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Archive for April, 2012

The following is an article originally written for the community of Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH.

Guillermo Cuellar.  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  These are two names that I think for most Lutheran do not seem very Lutheran.  In January of this year, I spent ten days in El Salvador on an academic delegation of solidarity, and while there, I learned that these very Catholic figures have a large impact in our Lutheran worship.

One of the things that I love about the ELCA is that we are considered to be one of the most ecumenical Christian traditions.  We share Full Communion with five denominations (Presbyterian, Moravian, the Episcopalian Church, United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America), and open our table to anyone who is a baptized.  We work on social statements and public health ministries with people on every continent.  Our red hymnal, the ELW, is composed with music and liturgy from around the world.

Last summer Divinity worshiped with a Hispanic setting in our red ELW.  I was surprised to learn while in El Salvador that the bulk of this setting did not come from Spain, but from El Salvador.  I was surprised to learn that the bulk of the music and liturgy was written by Guillermo Cuellar at the request of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  I was surprised to learn that some sections were composed merely days before Romero was assassinated for preaching Christ’s non-violent love in a time of war.  I was surprised to learn this liturgy was written not solely for the glory of God but also in mourning of the deaths of millions of people who died from the Salvadorian genocide.  There was an evening where Guillermo put on a private concert for my delegation (see picture included), explaining how the same liturgy that we sang last summer in Parma Heights remains the popular Catholic mass in El Salvador today.

When I began my worship class this semester, I asked my professor, Dr. Mark Bangert, about this setting.  Dr. Bangert was one of the primary editors of our hymnal, and shared with my class that we integrated the Salvadorian popular mass into our worship as a continued effort of ecumenism.  Lutherans may not be in Full Communion with the Catholic Church, but we when we sing one of their popular masses, we are professing that we stand in solidarity with our Catholic brothers and sisters.  We profess that we our lives are impacted by the ministry of their leaders. We profess that while we do not yet come to the Holy Communion table with one another, we do celebrate with one another that God brings good news to people in the darkest of times, even during a time of genocide.

On Mother’s Day weekend, I will be leading an adult forum about my time in El Salvador, sharing pictures and stories about that ten day delegation.   We will explore one of our core Lutheran theologies, the Theology of the Cross, through a liberation lens.  Examining the current state of El Salvador, we will uncover how to stand in solidarity with our Catholic and Evangelical brothers and sisters and discuss the current ministry of the Lutheran Church in that nation.

I hope that you will join us on Sunday, May 13 at 10am.

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There are times when I feel when my biggest obstacle with my vocation is my health.  Today is one of those times.

I am a lupus patient who has nerve involved complications.  I have a major organ system that has been going in and out of failure for the past four years, and last night I discovered a mass that indicates that this system is back in failure.  I am extremely disgruntled because I just received documentation less than a month ago that this system failure was in remission.  Having that letter facing me on my refrigerator is not only emotionally taxing, but it also bears witness with the new fight that I will have with my insurance company.  Because lupus is the great masquerader and always manifests itself in ways that do not look lupus-like, like for me endomitrial cysts on my chest wall or damaged nerves that need to be removed, my experience has been that that there is a struggle to get insurance companies to cover necessary procedures because they feel it’s elective.

As much as my soul wishes that my vocation was my top priority, my health truly has to be.  So this morning, I spent several hours trying to figure out why I could not book an appointment at my doctors because of an outstanding bill that I never received.  I spent those several hours on the phone instead of in class, and of course it had to be on a day that a major paper is due in another course and half my class was missing because they were finishing their work.  It doesn’t matter that I emailed my professor explaining what is going on, the coincidence to these two things lining up could easily give anyone the impression that I was using my condition as a reason to excuse why I wasn’t there.

It is a hard truth to recognize the limitations of my condition.  I share my story because I hope to create awareness for lupus patients and to create awareness for what it means to be a person in ministry who has a chronic condition or disability.  Next year I have been assigned to work with a pastor who has a disability, and on a day like today I clearly see God’s hand in that placement.  I want to learn how to best tell my story in a way that is transparent and still uplifting, and it will be helpful to learn from a pastor who has journeyed this path. Despite my frustrations, my worries, my anxieties, and my overall fear of what my body is doing to itself, I know that part of the reason I have been called into a life of service is because of my condition.

