marching from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery
to speak out for voting rights.

That march, often known as “Bloody Sunday,”
involved about 600 marchers.
Those marchers--men and women,
young and old--
were viciously attacked
as they crossed over the Edmund Pettus Bridge after leaving Selma.
Alabama State troopers and County officials
attacked the unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas.

And it was televised around the world.

The second march took place two days later
when Martin Luther King, Jr,
along with clergy of many different faith traditions
led a much larger crowd over the bridge once more.

Only this time when the marchers and the troopers and the police
confronted each other,
the troopers stepped aside.
Was it a trick? A trap?
What did it mean?
None of the marchers, none of the leaders of the march, know.

There is a powerful scene in the film
when King and the marchers stand there motionless--
and then King and all the religious leaders kneel
and then the marchers lined up for miles behind them kneel
and they bow their heads and they pray.
They listen.

They let go of their agenda and their plans
and they listen.

After they pray--
and this is no twenty second toss up prayer--
King stands and turns
and leads the marchers
back to the church where they had begun.

Some people are upset,
angry that they did not keep marching;
but others understand that Martin Luther King, Jr.
and some of the other leaders that day
felt that God called them to turn around,
to wait for the promised court order that would hopefully offer protection
for the marchers to travel safely from Selma to Montgomery.

Tragically, that very night, James Reeb,
a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston,
who had come to Selma with thousands of others
to march in the second march,
was beaten to death by a group of angry white men.

Answering God’s call can be dangerous.
Even deadly.
But it can also make a difference.

Bloody Sunday and Reeb’s death led to a national outcry
and motivated the passing of a new federal voting rights law
to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment.

There was a third march that began in Selma on March 25.
That group of marchers--now over 25,000 in number--
made it from Selma to Montgomery to speak in support of voting rights.

God keeps calling,
calling us to root out the hatred and fear
that is still breeding--
not only in this country but throughout the world.

God calls us to monitor carefully the little seeds
of fear and prejudice and anger
that breed in our own hearts.

God seeks to shine light into every dark nook and cranny
of injustice and oppression.
And yes, there are still a lot of dark nooks and crannies.

We are God’s hands and feet in this world.
This is no accident.

At times we are called to speak and to act,
but at times we are called to be quiet,
to be absolutely silent and to listen.
To be still.

God hears us and our prayers
but God also wants to be heard.

Feast not Facts

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

Feast not facts

Some of us are old enough to remember watching the original,
or young enough to have seen the re-runs,
of the television program DRAGNET.

Remember Sargent Joe Friday?
One of favorite lines was, “Just the facts, m’am.”
Just the facts.

Sargent Friday would have a struggle finding the facts
when it comes to the Feast of Epiphany.

Because you see so many of the “facts” about Epiphany—
well, they’re not really “facts” at all.

For example,
We sing the hymn (which I love!)
“We three kings.”

There is not one word in the gospel
that says these men are kings.
The only king mentioned is Herod.
Perhaps when you heard Matthew’s gospel,
you were thinking,
Hmmm…it must be in one of the other gospels
where we are told these men are kings.

The story of the magi, the wise men,
is found in only one gospel—Matthew.

And yes, it only says they are wise men—
it never says kings.
Our tradition has made them kings—
probably because of the extravagant gifts they bring—
gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And where are the camels?
We hear of camels in Isaiah, yes.
In most of our crèche scenes,
the wise men are always traveling with their camels.
Sorry. Not factual.
Not one word in Matthew’s gospel
about a camel—not even a donkey in this story.
The magi could have been walking.
We don’t have any facts about how they traveled.

Tradition-- but not scripture—
also gives us the names of these kings—
(some stories tell us he was King of Arabia)
(he was the elderly one with the grey hair—
King of Persia)
And finally Caspar
(though sometimes you see his name written
as Gaspar or even Jasper)—
he was the young one, King of India.

Of course these names are not in the Bible.
But they have become part of the story.

And then there is that number: three.
Scripture never tells us there are three of them.
They are simply referred to as “wise men from the East.”

Orthodox tradition says there were 12 of them.
Some stories say there were 40 or 50 of them.

Our western tradition says three—
probably because there are three gifts
and we assume
they would each want to have their own gift.
After all, who wants to show up to see the Messiah
and have to say,
“Well, Melchior and I went in together
on your present!"
And about that baby.
Nope. Not a baby.
A “child” says scripture and that would be more accurate
Because let’s face it—if the wise men were walking,
by the time they arrived,
Jesus was probably starting to walk as well.
Not a baby in a manger
but a toddler
by the time they arrive.

