Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fully Alive: A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

Wordle: Fully Alive

Fully Alive

To the home of peace
to the field of love
to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
we look, O God,
with longing for earth's children
with compassion for the creatures
with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.

Open us to visions we have never known
strengthen us for self-givings we have never made
delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined
that we may truly be born of You
makers of peace. Amen.
[John Philip Newell]

There is a Celtic saying
that heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in thin places that distance is even smaller.

Thin places
are where heaven and earth are so close together
it is possible to get a glimpse of the other side –
to live,
at least for a moment,
in the sacred both/and
God created us to live in
by exploding,
at least for a moment,
the demonic either/or
the world tells us we have to settle for.

On the wall in Ed Bacon’s office
there hangs a beautiful piece of calligraphy
with these words from one of the early “church fathers:”
The Glory of God is the human being fully alive.

Written by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon
around 185AD
these ancient words
call us to claim the eternal truth
that the God who created us in love
and then loved us enough to become one of us
in order to show us how to love one another
is glorified when we dwell in the thin places
when we claim the fullness of the both/and
when we risk being fully alive.

And make no mistake about it.
This fully alive - both/and thing is risky.

To live in the both/and place --
to be open to the call to be fully alive --
is to live in the tension
of the already and the not yet;
to claim the promise of the
becoming but not quite become;
and to trust not only
that the gift we have been given
is greater than we could either ask or imagine
but that it has been given to us
for a reason
and that reason is nothing less than
what Isaiah called proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor
what the Lord’s Prayer names thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
what All Saints Church calls turning the human race into the human family.
AKA “Risky business.”

Jesus found that out
when he preached what some have called his “Inaugural Address”
at his home synagogue in Nazareth –
the story we just heard in the Gospel According to Luke.

Reading from words of the prophet Isaiah
he reminded those who gathered
to welcome home Joseph and Mary’s son
(who was trending as Galilee’s hottest, most happening young rabbi)
he reminded them – the home crowd gathered in the place he grew up --
what the year of the Lord’s favor looked like:
good news to the poor; sight to the blind;
liberation to the captive; release to the prisoner.

And they all nodded and smiled ...
until he got to the both/and part
about how that good news was not just for the people of Israel
but for the widow in Zaraphath and the Syrian leper ...
the part where the both/and
of God’s inclusive love and radical healing grace
transcended the either/or of their tribal paradigm.

And the smiling congregation
turned into a riled up mob
and decided to skip the cake-on-the-lawn the Parish Council had prepared
to celebrate the return home of Joe and Mary’s boy
and to try to throw him off a cliff instead.

[That’s the part that comes after the part we read this morning.]

Yes, there’s risk in this both/and thing.
This “Year of the Lord’s Favor” deal.
This fully alive stuff.

And yet there is also hope, freedom and liberation.
Not just for us as individuals,
but for our communities of faith
for our nation
and for our world.

In the not-so ancient words of our friend Marianne Williamson:

We were born to make manifest the glory of God
that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone
and as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Jesus – the radical rabbi from Nazareth
was so liberated from fear
that his presence liberated those who dared to follow him
and continues to liberate us
these more than 2000 years later.

The Glory of God is the human being fully alive.

Verna Dozier – one of my heroes and mentors
had this to say about how that liberation happens:

Doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.

Her words have been nothing less than a mantra for me
for lo these several decades now
through seminary and into parish ministry
in parenting, relationship and vocational challenges
and most recently as I’ve lived in that thin place
with the both/and of grief and gratitude
praying to trust the light given me in the moment
and to be given the grace to risk being fully alive.

And I know for an absolute fact certain
that I know more and different things today
that I could not have imagined yesterday --
and as a result I look forward to tomorrow and beyond
open to the new possibilities I can’t yet imagine today.

The Glory of God is a community of faith fully alive.

Ed Bacon famously said
“Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless.”

Take a look at the logo on the front of today’s liturgy
and you will see what is -- for me -- an icon
of how All Saints Church strives
to live out its call to dwell in the “thin place”
that embraces the both/and of contemplation and action.

Spirituality calls us into Community
which sends us out to act for Peace and Justice
grounded in the Spirituality
calling us back into Community …
and the circle goes round and round and round again.

And just as Marianne Williamson’s words promise
that circle liberates us not only to let our light shine
but liberates others by giving them permission to do the same.

I thought of that circle this week
as Gary Hall – our former All Saints colleague
and now Dean of Washington’s National Cathedral --
was “trending” in the news cycle
as a leading voice addressing the issue of gun violence reduction.

Gary quoted Martin Luther King Jr
on the challenge to the church to step up and speak out:

“It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or non-existence,” [said Martin Luther King.] King is adamant that Americans not sleep through the great revolution they currently witness. They must stay awake and commit themselves to enter on the side of God’s love and justice. As he says, “Nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.”

It is a both/and challenge
to put both our bodies AND souls in motion
to dare to be fully alive
and risk dwelling that thin place
where the not-yet touches the what-could-be
and we ignore the “it’ll never happen” voice
and choose instead the “yes we can” voice.

And that brings me to: The Glory of God is the nation fully alive.

Last Monday I stood on the Mall in Washington DC
with about a million other bundled up people
and heard our President speak words
that Diana Butler Bass has called
“a masterwork of progressive theology:
a public sermon on the meaning of America,
a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world
an expression of a genuinely pluralistic America,
and the first inaugural address
of a new sort of American civil spirituality.”

Part of that speech included these words:
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."

And in uttering those words
those risky words
President Barack Obama invited this nation – our nation –
to dare to take another step on the journey toward being fully alive
to risk living in that thin place of the sacred both/and
of liberty and justice for all
by rejecting the demonic either/or
of liberty and justice for just some.

With those words in his second inaugural address
President Obama arguably erased the defacto asterisk
that has followed the words “liberty and justice for all”
with *unless you’re gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

And it felt just a little bit
like hearing someone pull out the scroll and read from Isaiah
about liberating captives and releasing prisoners
and then saying
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And it felt like a very thin place indeed.

Tomorrow night
we will welcome back to All Saints Church
poet, peacemaker and scholar John Philip Newell
who wrote the prayer I opened with this morning.

He will call us to a thin place
of visions we have never known
of self-givings we have never made
of a oneness we could never have imagined
that we may become fully alive as makers of peace;
as individuals
as a community of faith
and as a nation.

And so let me close
as I began
with another prayer from John Philip Newell:

O Brother Jesus
who wept at the death of a friend
and overturned tables in anger at wrong
let me not be frightened by the depths of passion.
Rather let me learn the love and anger
and wild expanses of soul within me
that are true expressions of your grace and wisdom.
And assure me again that in becoming more like you
I come closer to my true self
made in the image of outpouring Love
born of the free eternal Wind.

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