La fe puesta en marcha

La fe puesta en marcha

La fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva.

La mayoría de las mañanas escucho dos breves meditaciones de oración mientras me preparo para el día: Pray as You Go, y su versión en español Rezando Voy. Normalmente las palabras y la música se apoderan de mí, pero de vez en cuando una frase me llama la atención y se instala en mi interior.

Eso sucedió recientemente cuando escuché la frase: la fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva. Me recordó lo que Jesús decía a menudo cuando la gente venía a él en busca de sanación: tu fe te ha sanado.

Durante mucho tiempo me he resistido a la noción de que nuestra fe es lo que nos salva o nos cura. Pone tal presión sobre nosotros para tener suficiente fe, o el tipo correcto de fe. Tal pensamiento puede conducir a vidas espirituales de auto-rectitud para algunos, e insuficiencia perpetua para otros.

Sin embargo, la idea de la fe puesta en marcha sugiere que la fe es, de hecho, una respuesta a un encuentro que Dios inicia. Algo sucede: escuchamos un llamado; nuestros corazones están inspirados o quebrados; sentimos una presencia que está tan cerca como nuestra respiración y tan esquiva como el viento. Nunca entenderemos completamente el movimiento de Dios hacia nosotros, y no podemos evocar la presencia de Jesús cuando nos lo ordenen. Todo lo que podemos hacer es responder a lo que “extrañamente calienta nuestros corazones”, como John Wesley describió una vez la presencia de Dios.

Esta se ha convertido en mi definición práctica de la fe: nuestra respuesta a esos misteriosos movimientos de gracia que nos llegan. Pueden suceder cosas asombrosas cuando respondemos a esos momentos de Dios con una fe puesta en movimiento. No se necesita mucha fe para comenzar un viaje valiente. La fe del tamaño de una semilla de mostaza servirá.

Últimamente he estado presidiendo una serie de servicios de confirmación, un punto culminante de mi trabajo. En el centro de ese servicio está lo que se conoce como “El Pacto Bautismal”. Comienza con tres preguntas acerca de la creencia: ¿Crees en Dios? ¿Crees en Jesucristo? ¿Crees en el Espíritu Santo? — seguido por cinco preguntas sobre cómo vamos a vivir como resultado de nuestra creencia: ¿Continuarás en la comunidad cristiana? ¿Reconocerás cuando falles y pedirás perdón? ¿Vivirás con integridad, tratarás a los demás con dignidad y lucharás por la justicia y la paz?

Por más esenciales que sean nuestras respuestas a estas preguntas, igualmente importantes son las maneras en que describen cómo Dios se nos aparece primero. Creer en este contexto significa confiar. Antes de que podamos creer, debemos tener alguna experiencia que nos permita confiar en este misterio que llamamos Dios.

Así, las preguntas ¿crees en Dios, en Jesús, en el Espíritu Santo? nos preguntan si hemos experimentado lo que nuestro libro de oración llama el misterio de la fe, para asegurarnos de que hay más en esta vida que lo que podemos ver, y que la fuente de todo es amor. Si la respuesta es no, ¿adónde podríamos ir para tener tales experiencias? Si la respuesta es afirmativa, ¿adónde podríamos ir a tener más?

Las preguntas que siguen describen las arenas en la vida en las que es más probable que experimentemos el poder y la presencia de Dios en Cristo: en la comunidad cristiana, en aquellos momentos en que fallamos o nos falta; en relación unos con otros; y trabajando juntos para crear un mundo justo y pacífico. A veces simplemente necesitamos comenzar a movernos. Jesús promete encontrarnos en el camino.

Recientemente, un colega contó el momento en que decidió recorrer las 530 millas del Camino de Santiago, una antigua ruta de peregrinación cristiana por el norte de España. Había sido gravemente herido por la Iglesia y estaba buscando algún tipo de sanación y paz dentro de sí mismo. Así que comenzo a caminar, poniendo en movimiento la poca fe que tenía. En el camino se encontró con personas de todo el mundo que estaban en búsqueda de los suyos, muchos que habían sido heridos, también, e inciertos sobre sus futuros.

