Saturday, February 23, 2013

What I'm Talking About

As I work hard this weekend on an assignment for my New Testament class -- an exegesis on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 -- I'm reminded of a poem I wrote long ago. Picture yourself at the Last Supper ...

When you eat, eat like this.
Never mind the meal; all food nourishes.
When you drink, drink like this.
Never mind the wine; I prefer it,
But don’t drink wine if you don’t like it.
That’s not what I’m talking about.

Sometimes it’s like I’m talking to a child:
Tiny vocabulary, barely comprehending
The slightest thing I say.
It’s like I’m talking to a hyperactive child:
No attention span, much aggressive energy
To pour into his play.
And play is important,

But I need this moment to show you
What I am talking about.
When you eat, eat like this.
No, never mind the position of your hands
Or the choice to genuflect
Or cross yourself –
Work that out on your own. Rather,
When you eat and drink,
Eat and drink together.
That’s what I’m talking about.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Coming Down the Mountain

sermon preached at Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, MD
by Josh Hosler, Seminarian
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C/ February 10, 2013

One summer when I was in high school, I experienced a bad scheduling conflict. I had to leave church camp two days early in order to come home and march in a parade with the high school band. I was crushed, but it was a commitment I couldn’t break. I remember the goodbye hugs with my church camp friends when my dad came to pick me up. Everywhere I looked as we drove home, the faces of the young people I saw reminded me of specific kids from camp, and the adults reminded me of the counselors and the clergy. A feeling of sadness settled over me. I had had to leave the most wonderful place in the world, and the most wonderful people in the world, to go back to a place that didn’t even feel like the world anymore.

Back at home, nobody sang songs to God around a campfire. Nobody talked about God at all, at least not in a way I understood. Back at home, other kids sometimes picked on me, but many kids had it far worse than I did. It wasn’t like that at camp. Camp wasn’t perfect, but we knew our ideal: everybody mattered to us, because we knew for a fact that everybody matters to God.

Coming down from that mountaintop experience was difficult for me every year, not just that one. Typically I would experience a day or two of the doldrums. Have you had an experience like that?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus took his three closest disciples, his three best friends, to the top of Mount Tabor, not a huge mountain by any estimation. But it’s not the height of a mountain that matters as much as what happens when you’re on top. Mountains offer a great view not only of the low countries all around, but also of transcendent experiences.

We read this story every year at the pivot point between Epiphany and Lent. For several weeks now we’ve been hearing stories of Jesus’ earthly actions, of his calling disciples, teaching, and healing. The stories have led us to the mountaintop for the biggest epiphany yet, a vision of Jesus through the lens of God’s glory. On Wednesday it will be time to come down the mountain, into the valley, to begin the forty penitential days of Lent. I’m glad we sang “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones” today so we could get our allelu-ya-yas out! Lent is an intentional time of non-celebration, of muted joy, of slowing down more than usual to listen for God at work in our lives.

Why do we transition with this story? For one thing, the Transfiguration takes place at a pivot point in the gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the story is placed right around the middle of the gospel, and it causes Jesus’ ministry to make a notable shift. In all three of these gospels, before going up the mountain, Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Then Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection and warns his disciples of the cost of continuing to follow him.

So about eight days after these things (or six days in Matthew and Mark), the Transfiguration story occurs. You might imagine that Peter, James and John are already starting to wonder what the deal is with Jesus. The adventure they have embarked on with him just keeps getting stranger and stranger. And the stakes have suddenly become much higher. Then this incredible experience happens. There’s no explanation for it, but very clearly and without a doubt, just because they happened to stay awake, they have seen Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. It’s such a shocking experience that Peter (true to form) immediately sticks his foot in his mouth, and they all keep it to themselves for a long time.

After coming down the mountain—again, in Matthew, Mark and Luke—Jesus encounters a man whose son apparently has epilepsy, or something like it. Jesus’ other disciples have tried to “cast out the demon,” but it hasn’t worked. And what is Jesus’ reaction? Extreme frustration. He retorts, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” But he does heal the boy. And then he predicts his death and resurrection a second time.

What are we to make of Jesus’ strong reaction? Is he frustrated with his disciples, with the man and his son, or with the entire situation? Or is his mind on other things? Indeed, it’s not long after this in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus “sets his face” to go to Jerusalem and the ordeal that awaits him there. After the Transfiguration, Jesus holds his would-be followers to stricter standards, and his parables begin to take on a darker, more judgmental tone.

I think Jesus came to a new realization on that mountain. His encounter with Moses and Elijah changed him—transfigured him—and helped him prepare for what lay ahead.  But coming down the mountain meant stepping down into disappointment, and into the million concerns that stood between him and the cross. His disciples still didn’t get it. Maybe he worried that nobody would understand his teachings well enough to act on them, so wrapped up were they in their own ideas of what it means to be a success in this world. Step one in earthly success, of course, is to stay alive. How can anyone call death a victory?