But you see,
It is not about facts.
The truth is we don’t know the facts.
The truth is that we sometimes read scripture
and fill in the missing parts to fill in the story.
But that’s okay.
Because things don’t have to be factual
to be deeply true.

Epiphany is about shining the light
on something that is far bigger
than any collection of facts.

Epiphany comes from a Greek word which means
“manifestation” or “showing forth.”
Epiphany is the light bulb that goes off
over the cartoon character’s head.
Epiphany is the church season filled with AHA! moments.

The big AHA! of this church season is that
God has come into the world as a human being.
Divinity has morphed with humanity.

The AHA! of Epiphany is that anyone—absolutely anyone—
who wants to seek God
is welcome on the journey.

The wise men were from the East—they weren’t part of the inner circle—
they were the ultimate outsiders.
Gentiles—maybe even pagans.
Yet here they are in the  gospel,
in Jesus’ story,
in our story.
All are welcome.

Epiphany reminds us that God does not hide from us.
God does not play favorites.
God is with us.
with all of us.
God wants to be found.

The psychologist Carl Jung, had these words
carved over the front door of his home in Zurich:
“Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”

Later he had those same words
carved on his tombstone.

Bidden or unbidden,
God is present.
God is manifest.
God is revealed.
Even when we may not see it.

Epiphany reminds us that God appears
in even the most mundane moments,
to even the most ordinary people.

We do not have to be a king
or ride a camel
or have a name like Balthazar
or have gold to offer.

We are simply invited to come, to seek, to journey.
We are called to pay attention,
to take notice.

Epiphany is the season when all the lights are turned on:
All the better to see you with, God.

God has jumped into the world as a baby—
not as a king,
not as a person of wealth or prestige—
but as a helpless, poopy little baby.

God jumps in as a baby at Christmas
and when Epiphany arrives,
when those magi (and we)
show up,
God shouts, with great joy, “Come in! Oh, do come in!
The door is open. Wide open.”

Epiphany is when we realize
that the door is always open,
the table always has room for one more,
and we are all invited to the party.
We are all invited to the feast.

This is indeed the FEAST of the Epiphany!

The Visited Planet

Sermon for Christmas Day 2014
December 25, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

The Visited Planet

For those overwhelmed by Christmas.
Sit down.
Rest a bit.
Imagine that you’re in God’s presence.
Because you are.
Now just be with God.
And let God be
with you.

Aren’t these marvelous words?
These words are written by Father James Martin,
a Jesuit priest,
and editor of AMERICA magazine.

Wonderfully wise words for Christmas Day--
especially for those of us
who love coming together to worship on the day of Christmas.

Yesterday evening over 300 people gathered
to watch little angels
and wise men and shepherds
energetically herald in
the birth of the baby Jesus.

And then a few hours after that
we listened to the angelic voices
of our choir
and then,
with our Bishop Tom Ely
moved into worship that ended close to midnight.

But here we are this morning.
Ready to worship once again.
I love Christmas Day.

Yes, there is that feeling of ,
“Whew! We made it!”
but it is much more than that.

It really is a grand day
to stop
and just be with God.
Christmas Day.

What a gift to begin this day together.
Here in the nave
of this Cathedral Church.

This is a grand day
to ponder the words we hear in John’s gospel:
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Darkness can be overwhelming at times.
The news headlines, both local and global,
can be so dark and desolate.

Many of us face
our own personal nooks and crannies
of despair and darkness.

The good news is
that there is good news.
The good news is
that there is light.
The good news is
that Christ has been born
this day
and will keep being born
every day.

Some of you may be familiar
with the Anglican clergyman
and author J. B. Phillips.

His most well known book may be the one titled
or perhaps it’s his translation of the New Testament--

What you may not know
is that Phillips also wrote a version
of the Christmas story
from the point of view of two angels.
The story is titled THE VISITED PLANET.

In his story
a senior angel is giving a very young angel
a tour of the universe.
The angels observe swirling galaxies and blazing suns
and then they fly across cosmic space
into one particular galaxy
of 500 billion stars.

Phillips writes:

As the two of them drew near to the star
which we call our sun
and to its circling planets,
the senior angel pointed to a very small,
and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly
on its axis.
It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel,
whose mind was filled with the size and glory
of what he had seen.

“I want you to watch that one particularly,”
 said the senior angel,
pointing with his finger.

“Well, it looks very small and dirty to me,”
said the little angel.
“What’s special about that one?”

You see, to that little angel,
who had seen things
that you and I can’t even imagine,
earth was not all that impressive.

That little angel’s jaw dropped open
when the senior angel told him
that it was this planet,
small, insignificant and not particularly clean,
this very planet
was the renowned Visited Planet.

