Feb 2 Feast of the Presentation
A man I know was at a powwow ceremony on the Navajo reservation, and he was aware of a Navajo man watching him. It had been a long night of ceremony, of fasting and dancing and singing and sacrifice and waiting to listen as the Holy Ones came near.
Finally, late into the night, long after the other Anglos had gone home to their soft beds, the Navajo man came up to my friend and asked him – what is your clan?
Now he knew that this meant – who are you – and are you Navajo?
Well he wasn’t. In fact, he was Jewish, from the East Coast.
He said, “no, my clan is Levi.
I’m a Levite.”
“Oh, Levites.” the Navajo man said. “That is a strong clan.”
The Levites. a strong clan.
We hear in our reading from Malachi that the descendants of Levi will be strong – the descendants of Levi will like refiners fire and fullers soap. The descendants of Levi will be strong enough to be standing when God appears, and will present offerings in recognition.
Anna the Prophet, from the tribe of Asher, is a strong one too. Anna is old, living in the temple, no soft bed, with long hours of ceremony, of fasting and praying so that she will be strong enough to be standing when God appears.
She’s an old woman. She has time on her hands. She is there when the Lord appears. She is there in the temple, like my Levite friend, she has “lasted” she has held up. And more than that,
Because of her praying and fasting and lasting, her faculties of perception are developed. Just the same way it happens when the Navajo fast and dance and sing and sacrifice, God comes near, God becomes present, wisdom and understanding come through the thin veil that separates everyday superficial conscious.
Mary appears on this day, with her baby. Mary is a strong woman too, she comes from the tribe of Judah. From the House of David. From the lineage of Ruth. Somewhere back many generations, back to Leah and Rachel, wives of Jacob,
mother of the twelve tribes of Israel, through them jhshe and Anna are related.
These two strong women, related, now meet in the temple.
This day is called the Presentation, because Jesus is being presented in the temple, when the firstborn male is to be designated holy.
But it has some other names too. One is the Day of Purification.
Mary is coming to be ritually cleansed after birth. She has probably just come out of the waters of the mikvah – the ritual bath observant Jewish women, to this day, use.
She has come for a ceremony, and Anna is there. Maybe Anna helps the women come out of the bath, when they can now present their two turtle doves.
Anna sees this young woman, cleansed now, coming from the ceremony and ready for the sacrifice, ready for the pow wow, ready for the Holy One in the temple.
Two strong women from ancient strong clans, tribes, both these women have been refined like fire, refined like fullers soap.
They meet together on this day, in the temple, coming from ceremony required by the Law, being made strong by the purification, by the ceremony.
And believing it. They believe in the power of the ceremony, just like the Navajo, they believe in the power of the powpow, in the power of fasting and praying and purification and time spent in the presence of the Holy, where things are revealed.
Anna is available for this revelation.
She is focused on God.
It seems crazy, to focus our minds on God. The world is a crazy place.
Why would it matter that we focus our minds on God, on the ceremony, on the fasting and praying and singing and sacrifice?
Why would it matter, that, as we come to this ceremony, we lift our hearts to god, we walk up these steps and come to the altar, as if it matters.
The priests lift their hands and break the bread, as if it matters. And give us a little piece of bread broken in ceremony, as if it matters.
It is in this moment, when we know the ceremony matters, when we experience the ceremony, when we last because of it, that the revelation comes.
Like the clans of Levi and Asher, and the Navajo, we will be made strong by our ceremony, to be available, to be standing, like Anna, when God appears.
Advent 3C Dec 2013
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This beautiful prayer is from the Book of Common Prayer; it is the Collect for Mission that we say in Morning Prayer.
As we read it this morning, it is obvious we have some work to do, this third Sunday of Advent, because a baby is coming that is going to make one blood all the peoples of the earth.
For two weeks we have heard about John the Baptist, about cleaning out our homes and lives and governments. Today we move more concretely toward the coming of the child, and what the child will bring, how the child will change us, how this will signal the rejoicing of the desert, where the crocus will bloom, where our speech and actions will change and the turning upside down of the ways of the world as we proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
Because a massive project of peace and justice, mercy and reconciliation is underway that will unite us as one people, as a family, because of this baby.
There has been some talk, around Epiphany, about “Cynthia’s baby.” Go see the picture on her office door,” and last week I came upon a cluster of people at my door, viewing the picture of “my baby.”
It is my grandchild, actually, but it feels as if he is the only child ever born – you probably know that feeling, when the soul is so filled with all a baby brings.