I know that God rides the wave of this roller-coaster with me, is with me as I argue with insurance companies, and is my source of relief when I have surgeries without pain medication because of allergies.  I know that God will show me the way of strength that will carry me towards my next phase of remission, and will help me readjust my lifestyle to accommodate the permanent damage that has come from my periods of failure.  This steadfast devotion is radical good news, and in order to share how good it is at times it must be contrasted with the stories that are not always easy to share.  Tending and being vocal about my health is a part of my vocation, and it is by God’s grace that I have been given the opportunity to tend to both myself and the church.

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The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH, at the Easter Vigil Service on April 6. It was based on the text of Mark 16:1-8

My niece and nephew love to play Hide-and-Seek.  Just last night at bath-time, four year-old Phoebe hid from her two year-old brother Alex when he wasn’t looking.  She hid in the most stealth of places, behind a curtain, her little hot pink socks pointing out underneath the fabric of the curtain, which was shaking with the force of her giggles.

Once Alex realized Phoebe was missing, he got a little flustered.  He started walking around the living room, “Phoebe?  Phoebe?”  As his search grid became wider, his started to look more and more bewildered, his voice getting louder and louder, “Phoebe?  Phoebe?”  He looked over at me with big fearful eyes, afraid because he couldn’t find his sister.

I pointed him over to the corner window.  Once it sunk in that she was hiding in plain-site, he could not wait to pull back the curtain and “find her.”  Together they laughed and laughed at this miraculous discovery, and my mom and I laughed with them.

The fun as adults watching children play games like Hide-and-Seek and Peek-a-Boo is that we know there is never any real threat.  We know that the missing person will be found.  We can enjoy in the experience of the discovery because we know the ending to the story.

Looking at this passage from Mark, once again we have the privilege of being the informed observer.  We know that there is no real threat to the Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James.  We know that the man in the tomb who speaks to them is an angel telling of a resurrection.  We can enjoy the experience of the discovery because the good news of this message is as obvious to us as a four-year-old hiding behind the curtain.

But for Mary, Salome, and Mary, this news makes them very, very afraid.

Fear is an important part of Mark and is what propels this gospel towards the cross.  Time and time again throughout we see that people are afraid of divine miracles that test their faith.

For instance, after Jesus stills the boat on the sea, he asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Later, there are three times when Jesus foretells the crucifixion, and each time the disciples had questions about what Jesus was saying but were too afraid to ask.  Perhaps most significant to Easter, the chief priests and scribes searched for a way to crucify Jesus because they were afraid of his teachings, and later when trying to trap him as they questioned him about John the Baptist, those same priests and scribes were afraid of the crowds.

We must also remember that as Jesus performs divine actions throughout Mark, he tells people to stay silent.  We see incident after incident where Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick, and each and every time he instructs the formerly afflicted to “tell no one what has happened here.”  And yet, the healed cannot compel themselves to keep such actions a secret.  They share the miracles, and the attention that comes from these miracles eventually results in Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is ironic that the one and only time in this gospel when someone is specifically told to share a miracle that has happened, Mary, Salome, and Mary cannot do it because they are afraid.

It is hard to acknowledge the times when our fear stands in the way of being courageous in our faith.  This was most certainly true for the translators of Mark.  We have learned that in a few sources translated after the fourth century, the Gospel of Mark suddenly has a different ending from the original source.  This new-and-improved ending has all sorts of reassuring images of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and the ascension to heaven.  This new ending was to reassure fourth century people that their faith was placed in the right place.

The original intention of the Gospel of Mark does not want us hide from the notion of fear.  The original ending, while at times unsettling, is important because it speaks so honestly of what it means to be a person of faith.

Faith is a scary thing.  Our faith is arguably the most personal thing we have, but it does not come from our own making.  It is given to us as a gift from the Holy Spirit, and it is what calls us into relationship with God.  This gift of faith is what brings us to the table at Holy Communion, and is the gift of faith that justifies us through the waters of baptism.

Tonight we celebrate the baptism of our newest members of the body of Christ.  Somewhere along their journey to the font, they experienced a means of grace.  Somewhere along their journey, the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of faith, and today they will be justified through the waters of baptism.