Una noche alrededor de una fogata, sus compañeros peregrinos se dieron cuenta de que era sacerdote y comenzaron a sondear su fe. Háblanos de Jesús, preguntaron. Respiró profundamente y dijo: “Esto es lo que sé: Jesús eligió amar sin excepción. Y con su último aliento perdonó a los que lo estaban matando “. Se detuvo. “Quiero aprender a amar así. Por eso sigo a Jesús “. Sintió una curación repentina sobre él mientras hablaba, y su corazón fue sanado. La fe puesta en marcha lo había salvado.

La fe puesta en marcha también nos salva. Hace mucho tiempo decidí confiar en Jesús por su amor y perdón, y por otros cuya fe me inspiró. Cuando mi fe flaquea, lo que hace, sé que es hora de volver a las personas, lugares y prácticas que abren mi corazón para recibir. Sé que es hora de moverse. A veces la fe que pongo en movimiento no es mucho más grande que una semilla de mostaza. Pero increíblemente, Jesús se encuentra conmigo en el camino, y mi fe crece.

Quiero aprender a amar como Jesús ama y ayudar a crear un mundo donde tal amor es el derecho de nacimiento de todos. Cuando un grupo suficiente de nosotros hagamos esto juntos, pueden pasar cosas asombrosas, y de hecho pasan. Así que sigan caminando, amigos. La fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva.

Al acercarse el Adviento, esta es la primera de tres reflexiones sobre los fundamentos de la vida cristiana: la fe, la esperanza y el amor.

La fe puesta en marcha

Faith Set in Motion

La fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva. Faith set in motion is what saves us.

Most mornings I listen to two brief prayer meditations as I gather myself for the day: Pray As You Go, and its Spanish version Rezando Voy. Typically the words and music wash over me, but occasionally a phrase catches my attention and takes up residence inside.

That happened recently when I heard la fe puesta en marcha es lo que nos salva. It reminded me of what Jesus often said when people came to him for healing: your faith has made you well.

I’ve long resisted the notion that our faith is what saves or heals us. It places such pressure on us to have enough faith, or the right kind of faith. Such thinking can lead to spiritual lives of self-righteousness for some and perpetual inadequacy for others.

Yet the idea of faith set in motion suggests that faith is, in fact, a response to an encounter that God initiates. Something happens: we hear a call; our hearts are inspired or broken open; we feel a presence that is both as close as our breath and as elusive as the wind. We’ll never fully understand God’s movement towards us, and we can’t evoke Jesus’ presence on command. All we can do is respond to that which “strangely warms our hearts,” as John Wesley once described the presence of God.

This has become my working definition of faith: our response to those mysterious stirrings of grace that come to us. Amazing things can happen when we respond to those God moments with a faith set in motion, and they do. It doesn’t take much faith to begin a courageous journey. Faith the size of a mustard seed will do.

I’ve been presiding at a number of Confirmation services lately–a highlight of my job. At the heart of that service is what’s known as “the Baptismal Covenant.” It begins with three questions about belief–Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?–followed by five questions about how we will live as a result of our belief: Will you continue in Christian community? Will you acknowledge when you fail and ask forgiveness? Will you live with integrity, treat others with dignity, and strive for justice and peace?

As essential as our answers are to these questions, equally important are the ways they describe how God first shows up for us. Belief in this context means trust. Before we can believe, we must have some experience that allows us to trust in this mystery we call God.

Thus the questions, do you believe in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit? are asking if we’ve experienced enough of what our prayer book calls the mystery of faith to assure us that there is more to this life than meets the eye, and that the source of it all is love.
If the answer is no, where might we go to have such experiences? If the answer is yes, where might we go to have more?

The questions that follow describe the arenas in life in which we are most likely to experience the power and presence of God in Christ: in Christian community, at those times when we fail or fall short; in relationship with one another; and together working to create a just and peaceful world. Sometimes we simply need to start moving. Jesus promises to meet us on the road.

