upper room daily devotions

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sermon: Dia del los Muertos - Nothing Separates Us from God and Each Other, Not Even Death

Sharing ourselves with another person changes the world. A bold statement, I know, but a true one all the same. When we share our stories, our vulnerabilities, our joys, our hopes, our dreams; when we commit to sharing a life with someone else; when we enter into another’s life, we are changed, they are changed, and something in the world is changed. Ripples of change emanate from that experience and move through the world shifting it this way and that. There is no scientific meter to measure this. There is no scientific hypothesis of which I am aware that really explains this. Yet it is a lived truth that people in all cultures and religions know. Being joined with another in a bond of love, with understanding and forbearance; being known, really known, and knowing another; these things reach into that part of us that stays hidden from the world and it works miracles there. With these people, these ones with whom we trust our tender places, we experience something that I only know to call “home.”

Yet, we live imperfect lives and carry scars, and we are are trapped by fears deeply established and rooted in our minds and souls. We build up walls to protect us from further pain and loss and disappointment and suffering. These same walls that protect us keep us from one another; they keep us stuck in pain or at least numbness; they keep us stagnate in life; they fragment a world that God is desperately trying to re-form into its intended wholeness.

We are living near the end of a period known as Modernity or the Enlightenment. Its birth pangs began long before, but it came into its own in the 1700s as societies moved from feudalism to nation-states, from agrarian economies to capitalism - a new idea altogether, and it is marked by the rise of democracy. One scholar has said that during this time we moved from the “divine right of kings” to the “divine right of the individual.” Germ theory rose to prominence as a way of explaining the spread of disease. People learned about atoms and subatomic structure. Once forbidden studies in human anatomy yielded to humankind’s need to know. Psychology developed as a new science that attempted to explain the “whys” of human behavior, and it sought to help the broken self heal. In the production world, the assembly line was developed. Technology provided humans with the ability to travel far distances in short periods of time. The world, which had up until this time been understood in whole terms, was dissected, reduced, pulled apart, named, categorized, and segmented. If one thing can be said about the past few hundred years, it is that it can be known primarily as a time of segmentation - of fragmentation. We have been able to parse the world down into mind-boggling units. And, with this never ending segmentation of the world and the increasing development of humans as individuals, we find ourselves living as completely separated people in a highly fragmented world.

Birth and death have not escaped this process of segmentation. More often than not, in industrialized countries where the technology and money exist, women receive their first baby photographs in their first trimester. We can prolong death in extraordinary ways. Our thinking, our ethics, our understanding have not caught up with our technological abilities. How we think about birth and death has become very privatized. We can scarcely understand a time when people did not understand themselves as individuals, wholly separate people, being born, living in the world, and dying. We have even made the separation between life and death much more pronounced that in previous times. Just in the past decade or so, it has become increasingly customary to hold memorial services without the body present. And it is now becoming increasingly common not to hold memorial services at all. Death has become final. Really final. Yet, we belong to a faith that does not distinguish between life and death in such stark terms. Life and death are not so far apart. And, God is active and present in them both. Throughout our scriptures, God is reaching in to dead places in order to pull out new life. When people seek out Jesus for a teaching, a healing, an exorcism, or to literally bring someone back to life, it isn’t just the individual who is changed. It is a holistic experience creating unity in whole communities. The world changes, not just the person. Jesus doesn’t just cure an illness or remove a demon or tell people to live good lives. Jesus restores communities. Through his life, his ministry, his suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus brings the wholeness of God’s kingdom and the unity of God’s shalom to life here on this earth.