But Jesus had seen a bigger vision, a vision of God’s kingdom, and he knew it could and would come on earth as in heaven. Jesus knew that God would someday act to make it so, but in the meantime, his job was to reveal all the ways it was already present. After giving the people so many parables about the Kingdom of God, Jesus was about to become a parable himself. What would happen if his disciples didn’t catch the vision, too? What if they just thought he’d gone crazy?

When we come down from our mountaintop experiences, the experiences that really change us, it’s easy to feel that there is nothing we can do to express the vision we have received, that there’s no way to use our new insights to transfigure the world. But ever since those church camp days as a kid, I’ve learned a lot. I know now that, again and again, I did my part to bring that world with me, just by becoming the person I was growing into. At church camp, I was learning how to be a person who hoped for a life worthy of God. When I left, I did my best to live that life, even at great cost to my pride and my popularity. How could I not? I had caught a glimpse of something so amazing, so transcendent, that I just had to pass it on. Somewhere along the line I decided to allow God to change me, bit by bit. I’m still on that journey today. It’s the journey we’re all on.

Most recently I have returned from the Dominican Republic, a mountaintop experience of a very different sort. This unique, three-week immersion program through Virginia Theological Seminary gave me a chance to learn quite a bit of Spanish, but it also taught me much about what it means to be the church in a country very different from our own. Many things are more difficult: for one thing, people’s daily needs are greater and harder to meet. Other things are easier: a conversation about God is easier to begin and sustain there than with a typical American. Above all, I developed caring relationships with the people I met and a deeper understanding of the lives they lead. It is tempting just to close that chapter in my story and move on. Yet I know that I am called to share some of what I have learned there, and to do something that will build on the experience. But how can I communicate that to people back home, people who can’t and won’t care in the same way I do? How can I share the good news? I haven’t yet learned how to tell that story.

This is where prayer comes in. Let’s remember that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. To live a Christian life is to seek transfiguration, so that we may become more and more like Jesus. In our Collect today, drawing on language from Paul, we prayed, “Grant that we … may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” We can’t be Jesus, but we can reveal Jesus. We can be Christ-bearers to the world.

A priest friend of mine once counseled me: “If you want to track your development as a Christian, check to see how much you actually want to be like Jesus. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t want to be like Jesus, that’s OK. Instead, ask, ‘Do I want to want to be like Jesus?’ It may be that that’s enough for now.”

Do you want to be like Jesus? Do you want to want to be like Jesus? If so, become more and more open to your own transfiguration. And if and when it happens, come down the mountain. After all, if you stay on the mountaintop forever, you’ll be no good to anybody. But be prepared for doldrums and disappointment: they’re pretty common down here in the valleys. The faith we receive on the mountain is meant to carry us through these times. The hard work might not be the work itself, but the way we choose to treat the people who will oppose us in our work.

Lent is a time to draw on the strength we have been given on the mountain. What have been your mountaintop experiences? What have been your valley experiences? Which does your life more resemble today? This Lent, please join me in daily prayer. Set aside some time each day to be still and to know that God is very gradually transfiguring all things and restoring them to wholeness. Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Preaching in the Dominican Republic

by Sarah Saxe
At San Isidro with the bishop
(Sarah Saxe on the far left)
Preaching is different in the Dominican Republic. My first experience of it was the day after our arrival at the Tuesday morning service. Padre Servio Moscoso gave his sermon to a packed congregation of ‘street people’ as Karen dubbed them, who come every Tuesday for mass, breakfast and a bag of groceries. Padre Servio’s sermon was an uncomplicated message delivered in an interactive manner. He walked the congregation through that day’s Gospel reading by asking questions, to which individuals were free to call out an answer or raise their hand to be called upon. It was a very relaxed and inviting way to engage the people in the Bible story and lead them to Padre Servio’s message, which was delivered in the same way – by asking questions that invited reflection and response. I was intrigued. It reminded me of Godly Play without the ‘props.’

Later that week, I headed out with my field ed priest, Adolfo Moronta, to the first of his three congregations. I noticed that he used the same method. Watching the involvement of the people, their ability to quote from the Biblical text they had just heard, the attentive way in which they listened and responded, I fell in love – not just with these people but with this homiletic method. Afterward, while Adolfo and I talked about it, he encouraged me to try to use this method when I preached in two weeks. Because of my limited Spanish, I would need to figure out how to ask questions in such a way that prompted answers I could understand!