It is so fitting for us to celebrate baptism on this Easter Vigil night.  We were born into the world victims of a fallen humanity.  Through Christ’s death on the cross we are freed from the bondage of that sin that comes from a fallen humanity, justified to engage in the relationship of faith.  In baptism, we can most intimately experience the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is through baptism we travel the journey of death from the bondage of sin to live forever a life where sin no longer holds us captive.

Through baptism we are justified by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, without the fear that if we do not complete a certain quota of good works our justification will be taken away.  It is in thanksgiving of this fear that at our baptisms we pledge to exhibit our faith the best way we can.  We recognize the truest way to exhibit faith is complete good works like caring for the earth and loving our neighbor.

In baptism, we publically accept this gift of faith and we commit ourselves to a relationship with God that is eternal.  This is a life changing moment, and can make even the best of us a bit fearful.  This is why we celebrate baptism together in community.  We support one another in this commitment because it is easy to be fearful when accepting the magnificent blessing of salvation.

The challenge comes in living out our faith.  It is hard to be bold in our faith at times when we feel shaken.

Today’s lesson of Mary, Mary and Salome is the perfect example.  They were afraid to accept this turn their faith journey took.  They believed in the teachings of Jesus.  They loved Jesus.  They were dedicated servants to his ministry.  It was faith that brought them to the tomb.

But while the stone of the physical tomb had been rolled away, the stone of their fear kept them silent.  They didn’t know how to handle this shocking revelation that so greatly impacted what they understood their relationship with Jesus to be.

Every time I have read this passage lately, I have been reminded of a song by Mumford and Sons.  The song opens, “Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.  Together we can see what we will find.  Don’t leave me alone at this time, for I’m afraid of what I’ll discover inside.”

When we encounter stones that redirect the pathways of our faith journeys, it is easy to be afraid and to feel alone.  We are not alone.

In baptism we are adopted into God’s family, given a family wider and broader then we could ever imagine.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a mothering Father who stands fast with us in times of strife.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Son who died on the cross for our salvation.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Spirit who is as close a confidant as the most tenderhearted sister.

Because our baptismal family is so large and broad, we will experience transitions in our faith at times when we least expect it.

Four years ago, I did not know where my faith would lead me.  Four years ago I was working as a librarian, and while feeling loved by God, did not feel overly connected to the idea of the church.

Four years ago, I stood at a baptismal font with my niece Phoebe.  As I watched the waters of baptism justify her sweet, infant face, I began to weep.  I remember later when I returned to my seat my aunt joking that I cried more at the waters of Phoebe’s baptism then Phoebe did herself.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment of baptism reactivated my awareness of my gift of faith.  Within six months I was no longer a librarian, but working part time as a secretary for a church.  Six months after that, I was the director of that same church, overseeing the outreach ministry and living a life of service.  Six months after that I first began discerning my call to ordained leadership, and six months after that I was accepted as a pastoral candidate for our synod.  Six months after that I applied to seminary, and now I stand before you with almost a year of seminary under my belt.

With each and every faith transition I have been afraid.

I was afraid that day at the font of someone else’s baptism because I knew then that despite turning my back on my faith at times, God never turned away from me.

I was afraid because I knew that I am not a perfect person.  I have tattoos, I swear, I battle a cigarette and food addiction, I have let my loved ones down, spent more money on myself then I gave to my neighbor, have ignored the homeless on the street corners, have lied, have doubted, and yet, there I was.

Hearing the Holy Spirit call my name at someone else’s baptism.

Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “Tina, child of God, you have been sealed by the cross of Christ forever.”

Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “No matter what, I love you, and believe in you.  Be in relationship with me.  Do not be afraid.  Live out your faith and be in relationship with me.”

It was at someone else’s baptism that I was able to start the process of rolling away my stone.  It was at someone else’s baptism that I realized I wasn’t alone.  It was at someone else’s baptism that I re-discovered what was inside, and it was at someone else’s baptism that I learned the joy of being afraid.

It was the fear of my faith transition that gave me the strength to ask my baptismal family to stand with me as I began living out my faith journey, and they have not let me down.  Being true to my faith and my individual sense of calling and sharing that with my church family has been more of a blessing to me then I can ever begin to put in words.