Today we honor the Mexican holiday of Dia del los Muertos, Day of the Dead, which came into being when the native peoples of Mexico were introduced to Catholicism as the Spanish conquered Mexico in the 1500s. But we could just as easily give a nod to Samhain (sow-een), the Celtic Druid celebration out of which Halloween emerged. Both of these, Dia del los Muertos and Samhain are premodern celebrations. They are not encumbered by our scientific explanations or individualistic experiences of death. In every premodern culture that I know of, there is a ritual to honor the dead and to commune with the dead. For Dia del los Muertos, the belief is that the souls of the dead return to their homes on November 1, All Souls Day. So, on Oct 31, homes are prepared to welcome them. Altars are set up. Favorite foods are left out, in part to show them the way home and in part to welcome them with a feast once they’ve arrived. Bright marigolds are arranged to help souls find their way. Candles are lighted and incense is burned. Specifically, small candles are lit at 4 AM on Nov 1 for returning souls of children; they are blown out at 8 AM. At 3 PM large candles are lighted. Prayers are said at home and on November 2, people go to mass. The visual theme is the skeleton, specifically the skull. Displays are set up that show skeletons doing all of the joyful things that people do while they are alive: at weddings, at feasts, driving cars, playing musical instruments, even playing sports. The more whimsical the toy, the more true to the holiday. For some in our country this can seem macabre, but it isn’t. It is a way to celebrate that our relationships do not end at death. Loved ones remain a part of us. Their joys don’t cease to affect the world. Dia del los Muertos reminds us that death isn’t that big of a chasm. In Christianity we believe that the veil that separates the living and the dead is torn apart on this day. Death, despite its power, is not stronger than the love shared by people, even if they can no longer share the same physical place. And, their love continues to change the world, even after death.

When Jesus entered Jericho, the tax collector Zacchaeus climbed a tree to, we are told, “see who Jesus was.” I find this curious. He didn’t just want to see Jesus. He wanted to see who he was. When Jesus called him by name and told Zacchaeus that he would be eating in his home that day, Zacchaeus was changed. I don’t know if he at first saw who Jesus was, but Jesus saw who he was. And it was a powerful thing to be seen and known. Zacchaeus responded to Jesus with an offer to pay restitution to all whom he had harmed. This is real transformation born out of a shared experience. And to him, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Jesus says, “Wholeness has come to this house.” Not just to Zacchaeus, but to his whole house. I bet their feast was something pretty great.

We feast today, too. We feast in the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We feast at God’s table as the host of Christ himself. We break this bread and we feast in the presence of the saints and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a mystical meal that crosses all the boundaries that try to keep us separated from one another and with God. In this meal, shared with the living and the dead, in the presence of the Most Holy, transformation occurs, not just in us. No. In the taking of this bread, in the sharing of this meal, by the confession of our mouths and in the prayers that we offer and in the stories that we retell, ripples are sent out into the world, and it is changed from this day forward.

God sends us to one another to share in this world and all that it has to offer. To share big and robustly, not to hid behind the walls that we erect, to be safe from one another. Shared life is risky life. Yet shared life is whole life - healing life - salvific life. Today we are reminded that nothing really separates us from one another or from God. As it is written in Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
[l] 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let it be so. Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taking the Sabbath Pledge

Christians have, at best, an ambivalent relationship with Sabbath-keeping and, at worst, an adverse response to the idea of it. This may be due in part to many years of dour Sundays lived in towns with blue laws* when all of the fun was squished right out of life. But, this isn't what Sabbath should be. And, with increased pluralism and diversity in our communities, we will never return to the time of blue laws and set aside Sundays. I invite Christians back to a regular practice of celebrating the Resurrection - real celebration - with joy and fun and laughter and precociousness. I invite you to retouch some practices from our Jewish roots, especially Sabbath-keeping, which instruct us to rest, to cease, and to remember the primacy of God in our lives. I ask you to pledge with me to set aside one day a week - a full day - and let it displace the centrality of work and labor, to remind you of how beloved you are to God, to welcome the stranger, to laugh with friends, to break bread in thanksgiving, to participate in Holy Eucharist, and to remember that God offers this day of rest to all people; therefore, I ask you to refrain from the production/consumption process this one day. Do not let your rest be dependent upon another's labor - at least not directly. If you are interested in this pledge, please comment or email me. Let's build a new community of Christians who understand that despite the pressure of this world for us to labor without ceasing that we are free in God. Let us build a community that remembers that we are not the Great Creator, God is. Let us celebrate the diversity of creation by ceasing our usual demands placed upon the earth, letting it rest as we rest.