A colleague recently told of the time he decided to walk the entire 530 miles of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient Christian pilgrimage route across northern Spain. He had been sorely wounded by the Church and was seeking some kind of healing and peace within himself. So he started walking, setting what little faith he had in motion. On the road he met people from all over the world who were on searches of their own, many who had been wounded, too, and uncertain about their futures.

One night around a campfire, his fellow pilgrims realized that he was a priest and began probing his faith. Tell us about Jesus, they asked. He took a deep breath and said, “This is what I know: Jesus chose to love without exception. And with his last breath he forgave those who were killing him.” He paused. “I want to learn to love like that. That’s why I follow Jesus.” He felt a healing rush come over him as he spoke, and his heart was healed. Faith set in motion had saved him.

Faith set in motion saves us as well. Long ago, I decided to put my trust in Jesus because of his love and forgiveness, and because of others whose faith inspired me. When my faith falters, which it does, I know that it’s time to go back to the people, places and practices that open my heart to receive. I know that it’s time to move. Sometimes the faith I put in motion isn’t much bigger than a mustard seed. But incredibly enough, Jesus meets me on the road, and my faith grows.

I want to learn to love as Jesus loves and to help create a world where such love is everyone’s birthright. When enough of us do that together, amazing things can happen, and they do. So keep walking, friends. Faith set in motion is what saves us.

As Advent approaches, this is the first of three reflections on the foundations of Christian life: faith, hope and love.

Convención Diocesana: lugar y Protocolos de Seguridad Trash

Convención Diocesana: lugar y Protocolos de Seguridad Trash

Querido clero y miembros laicos de la Convención,

Bendiciones para ustedes y para sus seres queridos. Mientras nos acercamos al final de año y al comienzo del Adviento, ya estamos también planificando nuestra Convención Diocesana para el 2022. Espero verlos allí.

Fecha y Lugar
Viernes, 28 de enero por la noche, Evento Virtual en línea
Tendremos un evento virtual en línea el viernes en la noche para inspirarnos y retarnos. Tendremos más información pronto. Los miembros de la Convención tendrán la oportunidad de inscribirse para el webinar por Zoom y el evento será transmitido en vivo.

Sábado, 29 de enero, en persona en la Catedral Nacional de Washington
La parte legislativa de la Convención ocurrirá en persona en la Catedral Nacional de Washington, el sábado 29 de enero. Estamos emocionados de reunirnos en persona después de estar alejados por tanto tiempo, aunque yo sé que esto puede causar ansiedad en algunos. Pero esto también es necesario ya que nuestros cánones no tienen ninguna provisión para reunirnos de manera alternativa. Por tanto, debemos ratificar acciones tomadas en la Convención del año pasado y en la Convención Especial (que tuvo lugar bajo una suspensión temporal de nuestros cánones) para así enmendar nuestros cánones y poder tener una Convención en línea o en formato híbrido en el futuro.

Protocolos de Seguridad
Para asegurar que nuestro tiempo juntos tenga el menor riesgo posible, seguiremos los siguientes protocolos de seguridad para nuestra salud colectiva.

La asistencia en persona estará limitada al clero y a los delegados laicos, miembros ex-officio y equipo de apoyo. Las personas que no estén en estas categorías tendrán la oportunidad de ver la reunión virtual en línea.

  • El uso de máscaras será requerido.
  • Todas las personas que participen en la Convención necesitarán traer prueba de vacunación para ser chequeados el sábado.
  • Una nota sobre este último punto. Yo comprendo que pueden haber personas que no están vacunadas o que no se sienten cómodas mostrando una prueba de vacunación. Sin embargo, el Consejo Diocesano, el Comité Permanente y yo hemos determinado que una prueba de vacunación es necesaria para nuestra salud física y paz mental.