I am so grateful that tonight our family will grow again, and to see how the Spirit will work through their lives.  I feel privileged to bear witness to the Spirit calling their names into a relationship of faith, and supporting them as they are sealed with the cross of Christ forever.

I am so grateful for such spirit filled waters, and I can’t wait to discover how the Holy Spirit will speak to me tonight at someone else’s baptism.

Roll away your stone.  I’ll roll away mine.  Together we can see what we can find.  We are not alone at this time, even when we are afraid of what we will discover inside.

Amen.

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The following sermon was preached on Good Friday, April 6, 2012 at Divinity Lutheran Church Parma Heights, OH, based on the passage Matthew 27: 45-49.

Forsaken.

That is a word I have been hearing a great deal within my community lately.

I attend seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Located in the famous Southside of the city, my community is known for many things – the White Sox, the DuSable Museum, Lake Michigan, jazz.

The Southside also has a name for its relationship with violence.  This relationship makes the odds that you will be connected to gangs and/or homelessness to over 60%, and is why in this city over 17,000 children are labeled as “food insecure”.  These statistics are easily overlooked when glamorizing the “Windy City” with memories of a river turned green or shopping on the Magnificent Mile.  When people speak of the great city of Chicago, Southsiders often feel forsaken by the sensationalized impact of our Downtown and Northside counterparts.  There is a division among the city, and is much broader then the Cubs fans verses Sox fans.

In the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, a young African American male who was profiled and murdered in Florida a month ago, people within my community have been vocalizing racial injustice issues found in our own backyard.  Three weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune reported that in one week in the Southside, 49 children under the age of 18 were shot, ten of which died.  These ten lives that were lost too young were a fraction of over 300 children who were killed since 2008 from gun related incidents in the Southside of Chicago alone.  Over 300 children in four years, and we aren’t even halfway through this year yet.

There is a division in my community.  Right now, on any given Sunday at any given church in the Southside, the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” are not strange to voices raised in prayer.  I am sure our survivors and families grieving from the Chardon School shooting last month are also feeling the weight of those words, also feeling a division between their experience and the experience of their neighbor.  As we read this passage of Jesus’ words on this most holy of days, we know all too intimately what it means to feel forsaken.

For some of us, we feel forsaken by our communities in a time of violence and racial injustice.  For others, we feel forsaken by our friends who fade into the background as we wade through the murky waters of divorce.   We feel forsaken as we spend hour after hour interviewing for jobs that never quite pan out.  We may say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as we see the red in our check books, or as we sit in through yet another round of chemotherapy.  We may feel that we are forsaken every time we risk our sobriety and are tempted to resort back to our favorite drug of choice.

There is division among us, and its anthem cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I don’t know about you, but I am made incredibly uncomfortable by this passage from Matthew, specifically with the word “forsaken.”  I was so uncomfortable, in fact, I double checked to make sure this wasn’t some faulty literary translation.  I double checked the Greek source of this passage because I hoped that this was one of those times, maybe providing us some sort of theological wiggle room where “forsaken” perhaps could mean something else.

I peered over the text, digging into the Greek word καταλείπω (kat-al-i’-po), and what I found was not much better.  Kαταλείπω can also mean to leave behind, to desert, to abandon.

I even went so far as to check the corresponding passage in the Gospel of Mark.  There it was again – καταλείπω.  Forsaken.  Just as there is no avoiding the moments when our lives are filled with pain, when we feel that we are utterly alone, we cannot avoid that Jesus on the cross cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This moment on the cross puts a bad taste in our mouths, equally as bitter as the vinegar that was given to Jesus upon the sponge.  We can get lost in our feelings of division, and when we hear Jesus cry out those words, it is easy to miss the good news in this message.

The good news of this message is that while these words are Christ’s, they were first ours.  Jesus does not create this anthem on the cross, but echoes this anthem from our ancestors.  He is repeating the words of the psalmist, the songs of his community.

