Questions to Ponder When Renewing a Vow

Questions to Ponder When Renewing a Vow

Jesus said, ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’
John 12:27-28

The obvious starting point for a gathering with the expressed purpose of renewing a vow is to call to mind when we made that vow for the first time. So I invite you now to think back to the first time that, without a doubt, you knew:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.

For some of us, we can remember a clear, decisive moment. For others, the decision snuck up on us, and our memory is more like a recognition or acknowledgement of something that had been true for some time. For all of us, that first decision or awareness of a decision led to other decisions, other vows–for some on the path of ordination in the church; for the majority of Christians, a path of discipleship and witness in other vocational realms.

Here we are today reaffirming past decisions, renewing–making new–vows we made in the past. We would be made of stone if from time to time we didn’t question those vows. To question, to doubt, and to test past decisions is both human and necessary, because we change over time, our understanding of what the vows mean and require change, and we ourselves are tested.

Thus today’s first question: Given who we are now, what we know now, and what’s happening to us and in our world now, do we choose again to follow Jesus, and renew the later vows that we once made as a result of the first? And if so, how do we choose? What does faithfulness look like now?

There’s that poignant moment in the Gospel of John after Jesus has gone on for a very long and confusing chapter about being the bread of life (every preacher’s dread when it comes up in the Sunday lectionary for an entire month). Understandably after that discourse, many people who had once decided to follow Jesus had second thoughts. “This saying is too hard for us,” they say, and one by one they turn back, until Jesus is alone with the twelve. He looks at them and asks, “And what about you–do you also wish to go away?”

What a question for Jesus to ask them. What would his question be to us? “And what about you, my twenty-first century disciples of The Episcopal Church? Given all that you know now about what it costs to follow me; given all that has hurt, disappointed, frustrated, offended, outraged, and exhausted you–do you also wish to go away?”

When he first asked the question, Simon Peter spoke up for the twelve in a way that breaks my heart open every time I read it. You remember: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

My answer, which I’ve had time to think about this week: Lord, given all that you now know about me, if you’ll still have me, I am still with you.

And yours?

Now let’s make the all-important distinction between our vows and our jobs, or whatever way we live out our vows at a given time. For how we live our vows necessarily changes over time. It can change a lot–sometimes because of the choices we make; often because of choices that other people make; and equally as often, because of forces beyond our control. Think of the people of Ukraine, for God’s sake. Everything they thought they could count on has been taken from them.

So here’s a second question: what can you and I say about our vocation that would still be true even if all the external expressions that now define our life and work were taken from us?

There was a union organizing song from the 1960s with the refrain:

Your life is more than your work. Your work is more than your job.

Well, our life in Christ is more than our vocation. And our vocation is way more than any job in the church. What is your vocation, no matter what?

It’s a difficult question, but ultimately a freeing one, for once we have even a glimmer of an answer, we are less dependent on other people and external circumstances to live a meaningful, faithful life. Granted there are optimal places for us to fulfill our vocations, but no shortage of less optimal places.

I don’t say this to justify unjust or oppressive systems, but rather to celebrate the genius of human creativity and resilience, and the Holy Spirit’s infinite capacity to move freely in the world as it is. For followers of Jesus, the question puts us in a mindset of faithfulness and service, rather than privilege, entitlement, and perpetual disappointment. It offers both a somber recognition of what can be taken from us, and a rock solid confidence in what can’t. For what the world didn’t give, the world cannot take away.

Those of you who, like me, are of a certain age may remember the rise of Amy Grant, the first Christian rock musician who crossed over onto the pop charts and had a phenomenal run back in the ‘90s and 2000s. Then her star faded. She no longer draws crowds that fill stadiums for her concerts. Now she plays in smaller venues across the country–theaters, state fairgrounds, the Wisconsin Dells. I heard her give an interview once in which she talked about her meteoric career: “I wanted to be faithful on the way up,” she said. “And I want to be just as faithful on the way down.”

One of the most moving eulogies was given by a friend of mine for his mother, who, by virtue of physical illness and, in the end, dementia, lost everything that externally defined her life and identity. “All that was left,” her son said, “was love.”

