by whitneyrice

Judas The Healer

Today we see Jesus sending out the apostles to spread their wings and try a little ministry on their own.

He “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”

That’s pretty important work, and pretty advanced work for a group of people who much of the time seem to not just have trouble understanding Jesus’ instructions, but often behave according to the exact opposite of what he’s trying to teach.

But Jesus, in a spectacular instance of the risk-taking behavior he so often displays, trusts them with significant power and authority.

And what drew my eye as I read it this time was the last name on the list.

“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”

Judas.

Jesus sends Judas out with power over unclean spirits and the ability to cure every disease and sickness.

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Raise Your Hand If You’re Honestly Terrible At Anti-Racism

Today is Trinity Sunday. If you’ve been in church circles for awhile, you’re used to hearing a priest get up and fumble around in the pulpit for 15 minutes with no real idea of how to say anything helpful.

It strikes me that this is remarkably similar to how most mainline white clergy feel about racism as well.

We get up in the pulpit and fumble around for 15 minutes with very little idea of how to say anything helpful.

That’s where I am today, so God bless you for sitting here and listening while I ask for a Word to share from the Holy Spirit.

What have the events since George Floyd’s death on May 25th revealed to us?

They have shown us a white church having had very little impact on police brutality and systemic racism.

They have shown us an Episcopal Church that didn’t really get outraged until one of our precious historic buildings was threatened.

And they have shown me how much I was allowing white fragility and white silence to drive my behavior, and I didn’t even know it.

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Questioning Evangelism

Today we grapple with the knowledge that God is both the problem and the solution, the search and the treasure, the hunger and the sustenance that lie at our very core.

It is God for whom we long most deeply, God whom we sometimes find it so difficult to feel and perceive, and it is God who is the endpoint of all our journeys, in this life and the next.

Remember the algebraic equations that made your 5th hour class a living hell all the way through eighth grade?

They all had some incomprehensible string of letters and numbers followed by the dreaded phrase: “Solve for x.”

God is the x hiding in the string of letters and numbers and the x in the final worked out solution.

But we are forever thinking we have reached the solution only to discover it leads to another question. Continue reading

I Am The Gate, But You’re Not Going to Like It

This week I’ve found myself thinking about boundaries and barriers.

You hear a lot of talk in the church about healthy boundaries—they’re so important.

And we have now found ourselves in a position of having to observe endless physical boundaries.

We stay at home, we wear masks when we go out, we observe six feet of social distancing—we have to stay separated not just for our own safety but for the safety of our community and its most vulnerable members.

But as you’ve seen on the news, there are some people who are tired of those restrictions and are demonstrating for the government to suspend them.

A lot of people are experiencing serious financial hardship because of the lockdown.

It’s a confusing and frightening mess.

Well, we are in luck because Jesus’ central metaphor in his teaching today is a fence, a boundary, a barrier. So let’s go to the scripture together and ask to be taught, to be healed, to be loved.

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Seven Miles From Jerusalem, Chased Down By Jesus

As you all remember, the Road to Damascus is the story of when the Apostle Paul had a vision of Jesus and was so overcome by the glory that he was knocked off his horse and went blind.

The Road to Damascus moment is an incredibly vivid and immediate experience of God that instantly changes your life forever.

Many people in the Bible have Road to Damascus moments besides just Paul. Moses sees the burning bush. Isaiah is taken into God’s throne room. The shepherds tending their flocks by night are overwhelmed by the heavenly host of angels.

Each of these is a life-changing experience of God that floods the senses and sets one’s soul ablaze with the Holy Spirit.

But we aren’t studying the Road to Damascus moment in our Gospel lesson today.

We’re given the Road to Emmaus.

The Road to Emmaus is the polar opposite of the Road to Damascus.

The Road to Damascus is marked by suddenness, awe, intensity and clarity.

The Road to Emmaus is shadowed by fear, uncertainty, grief and delay, and the final, healing understanding comes only in the aftermath. Continue reading

Normal Dies, Resurrection Comes

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the [coronavirus], Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”

That’s my rewrite of the first line of our gospel

Of course the original text does not say “locked for fear of the coronavirus,” it says, “locked for fear of the Jews,” which was the label the community of the Gospel of John put on their fears. 

But the fact that we can replace only one word of the gospel, the story of faith written two thousand years ago, and have it so exactly reflect our own experience, tells you something. 

We are nearer in spirit to our ancestors in faith than we perhaps have ever been before.

Notice what happens here.  The disciples are hunkered down behind locked doors just like we are. 

They can’t go outside for fear of an external threat, just like us. 

And the amazing thing is that Jesus comes to them. 

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This Illness Does Not Lead to Death

“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”

Never in my life have I felt I understood Ezekiel’s experience more.

It has been another very scary week.

The coronavirus cases have climbed and climbed until the U.S. has more than any other nation in the world.

We have watched as frontline healthcare workers struggle to do their lifesaving jobs while being catastrophically underequipped.

Most of us are in one of three situations.

