Sunday, April 10, 2016

Outrage in the Land of the Free

We've been praying a collect that talks of the reconciling love of Christ, and yet I have felt very little love for my neighbors in Mississippi or North Carolina. Or the Florida Governor's Mansion. Or even for some of my friends on Facebook during this political season. This has been a week of outrage and outrageousness.

Again, the LGBTQ+ community finds itself under attack by state legislators who suffer from "Trans panic" about who is going into which public restroom, and whether a hospital should be compelled to provide care to someone who is a member of the LGBTQ+ population. I realize it's more ridiculous to talk about denying a wedding cake to a gay or lesbian couple, but the more truly horrid part of the new Mississippi law is that a hospital surgeon could decide she doesn't want to treat a person because their orientation or gender identity or expression offends her religious beliefs. Our Governor walked into a Starbucks in Gainesville, a university city with a more liberal-leaning than its neighboring towns, and found himself face-to-face with a woman who had had enough of his anti-woman, anti-poor policies. Rather than sticking around to get his soy no water chai latte (I have it on good authority that this is his preferred drink order at Starbucks), the Governor walked off...and then had his PAC cut an ad lambasting this female citizen critic. And let's not even get started on the many flare-ups between friends on Facebook over Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and which one is "qualified" to be President. Lord, make haste to help us!

In fact, God is providing for me a few hints in this Sunday's lectionary that, as always, Love is aware and pointing toward the possibility and rewards of reconciliation. 

We hear the story from the Acts of the Apostles about the conversion of Saul (who will miraculously become Paul midway through that book). This is one of my favorites from Acts because it speaks so well to the tension of division and God's power to take two bitter enemies and convert their hearts to the oneness of being in relationship with the One and each other. Here's Paul, on his way to Damascus and all fired-up because he's going to get more of these followers of "The Way," stopped in his tracks and faced with the resurrected Christ saying, "Why, Saul? Why are you doing this to me?" He is blinded, led into Damascus to the home of a follower of "The Way" named Ananais, who is just a tad bit worried about having this hater in his home town. God assures Ananais that this will all be OK if he will please lay his hands on Saul and pray. Reluctantly, he does it, and Saul's eyes are opened...not only in the physical sense that he is no longer blind, but also the eyes of his heart are opened to a conversion to Christ as messiah. And a tremendous and important advocate for Christianity is born. And Ananais is, well, in awe. Thanks be to God! Now, let's hear that Gospel story again about fishing off the other side of the boat, and the discussion with Peter out on the beach. 

Peter, feeling a little sheepish (yes, pun intended), is having an important one-on-one discussion with Jesus at the end of John's Gospel. It sounds a little like the song from "Fiddler on the Roof": "Do you love me?" "Do I what?!"  Peter needs this moment with Jesus to undo the three times of denying knowing him before the crucifixion. Jesus needs this moment with Peter to convey the forgiveness of this wrong, and place a heavy burden upon Peter to now, for real, "follow me." And, once more, God has interjected God's self into strengthening the faith and the bond to open Peter's heart to become a tremendous and important advocate for the future of the Christian church. Peter and Paul had dual and important missions serving different pockets of people in the spreading of the Good News. And both were key figures in the story that would lead to a religion that would be subsumed at different times by the power structures of the day. Not always to the glory of God, but that's not the fault of either Peter or Paul. Their mission was to bring the transformative power of Love to the people. And, ultimately amidst all the hubbub and nastiness of the day, that's our job, too.

It is tremendously hard to keep that focus, at least it is for me, and I fall short of it often. But it is the point to which I must return if I am to remain able to be the light I wish to see in the world. And we need a whole lot more light because, as we've seen in the past week alone, the streets are still filled with too much darkness and there are those who keep attempting to shoot out the street lights to make it even darker. This is not some Pollyanna baloney I'm putting out there. This is my entreaty to those of us who call ourselves "Christian" to remember that when we fail to act out of our place of Love, we need to stop, think and return to that place because that IS our true power. As I so often pray, "Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen." These are not just words; this prayer is the intent of my heart. In the face of opposition, and meanness, and rancor, we have the power to combine with others who are tapped into the Light to overcome the darkness of the world. Believe in it. Live into it.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Maybe We Need to Do Things Differently

"The Miraculous Draught of Fish"by Rubens

The days of Easter Week are kind of like the old Ginsu knife commercials where with each subsequent amazing feature of this kitchen cutting implement, the announcer would say, "But wait: there's more!" Since the most amazing and miraculous event of the Resurrection last Sunday, we've been treated daily to more wonderful testimonies of Jesus appearing to the disciples, being known to them in the breaking of the bread, etc. At the 12:10 service this Friday, the scene was the moment when Peter and some of the disciples take off in a boat to go fishing, since this is what they know how to do. They keep trying to catch fish, but they're not successful. Jesus in the meantime has been watching them from the shore, and when they come in, empty-handed, he tells them to cast the net off the right side of the boat. So, off they go, and they give the right-side a try. And--holy mackerel, salmon, and tuna--they haul in 153 huge fish!

Our celebrant was most interested in the charcoal fire on the beach...which he noted the only other time there was a charcoal fire mentioned was when Peter denied Jesus, something that would be undone in the verses to follow in the 21st chapter of  John's Gospel. But I was more interested by a couple of other parts of today's Gospel. First, it hadn't struck me until today that the breakfast Jesus serves up on the beach is bread and fish, which for me recalls the miraculous feeding of the five thousand and is one of the few stories of Jesus which exists in all four Gospels. This breakfast is only going to feed a dozen, not thousands, and yet it is significant that the same food which fed all and all were satisfied is brought out again to feed those who will be charged with "feed my sheep."

Even more interesting is the idea of the 153 fish. I've looked, and I can't find anything that would be a clue about this number, but I am taking it as a sign of the diversity of sea life that found its way into their net and even with all of them squirming and their collected weight, the net didn't break. Cool, right? "But wait: there's more!"

I have to wonder if the significance of this catch could hold a lesson for us, the Church, today? I am curious about the idea that the apostles weren't able to fulfill their mission to "fish for people" until they dropped their net off the other side of the boat. As I consider this, it makes me think that for the church to grow, we need to be willing to cast our net into the waters that are not the usual ones. There are a lot of "fish" out there...just as there are a lot of "sheep" who need feeding and tending. But if we keep going to the same places, and using the same methods of attracting people, then we are missing an opportunity to reach those who are still swimming about in the great big sea called "the world." And the people we may encounter may not be "the usual suspects," which, in the case of Episcopalians, would be upper middle-class white people. Our population could stand to look a little more diverse and come from more walks of life.

Naturally, this requires people to step outside of their usual patterns and gathering places in order to meet those who are not just like us. That's risky, and nobody really likes to do what is risky. Face-to-face, person-to-person contact is always the best. And I sometimes wonder if it doesn't help to share freely and fully some of the good things happening at a particular church through this medium called "social networking." It may not seem as effective as the incarnated encounter with a happy Episcopalian. And yet, more and more people are dependent on their FB and other social networks to know what's happening in the world. A well-organized and planned strategy for sharing posts will raise a church's visibility. And once people find the church, a congregation trained in showing hospitality to a stranger is the net to encourage that visitor to become a more frequent participant. And once someone feels included, their willingness to take part in the life of the church takes off. And now--you have a net teeming with fish!

Are we ready for that?