The congregation in Guerra
Furthermore, I was reminded that the message must be very simple. Perhaps there are congregations in the Dominican Republic that would appreciate quotes from famous theologians. Perhaps there are some who want lengthy sermons. Perhaps there are people with an advanced education who are coming to hear a scholarly lecture more than a sermon. That is not the case at San Lucas y San Pablo in San Isidro; Iglesia Episcopal de La Gracia in La Caleta; or Divina Providencia in Guerra, where many of the older members cannot read and most of the other members have received a very basic free education.

Since I would only be with each church twice before writing a sermon, I tried to get to know them better by incessantly (and I hope not annoyingly) asking Adolfo questions about them – their worship, ministry, personal struggles, etc. The number one theme that emerged from all three congregations was the need to empower the laity. That was the issue I would take to the text in prayer as I read, reflected and exegeted.

Iglesia Episcopal de la Gracia in La Caleta, Boca Chica
Another small request, from the Bishop, was that we take any opportunity we had with the young members of our congregations to encourage their consideration of ordained ministry, as priests are desperately needed in this diocese. (Note to all you seminarians approaching graduation.)

So I went into my room, closed the door and had a lengthy meeting with the Bible, the Trinity and these prayers. Below is what emerged. Josh encouraged me to post it on his blog; Adolfo insisted; I have reluctantly obliged. 

En Español:

La semana pasada, Padre Moronta les dijo acerca del tiempo cuando Jesús hizo su primer milagro en la boda. ¿Recuerdan algunas de las personas que estaban en esa historia?

(Jesús … Maria … los sirvientes … el hombre a cargo del banquete)

¿Cada uno de ellos jugó una parte importante en la historia, verdad?

¿Me pregunto: si los sirvientes no hubieron estado en la historia, cómo Jesús habria hecho el milagro? ¿Si Maria no hubiera estado en la historia quién habría sido el primer discípulo de Jesús? ¿Si el hombre a cargo del banquete no hubiera estado en la historia, cómo sabríamos nosotros el poder del milagro de Jesús? ¿Y por supuesto, si Jesús no hubiera estado en la historia, bien, habría realmente ningún historia allí?

Entonces sabemos que cada persona en la historia de la boda es importante aunque cada uno juegue una parte diferente.

En la lectura de hoy de Corintios, San Pablo también habla de diferentes papeles. ¿El no habla de papeles diferentes en una historia de la boda, verdad? San Pablo habla de las partes diferentes del cuerpo humano. ¿De qué partes habla él?

(El pie … la mano … la oreja … el ojo … la cabeza)

¿Estas partes son todo lo mismo? (No.) ¿Funcionan en el cuerpo de la misma manera? (¡Claro que no!) San Pablo dice que es una cosa buena tener todas estas partes diferentes. Por ejemplo, si todas fueramos manos podriamos functionar como un cuerpo? (No!)

¿Pero Pablo no habla realmente de un cuerpo humano, verdad? (Si) ¡Habla del cuerpo de Cristo en la tierra! ¡Habla de la Iglesia! Como en la historia de la boda, cada parte de una iglesia, cada persona en una iglesia es diferente. Cada uno tiene personalidades diferentes y talentos diferentes; por lo tanto cada uno participa en ministerios diferentes y tiene responsabilidades diferentes en la iglesia. Aunque nosotros no seamos el mismo, Pablo dice que la iglesia necesita cada y cada uno de nosotros. Somos todos importantes, no importa cuaL sean nuestro papel en la iglesia.

Aún la parte del cuerpo que parece ser más débil es necesaria. Me pregunto: ¿Entonces que sucede con las personas que no vienen a la iglesia a menudo porque están enfermas? ¡Si, las necesitamos! O quizás que sucede con los niños? ¿Los niños son más débiles, no? Bien los necesitamos también. Tienen una papel que jugar en la iglesia.

Algunas partes parecen poco atractivas o poco importantes. Me pregunto: ¿Parece un papel poco importante porque nadie le ve para ser hecho? Como, por ejemplo, la persona que lava los paños del altar o el alba del sacerdote. ¿Qué dice San Pablo acerca de tales personas?
Dice que estas personas deben ser tratadas con el cuidado aún más grande porque su parte no consigue mucha atencion. Trabajan para la gloria de Dios como hacen el resto de las partes.

Por otro lado, algunos papeles en la Iglesia quizás parezcan llamar la atención sobre sí mismos, lo que Pablo llama las hermosas partes. Me pregunto: ¿Significa el servidor del altar o acólito o sacerdote o el seminarista porque llevan ropa especial? ¿Significa quizás los músicos o personas con hermosas voces para cantar? ¡Sí! ¡Son necesitados también! Trabajan para la gloria de Dios, no para sí mismos como hacen el resto de las partes.



¿Cual será la parte que usted juega en la iglesia?