Technically speaking, Sabbath, which comes from the Hebrew word "Shabbat" (or "Shabbos") means in its most simplest form "to cease." Within Jewish custom, Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday (following the order in Genesis, which places the beginning of days and sundown and not at sunrise). Two candles are lighted symbolizing the setting apart of this day as a holy day, the most holy day, of the week. A special meal is eaten often times with extended family or friends or even new acquaintances in attendance. Songs are sung, specific prayers are offered. Dinner is long and carries late into the evening. Synagogues conduct services on Friday evening and on Saturday morning. Saturday includes corporate worship and fun with friends and family People are invited to nap/rest and to spend time learning the Torah. Couples are encouraged to have sex. Basically, there are two Shabbat injunctions: Cease from work. Experience Joy. Shabbat ends with the lighting of one braided candle, symbolizing the coming back together of the holy and the profane.

Shabbat is a gift from God. In Jewish poetry, it is described to as a bride or a queen. It is a joyous time during which the cares and stresses of the rest of the week can be set aside in order to enter into a mystical time of abundance, laughter, joy - shalom. Shabbat is the living out of shalom (peace, wholeness), which has yet to be fully realized on earth. It is a taste of what God wants for the world.

Very early in Christian history, as Christian communities increasingly comprised Gentile members instead of Jewish members, the sect moved from celebrating Shabbat to celebrating the Lord's Day. For a short while, many communities celebrated both days. However, with the Hellenization of Christianity there came a de-Judaising of our practices and customs. It is my opinion that this began with the best intentions - at least I hope that this is so. Communities were faced with this simple question: Do people who are not Jewish and who will never live in Israel need to convert to Judaism in order to belong to a Christian community - to follow Christ? Early Christian communities were divided on this issue. Some maintained that Christians did need to convert to Judaism, but others did not. Paul, who was born a Jew, believed that the expectation of conversion placed an undue burden on people who were not and would never be culturally Jewish or live in Israel. And so, within a few decades after the death of Jesus, Christianity evolved from a sect of Judaism into its own religion. As its own religion, it defined itself over and against its parent. By the the middle of the Second Century CE, Christians had stopped celebrating Shabbat. Only the Lord's Day remained as their weekly commemoration. In the beginning days of Christianity, the Lord's Day was not a day of rest. It was a day for Christians to gather, to seek forgiveness/reconciliation, work out problems, and participate in the Eucharist/holy meal with one another. However, they continued to work and did not join in the Shabbat rituals and customs of their Jewish brothers and sisters. In 321 CE Emperor Constantine decreed, "On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed." The Emperor wedded the cessation of work with the Lord's Day.

As time went on Christians continued to struggle with the full expression of the Lord's Day. Many early leaders referred to it as the 8th Day - a day out of time as humans understand it, a day that celebrates new creation. As Genesis tells of the first creation, the Resurrection of Christ invites us into a second creation. The 8th Day mirrors the 1st Day in this way. There are other Christian practices that echo Jewish ones. Corporate worship, a holy meal, prayers, learning, reconciliation, hospitality to the stranger - these are all things embedded in the Jewish practice of Shabbat. Christianity kept them and often added new interpretations for them. Christianity did not keep the Jewish practice of refraining from 39 activities listed in the building of the Tabernacle. Christianity, in not requiring conversion to Judaism, also left behind dietary rules, circumcision, and various kinds of dress codes and holiness practices.

By the 20th Century CE, especially in American Protestantism, the Lord's Day had become a hybrid experience. Work was taboo in most places. Most communities had actual laws that forbade their opening or operation.* But, it was also a dour experience. The Puritan practice of long solemn prayers infused most of Protestantism. Games that could be associated with gambling were forbidden. Dancing and other suggestive activities were disallowed by many denominations. Protestantism in general and the Lord's Day in particular had become solemn in nature and not joyful - not an experience of the Resurrection.