We are either sheltering in place and working from home, trying to keep kids active and learning or bearing the isolation of living alone.

Or we work in essential services so we are risking contagion every day as we continue to do our jobs.

Or we have been laid off and are suddenly facing complete unemployment and financial freefall.

We’re looking at the dry bones of how we used to live our lives. Comfort, security, normalcy, predictability, even safety are like so many scattered skeletons around us.

And the terrifying thing is these are only the first of the dry bones that will fill our valley.

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Ash Wednesday: Singing the Song of Our Enemy

The terrible war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended in December 1995.

The fighting between Serbs and Croats had set itself up along ethnic and religious lines and so deepened the divisions between the warring factions that it seemed impossible to imagine them going forward in any type of peace, much less healing and reconciliation.

A Franciscan priest began a revolutionary project in early 1996.

He recruited singers from across the country, people who were gifted in music, not necessarily professionals, but just people who were known in their towns and communities for their voices.

He brought them all together, Muslims and Christians, Serbs and Croats, some literally fresh off the battlefield, and asked them to begin singing together.

But not just any songs.

He asked them to sing the most traditional and well-known and deeply rooted religious songs of the Bosnian people, both Christian songs and Muslim songs.

He asked them to sing the songs of their enemies. Continue reading

Being Challengers

Each generation has at least one event that marks it forever.

People never forget where they were when they heard that President Kennedy was shot, or when they first learned of the 9/11 attacks.

One of those pivotal historical events was the Challenger disaster in 1986.

I was only 4 years old and don’t remember it at all, but I have heard the stories of family and friends of the horror of watching the space shuttle lift off and only 73 seconds into the launch, explode and disintegrate.

Many American schoolchildren witnessed the horrific tragedy in real time.

Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher, was on the Challenger as the first civilian to travel into outer space, and so the launch was being broadcast into thousands of American classrooms that day for the students to watch.

What was intended to be a spectacle of scientific progress and brave new American frontiers in space turned into a heartbreaking catastrophe in an instant.

Seven astronauts died in the incident, and seeing America’s best and brightest go up in flames on national television had Americans asking for answers.

President Reagan created the Rogers Commission to investigate the tragedy. Its members included familiar names from the space program such as Sally Ride, Chuck Yeager, and Neil Armstrong, as well as Boeing engineers, a Nobel prize winner in physics, a CIA aerial surveillance expert, and several Air Force generals.

The sad findings were that the Challenger disaster was completely preventable.

The scientific proximate cause was the malfunction of something called the o-rings that connected parts of the spacecraft, which failed in the cold temperatures of the launch. The failure of the o-rings led to pressurized hot gasses escaping, which then ignited and caused the explosion.

But the literal scientific explanation did not answer the bigger question: why did this happen?

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Vocation: I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Today let’s talk about the nature of call.

When people use the word Vocation, you can practically hear the capital “V.”

There is an all-too-persistent notion in the church the vocation is strictly the realm of the ordained clergy.

That is not true! Why do people think that?

For one thing, it’s the legacy of a clericalism that created and reinforced a false specialness in the clergy and placed them above lay people.

I also suspect that for some lay folks, denying they have vocation can be a helpful way to escape discerning it.

When we do think about vocation as applying to all people, another trap we fall into is elevating it into some sweeping destiny that encompasses one’s whole life.

It’s a similar phenomenon to the One True Love™ school of thought in which there is One Perfect Person for you who will Make All Your Dreams Come True and you will live Happily Ever After. (This is a damaging and limiting paradigm for so many reasons, but that’s another sermon.)

So when we elevate vocation into a Sweeping Destiny of answering God’s call in a noble, heroic, world-saving way, a task that will remain constant and unchanging for an entire lifetime, we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of problems.

First of all, it ignores the potential for vocation to change and evolve over time.

What you are called to do at eighteen may not be the same thing you’re called to do at eighty.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases, it probably shouldn’t be or we need to start asking if you have really opened yourself up to growth over the last six decades.

Next, the Sweeping Destiny model of vocation puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the individual to get it right.

You’d better make sure you don’t have a headache or aren’t too caught up in speculating on your favorite TV show’s plot on the day you commit to your Vocation.

What if you get it wrong? What if you choose the wrong path? Will the Earth crash into the sun?

And not only do you have to choose rightly, you have to act perfectly in the execution of the vocation. Because if you fail at doing it, maybe you failed in discerning it, and again, we’re back at the Earth crashing into the sun.

The consistent problem with this approach to vocation is that it takes us further from freedom and deeper into the prison of our need for security, control, and approval.

The Sweeping Destiny/One True Love approach to vocation can only create people—lay or ordained—ethically trapped on a path that often devolves into a job with tasks.

That does not create transformed people.

In fact, it often creates burned-out, bitter people who are phoning it in at whatever “vocation” seemed so noble and beautiful five or ten or fifty years ago.

(That doesn’t mean that every minute of living out vocation is sunshine and roses or it isn’t real. But when duty devolves into dread, something is wrong.)

So what can we say definitively about vocation? Continue reading