“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince..
went down in Person to this fifth rate little ball?
Why should He do a thing like that?”

The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust.
“Do you mean to tell me,” he said,
“that he stooped so low as to become one of those
creeping, crawling creatures on that floating ball?”

“I do,
and I don’t think He would like you to call them
‘creeping crawling creatures’,
in that tone of voice.
For strange as it may seem to us,
He loves them.
He went down to visit them
to lift them up to become
like Him.”

The little angel looked blank.
Such a thought
was beyond his comprehension.

It is often
beyond our comprehension as well.
And the Word became flesh
and lived among us....


All because of love.
The immensity of God’s love for us,
for each of us,
for all of us.

Christmas says to us:
Believe in this overwhelming, unconditional, love
Believe in this love
that is larger than the universe,
and much, much larger than any one of us.

that light is always trying to break into the darkness.
that love is stronger than hate.

Believe that God loves YOU--
yes, YOU--
and God wants only the best for you.

It is Christmas Day.
So at some point in this day stop.
Sit down.
Rest a bit.

Imagine that you’re in God’s presence.
Because you are.

Fall into God's love
and just be there.
Be with God.
Just as God is always being
with you.


Holy Disorder

Sermon for Christmas Eve--10 PM
December 24, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan


My grandfather was born on December 25th, 
Christmas Day.
I thought about that a lot as a child.

I would sometimes stare at my grandfather-- 
when I thought he wasn’t looking.
Born on Christmas Day, eh?

Did that make my grandfather Jesus? 

He was a carpenter. He really was.
And my grandfather was to me capable of miracles-- 
pulling a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup 
out of his pocket when you least expected it,
giving you a silver dollar that was minted

the exact same year you were born!

How could he do these amazing things?!!!

I kept a close eye on my grandfather,
until one day
I shared my suspicions with my little brother.

He listened but he shook his head, 
no, no. 
“Now think about it, Jeannie,” he said.
“Think about it.
Our mother’s name is Mary, right?”

“Right”, I nodded.
“And our father’s name is Joseph.”

“So if anyone in our family is Jesus,” 
continued my brother, “that would have to be ME!”
And my little brother pointed to himself.

I decided right then 
that I had NOT yet found Jesus 
and I would need to keep looking.

The wonderful delight of Christmas
is that on this night,
we gather once again to sing a song, 

as the psalmist reminds us, 
that causes even the trees to shout for joy,
a song that proclaims to the world
that Christ is born,
that Jesus is here
and is oh-so-ready to be found.

Whether you hear this story of Jesus’ birth 
as absolutely factual, 
or whether you hear this story of Jesus’ birth
as pure metaphor and mystery,
or even if you don’t want to hear this story at all--

this one night,
if we can open our hearts 

for even an hour,
the manger is filled, 

overflowing with God’s love, for all of us.

Doubt and questions 
and emptiness may come later-- and that is okay--
because we are all walking our own faith journey-- 

but tonight, tonight.
Just let it go.
Let it go
(Relax, I am not going to sing that song!)

But truthfully, 
just let it go for just an hour or so.
allow your eyes to look and see 
a child lying in a manger.

allow your heart to be full,
overflowing with love and compassion
and care 

for each and every human being in this world.

So many of us 
have heard the Christmas story so many times,
it is easy to think it is mundane.
It is anything but mundane.

This story, however, is a strange one, 
a disorderly story in many ways.
We, as intelligent, rational human beings, 
we like order.
We expect order.
We order up order.

Our desire is for an orderly and explainable world. 
But the truth is
the world is exceptionally disorderly.

These past few months 
have been a harsh reminder 
of just how disorderly the world can be.

Journalists beheaded.
Worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue slaughtered. 

Over 100 children slain in their school in Pakistan. 
Young men killed right here in our own country, 
probably because their skin was the wrong color.
We recognize this torturous face of the world. 
God comes to tell us 
there is also a face of hope.

God is not afraid of disorderliness
because good news can be born in the midst of, 

even BECAUSE of it.

Creation itself was born out of chaos.

An orderly story 
about the Messiah coming into the world 
would have had a princess bearing this holy child--
not an unmarried girl from a questionable family.

Joseph would have been royalty
not a simple man, 

willing to forgive Mary 
for what most people probably believed 
were her own sexual transgressions.

Mary and Joseph 
would not have traveled to Bethlehem for the census 
on a stinky donkey.
They would have been driven in a fine carriage.
Or more likely 
they would not have been required to report at all. 
They would have been the beneficiaries 
of power and privilege. 
Exceptions would have been made for them.

But there were no exceptions.