The morning Micah was born – it was early morning. Some of us had been in the waiting room for hours. After the birth, my son came out and said, “ok, you can come in now.”
As we got up, Jemika’s aunt turned to me and said, announced, proclaimed, “we are family now. My home is your home, come and go as you wish.
The moment was so potent – this child that had just been born, had made of us one blood, this child, whose lineages extend from Ireland to Africa, this great great grandchild of slaves and immigrant farmers, had made us one lineage, one family with one purpose, to create peace, to create reconciliation, to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly before our God.
This child caused the dessert to rejoice, the crocus to bloom, where the wilderness and dry land shall be glad. We are united forever. I wanted a sign – a ritual - in that moment, to show the depth of what had just happened.
I had a notion to do what I had done as a child with my best friend. To prick my blood, and hers, on our arms, and mingle them together, to make us blood brothers forever.
So this is not just “my baby.” This is our baby. This is everyone’s baby. Because this baby makes us a family.
This is a project of massive proportion, of reconciliation, waiting for us. This is not small. It is not for reeds being shaken by the wind. It is not for people going about in palaces wearing soft robes. It is to usher in a Kingdom where God will scatter the proud in their conceit, and lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.
This is the world we want, the Kingdom we long for, the family we have been promised.
We have work to do to get ready. Some of our work is silent, behind the scenes.
Yesterday I held a Quiet Day for folks on our Pastoral Care Committee, and for those Eucharistic Visitors who take communion to people at home and in hospitals. I wanted to do something for them, as they do so much for us.
We hear the names on the prayer list every Sunday, we read the names in the Star, but what we don’t see are the countless people ministering to them – the rides to doctors, the visits, the calls, the casseroles, the cards. Sometimes the cards just say “thinking of you.” And we sign those cards, “from your Epiphany family.”
So how do we start this project of mercy? It is one thing to see Nelson Mandela and Gandhi be prophetic and do justice, but how can we, in these latter days of the Advent?
How can we walk out of jail and set aside our bitterness? How can we take baby steps at mercy? How can we change the world of polarity and division?
Maybe, being impeccable with our words. Maybe, by softening our need to be right, or funny or smart or smug, at the expense of another.
Maybe, remembering that we are made of one blood and through a baby, this Jesus, this Christ, that my lineage is your lineage.
Let us pray:
Stir up your power, O Lord and come among us. Pour out your spirit upon all flesh and hasten the coming of your Kingdom.
Proper 9C July 2013
After this, is how our Gospel reading from Luke in chapter 10 begins. After this, the Lord appoints seventy others.
After what? We can retell all the events of the book of Luke with -- After what? We can go back just one chapter – in chapter 9, Jesus gives power to the original twelve and sends them out – without a bag or bread or money. After the feeding of the five thousand. After the Transfiguration. After healing a boy. After he welcomes a child.
After Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. After he foretells his death. After he has sends more messengers out to the Samaritans, a kind of dress-rehearsal, but the messengers are not well received. So well not received that James and John are so furious they want to send fire down on the people. Jesus says no, don’t send fire. Just keep walking.
And after that Jesus has to correct some folks who want to follow him – but first they want to have big farewell parties with their families.
After all that, Jesus hand-picks seventy from his followers. These aren’t the anointed disciples, or even prophets. These are just regular folks who heard Jesus speak and believed that the Kingdom was possible. That the Kingdom was possible right here on earth, now, in their hearts and through their actions.
Jesus takes these seventy regular folks, divides them into pairs and sends them out two by two. He tells them the same thing he told the first group – take nothing with you – except each other.
Now he didn’t say – get with your best pal. We might get appointed two by two with our enemy. With someone who does not agree in marriage equality or in equal rights for all. What if that happened?
We go two by two to help start the conversation. To be a mirror for our opinions, which are baggage too. We aren’t told what happens after they leave – if they get boondoggeled in arguments – like the stiff-necked people they were and we are.
Jesus sends us out on foot, on the earth, not to point to Heaven – up there – which is where ancient people though Heaven was – but so we could point to each other right here in our earthy messy complicated lives. To speak the peace that passes all understanding while we are dusty and thirsty and hot and cold and don’t have all the accouterments that makes travel - and life - comfortable.
We get sent out two by two so we can learn to depend on each other. In a world of individualism, where we want what we want and do what we do, with no bag or bread or money, we learn that our brother is our road to salvation. How we deal with our brother, the other in our two-by-two – and how the world watches us do this, is our lesson.