The psalms were written after the Exodus, after the Israelites had left Egypt and had settled into what they thought would be the end of their problems, their promised land.  These were people like the many who thought they were finding refuge in the great city of Chicago only to discover the poverty and violence of the Southside.  These were people like the many who now doubt if their hometown of Chardon is as safe as they once thought.  The psalmist wrote the turmoil of the people who thought they had found safety but instead found division and despair.

Voicing the people’s pain and doubt, the psalms served as anthems voicing the troubling thoughts of the community.  When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” he is voicing the anthem of the people who felt forsaken and ignored.  Jesus does not shy away from sharing words that are as familiar to the ears of his community as the hymns we are singing together today in our community.

The lyrics from one song, Psalm 22, go like this:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

There is a division among us, and when Jesus cries out our anthem, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,”  we should stand fast in recognizing that it is a cry of solidarity.  The psalmist tells us to commit our cause to the Lord, and upon the cross Christ is telling us that his commitment is to our cause.

Jesus cries out not because he is forsaken but because he knows that we feel forsaken.  Jesus cries out not in recognition of his own pain but in relationship with ours.  Even in the midst of extreme agony and torture, he is crying out for for our worries, placing our needs before his own.  He is reassuring us that we will not be abandoned, left behind or deserted.

Through Christ, the word “forsaken” is transformed from a symbol of despair to radical good news.  It is such good news that it is hard to grasp, one that is easier for us to taint with the vinegar that is our skepticism.

It was such radical good news that even the bystanders gathering at the cross couldn’t process it.  It was easier for them upon hearing those words to sneer, “This man is calling for his Elijah.” It was easier for them to mock then to accept that they could be supported so intimately.  It was easier for them to assume that Jesus was thinking of himself then to accept that his love for us is above his own needs and transformative.  It was easier because radical solidarity is not of this world.  When Jesus makes our anthem his own, we are forced to have faith that we will never be forsaken again, and that faith is a holy thing that is given to us as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

Christ is with the family of Trayvon Martin and the parent grieving around the world as they cope with the loss of their children. He will not forsake them.

Christ is with the students of Chardon every day as they courageously return to their studies.  He will not forsake them.

Christ is with us interview after interview, helping us reassess our budgets so we can turn our red balances into black.  We are not forsaken.

Christ is with us as our bodies are ravaged apart by chemotherapy, as we struggle with our addictions, as we suffer from food insecurity, as we search to find affordable healthcare, as we mourn the loss of our marriage, or even when we just feel blue.  We are not forsaken.

Christ is in solidarity with us, has been to the point of suffering on the cross for our sin.  This is radical good news!  This solidarity comes from a love that is beyond our understanding, and completely despite of ourselves.  Just as Christ made our anthem his, we too can make his solidarity ours.

As Christ’s representatives in this world, we need to stand strong with those who feel forsaken and build bridges in places of division.

We show solidarity with prayer, by gathering at the font, communing together with bread and with wine. We show solidarity by not shying away from telling the hard stories of our community but by uplifting the poor, whether they are poor financially or poor in spirit. We show the solidarity of Christ every time we ask someone how they are feeling when we see pain etched in their faces.  We show the solidarity of Christ when we go to Redeemer Crisis Center or help out at the Cleveland Food Bank to fill the stomach and cupboards of people labeled as being “food insecure.”

When in despair our neighbors cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” we help them remember that Christ reframed that anthem as he died upon the cross.  And in helping them remember that the bridge of our division is found in Jesus, we allow ourselves the space to remember that the word “forsaken” has a new meaning now.  In Christ, “forsaken” is radical good news.

Amen.

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The following sermon was preached on Maundy Thursday, April 5, 2012 at Divinity Lutheran Church Parma Heights, OH, on the passage 1 Corinthians 11:23-32.

On January 26, I was standing on the beach at Pacific Ocean in El Salvador.  I had come to Central America on an academic delegation, and after spending a week meeting various political and religious leaders, conversing with families who had survived a horrific civil war of genocide, and learning about the roles the US government and spiritual leaders played to both perpetuate and prevent the armed conflict, I was now at the farewell worship service.

On my right stood my Salvadorian guide, Ceasar, whose father, a priest, had been assassinated because he was preaching a message of Christian non-violence during a violent time.  On my left stood a fellow seminarian, Dominic, who left the battlegrounds of Liberia to study theology in the United States.  One day Dominic will return to his wife, daughter, and mother in Africa and share the good news of Jesus Christ to a war-torn people.