Embedded in the passage from the Gospel of John that we’ve just heard is another line that tugs at my heart every time. It’s when Jesus says: Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–’Father, save me for this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ This is John’s version of what the synoptic gospels tell us that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

In neither version is Jesus a victim, although it’s clear that he would have preferred things to have ended differently. John’s version, written a full generation later, with the benefit of hindsight and a longer lived experience of the Risen Christ, tells us that when Jesus’ soul was troubled, he nonetheless freely chose what he did not want, for love’s sake. If losing everything was what love required, then that was what he would do because that is why he came.

Now in case you’re wondering if your bishop has forgotten everything we’ve discussed in the past year about the need for rest, self-care, healthy boundaries, and Sabbath–be assured that I haven’t. But you know, the cross of Jesus doesn’t have much to say to us about those good and necessary things–except perhaps to be mindful of false crosses, or the ones that don’t belong to us (let that be a sermon for another time).

Nor does the cross convey its full power to us in those times when, as it says in the Serenity Prayer, we are called to change those things that lie within our power to change. No, the cross of Jesus, and Jesus on the cross, speaks to us most powerfuly in those times when we must face, as he did, the things that we cannot change; when we need spiritual strength not our own from which to live, and die, and rise again.

This past year I had the extraordinary experience of reconciling with two people I had deeply wounded in my younger years. The first was when my half-brother, who hadn’t spoken to me or any member of our family for over 20 years, did a very brave thing and showed up at his mother’s funeral in October. For a brief moment he allowed me and my sister back into his life. He’s since pulled away again, for reasons I don’t fully understand, but that’s okay. I’m still grateful for the time we shared, which gives me hope that healing in our family might one day be possible.

The second reconciliation has flowered into a new relationship with our godson, whom we met as a boy when Paul and I lived in Honduras over 30 years ago. and whom I failed twice. I can tell you that story someday if you like. But fast forward to last summer when we tracked him down via social media. Slowly we started communicating–first by text, then by telephone. Then we went to visit him in New York, where he’s lived, undocumented, for the last 16 years.

His life is hard in all the ways you can imagine–and yet he is rock solid in his life purpose, which to financially support two young nephews back in Honduras, whom he’s never met and perhaps never will, but nonetheless have depended on him for their livlihood since their mother, his half-sister, committed suicide. So our godson works nights cleaning a restaurant, to which he commutes over an hour and half each way by subway. He lives in a small room that he rents from a Mexican family. We talk or text almost every morning, as he is returning from work and I’m beginning my day. Como está, madrina? Espero que esté bien. Está tomando su cafecito?

The reason I’m telling you about him is that he has said to me more than once that if given the opportunity, he would gladly live his life all over again, just the way it was, without complaint. When I asked for his forgiveness, it was obvious that he had long since forgiven me. He is a man of grace and courage. His faith is quiet and strong. He knows why he’s here–he lives for love.

Don’t you want to live like that, with our godson’s capacity to love? Don’t you want to die with the grace of my friend’s mother? To be as faithful to your vows on the way up as on the way down?

I do, and this I know: I can’t be that person on my own. That’s why I’ve decided once again to follow Jesus, and why I will do my best to serve Him in whatever vocation I am given. Should every outward expression of my identity be taken from me, or when the time comes for me to let them go, I pray for the grace to persevere in love and gratitude for the gift of this life, lived under the power of his cross.

I’m grateful to walk the way of the cross with you.

Una práctica de oración para la Semana Santa

Una práctica de oración para la Semana Santa

Que haya en ustedes el mismo sentir que hubo en Cristo Jesús, quien, siendo en forma de Dios, no estimó el ser igual a Dios como cosa a que aferrarse, sino que se despojó a sí mismo…
Filipenses 2:5

A medida que nos acercamos a la Semana Santa, doy gracias por todos en nuestras congregaciones que preparan oportunidades significativas para la oración y la reflexión sobre el más grande de los misterios en el corazón de nuestra fe: el sufrimiento y la muerte de Jesús en una cruz, y su resurrección de entre los muertos. Por favor, no falten a estas oportunidades, pueden ser ocasiones de profundo encuentro espiritual.