By the 1980s, blue laws had lost their hold. Businesses were open on both Saturday and Sunday. No longer was there a day during the week that the State demanded to be observed as a day of rest. New ethnic groups and religions started to be found in traditionally homogenous Christian neighborhoods; they brought with them their own holidays, observances, and customs. The Protestant calendar was yielding to a more inclusive calendar. Overall, I think this is wonderful. We should not rely upon the State to force us into religious practice. We should not force our calendars on other peoples. We should not depend upon our employers or the government to make our holy days special. But, for the first time in American history, Protestants were and are being called to be responsible for their own faith identity and their own spiritual disciplines. This is a difficult thing for people who have not had to intentionally attend to these things.

Today more people are apt to live away from extended families. More often than not, both parents are working, or there is only one parent in the household. Businesses are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With smart phones and the internet, the office is just a click away. No longer are we "at work" or "at home." Work comes with many of us wherever we go. Fewer people are getting married in their 20s. Fewer people are having children in their 20s. Families come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Schools are less geographically based; for example, your kid may go to one school, but your next door neighbor's child may attend another school. All of this describes a world that is increasingly fragmented as well as diffuse. People are pulled in many different directions and many of the boundaries upon which we once relied are not there to help us move away from work and into rest or away from labor and into leisure. Many of the activities upon which we relied to give us a sense of identity and a sense of community are gone. This fragmentation of experience affects all of us in one way or another. And, what once would have been shared experiences are less natural and given. They must be sought out.

Christians would do well to understand that to be a faithful follower of Jesus, especially in today's fragmented world, we must attend to our spiritual practices, be regular in our practices, and insist upon the separateness of holy days. If we do not attend to these things, we will continue to live divided lives - half here, half someplace else. Reimagining Shabbat for Christians in this postmodern age is one way that I think we can begin to reclaim right relationship with time, with God, with our place in relation to other creation, and with ourselves. If one looks at Jesus' life and teachings, the centrality of Sabbath is evident. Whether he is teaching in a synagogue, declaring the Year of the Lord's Favor, welcoming the stranger, or healing the ill, Jesus is making room for all people to enter into the fullness of God - the Shabbat vision. Jews call it shalom; Christians call it the Kingdom of God. As his followers, are we not to do the same? To seek ways for all people to enter into the fullness of God? To live whole lives? To be free of oppression? This is the Shabbat vision, and it is one that we can imagine anew for ourselves, pulling in part of our Lord's Day traditions, retouching the traditions of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and by imaging new practices that have yet to be born among us.

Please take the Sabbath Pledge:

I pledge to take one day a week during which I will:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. While I may work six days, on the seventh day, I won't work; I won't ask anyone to work for me; I will not expect my rest to depend upon another's labor. If God can create the whole of the universe in six days and rest on the seventh day, so I can rest one day a week. (See Exodus 20:8-11).

I will rest for God. I will celebrate this scripture from Deuteronomy: "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." I am not a slave. Nor shall there by slavery in God's holy kingdom.

I pledge to reflect upon the first story of Sabbath, which appears before the 10 Commandments. Read Exodus 16. In it God provides manna for people in the wilderness, and they are instructed not to take more than their share, but to take a double portion before the 7th day, on which they shall rest. This story binds Sabbath and justice, Sabbath and abundance. What can you do - what practices can you incorporate - on your Sabbath and in your everyday living that remind you of justice and abundance?

*Blue Laws - According to Merriam Webster: "a statute regulating work, commerce, and amusements on Sundays"
The first known blue law was in 1762 in Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It Gets Better: Seattle United Methodist Pastors

Two colleagues in Seattle joined me in making an "It Gets Better" video. I know that there are many theological understandings about sexuality in general and about homosexuality in particular. However, it is my hope that all reasonable people would agree that children, youth, and young adults should not take their own lives because they are bullied, made to feel "wrong" or "bad" about themselves, or because they think that somehow they are misfits ontologically.

I thank Mark and Kathleen for their help - for appearing in this video.

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and are in need of immediate help, please call The Trevor Project at 1.866.488.7386.

If you are looking for queer friendly groups within your denomination, please know that almost all mainline denominations do have one.