I was sandwiched between two brave men who had seen the blood of their loved ones shed upon the ground, and now we were about to accept the means of grace that is the blood of Jesus Christ through Holy Communion.

I was reminded of my friend Stephanie, who when working with ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission spent a year in South Africa where she worked with people who have AIDS.  She told me that it was really powerful sharing Christ’s blood while standing beside AIDS patients, knowing that while the blood coursing through their bodies will eventually kill them, the blood that they drink together will save them.  She said that each and every time she shared the cup in South Africa she was scared because there was no escaping the sin of her humanity or the love that sets us free.

There are few times in my life where coming to the table has been a scary step.  I couldn’t help but in that moment in El Salvador to remember my first communion, here in this very sanctuary.  Like our brothers and sisters who are about to celebrate their first communion tonight, I had the loving support of my family and church behind me.  That support system watched as I took into my own hands the promises my parents made at my baptism.

I have lots of safe memories communing at the table.  I can scarcely kneel at a rail without feeling the phantom of my father, Dale, at my back.  My family always sat in the same pew, and my father always sat at the end of the isle.  Week after week, my dad would wait until my siblings, mother and I would exit the pew before he would get in line himself, so that he was the last of our family to come to the table.  I have many memories of my dad rubbing my shoulders in in a supportive way as we approached the rail, lovingly encouraging my faith each time we communed as a family.

In January, standing underneath the night sky, hearing the ocean roar as water lapped at my feet, remembering all that I had learned about the Salvadorian people, Holy Communion seemed different to me than it ever had been before.  I didn’t have my dad behind me, or the comfort of a familiar hymn ringing in the air.  Even the bread was different – a tortilla – honoring our Lutheran tradition of the body being found in the staple food of the culture.  This was a table unlike any I had ever seen, and I was really nervous.

Then my professor, a pastor, said the words found in today’s reading from Paul, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

I may be going out on a limb here, but I’d be willing to bet there are some of us here today who are nervous about coming to the table and participating in this means of grace.  I’m not even thinking only about our first communion students who have dutifully studied what makes communion a sacrament and the differences between common cup and individual cups.

I bet there are those of us here today who are nervous about remembering the sin of our own humanity.  As we begin the three days which contain the death and resurrection of Christ, we cannot avoid the fact that Jesus died because we are sinners.

I believe further still that there are times when we come to the table hoping for an answer to some sort of question, only to return to our seats feeling as if nothing has changed.

While I felt grateful for the support of my family when I celebrated my first communion, it did not quite live up the hype I had in my head.  I thought I would have one of those cloud-opening moments where as soon as I swallowed the last drop of wine I would feel different and changed forever.

I can’t speak for others but for me, on my first communion, that did not happen.  Those moments have happened since, like on the beach in El Salvador, but there have been plenty of Sundays where I when I have ate, drank, and returned to my seat while the pressures that came from sinning still felt like pressure.  On those days, I recognize that something big just happened here, but I can’t quite figure it out.

I wonder if those many nights ago, as they broke bread together and Jesus washed their feet, if the disciples really understood what was happening.  I’m sure some of them knew something big just happened, but did they experience that cloud-opening moment of clarity?

I didn’t feel the cloud-opening moment at my first communion, but there have been many times since when the memory of that day has come back and enhanced things for me.  In the middle of my confirmation, right when I was reciting the Apostles Creed, I remember thinking about two other big days of faith: the day I received my first Bible and the day I first came to the table.

I remembered my first communion the day my nephew was baptized.  As I stood holding him at the font, I realized for the first time that at Divinity we keep our baptismal font at the foot of our communion rail, symbolizing how the grace of baptism and grace of communion anchor one another in our salvation.

I remembered my first communion again the first time I preached, realizing that I had to both pass a symbol of my baptism – the font – and a symbol of communion – the rail – to even make it up to the pulpit.

Memories are a powerful thing.  Memories can transform a moment that meant one thing when you experienced it to mean something totally different when you remember it.  Memories help us tell our story, and today we remember the story of the Last Supper.