Una visión de Richard Rohr ha capturado mi imaginación: “El Cuerpo de Cristo es crucificado y resucitado al mismo tiempo”. Él escribe sobre el angustioso sufrimiento del pueblo ucraniano “que vemos en tiempo real desde una distancia injusta” y nos llama a amar la solidaridad “para soportar lo que tenemos que cargar”.

Vivimos dentro de estos misterios, personal y colectivamente, lo cual significa que experimentamos la muerte y la resurrección al mismo tiempo, también.

En Semana Santa, con predicadores en todas partes, me centraré en la resurrección de esta realidad dual. Pero primero reflexionamos sobre la cruz, el precio que Jesús pagó por el amor, y recordamos los tiempos en que nosotros, como Él, estamos llamados a vaciarnos por amor.

La frase “vaciarnos” tiene connotaciones pasivas, pero se necesita mucha energía para dejar el control. (En esto, su obispa sabe de lo que ella habla.) No es una abdicación de nuestra responsabilidad abordar las cosas que están dentro de nuestro poder para cambiar, sino más bien una postura de profunda aceptación de las cosas que haremos cualquier cosa para cambiar si pudiéramos, pero no podemos.

Jesús en la cruz está ahí para nosotros cuando no podemos ver una manera de salir del desastre en el que estamos, cuando la vida nos golpea con toda la fuerza de su crueldad, cuando no hay otra alternativa que pasar por la tormenta, a través del fuego, en la misma dificultad que tanto nos esforzamos por evitar.

Me gustaría compartir con ustedes una práctica sencilla que aprendí de la sacerdote episcopal y mística Cynthia Bourgeault en nuestra última reunión de la Cámara de Obispos. Me ha ayudado a pensar en mi necesidad de rendirme a lo que no puedo controlar y abrirme a la gracia cuando más lo necesito. Se siente especialmente apropiado para la Semana Santa.

Bourgeault comenzó con una palabra de aliento: “Recuerda que la esperanza y la imaginación fluyen del corazón de Cristo, que a través de él hay un poder espiritual disponible para nosotros que le da a la vida una compasión y coherencia mucho mayores de las que podemos reunir por nuestra cuenta”.

También nombró a uno de los demonios a los que todos nos enfrentamos: “Estamos cansados de vivir en la esclavitud del miedo. El miedo perfecto echa fuera el amor.” Si bien es contrario a la intuición, dijo, la manera de liberarnos del miedo y volver a conectarnos con el amor de Cristo es dejar ir lo que sea a lo que nos aferremos tan firmemente.

Ella animó a los obispos reunidos a permitir que nuestros cuerpos guiaran el camino. “Imagínese lo que sucede dentro de su cuerpo cuando está enojado, molesto o asustado.” Todos sentimos nuestros músculos tensos, ya que imaginábamos cerrarnos en nosotros mismos o azotar, agarrar nuestro puño o nuestros dientes.

“Ahora imagina una postura de rendición y liberación”. Respiramos hondo y sentimos que nuestros músculos se relajaban. “Cada vez que esa sensación de tensión interna o azote externo se te viene encima”, dijo, “practica dejar ir. Practica la entrega a ti mismo y permite que la gracia restaure tu ecuanimidad, que no es lo mismo que la felicidad. La ecuanimidad es posible en el dolor profundo y la tristeza. Te permitirá actuar con integridad y libertad”.

Más de una vez desde esa sesión, he sentido que la familiar tensión y el deseo de hacer algo para abordar lo que me ha sacado o alejado del centro. Los gestos físicos de liberación, dejando ir y respirando profundamente, me ayuda a aceptar lo que fue que me desestabilizó, para estar presente a Cristo y orar por claridad sobre cómo actuar mejor, en lugar de reaccionar. No lo hago perfectamente, pero tal vez por eso se llama práctica espiritual.

El Domingo de Ramos escuchamos las palabras del Apóstol Pablo: “Cristo no considera la igualdad de Dios como algo a lo que aferrarse, sino que se vacía a sí mismo…” El vacío es dejar ir de nuestro alcance, dejar que el mundo tenga su camino, confiando en que Dios traerá el bien de lo que no podemos.