Si eres un delegado y no tienes la voluntad o no puedes vacunarte, ahora es el momento de asegurar un delegado suplente de tu parroquia.

Fielmente,

Obispa Mariann

Convención Diocesana: lugar y Protocolos de Seguridad Trash

Diocesan Convention: Location and Safety Protocols

Dear Clerical and Lay Members of Convention,

Blessings to you and your loved ones. As we near the end of the year and the beginning of Advent, planning is well underway for the 2022 Diocesan Convention. I look forward to seeing you there.

Date and Location
Friday Evening, January 28 Online Event
We will hold a virtual event Friday evening to inspire and challenge us. We’ll have more information to share soon. Members of the Convention will have the opportunity to register for the Zoom webinar, and the event will be live-streamed.

Saturday, January 29, In-person at Washington National Cathedral
The legislative portion of Convention will occur in person at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, January 29. While we are excited to gather in person after being apart for so long, I realize that it may cause anxiety for some. It is necessary because our canons do not as yet have provision for alternative ways of gathering. Thus we must ratify actions taken at last year’s online Convention and Special Convention (which took place under a temporary suspension of the canons), and to amend our canons so that we may hold Convention online or in a hybrid format going forward.

Safety Protocols
In order to ensure our time together is as risk-free as possible, we will follow several safety protocols for our collective health.

  • In-person attendance will be limited to clergy and lay delegates, ex-officio members and support staff. Those persons who do not fall into these categories will have the opportunity to watch the proceedings as they are streamed online.
  • Masking will be required.
  • All persons participating in the Convention will need to supply proof of vaccination in order to check in on Saturday.

A note about that third bullet point: I understand that there may be people who are not vaccinated or are uncomfortable showing proof of vaccination. Nevertheless, Diocesan Council, the Standing Committee, and I have determined that proof of vaccination is necessary for our physical health and peace of mind.

If you are a member of Convention and unwilling or unable to be vaccinated, now is the time to secure an alternate delegate for your parish.

Faithfully,

Bishop Mariann

Confirmation: God’s Promises to Us

Confirmation: God’s Promises to Us

Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’ When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Esther 4:10-17

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’ He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
Luke 9: 18-25

Let me begin by thanking those who are about to stand for confirmation, reception into the Episcopal Church, or to reaffirm your faith. The rest of us are here because of you, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I’m also honored to welcome and introduce my friend and colleague, Bishop Bud Shand.

It is our privilege to pray a word of blessing as one of you comes forward. While the words themselves are the same, the blessing is utterly unique, whatever it is that God wants you to receive. You may not hear or feel anything when we pray, but the blessing is there for you and will reveal itself in time.

I chose the Scripture passages for today to highlight two particular dimensions of a life of faith. The first text comes from the Book of Esther, one of the oldest books in the Bible. It tells of a moment in a young woman’s life when she had to be brave, to do something that she didn’t think she could do. Because of her position in the King’s court–how she got there is a story unto itself–she had the opportunity to speak to him and ask him to stop an evil plot to kill all the Jews in the land. Esther didn’t think she could do it. But then her uncle spoke to her with some of the most powerful words in all the Bible: Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for a time such as this.

So, too, for us, there will be times when we need courage, because it’s our turn to step up to the plate, whether we feel ready or not, and do whatever it is that we alone must do. God created us for such moments and is there with us in them. There is strength and courage beyond on our own for us to call upon. More on that shortly.

The second passage from the Gospel of Luke–one of the four biblical narratives of Jesus’ life–tells of the time when Jesus asked his followers what other people were saying about him. They told him that people were saying all kinds of things (some things haven’t changed). Then Jesus asked, “And what about you—who do you say that I am?”

That’s a question for anyone who, for whatever reason, feels drawn to Jesus’ life and teaching and wants to be part of a community that bears his name. Simon Peter’s answer: You are the Messiah of God has a particular meaning of salvation for him and his people. What it means for you or me to claim Jesus as Savior, or as Lord, or as God revealed to us in human form, or however else we might conceptualize him, is our own question to answer. How we strive to follow him and his teachings is what constitutes a lifelong journey of faith. It never grows stale, unless we allow it to. More on that in a moment as well.