But when Paul (and later Luke) tells us that Jesus says, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” he is not just speaking to a memory.  How could we remember the Last Supper when we weren’t there?  None of us were there when the bread was initially broken, so what part of that memory is ours?

Spending some time with this passage, I discovered that there is more to the word “remember” then meets the eye.  We sometimes use the word “remember” in place of honor, as if Jesus was saying, “Do this to honor me.”  Other times the word “remember” means to think back upon a memory, or to repeat an action.  While it is important to repeat these steps and honor Christ and remember his sacrifice, we are also being called to do something much greater.

In Greek, the word “remember” comes from the root word ἀναμιμνήσκω (anamimnéskó).  This translates as going through a process of recollection, to be intentional about gathering together again, to literally re-member.

We are Christ’s body in the world.  When Jesus says “do this,” in remembrance of him, he is instructing us celebrate Holy Communion in order to re-member his body.

Presbyterians take this command to re-member the body of Christ quite literally, and as such will not celebrate communion without an assembly of people.  For them, you cannot re-member a body with only one piece of the body.  This means that when Presbyterians celebrate homebound communion, both the distributer and the homebound person take communion together, so that they are doing the work of re-membering Christ’s body.

As Lutherans, we recognize our calling to re-member Christ’s body, and whenever able we come to the table together.  This re-membering is so important to our understanding of the gospel that we open our table to anyone who wishes to be re-membered to Christ.

We also recognize a deeper layer then just assembling persons together to re-member Jesus.  We recognize that when we are joined together as one body, we share in each others stories and histories.  It is not possible for my arm to be in El Salvador while my legs remained in Parma.  All of my essence shared my experience on the beach.  All of my essence has had faith milestones in this sanctuary.  All of my essence listened to my friend Stephanie share about her time in South Africa.

So when we join together and re-member Christ’s body at the table, we are also merging together our essences and our experiences.  My story becomes your story, and your story becomes mine.  When we re-member as the body of Christ through the means of Holy Communion, my story of El Salvador becomes our story of El Salvador, and Stephanie’s memories of South Africa become our memories of South Africa.  We also reconnect to those who have gone before us, and by remembering the histories of the foot washing, the betrayal of Jesus, the death on the cross and the resurrection from the tomb, we join together so that those stories become our stories too.

So it’s okay if there are times when we come to the table praying for some sort of spiritual awakening that doesn’t quite happen, because there are others who are creating life changing memories that will affect the our body of our church.  Think of how our lives are transformed by re-membering with the disciples who ate with Jesus at the Last Supper.  Their experience at that meal continues to shape our faith every time we taste the bread and the wine.

We have been transformed by the disciples’ experience, just as we will go forth and transform another person’s experience.  There will be times when we come to the table and what we encounter will be so powerful that we will feel we have no choice but to share that memory with someone else so that they can encounter the joy of being re-membered as Christ’s body.

We describe Holy Communion as a means of grace because it is a sacred thing to be connected to each other through the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is only because of the grace of God’s love for us that despite our sin we are granted this magnificent blessing.

It was grace that allowed me to be re-membered with Ceasar and Dominic, having their brave histories become a part of my memory.  It was grace that allowed Stephanie to see her own salvation while drinking Christ’s blood with brothers and sisters who are dying from the poison of their own blood.  It is grace that re-members our homebound members to those able to assemble together at Divinity each Sunday.  It is grace that will re-member us with a future generation as our young people celebrate communion for the first time today.  We are not worthy of this gift of re-membering, but God’s love for us is so strong that we are given this gift.

This gift is not something that should be taken lightly.  Paul tells us,

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Paul urges us to recognize the importance of this re-membering.  He asks us to hold this gift with respect, examining our intentions of why we come to the table.  Are we coming seeking forgiveness?  Are we coming to connect as the body of Christ?  Are we coming, in hopes that this will meal will help enhance our faith?  Or are we coming to the table because we this is just what we do on Maundy Thursday, that this is just an expectation of being a part of the church?

All are invited to the table to experience this grace, and grace will be given to anyone who seeks it.  It is a miraculous thing, and Paul is right to encourage us to recognize the blessing of what Holy Communion means.

Amen.