Con cada aceptación de lo que no podemos cambiar, nos enfrentamos a una especie de muerte. Pero en Cristo la muerte siempre precede a la vida. “Las pérdidas que pensamos que seguramente nos matarían son las pérdidas que reorientan nuestras vidas”, escribe la monja benedictina Joan Chittister. Lo que termina la muerte, también comienza. Dolorosamente, tal vez. Temible, a menudo. Pero nunca sin nuevos desafíos, nuevos regalos, nuevas oportunidades. Es cuando cerramos las ventanas de nuestras almas y nos escondemos detrás del ayer que mañana nunca viene, no importa cuánto tiempo vivamos.”

Mientras oras esta Semana Santa, considera visualizar tu cuerpo cuando estés aguantando y soltando. Mientras lo haces, pregúntate qué haría falta para que dejes ir, aceptes o dejes morir, para que, en el tiempo de Dios, surja una nueva vida y tome vuelo.

A Prayer Practice for Holy Week

A Prayer Practice for Holy Week

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality of God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…
Philippians 2:5

As we approach Holy Week, I give thanks for all in our congregations preparing meaningful opportunities for prayer and reflection on the greatest of mysteries at the heart of our faith: Jesus’ suffering and death on a cross, and his resurrection from the dead. Please do not casually absent yourselves from these offerings–they can be occasions of profound spiritual encounter.

An insight from Richard Rohr has captured my imagination: “the Body of Christ is crucified and resurrected at the same time.” He writes of the anguishing suffering of the Ukrainian people “that we watch in real time from an unfair distance” and calls us to loving solidarity “to bear what is ours to carry.”1

We live inside these mysteries, personally and collectively, which is to say that we experience death and resurrection at the same time, too.

On Easter, with preachers everywhere, I’ll focus on the resurrection side of this dual reality. But first we ponder the cross, the price Jesus paid for love, and remember the times when we, like him, are called to empty ourselves for love’s sake.

The phrase “empty ourselves” has passive connotations, but it takes a lot of energy to let go of control. (In this, your bishop knows of what she speaks.) It is not an abdication of our responsibility to address the things that lie within our power to change, but rather a posture of profound acceptance of the things we would do anything to change if we could–but we can’t.

Jesus on the cross is there for us when we can’t see a way out of the mess we’re in, when life hits us with the full force of its cruelty, when there is no alternative but to go through the storm, through the fire, into the very hardship we tried so hard to avoid.

I’d like to share with you a simple practice that I learned from the Episcopal priest and mystic Cynthia Bourgeault at our most recent House of Bishops’ meeting. It has helped me call to mind my need to surrender to what I cannot control and open myself to grace when I need it most. It feels especially appropriate for Holy Week.

Bourgeault began with a word of encouragement: “Remember that hope and imagination flow out of the heart of Christ, that through him there is spiritual power available to us that gives life far greater compassion and coherence than we can muster on our own.”

She also named one of the demons we all face: “We are tired of living in bondage to fear. Perfect fear casts out love.” While it’s counter-intuitive, she said, the way to free ourselves from fear and reconnect with Christ’s love is to let go of whatever it is we’re holding onto so tightly.

She encouraged the gathered bishops to allow our bodies to lead the way. “Picture what happens inside your body when you’re angry, upset, or afraid.” We all felt our muscles tense, as we imagined closing in ourselves or lashing out, clenching our fist or our teeth.

“Now picture a posture of surrender and release.” We took a deep breath and felt our muscles relax. “Whenever that feeling of inner clenching or outward lashing comes upon you,” she said, “practice letting go. Practice self-surrender and allow grace to restore your equanimity–which is not the same as happiness. Equanimity is possible in deep pain and sorrow. It will allow you to act with integrity and freedom.”

More than once since that session, I’ve felt that familiar tensing up and the desire to do something to address whatever has knocked me off-center. The physical gestures of release, letting go and breathing deeply, helps me accept whatever it was that unsettled me, in order to be present to Christ and pray for clarity on how best to act, instead of react. I don’t do this perfectly, but perhaps that’s why it’s called spiritual practice.

On Palm Sunday we hear the words of the Apostle Paul: “Christ did not regard equality of God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself…” Emptiness is letting go of our grasp, letting the world have its way, trusting that God will bring good out of what we cannot.