The heart of what we are doing today is outlined in your bulletin in the section that reads “the Baptismal Covenant.” In the time I have left, I’d like to turn to it and reflect on its meaning with you. Remember that the word “covenant” simply means contract, or agreement. In Confirmation and Reception, we return to the promises made at our Baptism, which for most of us happened when we were infants or children when others made those promises on our behalf. Or maybe we made them ourselves, and we want to recommit to them again, which is something good for all who consider ourselves followers of Jesus to do.

Here’s the main takeaway of all that I’m about to say: While all of the questions in the Baptismal Covenant ask if you believe certain things, and as a result you are willing to commit to doing certain things, equally, if not more important, they also describe some of the ways that God shows up for you, how Jesus wants you to draw you closer, so that you might know him and experience his love. They describe how the Spirit of God, working in and through you, enables you, like Esther, to be brave when it matters most, because in that moment God invites you to tap into a greater courage that you can’t muster on your own.

In other words, this enterprise we call the Christian faith isn’t all up to us. One of the easiest ways to grow discouraged or stale in our faith is to assume that it is all up to us. And it’s not.

The first three questions all start with the words Do you believe? Do you believe in God, believe in Jesus, believe in the Holy Spirit? The answer we are given to recite comes from what’s known as the Apostle’s Creed, believed to be the earliest written summary of the Christian faith.

The word “believe” in this context doesn’t mean that we have no doubts or questions, that it doesn’t mean having what some call blind faith, taking something as true just because someone told you it was true or that it was written down somewhere. It’s more of a heart question–where do you and I place our trust?

So the first question is asking if you’ve had sufficient experiences in life to put your trust in this mystery we call God–the source of all life, or in the words of the Creed, the Creator of heaven and earth. Has the power, the mystery, and the wonder of life sufficiently touched you that you have some sense that there is a source of life, a source of goodness, a source of energy and strength that is beyond you, beyond us all, a source that we call God the Father, or in less parental, masculine imagery, God, the Creator. If not, where can you experience that? If so, where can you experience more of it, and so live with a greater sense of God’s presence in your life.

The second question is another version of what Jesus asked “who do you say that I am?” For many, this is a more challenging question than the first, because there are so many caricatures of Jesus, and so many people who claim him as their own and yet live in ways that any atheist can see are antithetical to Jesus’ teachings. To be sure that’s true of every Jesus follower to some degree, because we all fall short of his example. But some of the distortions are so offensive that it can be challenging to separate them from the essence of the man and his spiritual presence in the world now–which is one of compassion and sacrificial love, forgiveness and grace.

Have you sufficeintly experienced Jesus as a companion, friend, source of forgiveness and mercy, and as one whose teachings about love, forgiveness and justice inspires you, such that you want to put your trust in him? Have you heard him call your name? Not everyone in the world does, and there is no sin in that. But if you haven’t and you’d like to, where might that happen? If you have, how and when did it happen? How have you been inspired by the example of other Jesus followers and are drawn to the light that they see?

I was speaking to a colleague not long ago who told me of the time he decided to walk the entire 530 miles of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela by himself. The Camino is an ancient Christian pilgrimage route across northern Spain that draws people from all over the world, all faith persuasions, and some with no faith at all. Most are seeking something on the journey–healing, clarity of life purpose, a sense of adventure.

This particular priest, who is about my age, went after an experience of deep wounding in the church–he was really struggling, not so much with his faith, but how badly he had been hurt. On the path, he met all manner of people who were struggling, too, most of them from the growing ranks of the spiritual-but-not-religious. He had dinner one night around a campfire with a group of young people, and when they learned that he was a priest, they wanted him to talk about Jesus.