There was no elegant suite of reserved rooms 
waiting for them in the inn.
They were pushed out back, 

to sleep in a cave, 
to camp out with the livestock.

The birth of Christ 
was never imagined or expected 
to happen as it does. 
In poverty. In vulnerability. 
In total and complete absence of power.

The message here

 is not that our lives will be comfortable and easy.
The message is more

that our lives will have their goodly share 
of disorder, chaos and surprise.

But the other part of this Christmas message 
is that it’s okay.
In fact it’s good. 

In fact its glorious.
There is hope,

there is possibility, 
there is good news and great joy.

Posted recently on Facebook--
in many ways the Oracle of our times-- 
posted multiple times have been these words:

If you want to keep the Christ in Christmas, 
feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
forgive the guilty,
welcome the stranger and the unwanted child, 

care for the ill,
love your enemies.

We were out in Colorado for Thanksgiving
to visit our son and his family.
One night we were in Boulder on the downtown mall
(it could just as easily have been Church Street 

here in Burlington) 
and two men, rather dirty and scruffy looking
to my orderly and protective eyes,
were passing us as we walked along.
Both men carried huge, bulging backpacks.
All their worldly possessions was my guess.

One of them asked our daughter-in-law Natalie
if she knew where such and such a place was
and she did and she gave them directions.
And they thanked her to which she replied, “No problem.”

I heard our grandson, ten years old, 
having noticed the men’s backpacks, 
ask his mother,
“Mom, are those men going camping?”

There was a moment of quiet and then she answered,

“No. Those men are homeless.” 
“Oh,” our grandson replied.
I am not sure he even knew what that meant
but I thought it was honest and open 

that our daughter-in-law 
did not sugarcoat a harsh truth.

Our daughter-in-law Natalie 
did not feed those two men or clothe them 
but what she did do 
was see them as her fellow human beings.

She spoke to them with gentle respect and good will.
She talked to them 

just as she would have talked to her best friend. 
She gave them the dignity we all seek.
And she did it with complete ease and grace.

Even though I do not think it was remotely her intention, 
I think that this is what it means
to see the face of Jesus in every one we meet.

As Madeline L’Engle writes 
in her poem “After Annunciation”:

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason 

There’d have been no room for the child.

Christmas is a season that reminds us to make room.
To make room for chaos.
To make room for vulnerability.
To make room for people 

that are very, very different than us. 

To make room for gazing up at the stars 
in a night sky.
To make room for facing 
the very things we fear the most. 
To make room for hope 
and for love and for compassion.

To let go 
and trust that God is here with us. 
God will make a way through the chaos,

God will to walk beside us 
when life is brimming over with disorder.

The name “Emmanuel” means: 
God with us. 
God with us.
Coming into our lives 

as the Christ child. 
Born. Vulnerable.
Willing to enter 
into this disorderly world 
and face the chaos right beside us.

The hopes and fears of all the years 
are born in thee tonight.

Emmanuel has come. 
Merry Christmas! 


Sermon for Year B Advent 3
December 14, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan


The year was 1977.
Our daughter was only two years old.
I remember reading and hearing about this film that was coming
and I remember my husband Tom was very excited--
“I really  want to see this film,” he kept saying.
I wasn’t so sure.

Hmmm...sounds like science fiction to me
and I am not a big fan of science fiction.
So the movie came out, to rave reviews,
but we didn’t see it.

A few years later
when our daughter was 4 and our son was two,
STAR WARS came to the drive in movie theater
in Charlottesville, Virginia.

So we piled our children in the back seat,
brought along blankets and snacks
and off we went to see STAR WARS.

Our children fell asleep soon after the film began
as the novelty of watching a movie outdoors in our car wore off,
but Tom and I were mesmerized by the film.
Even in the rain--
yes, we watched STAR WARS the first time
at a drive in movie in the pouring rain.

I am still not a fan of science fiction,
but STAR WARS was not sleek and futuristic,
it was as one reviewer put it,
rather “dirty and grimy.”

But it had everything a good story needs.

There is evil--the Emperor and Darth Vader.
There is innocence and courage--Luke Skywalker.
There is a risk taker--the surly Hans Solo.
There is intelligence---Princess Leia.
There is an ancestor, a teacher--Obi-wan-Kenobi
and of course, there is wisdom,
the Jedi Master Yoda.

There are also rebels.
Not Confederate rebels, not rebels without a cause
but rebels who are resistance fighters.
Those willing to take risks for the good of others,
to follow the Force and defeat evil.

You see, if we think about it,
STAR WARS has some great Advent themes.

Those who mourn.
Ruined cities.

And can’t you imagine Chewbacca as John the Baptist,
crying out in the wilderness.