With each acceptance of what we cannot change, we face a kind of death. But in Christ death always precedes life. “The losses that we thought surely would kill us are the losses that reorient our lives,” writes the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister. “What death ends, it also begins. Painfully, perhaps. Fearfully, often. But never without new challenges, new gifts, new opportunities. It’s when we shutter up the windows of our souls and hide behind yesterday that tomorrow never comes, no matter how long we live.”2

As you pray this Holy Week, consider visualizing your body when you’re holding on and letting go. As you do, ask yourself what might there be for you to let go of, accept or let die, so that, in God’s time, new life might arise and take flight.
____
1It Can’t Be Carried Alone by Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation, April 6, 2022.
2Joan Chittister, In Search of Belief (Liguori/Triumph, 1999) pp.126-27

The Power of A Pause

The Power of A Pause

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. . .'”
Luke 15: 1-3: 11b-32
Let me begin by saying how glad I am to be back with the community of faithful at St. Mary’s Foggy Bottom, and to add my voice of welcome to our friends and guests who join us in worship. Among our honored guests–too many to call out by name–is our mayor, the Honorable Muriel Bowser. Welcome, Mayor; welcome all.

And a special word of thanks to St. Mary’s leadership: The Rev. Dr. Wes Williams; Mr. Brandon Todd, Senior Warden, Mr. Windon Ringer, Acting Administrator, and members of the vestry. Thank you for guiding St. Mary’s Church life and ministry. It has been a long and challenging season since the COVID pandemic entered our lives and forever changed them, in addition to the other events in our city and the nation’s capital seared in our memory and whose effects are with us still. You’ve also had your trials and transitions as a congregation, not all of them easy. But you are still here, St. Mary’s Church. Our city is still here. And so am I, ready to support you in any way I can.

There is no other church I would rather worship in today than the first Black Episcopal Church in Washington, DC as we anticipate the confirmation of the first Black woman judge to sit on the highest court in the land. During the nomination hearings this past week, when Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was given the opportunity to speak and answer questions of actual relevance to her work, we heard her intelligence and wisdom, grace and grit. Her judicial and life experience make her an exemplary Supreme Court nominee–of that there is no doubt.

We saw many other things on display this week, far less noble, and worrisome indicators of what certain members of the United States Senate believe they can, and perhaps must, say to secure a presidential nomination for 2024. Many commentators have reflected the juxtaposition of Judge Jackson’s behavior with that of some of her interrogators, and how normative it is for people of color to be treated as she was this week.

Fully prepared for what was coming, Judge Jackson never once lost her composure. But there was, as Elie Mystal among others have noted, the moment she took a very long pause.

“Senator,” she began to answer a question that had no place in the hearing room. Then she sighed and paused, for quite some time. “As the silence filled the room,” Mystal writes, “I felt like I could see Jackson make the same calculation nearly every Black person and ancestor has made at some point while living in the New World.”1

There is power in such a pause. We all felt it.

Well, today is Sunday, thank God, and we’re in church. So let me turn our attention to another person known for pausing and taking his time before answering questions put to him, questions asked by those who were threatened by all that he said and did, as well as the questions that his followers asked, giving him the opportunity to help them grow in wisdom and love.

We’ve dropped ourselves into this man’s story as he’s taking the longest walk of his life–the 60-plus mile journey from the region where he began his ministry in the northern part of Israel Palestine to Jersusalm, the seat of religious authority for his people and the political power of the occupying Roman Empire. Jesus was walking to Jerusalem fully aware of the fate that awaited him there. For those of us who walked this road with him before, we also know how the story ends.

You may recall that prior to taking this journey, Jesus had a mystical encounter with his spiritual ancestors, Moses and Elijah. He had gone up a mountain to pray, taking three of his closest disciples with him. This was a pivotal moment for him, when he realized that he was not long for this world. That’s when he decided that in the time he had left, he would take his message of God’s all-inclusive love and his teachings of a way of life defined by mercy, compassion and justice for the oppressed to Jerusalem and let the chips fall where they may.

So, the Gospel of Luke tells us, when Jesus came down from that mountain, he gathered up his disciples, “turned his face toward Jerusalem,” and started walking. As he walked, he healed, he taught, and he preached as if these were the last words the world would hear from him, which, in fact, they were.