American Baptist Church - Rainbow Baptists
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance, Inc.
Episcopal Church - Integrity
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - Reconciling in Christ
Presbyterian Church (USA) - More Light Presbyterians
Roman Catholic Church- Dignity
Unitarian Universalist - Welcoming Congregations
United Church of Christ - Open and Affirming in the UCC
United Methodist Church - Reconciling Ministries Network

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Witness for LGBTQI Suicides

Suicide has become a topic of national conversation. In recent weeks, four teenagers committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. These tragedies, coming one after another, have forced this country to look at the real harm caused by prejudice and bigotry. While many people would like to believe that the fight for LGBTQI rights is an unnecessary political movement, these recent suicides reveal the depth of despair to which many people in the LGBTQI community are driven. While tremendous strides have been made in forming community for LGBTQI folks, and while gains have been made in the political arena, kids still fear rejection by family, bullying in school, persecution within their faith communities, and even violence. This real danger of being LGBTQI in our country is evidenced in the recent gang torture of three gay men in New York City. Being gay may be easier today than it was 25 years ago, but it is not easy.

On October 8-9, The Vine Christian Ministries in Seattle, hosted a 24-hour prayer vigil followed by a community march called "Take Back the Bridge" to raise money for The Crisis Clinic, Seattle's 24-hour crisis line. A complementary campaign called "Take Back the Bridge for Everyone" was created to highlight the disproportionate number of people in the LGBTQI community who attempt suicide.

The Aurora Bridge is second only to the Golden Gate Bridge as a tool used for suicide. A campaign has been underway to erect a suicide barrier along the Aurora Bridge. The WSDOT hopes that the barrier will be completed by the end of 2010. I was proud to walk with the Take Back the Bridge for Everyone campaign and the Take Back the Bridge campaign on October 9 as we walked along the Aurora Bridge.

The Take Back the Bridge campaign is in its second year. As part of his duties as a firefighter, The Vine Christian Ministries' pastor Heath Rainwater was called out to the foot of the Aurora Bridge during 2009. He watched as a jumper leaped from the bridge. In response to this incident, Pastor Rainwater organized his church to raise money for Seattle's Crisis Clinic as well as raise awareness about the power that lost hope can have on people.

This year, given the recent spate of queer youth suicides, it seemed important to educate the public about the number of LGBTQI youth who contemplate suicide. Thirty percent of youth suicides are related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Seventy-four percent of LGBTQI students feel unsafe in school. Over 1,400 LGBTQI youth between the ages of 10 and 24 complete suicides with an additional 15,000 contemplating suicide. These numbers should frighten us. They should also chastise religious communities that continue to demean the realities of queer youth. And, this is why the Take Back the Bridge for Everyone campaign is important.

Religious communities, families, schools, friends, and mentors have a sacred responsibility to help young people grow and mature into adults. This is true for all kids. All kids struggle with feelings of isolation and despair. Growing up is a difficult process. Differentiating from parents, structuring ethical beliefs, and forming a core identity are hard work for any young person. Add to this the stigma of real difference - of liking boys when the world says you should like girls, of liking girls when the world says you should like boys, of liking both when the world says you should like only one - and a recipe for tragedy is in the works. But this doesn't have to be the case.

LGBTQ suicides can serve as a teaching tool for all kids and their needs, for the important work of suicide prevention hotlines, and of the power of words to heal or hurt. Regardless of your theological stance on homosexuality, I would hope that you don't want young people to kill themselves. If that is true, learn about suicide prevention, about the power of prejudice to kill, and teach your non-LGBTQ young people not to bully or harass others whom they suspect to be gay.

If you are queer and are contemplating suicide, please reach out for help from a safe place. Contact the Trevor Project. If you live in Seattle, please contact the Crisis Clinic at 206-866-4CRISIS. Take care of yourself and know that there are those in this world who want you to thrive and live into the fullness of that beautiful creature God has made you to be.

Last, I want to thank the folks at The Vine Christian Ministries for welcoming those of us who hold very different theologies from them. They welcomed us warmly into their worship space and were gracious in allowing us to walk with them. They embodied a generous spirit of hospitality.