It is also interesting--in an Advent sort of way--
that when STAR WARS was re-released in 1981,
they added a sub-title: STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE.

Hope is such a strong theme in Advent.

I do not think that filmmaker George Lucas
sat around pondering, Isaiah and Thessalonians and the gospels
and the liturgical seasons
and came down to breakfast one morning and said,
“You know. I think I’ll make an Advent movie.”

I doubt that is how STAR WARS was created.
But the truth is Advent themes are timeless.

We can read and hear the words from Isaiah
and think,
“Oh, that is so old school.
Who cares about what happened 2500 years ago?”

We should care.
Because truth does not wear
an expiration date.

Scholars concede that this passage from Isaiah?
is not about Jesus coming as the Messiah,
though we can certainly make that leap.

After all, if I can ask you to think of Chewbacca
as John the Baptist,
we can stretch to think Isaiah is writing about,
predicting the coming of Christ.

But historically
Isaiah is writing to a people who are returning from exile.
Returning to their beloved city of Jerusalem.
They do not return to a world that is perfect.
Far from it.
Again, think dirty and grimy.

They find ruins,
both physical and cultural.
The Temple has not been rebuilt.

Yet they still believe that God is at work,
often in unexpected and unpredictable ways.
They still believe the promise of freedom
and comfort and restoration.
There is hope.

We can go to the future in STAR WARS
and we can go to the past in Isaiah,
but the truth is,
we are still called--today--right now,
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners.

The world is still under siege
by troubled relationships
and power struggles.

We are called to be resistance fighters.
To fight off despair
and put on the mantle of light, of hope.
To work WITH God to change the world
in the ways the world needs changing.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 
He came as a witness to testify to the light. 

The truth is we are all sent from God.
We all come as witnesses
and our challenge is: will we take the risks to testify to the light?

This does not mean taking a wooden box
down to the corner of Battery and Cherry,
climbing up upon it
and crying out REPENT!

Then how you might ask?
It is a path we each must find.
Our path, our mission.
But the letter to the Thessalonians offers a great place to start:
Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances.

If you think this is mundane and simple-minded advice,
I suggest you give it a try.

It’s not as easy as it sounds
but it is also more powerful than it sounds.

In her memoir MIGHTY BE OUR POWERS (2011),
the Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee
describes how one night she had a dream.
"I didn't know where I was. Everything was dark.
I couldn't see a face,
but I heard a voice,
and it was talking to me —
commanding me:
'Gather the women to pray for peace!' "

When Leymah Gbowee woke up,
she didn’t know what to think
because it sounded so strange--
I mean,  to think she had heard the voice of God
talking to her, in a dream?

Pray for peace?
Peace at that time in Liberia--
after 14 years of brutal and crushing civil war --
seemed absurd.

Estimates at that time
were that 10% of Liberia’s population had been slaughtered,
another 25% had fled the country.
Schools and hospitals closed.
There was no water, electricity or phones.
Starvation, torture, mutilation--
talk about dirty and grimy.

But later that morning,
Leymah Gbowee shared her dream
with some women
at her Lutheran church.

About twenty Lutheran women began
gathering every Tuesday at noon to pray.
They invited women from other Christian churches.

At one meeting, a woman stood and said,
"I'm the only Muslim here,
and we want to join this peace movement."

And do you know what those Christian women said?
They said, “Praise God! Come and join us.”

Muslim and Christian women formed an alliance.
They shared their horror stories.
Training sessions and workshops followed.
They passed out brochures and marched to city hall.
Three days a week for six months
they visited the mosques, the markets,
and the churches of Monrovia:
"Liberian women, awake for peace!"
And they kept praying.
Praying without ceasing.

In the end, these women forced Charles Taylor to peace talks.
After the 2003 peace accords,
these women were instrumental in disarming the country,
registering voters and electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
as the first woman head of state in Africa.

Pray without ceasing.

Who were these women?
Leymah Gbowee replies,
"They are ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters."

They sowed bitter tears. They went out weeping.
And they acted on their dreams of peace, joy, and laughter
for their beloved country.

These women were resistance fighters.
And they were people just like you and just like me.
Just like us--women AND men alike.

We live in wilderness times.
It is doubtful that wilderness times will ever be in short supply.

But we are still called to raise our voices
so there is never a doubt
that there is always hope.
That justice is always a possibility.

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

God calls us to resist despair.
to resist injustice.
Our world is not sleek and neat.
dirty and grimy.

We are called to be resistance fighters.
think John the Baptist,
think Jesus,
think women of Liberia,
think you and me.

We are not the Messiah
but we too can be voices crying out in the wilderness.