As it turns out, Jesus had a lot to say, worthy of our spending a lifetime pondering and applying his teachings to our lives. Which is why, in church, we hear his words over and over again. They never grow old for us; they always have something to say, and something different depending on where we are in our lives and whatever it is we’re struggling with, or what God is up to within and among us.

Most of Jesus’ teaching and sermons on the road were in response to questions, and many of those questions were from people less interested in his answers than in hearing themselves talk. (Not that any of us would do that). Like the lawyer who stood up to test Jesus, and asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Figuring that a lawyer would already know the answer, Jesus asked him back, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer responded with what we know as the Great Commandments of Jewish Scripture: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered rightly.” But the lawyer pressed further, because that’s what lawyers are trained to do, and because he wanted to justify himself, “And who, exactly, is my neighbor?”

That’s when Jesus paused. Maybe he sighed. And do you remember how he responded? He told a story of a man who fell into the hands of robbers, and of the two religious leaders who crossed over to the other side of the road and passed him by, and of another man, of a despised race, who stopped to help. “Who was the neighbor of the man beaten by robbers?” Jesus asked. “Go and do likewise.”

Further down the road, Jesus stopped to visit his good friends, the sisters Martha and Mary. Do you remember what happened there? Martha busied herself in the kitchen, while Mary did what was unthinkable for a woman of that time. She sat herself down among the men and listened to what Jesus had to say. When Martha complained to Jesus and told him to put Mary in her place with Martha in the kitchen, Jesus paused. Maybe he sighed. And he said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things. Only one thing now is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Mary was in her place. Now the text doesn’t tell us what happened next, how Martha responded. Being Martha-like myself, I hope that she heeded his words, took off her apron and joined her sister where they both belonged, alongside the men, listening to Jesus.

So Jesus went from village to village as he walked toward his death, preaching at every opportunity, pointing people toward God, toward their neighbors in love, and toward their best selves. One man came up to Jesus and demanded that Jesus arbitrate in a family dispute about inheritance. Taken aback, Jesus asked the man, “Who set me to be a judge over you?” But then he paused. No doubt he sighed, and he told a story about a rich man with so many crops that he decided to build an even bigger barn so that he could store them and keep them for himself. But the very night his new, enormous barn was finished the man died, before he could enjoy any of his stored riches. “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves,” Jesus warned, “and are not rich toward God.”

There was another time when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue and a woman approached him who was so crippled that she couldn’t stand up straight. Jesus had compassion on her and healed her, on the Sabbath. The leaders of the synagogue were indignant and they came at the woman with all they had. “There are six days on which work ought to be done. Come on one of those days if you want to be healed.” Now Jesus was angry. But he paused, and took a breath, composed himself and said, “You hypocrites. Do you not give your animals food and drink on the sabbath? And ought not his daughter of Abraham whom Satan kept bound for 18 years be healed on the Sabbath?” The crowd rejoiced and his opponents were put to shame.

Jesus kept walking. The crowds kept coming toward him, and Jesus’ tone became at once more compassionate and urgent. He didn’t have one point to make; he had many, all touching us differently depending on what’s happening in our lives when we hear them, for the first or the hundredth time. It’s why we’re meant to dwell in his teachings, and meditate on them regularly.

Turn with me now to the story we heard this morning and that’s printed in your bulletin. It’s one of three stories Jesus told in direct response to the grumbling of some Pharisees. Pharisees get a bad rap in the Bible, because they came at Jesus the most. They weren’t all bad people, but they were intense rule followers, and they held themselves apart from people that weren’t. These particular Pharisees took issue with the fact that Jesus seemed to enjoy the company of tax collectors and sinners–the very ones the Pharisees avoided so that they might maintain their spiritual purity and sense of moral superiority.

Jesus paused, sighed, and told not one, but three parables about being lost and found: first that of a shepherd with a flock of a hundred sheep, who, when one of his sheep gets lost, leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one. Second, of a woman who had ten silver coins and lost one of them, and who searches the house incessantly until she finds it.