“Jesus chose to love without exception,” he told them. “And with his last breath he forgave those who were killing him. I want to learn how to love like that, and that’s why I follow Jesus.” I want to learn to love like that, too. And I believe that Jesus wants us to receive that kind of love and forgiveness, and then to help him pass it on. We can’t share what we’ve never experienced ourselves. Where do we go, what do we do, to experience more of his love?

The third do you believe question points us to what Christians call “the Holy Spirit,” the part of God that moves in and among us, like wind and breath, and makes possible all manner of connection and empowerment. How have you felt that Spirit? Was it like Esther–giving you courage to do what you didn’t think you could? Can you place your trust in the power that lifted you? How can you open yourself to receive more of it?

Experiences of faith are at the heart of our affirmations of faith. If our experiences are tepid or inconsequential, our affirmations will be, too. My prayer for you, for all of us, is that we might be opened to experience God’s love, revealed to some through the presence of Jesus, and this amazing power beyond our control but that sometimes works in and through us in ways beyond what we could ask for or imagine.

The next five questions then, which on the surface read as things we commit to doing, actually describe the means God uses to reach us, and help us grow in faith because of how we have been inspired, strengthened, and transformed. If you want to know where and how to experience more of God, of Jesus and the Spirit, here are a few answers, embedded in these questions to us:

Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? This is about being part of a Christian community–showing up for worship, for opportunities to learn, for meals shared at one another’s’ tables, and here, at the sacramental table when we remember Jesus’ last meal with his friends. This isn’t a roll call, but a reminder that in community, we can experience God speaking to us, moving us in ways that give us strength and courage and help us to grow in faith. When we show up, things can happen–a word, a song, a smile can be exactly what we need; an opportunity, a chance to love someone else, to learn something new.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord? This is the question that acknowledges our struggles to do what’s right and how often we fail. While it asks what we will do, the context is what God wants to offer us in the moments of our failing, which is forgiveness and mercy, the grace to make amends, and begin again. Speaking for myself, the times when I have felt truly forgiven–either by God or by another person–are among the most humbling and transformative experiences of my life. My faith in God soars as a result. That’s what God wants for you, for all of us, in our moments of regret and guilt–to know mercy and forgiveness, to be shown a path toward a different way to live, and opportunities, in time, for reconciliation with those we’ve hurt. Such experiences also help us become more forgiving when others hurt us.

The last three questions all point us to the ways we experience God, and the presence of Jesus, in relationship to one another. Jesus was really clear about this. The implication of each question is that we are to do these things: to walk our talk–to be a person of integrity; to treat others as we want to be treated; and to respect all people. Again, the context is what God wants us to experience through the love and kindness of other people–that God’s love, Jesus’ forgiveness, the Spirit’s power comes to us through the actions and words of other people, and to be open to that.

Going back to the example of Esther, there will be times when God will call us or somehow place ourselves in really hard situations for the sake of other people. The situations can be large or small, for the benefit of one person or for many. Sometimes, when we stand in the gap of human need and our inadequate response, we experience God’s power working through that situation and offering in ways we could never have imagined. Or in the face of human suffering–others or our own–our hearts break, and in the breaking they grow larger, more compassionate, with greater capacity to love without agenda, to give without expecting anything in return.

What I want you to hear is this incredible invitation, this call from the heart of God, to you, into a relationship of love, into a life of great purpose and joy–and also sacrifice and commitment. Yes, there are promises for you to make and to do your best–which will never be perfect–to honor. But Gods’ love comes first, and the desire to draw you closer, day by day, and enable you to become more like Jesus in your capacity to both give and receive love.

Now there are three questions that only those being confirmed, received or who are reaffirming their faith must answer. They are stark questions of renunciation of all that is evil and of recommitment to follow Jesus. It’s the Prayer Book’s way of asking what kind of person you want to be, and whose lights you choose to follow. If you want to follow Jesus, rest assured that he has already called and chosen you. And that no matter what happens, and how many times you fail in any endeavor to love as he loves, he’ll be there to help you get back up and start again.