*On the use of "queer" - Queer is a word that has been used to demean and belittle people in the LGBTQI community. Yet, as someone within that community, I feel comfortable in using it as a "catch-all" phrase for the diversity of my community. By the 1990s, many universities had begun to offer degrees in "Queer Theory," "Queer Identity," and "Queer Theology," and the word began to be reclaimed. I recognize that this is a loaded term with which many people will be uncomfortable. Please know that I use it in the most positive way possible. After all, I think I'm a bit queer...and only part of that has to do with sexual orientation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Thomas Merton on October

I love October. It is my favorite time of year. I always loved the start of school and all of the promises of a new year of learning. I loved being huddled under wool blankets while the football team battled it out on the field. I loved band music, hot dogs, and hot chocolate. I still love the smell of autumn; it marks the inexorable move from long summer days to cold long winter nights. Crisp air. Pumpkins. Sweet children turned into goblins and ninja and heroes of space battles not yet fought. I don't know why autumn brings such a strong sense of anticipation. After all, it moves us not into a season of growth and newness, but into a fallow season, the time when things die in order to make room for new birth another time.

Here is a quote from Thomas Merton, that great saint who spoke truth, but more importantly, who lived truth, who sought love and oneness with God with every breath and was honest enough to say that he didn't always find it.

"October is a fine and dangerous season in America. a wonderful time to begin anything at all. You go to college, and every course in the catalogue looks wonderful."

Isn't that a wonderful thing - to feast upon the offering of knowledge and life and for all of it to look wonderful? In these days of divisive partisanship, of teens taking their own lives, of faltering peace talks, of never ending wars, there is something beautiful in this image.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Wonderfully Made, Beautifully Born: Saint Francis Sermon

Here is my sermon for October 3. What began as a regular celebration of the Feast of Saint Francis turned into something quite different. I could not preside over the service on Sunday without giving attention to the four teens who took their own lives this month - all bullied for being gay. It seems to me that a celebration of creation must mention the brokenness within creation as well. The sermon is called "Wonderfully Made, Beautifully Born."

By now most people have heard the name Tyler Clementi. He was an 18 year old student at Rutgers University. He killed himself after being secretly filmed and outed on the internet. As shocking and disturbing as Tyler’s story is, it does not stand alone; 4 young people took their lives this past month all for being bullied for being gay. In California, 13 year old Seth Walsh hanged himself after being bullied; he died nine days later. In Texas, 13 year old Asher Brown shot himself. In Indiana, 15 year old Billy Lucas hanged himself in his family’s barn. Our children are dying, and it is imperative that adults, that churches, schools, doctors, teachers, and mentors of all kinds tell them that as tough as life is at any given moment, there will be better moments. The pain of one moment should not result in the loss of life through suicide. In response to the pain of young queer teens, Dan Savage started an online project called “It Gets Better.” It is a place for adults (or teens) who have moved through the pain of bullying, through coming out, to share how life gets better. Story after story reveals how the voices of our past need not continue to hold power over us as we grow up. We can create our own identity, love whom we will, work where we will, and live in the neighborhoods we choose. One of the things that churches can do is to tell kids - all kids - that they are wonderfully made and beautifully born. You may be a girl who likes motorcycles or dresses. You may be a boy who likes motorcycles or dresses. You may be a girl who loves girls or boys or both. You may be a boy who loves boys or girls or both. What we care about is that you know how to love - yourself and others and this whole world - and this includes yourself - fully. It is our job to fill kids with the wonder of creation, with curious minds, with loving hearts, with passion and joy and delight.

On this eve of the Feast of Saint Francis, I am compelled to speak about the wonder of creation. Life is something to feast upon, to love, to treasure. All life. The life of trees. The life of bears. The life of insects. The life of plankton. The life of shrimp. The life of whales. The life of beetles. The life of flowers. The life of weeds. The life of all manner of creeping, flying, and crawling things. Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. His life journey took him into deep relationship with all manner of God’s creation: wolves, birds, and people - especially poor people and sick people. When Francis realized the wonder of God’s creation, he knew that he had to be in relationship with all of it, especially the parts that society usually overlooks or condemns. In his world, this meant specifically that Francis lived with and among the poorest of the poor, leaving behind the wealth into which he was born. He understood that to love God’s creation entailed loving the parts of it that most people struggle to love. This is true for us today. Like Francis, the realization of our deep connection with all of creation draws us into relationship with beautiful things and beautiful people as well as people who are reviled - the poor, the immigrant, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people.