A couple of years ago I discovered the latest movement of ultra-light backpacking/camping gear. In the old days, when Margaret and I would go out for extended treks in the mountains, we would carry 45-pounds in our backpacks. But now, I simply refuse to carry that much weight. And with new gear I have been able to whittle that down to 20 pounds and stay out for a week. Thanks to a 15-ounce sleeping bag. A 2-pound backpack.
I even have a 9-ounce tent! Of course, the tent floor doubles as my rain poncho – good if it is not raining when I put up the tent. Oh, and one of the hiking poles is used to hold up the tent….so I don’t go trekking after I put up the tent….
So a couple of summers ago, off I went with all this great lightweight gear – see – now I could go light – like Jesus suggests, but still have all the comforts. I could beat the system.
Luckily I did listen to his rule of two-by-two. As Margaret and I were descending a mountain, even with a super light backpack, my hiking pole slipped on a rock, and down I went. Down onto the jagged rocks. Down to a serious injury. Down to not being able to get up again.
But in that instant, a hand came out to grab my backpack and turn it around. I fell on the backpack instead of my face. My companion did the turning.
We are told to not take extra baggage so we will depend not on our stuff, even good ultra lightweight stuff – but on each other.
But - after this - really tells us that things aren’t finished. God isn’t done with us. After the feeding of the five thousand, after the Transfiguration, after the healing of a boy, after the welcoming a child, after the sending of the seventy, the story isn’t finished. It’s a dynamic thing. Things we don’t know yet, hope for things healed that we don’t expect, that get turned around when we least expect it. Who would have thought DOMA would have been turned around. Who would have thought Egypt would take the turn it did, last week.
We can finish the bible, all the way to Revelation, and more things keep happening. Every day even now, something new happens, and after that, something else to show how God takes everyday people like us and turns us into healers and miracle workers. Turns us into people who act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
After this, this, is how we will know the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
Community Practicing Peace
Proper 16B aug 30 2012 1
The Rev Cynthia Hizer
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA
Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43
In the name of the One Holy and Living God.
What if we came into church each Sunday like this:
First, we take off our shoes at the door and place them on a rack.
Then we walk in the door and bow to the sanctuary candle, or the altar, or both.
Then we walk to our pew, turn around and bow to the pew. Then we stand and wait till everyone else gets in the room,
then we turn toward the center aisle and each side of the church bows to the other side. we bow to each other.
And then we sit down.
This is what happens in a Buddhist meditation hall. They take off shoes, come in the door, bow to the Buddha,
their teacher who teaches them how to bring peace, to end suffering in the world.
Then they bow to their meditation cushion, the place where they hear the teachings, the place of their journey, and then they bow to the community, the place where they practice the teachings of their beloved teacher.
So we can do this too. Bowing means reverencing, or revering, or honoring.
We already bow to our great and beloved teacher, Jesus, who teaches us how to end suffering, how to live in compassion and peace and hope.
We already bow to the cross and the gospel book as they process into the church. Then we could also bow to our pew, the place where we will listen and learn and pray,
and then we could bow to each other – our fellow pilgrims with whom we will practice the teachings we have just heard.
We already pass the peace of Christ – what if when we do that, we remember we are also practicing peace with each other.
The importance of this place – this community, this altar, this sanctuary light, this pew, this room, the importance of this dwelling place –
is infused throughout our readings today.
King Solomon stands before the altar of the Lord and spreads out his hands to the dwelling place.
Our psalmist longs for the courts of the Lord, as a place of home, nest for the sparrow, a place of springs of water. The courts of the Lord – all of this - is a landing pad for pilgrims on a spiritual journey.
That is why we are here isn’t it?
For a spiritual journey? To learn how to pray, to learn who to pray to. To learn how to be a good person, for our children to grow up to be good people, to have a moral compass, to respect the dignity of all people, which we say in our Baptismal Covenant,
to get peace in our lives and peace in the world, to end the suffering and violence and cruelty. To find unity and meaning with all that is.
We come here to learn something different than what we learn outside of here. To learn the skillful means to practice peace when we do leave here, this place of springs of water, this nest for the sparrow, these courts of the Lord.
Paul is writing a letter to the Ephesians – a Gentile mission church he established on his way back to Jerusalem after a long mission trip. After Pentecost the new Christian church spread rapidly throughout Gentile territory, mostly thanks to Paul. He stayed in Ephesus for three years, and later wrote this letter to them, or one of his followers might have written it.