La Caleta, Boca Chica:
 ¿Será quien anda por el vecindario y recuerda todos prepararse para el servicio a las 5:00?
¿Será quien organiza las sillas?
¿Será quien vota en convención?
¿Será quien limpia después?
¿Será quien lee las lecciones?
¿O ayuda con la comunión?
¿O llega a ser un sacerdote?
Todos ustedes hacen el cuerpo de Cristo y cada uno de ustedes forma parte de ello. ¿Cual será la parte que usted juega? AMEN!

San Isidro:
¿Será quien organiza las sillas?
¿Será quien vota en convención?
¿Será quien limpia después?
¿Será quien lee las lecciones?
¿O ayuda con la comunión?
¿O llega a ser un sacerdote?
Todos ustedes hacen el cuerpo de Cristo y cada uno de ustedes forma parte de ello. ¿ Cual será la parte que usted juega? AMEN!

¿Será uno de los servidores del altar?
¿Será quien trae las flores?
¿Será quien limpia después?
¿Será quien lee las lecciones?
 ¿O ayuda con la comunión?
¿O llega a ser un sacerdote?
Todos ustedes hacen el cuerpo de Cristo y cada uno de ustedes forma parte de ello. ¿ Cual será la parte que usted juega? AMEN!


Rough English Translation:

Last week, Padre told you about the time when Jesus did his first miracle at the wedding. Can you remember who some of the characters were in that story?

(Jesus … Mary … the servants … the man in charge of the feast)   

Each of them played an important part in the story, no? I wonder: if the servants were not in the story how would Jesus have done the miracle?  If Mary were not in the story who would have been Jesus first disciple?If the man in charge of the feast were not in the story, how would we know the power of Jesus’ miracle? And of course, if Jesus were not in the story, well, there really would be no story at all would there?

So we know that each person in the wedding story is important even though each plays a different part. In today’s reading from Corinthians, Saint Paul also talks about different parts. He is not talking about different parts in a wedding story though, is he? (No.) He is talking about the different parts of the human body. What parts does he talk about?

(The foot … the hand … the ear … the eye … the head)     

Are all these parts the same? (No.) Do they function in the body in the same way? (Clearly not!)
Saint Paul says that it is a good thing to have all these different parts. He says that there would not be a body if it were made up of one type of part! But Paul is not really talking about a human body is he? (No!) He is talking about Christ’s body on earth! He is talking about the Church.

Just like in the wedding story, each part of a church, each person in a church is different. Each has different personalities and different talents; therefore each takes part in different ministries and has different responsibilities at church. Even though we are not the same, Paul says that the church needs each and every one of us. We are all important, no matter what our role is at church.

Even the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are needed. I wonder: Does he mean those people who don’t come to church often because they are sick? Well, we need them!
Or maybe he means children. Children are weaker, no? Well we need them too. They have a part to play at church.

Some parts appear unattractive or unimportant. I wonder: Does a role seem unimportant because no one sees it being done? Like, for example, the person who washes the altar cloth or the priest’s alb. What does Saint Paul say about such people? He says that these people should be treated with even greater care because their part doesn’t get much notice. They work for the glory of God as do the rest of the parts.

On the other hand, some roles at Church might appear to call attention to themselves, what Paul calls the beautiful parts. I wonder: Does he mean the altar server or acolyte or priest or seminarian because they wear special clothes? Does he mean perhaps the musicians or people with beautiful singing voices? Yes! They are needed too! They work for the glory of God, not for themselves as do the rest of the parts.


Now you say that too to each other. “ALL OF YOU ARE CHRIST’S BODY AND EACH ONE IS PART OF IT.”

What will be the part that you play in the church?

La Coletta, Boca Chica: (pointing to individuals who have done these things)
Will you be the one who walks through the neighborhood and reminds everyone to get ready for the 5:00 service?
Will you be the one who finds the altar cloth?
Will you be the one who sets up the chairs?
Will you be the one who votes at convention?
Will you be the one who cleans up afterward?
Will you be the one who reads the lessons?
Or helps with communion?
Or becomes a priest? (point to one of the young people)
All of you make up Christ’s body and each one of you is part of it. What will be the part that you play? AMEN!

San Isidro: (pointing to individuals who have done these things)
Will you be the one who sets up the chairs?
Will you be the one who votes at convention?
Will you be the one who cleans up afterward?
Will you be the one who reads the lessons?
Or helps with communion?
Or becomes a priest? (point to one of the young people)
All of you make up Christ’s body and each one of you is part of it. What will be the part that you play? AMEN!

Guerra: (pointing to individuals who have done these things)
Will you be one of the altar servers?
Will you be the one who brings the flowers?
Will you be the one who cleans up afterward?
Will you be the one who reads the lessons?
Or helps with communion?
Or becomes a priest? (point to one of the young people)
All of you make up Christ’s body and each one of you is part of it. What will be the part that you play? AMEN!