Some of this may make some in this room uncomfortable. It’s important to name that we are uncomfortable with some things, some people, different ways of life, people who are different from us. There is nothing wrong with naming our discomfort. There is, however, something profoundly wrong with pretending difference doesn’t exist or that difference should be eradicated. Our drive to homogeneity - to “sameness” - is killing whole species, is resulting in crop failure, is eradicating native plants and animals. It also drives us to homophobia and heterosexism, which is killing are kids. We don’t all have to be alike. I believe that God rejoices in difference. Some of us are tall, some are round, some have brown skin, some have pale skin. We have blue, green, brown, and speckled eyes. Some of us walk, some of us wheel. Part of creation flies through the air. Some of creation lives without air. Some breathe in water. Some can’t. Some eat plants only. Some eat animals only. Some eat both. Some of creation gets its energy right from the sun.

All of this earth is wonderfully made. You are wonderfully made and beautifully born. Difficult times will come as surely as we live and breathe. But the wonderful parts of life only come as long as we live and breathe. If life is hard for you, for whatever reason, hear that you have been lovingly crafted into something only you can be. Life is still perfecting you. You are not yet what you will be. When we celebrate Holy Communion, you are invited to come just as you are - with doubts and with fears, with joy, with pain. The wonder of God’s table has nothing to do with intellectual confidence in religious tenets; it is about hope - a hope for that day when all of God’s creation thrives in complete fullness, no longer a shadow of what it might be. The table is an expression of a vision - a vision of that day when the breaches within creation are repaired, when all have enough and no one has too much, when the birds have their perches, the whales clean water, and lions can roam their territory without fear of poachers. The vision of the table is one of abundance but not excess. The table is an experience - for at least that moment when the bread is placed in your hand and you soak it in the richness of the fruit of the grape - all of creation has what it needs. We have the basic food of grain; we have the rich luxury of the vine. Necessity and abundance. The table celebrates the wonder of creation and it recognizes that we - and all of creation - have not yet been completed. And, it’s okay not to come to the table. Perhaps this hope is one you cannot have today. Perhaps this vision seems too far away. You are invited to come anyway, if you choose, and to let the rest of us hold that hope for you - to hold this vision up for you. But, you can remain in your seat. We cannot always participate. We are works in process. When we arise from the table we go back into a world still hurting, wars still raging, animals losing their habitats, forests being burned, the climate still changing. We arise from the table to go into the world where children are bullied for being different: too short, too tall, too smart, too dumb, too gay, too queer. It’s a hard world we return to. And yet, somehow it contains immense wonder, beauty, and joy. As we re-enter this world, those of us who are somewhat healed have a great deal of work to help make it a little better. We can show others that healing is possible. We can teach our young ones that the pains of life will not always be so intense or cut so deeply. We can tend our piece of God’s beautiful garden. We can raise our voices and lend our bodies to this most holy and sacred work.

This is not abstract stuff. This is the heart of real church - of powerful faith. This month 4 young people took theirs lives, and they lived in places as diverse as New Jersey, Indiana, Texas, and California; the painful realities of difference are felt everywhere. Isolation and broken relationship occur throughout our world and it results in tragedy. We are too late to tell these young people how wonderful they are, how wonderful life can be, how wonderfully made all of creation is. Isolation leads us to believe that this moment is all that will ever be. Despair removes our ability to relate with one another or to experience our connectedness with God’s wonderful creation. We are too late the help these four young people. But, we are not too late to rise from the table in hope and to be a witness to the pain of others and to offer them this simple message: You are wonderfully made and beautifully born - just as you are. You are part of a living organism called the Earth. It struggles to be in harmonious relationship within itself. You are needed to help it be in balance. In the Old Testament, we call this perfect wholeness Shalom. In the New Testament, we call it God’s Kingdom or Reign. We celebrate it at the table. And we proclaim it in the world. You are wonderfully made, and beautifully born. Amen.

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