It is a letter of encouragement.
How to act, how to live in the family, in marriage, and in worship. It is a letter of totality – surrounding, immersing us in what he calls the whole armor of Christ.
What we might call attuning ourselves to the teacher, the teachings, the community - the courts of the Lord.
So to be surrounded, immersed, attuned, we bow and reverence the Christ, the candle, the altar.
We bow to our journey, our pew, the place of hearing the teachings that matter so much to the world. We bow to each other for support, for remembrance, and we make ourselves ready to proclaim, as Paul says in his letter, to proclaim the gospel of peace.
What if we loved this work, this practice, these skillful means, so much, that we were compelled to take off our shoes at the door? to be in a state of vulnerability rather than a state of readiness to run? To be vulnerable, to put on this armor that Paul speaks of: belt, breastplate, sword, shield, helmet – and radically bow to the practice of peace.
It is so radical, it doesn’t seem natural. It seems man is wired to react, retaliate, defend. Yes, in the ancient part of our brain, the reptilian brain it is called, where duality and separateness reign.
But Jesus operated out of the front of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, I think that is what the scientists call it. It is the place of higher thinking, complex thinking, the place of unity and compassion and love.
It is so radical we need a place to practice before we go out of this place and proclaim the gospel of peace.
So this letter today is a letter of encouragement to you.
A letter of how we make ourselves ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
By being vulnerable.
By bowing to each other – those who will help us in this difficult journey. And bowing to the teacher, to the altar, to the sacrament of bread and wine that are life, and hope that we might be able to make the whole world
a place of springs of water,
a nest for the sparrow,
the inner sanctuary
and the courts of the Lord. Amen
Proper 6B june 27 2012
Rev Cynthia Hizer Epiphany
How do you get to Heaven from Arizona?
Of course when we went to Arizona two weeks ago, we thought Arizona WAS heaven. We saw this question written on a card in a restaurant and we loved it so much we mailed it home to Benno.
What we learned is that the way to get to Heaven from Arizona, is not a straight road. It’s probably not even a road.
And it is definitely, a parable.
Because to get there, to get to Heaven, we had to look sideways, to see, the way Jesus teaches in sideways fashion, a certain way of seeing, through parables.
We discovered that the mountains are parables.
The desert is a parable.
The whole Navajo reservation is a parable.
The teachings of that place do not come straight-on. They are not obvious. The Reservation is a place where, if you stop to visit with someone in a car and another car comes up behind, that driver doesn’t honk, he just waits.
It’s that kind of parable.
It is a place where the sun rises. And then it rises again. It’s that kind of parable.
Or if you are in a windstorm in the desert on the day before Pentecost, and you get back to the campground from hiking in wind so fierce you can’t stand up – to find tents demolished, and the Navajo guide saying this is the worst windstorm of his lifetime – then he sits down and takes a nap –
that is surely a parable of great teaching.
In Arizona, I realized that understanding the desert like understanding parables takes a different kind of seeing.
I have a small stone carving of a Corn Maiden, one of the Navajo Holy People.
These little carvings - fetishes – are often put in a medicine bag and worn around the neck for protection and particularly, for vision.
This particular corn maiden is interesting because she is looking – sideways.
She is looking at the world, seeing the world, I think,
as a parable.
She is telling us that to find the meaning, to find Heaven, we can’t just look head-on.
And the Navajo people traditionally do not look at folks head-on but look with eyes cast aside – as if to see the whole gestalt.
To make out images not quite there.
So these teachings today, these parables on the Kingdom of Heaven, require this kind of “seeing” sideways.
On the day of this momentous windstorm,
we returned to our camp early in the afternoon after a hard hike through wind and sand. We tried to resurrect the tents that were down, clean out sand from others, re-work our sleeping plans.
We found places to sit with our backs against the canyon wall, out of the wind, to nap and pass the time until dinner.
For two days we had walked past archelogical sites – cliff dwellings of the ancient peoples,
petroglyphs and rock art painted on the canyon walls.
Our Navajo guide was really good at pointing out these artifacts, the geological points of interest, Spider Rock and Cat Mountain and White House Ruins.
He was good at pointing out the obvious.
But the afternoon wore on, with our backs against rock, sitting amid cactus, tired, hungry, and still more than a little scared. Not sure if we should pack up and leave –
there is our guide napping in his chair. If it is really the worst windstorm of his life, why is he in his lawn chair,
sleeping like a baby?