A final word about the blessing you are about to receive. It’s already there for you, and in you, and surrounding you. Today is simply an invitation to receive. We’re all here cheering you on and thank you for the opportunity to receive something of that grace and love for ourselves.

Amen.

Those Who Help Us Live Lives that Matter

Those Who Help Us Live Lives that Matter

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
Revelation 21:1-6a

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:32-44.

I recently spoke with a parishioner from the congregation I served in Minneapolis whose name is Cindy. I’m working on a long-term writing project on the subject of courage, and specifically decisive moments in our lives when we learn to be brave. I called to ask Cindy about such a moment in her life–when she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

This was a really big deal. Cindy had never gone to college, and hadn’t done well in high school. As a teenager, her main objective in life was to get out of her abusive family and live on her own. She started out waiting tables and eventually landed an office job where she stayed for 18 years, working up to the position of office manager. She and her husband married and had three children. It was after she left her job as office manager to care for their children full time that she told me of her dream and decision to start walking toward it.
Cindy began by enrolling for a night course at the nearby community college. She arrived late, and the classroom door was locked. When she knocked, the instructor opened it and said, “In this class, we begin on time.” She was never late again.

For six years Cindy took one class per semester until she was accepted into the nursing program. Then she went full-time for two more years, each day getting up hours before her kids in order to study and resuming after they went to bed. Cindy graduated during the economic recession of 2008, when no hospitals were hiring. For several more years she worked nights for a home health care service, until at last she found a position in a trauma unit at a city hospital. A few years later she applied and was hired for her dream job working nights as an obstetrics nurse.

I contacted Cindy to ask her if she remembered what prompted her to take that first step toward her dream. She did and was happy to talk with me about it (and she gave me permission to share her story). In our conversation, she described three influencing factors, all of which have something to do with what we are celebrating in church today, which is why I’m telling you her story.

The first was the example of her grandfather. He was an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, and as a child he was one of the first to receive experimental doses of insulin to treat his diabetes. The treatment saved his life, and he resolved to help save others’ lives. “I was fascinated with medicine because of him and inspired by the amazing things he could do to help people,” she told me. “As a teenager, it never occurred to me that I could pursue such a path. But when I decided to go for it, his memory and example was a big factor.”

The second influence for Cindy was a class she took at our church that one of our more gifted lay leaders offered on discerning life purpose. “I’ll never forget what it felt like,” she said, “when he went to the white board, drew a vertical line, and invited us to see it as representing our entire life span. He told us to put the date of our birth at the bottom; imagine the date of our death and how old we thought we might be when we die.” “Then make note of where you are now on the line,” he said. “What do you want to do with the time you have left?”

The third inspiration was the obstetrics nurse who was with her when she delivered her third child. “She was so caring and encouraging, and good at her job. I knew that I wanted to be like her someday, to help other people the way she was helping me.”

I tell you Cindy’s story because it so beautifully underscores some of the ways in which God works in and through us, and how we help one another become the people God created us to be. We just heard the story of Lazarus being resuscitated from death–and what Jesus says at the end of the story is one of the most powerful imperatives in all of Scripture: unbind him and let him go.
I think of Cindy–and of all of us really–bound up, held back, restricted in our self awareness or understanding of our life’s potential, and how God wants to set us free. The dream of caring for others as a nurse came to Cindy early in life, but she dismissed it, because nothing in her immediate circumstances allowed her to believe she could realize it. She was bound in a way of seeing herself and her options that were way too small for her.

But through the inspiration of her grandfather, long passed on from this life, the encouragement of a friend from church to think with courage about possibilities once again, and the example of a nurse whose care for her awakened her long-dormant dream, all coming together, Cindy came to believe that she could, in fact, pursue her dream. She was set free.
We are so connected to one another across time and space, and God works in and through those connections in ways beyond our comprehension. Here we are, on this day when our church invites us to remember those whose lives mattered to us, and the mysteries of spirit and truth that are handed down generation to generation. Cindy’s grandfather, my grandparents and yours, and their parents before them. Others who were and are our inspiration–in both our family lineage and in history. We are their heirs.