Finally, as the capstone, Jesus tells of a man who had two sons. It’s the classic emotional triangle between parents and siblings and the perfect vehicle for Jesus to explain to the Pharisees why he was happy to keep company with sinners. The father–the obvious God figure–loved both his sons, enough to let the one determined to leave go and then to welcome him back when he was chastened by the world. He loved the more responsible and dutiful son enough to gently chastise him for his unwillingness to forgive his brother and celebrate his return or his father for being so forgiving to one who had squandered so much.

Jesus’ point is clear: true love is not dependent on the worthiness of another, but rather on our capacity to love. The wayward son was no less worthy of the father’s love; nor did the stay-at-home son earn his father’s love with good behavior. Both were loved for who they were, not what they did or failed to do. Equally significant, for both, the father went out to meet them where they were–the returning son while he was still far off; the sulking son out in the field of his self-imposed misery.

With Jesus’ words and example foremost in our minds, and inspired by the dignity of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson this week, never forget the power of a good pause. Pause long enough when you feel under pressure, or under attack, or filled with anger, or hurt, and fear to breathe, to let Jesus in.

Pause long enough to regain your internal bearings, and allow the great wisdom of the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. LIke the loving father, God meets us in that moment, where we are, as we are. God also gives us a strength and wisdom greater than our own with which to respond. God helps us grow in our capacity to love as Jesus loves, and loves us, our capacity to heal and forgive, our ability to withstand and maintain our God-given dignity in the face of cruelty and injustice, and to overcome evil with good.

Let me leave you with a practical suggestion on how you can access the grace and power of Jesus in the course of your daily lives, and especially in those moments when something, or someone, is attempting to throw you off course, or has managed to unnerve you; or when you feel overwhelmed or tired or scared.

Think of it as the power in a pause. Wherever you feel yourself tightening up inside, wanting to react, or to hold on, or whenever you aren’t sure what to do or say next.

Stop. Take a breath. Pause. Pray for Jesus’ to be with you, in that moment. And surrender yourself to Him. I promise you that whatever occurs to you to say or do next will have a greater intentionality and impact than if you rushed in, or if you shut down.

I’m not ruling spontaneity out of hand. There’s a time and place for that. And there’s a time and place for genuine expressions of anger. But if you take the time to pause, collect yourself, and allow Jesus in, even in spontaneous moments and in anger, you will speak and act with impactful grace and power.

In the end, it comes down to the kind of person we want to be in this world. We saw two stark examples this week. Which kind of person would you trust and choose to follow?
And what example do you want to be for those coming up behind you?

Remember, then, the power of the pause and the grace available that is always there for you. Amen.

___
1 Elie Mystal, Ketanji Brown Jackson Long Paused Explained Racism and Sexism in America, The Nation

Cuando los obispos se reúnen

Cuando los obispos se reúnen

Jesús dijo: “Vengan, vamos nosotros solos a descansar un poco en un lugar tranquilo”.
Marcos 6:31

Acabo de regresar de la primera reunión en persona de los obispos episcopales en más de dos años. En una semana ocurrieron muchas cosas que fueron a la vez condenatorias y alentadoras, aleccionadoras y esperanzadoras.

Fue anunciado como un retiro espiritual, y en gran parte lo fue. En la adoración, los predicadores hablaron desde el corazón, incluido el Obispo Presidente, cuyo sermón de apertura Dame a Jesús marcó el tono. Cynthia Bourgeault, una mística moderna y sacerdote episcopal, nos guió en sesiones de oración centrada, con sugerencias prácticas sobre cómo buscar la ecuanimidad en tiempos tumultuosos. Tuvimos un día completo ese sábado.

Sin embargo, como en la historia cuando Jesús invitó a sus discípulos a ir con él a descansar y multitudes de personas los siguieron allí, las preocupaciones del mundo y de nuestras diócesis nos encontraron en Texas.

¿Cómo podría ser de otro modo?

-Mark Edington, de la Convocatoria de Iglesias Episcopales en Europa, llegó tarde, ya que estaba con sus congregaciones acogiendo a los refugiados de Ucrania. Con un mapa de Europa ante nosotros, describió con sobriedad cómo millones de ucranianos huyen de la violencia y de los temores de que la guerra se extienda por el continente.