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This afternoon I and four other friends from seminary attended an event called Occupy Palm Sunday.  This event, sponsored by four congregations in Logan Square, talked about housing, immigration, healthcare, and food justice from a Christian community perspective.  United together, we sang songs, broke bread, and learned about different ways we can be involved in creating equality within our home.

I’ll be honest, in general I’m not someone who totally get’s the whole “Occupy” movement.  I admire the goal to help bring awareness to the difference between the 99% and the 1%, and my heart simmers with joy at knowing that people are trying to find away to work together.  However, the deepest recesses of my identity recognizes I am a planner.  When I look at the overall “Occupy” movement, I get overwhelmed with knowing how to move from information sharing to the next steps of problem solving.  I see the people camped in tents and want to know their plan, even as I recognize that for some “Occupiers” their main plan is to inform.

This past January when I was in El Salvador, I was granted access into the cathedral in San Salvador which was at the time occupied by a para-military group.  This cathedral is the Catholic Church’s Salvadoran epicenter, the place where the Archbishop of El Salvador resides and works.  This space is also important because the mausoleum of Archbishop Romero is found inside its basement.

The January occupation occurred by people who fought in the civil war.  The war had ended with the signing of the Peace Accords.  20 years later aspects of that agreement had not been upheld by the current government, resulting in ex-soldiers and their families starving to death.  They tried to negotiate change peacefully, but 20 years later were still starving.  So in January, with firepower, they forced the Archbishop out of the space and closed the cathedral off from the community.  The occupation prevented anyone from the community to enter to worship.  The occupation caused pilgrimages hoping to visit Romero to cease.  Yet I, a privileged US citizen, someone whose income would place me in the 1% if I was a Salvadoran, was invited into the cathedral where native citizens could not go.  Granted, there were shotguns pointed at me the entire time I took pictures in of the tomb, and I was unable to leave until I heard the para-military groups demands.  But the fact remains that because I came from a place of privilege I was safe in God’s house when people of the community were not.

Since that day, I look at the word “occupy” quite differently.  I now recognize that at any moment I could slide between the barriers between the 99% and the 1%.  At any moment I could be the oppressed or I could be the oppressor.  I could be the person who needs to be uplifted or I could be the person who steps on others as I rise the top.  That experience also showed me that sometimes the separation between church and state also have barriers that slide back and forth.  It was a para-military group that stopped the Salvadorans from worshiping in their Cathedral, and in the United States the limitations of our laws at times are what stop us from being able to provide care to all who need it.

This afternoon, a speaker mentioned that to live in Chicago, the average person would either need to work 81 hours a week at a minimum-wage job or get paid over $18 an hour at a 40-hour-a-week job to be able to afford housing.  I know I don’t get paid anywhere near $18 an hour at either of my jobs or even work close to 81 hours a week, and I consider myself secure in my middle class status.  Then again, I am fortunate enough to be in school and receiving scholarships, and my home parish helps to cover some of my tuition.  Where would I be if this was three years down the line and I was still at the same jobs at the same rate?  I know where I would be — homeless.

Knowing that the barrier between safety and insecurity can so easily slide back and forth for any of us, noticing that the separation between church and state is not as stable as I once thought, I need to have a plan.  I need to know that there is something secure to set my sights on, something that will stand the test of time and the roller-coaster of our economic system.

That something is the love of Christ, and my plan is never to forget that love.  It is through the love of Christ that I have people helping to support me while I am in seminary.  It is through the love of Christ that my income comes from my employment in serving a Christian parish and serving a Christian periodical.  It is through the love of Christ that I was able to car-pool with fellow students to worship in the square with four very different congregations. It is through the love of Christ that today each person who was able brought a few snacks to share and we not only fed the large crowd but had leftovers.

I “occupy” because the message of the good news of God’s love for us transcends the limitations of our barriers.  This message and sacred love is what gives us the fuel to keep striving for justice, learning how we can work with one another so that we all can feel as fortunate as the 1% of the community. I “occupy” because my God loves me so much that even in my darkest hours I am never alone, and this is a message too good to keep to myself.

This Palm Sunday, my occupation is one of praise and thanksgiving to the one who rode into our midst to transform our lives.

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