This day also reminds us what we often lose sight of in the cares and occupations of our lives–that we are mortal. And of all God’s creatures, we are blessed with consciousness of our mortality. We’re all somewhere on that line that represents our life between birth and death, and we know it. Most of the time, we don’t think about death, for good reason. Death is beyond our comprehension. We’re not meant to understand death.

Without an awareness of death, however, as philosophers and poets remind us, life itself loses its meaning. “Meaning lies beyond the bounds of this closed world,” writes Nicolai Berdyaev. “And the discovery of purpose presupposes an ending in this world.” (Nicolai Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man,(London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1931) pp.268-69. Quoted in Almanac for the Soul, Nancy and Marv Hiles, 2008, p.219.) Now there is also an ancient human intuition, that we just heard the author of Revelation give voice to–that death is as much a beginning as an end. Yet if we are to live fully in this life, we must embrace our finitude, and recognize that life is short, as the blessing goes, and we don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us on the way.

Lastly, today reminds us that we are here to encourage one another and do all that we can to help one another grow into the fullness of who God created us to be. Think of Cindy’s experience with an obstetrics nurse with her as she delivered her child, who showered Cindy with such compassion and was so good at her job that she awakened in Cindy a desire to do the same.

Think of the countless people who are living saints for you, those who see the best in you, even the unrealized potential in you and urge you to live the best possible version of yourself. Think of those whose faith sustains you when your faith has wanted, or has seen you through the toughest times.

We will soon make precisely that promise for the children being baptized today, that we will be there for them, and we will do all in our power to help them grow into the full stature of their potential, and their knowledge and love of God. That promise can only be realized when we recognize that such a posture of support and encouragement is how God longs for us to be with everyone–seeing the best in one another, cheering each other on, showing up in times of pain and struggle, celebrating moments of joy. “I sing a song of the saints of God,” begins a beloved All Saints hymn that we’ll sing at the end of the service, “and I mean to be one, too.”

I leave you with these questions to ponder throughout the day and perhaps the coming week:

Who in your past, or in history, is the blessed saint whose courage and faith is God calling to mind for you now, as encouragement and inspiration? Right now I am immersed in the life of Pauli Murray, the first African American woman to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. She was one of the first African American women to graduate from law school, and she was consistently fifteen-to-twenty years ahead of her time regarding matters of race and gender equality. Pauli Murray is teaching me about perseverance, and how nothing worth doing in regards to social change, or anything else, really, can be fully accomplished in one lifetime. She helped pave the way for the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Eleanor Holmes Norton, and all the black women leaders in our church today.

Who is that person for you?

Second, if you were to draw a vertical line that represented your life, where do you think you are on that line now? Of course we never know what might happen tomorrow, but what is your sense of where you are? And how might remembering that you don’t have all the time in the world bring certain issues to greater clarity for you?

Lastly, who is a living saint for you now, the one who inspires and encourages you to be the best version of yourself? And for whom might you be a living saint, a steady presence of encouragement and love, of faith and never-failing support? Consider these wondrous children, all being brought to God and to us for baptism. What might your role in their lives be, or in the lives of any of the children coming up behind you? Is there anyone nearing death for whom your friendship is a means of grace and courage? Is there someone at work, at school, here in church, or in your community for whom you are an inspiration?

We are so connected to one another across time and space, in family and community, and in ways we can never fully grasp. We don’t have to be perfect to live a full and meaningful life–none of the people we remember today were. But we can resolve to be on the side of goodness and light, in service of all that is of love and joy, and to help unbind others and set them free.

Jesus longs for us all to be unbound and free to live our lives with meaning and joy. Sometimes we’re on the receiving end of all that makes such a life possible; sometimes we help inspire others to take their courageous steps toward their dreams. This day is called the feast of all saints for a reason. All means all, including those who have been saints for us; and the ways we can be, and are, sources of inspiration and encouragement to one another.