-Kathryn Ryan, de Texas, habló del miedo que vive como madre de un hijo transexual ante las leyes punitivas aprobadas en Texas. Más de una docena de obispos de otros estados se levantaron para compartir preocupaciones similares por los niños trans en sus familias y diócesis.

-Scott Barker, de Nebraska, confesó que las preocupaciones por su diócesis le quitan el sueño, dado el impacto de la pandemia en las congregaciones más pequeñas y lo difícil que es reclutar clero para servir en las zonas rurales. Sean Rowe, del noroeste de Pensilvania y del oeste de Nueva York, describió el dolor de su diócesis por la pérdida de una forma de vida en muchas congregaciones episcopales que ha desaparecido para siempre.

-Eugene Sutton de Maryland comenzó con estas palabras: “Ante ustedes hay un hombre negro enfadado. Ya me conocen. No estoy solo. Pocas veces nos decimos lo enfadados que estamos. También soy un seguidor de Jesús, comprometido con la no violencia y practicante de la oración centrada”. Él nos exhortó a continuar el trabajo de ajuste de cuentas con nuestro pasado. Dado el hecho innegable de que la Iglesia Episcopal colaboró con la esclavitud, enriqueciéndose con el trabajo no compensado de los negros y los mestizos, las reparaciones son una forma de saldar una deuda que se tiene. “Teniendo en cuenta todo lo que hemos robado”, preguntó, “¿qué querría Jesús que hiciéramos?”.

Hubo más historias, algunas tan desgarradoras que todo lo que pude hacer fue orar para tener el coraje de permanecer presente y preguntarme, en primera persona, la pregunta del obispo Sutton para todos nosotros: “Jesús, ¿qué quieres que haga?”.

Sin duda, hubo noticias edificantes que celebrar: de congregaciones que profundizan en la práctica espiritual, la innovación y el servicio a sus comunidades, y de diócesis que dan pasos audaces, en palabras del Obispo Presidente, “para ser una iglesia que se parece y actúa como Jesús”. Aprendí mucho de mis colegas, no sólo en las sesiones plenarias, sino en las conversaciones durante las comidas o en los paseos. La risa y las lágrimas son sanadoras, y compartimos ambas.

Me alentaron los avances que otras diócesis han hecho en iniciativas colectivas de Cuidado de la Creación y la visión enérgica de los obispos recién elegidos, incluidas nuestras propias Elizabeth Gardner y Kym Lucas, y la obispa electa Paula Clark, cuya valentía y fuerza atrajo a otros hacia ella como insectos a la luz.

Como es lo que hacemos los obispos cuando nos reunimos (no podemos evitarlo), emitimos varias declaraciones a la Iglesia en general. Lo que me gustaría que supieran de cada una de ellas es que nacieron de un debate sincero y de la oración. Todas fueron unánimes, lo que rara vez ocurre.

La primera aborda el conflicto en Ucrania [solo disponible en inglés], que es simplemente nuestra expresión del dolor que sé que sienten. Gracias por todo lo que ya están haciendo para ayudar a los atrapados en los estragos de la guerra.

La segunda es una declaración de apoyo a todos los niños transgénero y no binarios y a sus familias [solo disponible en inglés]. En una entrevista con Episcopal News Service, el Obispo Presidente Curry describió nuestras motivaciones: “Tanto si eres liberal como conservador, existe la bondad y la decencia humanas. No esperamos que esto cambie los votos, pero rezamos para que así sea. Tal vez lo más importante es que aporte algún consuelo, alguna afirmación a los transexuales, de que son hijos de Dios, creados a imagen y semejanza de Dios, como lo somos todos”.

Por último, aprobamos una Carta Pastoral sobre Jerusalén [solo disponible en inglés] que había sido encargada por la última Convención General. En ella se afirma que toda la Iglesia Episcopal (no sólo la Diócesis de Washington) se siente especialmente responsable de orar por la paz de Jerusalén y de trabajar por esa paz de cualquier manera que podamos.

La Obispa Chilton Knudsen nos envía su cariño, al igual que nuestros amigos de toda la Iglesia. Muchos me han dicho que se sienten inspirados por su testimonio y su generosidad. Yo también. Es bueno estar en casa.