I kept wondering what it was that he knows about this place,
the most sacred site of the Navajo, and what he tells us about are the cliff dwellings. Isn’t there something more?
I look over at him, napping in his chair, with a backdrop of his most sacred mountains in a windstorm.
I wonder if he isn’t telling us the secrets of this place.
I start day dreaming, Let my mind wander. And I look up at the canyon walls.
Partly because they are fabulous, partly to pass the time.
The afternoon sun shifts against the red rock and I think I see,
a…. woman and child. A Madonna? Hovering over her is a … great king or chief. And then there is a horse, and a warrior.
And more animals.
Several of us start to make out what might be images and symbols that could be the beginnings of sacred stories, the way ancient people might do, if they were scared and hungry and wind-blown
and wondering about Heaven.
But it was only when we were exhausted and had started to day dream could we make out these images.
They weren’t obvious otherwise. These were things our guide could not have told us, shown us.
We can’t often see the blessings in our lives, or the anointings, the teachings. The way to Heaven doesn’t always appear straight on.
So we come here to this church, to this sacred canyon, and we have certain obvious things pointed out to us –
we stand and reverence the Cross when it passes, and the Gospel book – that seems obvious.
We kneel for communion, that seems obvious.
But there is more here, more healing and salvation, and even a road to heaven, that might not be obvious.
Not something someone can point out -
That we have to look side-ways to discover –
like the person sitting next to us, like the feeling in the room after a reading or during Communion,
like the presence of the Spirit not quite palpable,
unless we lower our eyes a bit,
like the meaning of the altar and the broken bread and the uplifted chalice
all part of the road to Heaven that no one can tell us about, no one can explain,
but like the Corn Maiden with turned head,
like us sitting under a mountain wall in afternoon light, can only be revealed.
THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
Proper 26A Oct 30 2011
The Rev. Cynthia Hizer
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA
In the name of our Creator, our liberator, and our Sanctifier.+
There’s some scary stuff out there this weekend, as if we need any more scary stuff in our lives. It’s not just the giant boogymen everywhere – or plastic spiders in my coffee – who did that?? Folks are putting cob webs all over their yards, hedges, houses.
As I drive down some of the streets, recorded voices come out of the yards, haunted house voices. Like we need one more scary voice. Like we need one more heavy burden.
Can we just go to yoga and forget everything else? Play with our child and put dinner on the table?
Life gives us enough to stumble over - the last thing we need is for our religion to burden us. It seems we come to church, into this room of wood and stone and glass and Presence,
to get away from the heavy lifting, from the toil and labor of our schedules that turn us into a pack horse, like those 12 men carrying the ark.
We come here to get away from dragging ourselves through what feels like the desert for 40 years, with parched dry throats searching for the promised land,
we come here for the goodness and milk and honey we remember somewhere back there,
that we were promised.
We were promised the cool waters of the Jordan River lapping at our ankles
as we carry the ark,
the container of our hope,
as we slip into the pew,
as we feel the Presence of God supporting us, to take away our heavy burden.
Our scary stuff.
The gospel book we carry in each Sunday, is not very heavy either, even though now it has a beautiful golden cover,
it is substantial, like the teachings it holds, but still not heavy.
The Gospel bearer carries it in and then, during the gospel procession –
they all look a bit like the ark must have looked - the troupe of verger, torches, gospel bearer, deacon passes by us,
down into the center of the church,
we want to touch it as it goes by,
and again, at the end of our service the gospel bearer stands on the chancel steps and holds this book, as the choir processes out.
This book, this ark of scrolls, of teachings, of Presence, doesn’t seem heavy. We’ve brought it all the way down from an ark to a book.
This gospel book is really a whole library of books, – a library of stories like the ones we heard today. This library is in the ark, a tent of sorts, made for carrying the library --
the scrolls rolled up…. Imagine if the gospel bearer was not one acolyte 10 yrs old - but 12 strong men carrying the big, heavy ark – with the torch bearers leading the way, maybe even a verger – but much like our story from Joshua, God’s glory shining to lead the people into hope, into promise. This ark contains God’s real Presence among us, leading us out of the desert, into the cool waters of the Jordan and into the Promise.
Still, that ark sounds heavy. It sounds like work to carry.
Like Paul’s labor and toil. Sounds a little like the way Jesus describes the Pharisees who tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.
What if instead, we tied up our burdens and carried them for each other?
What if we carried the ark, for each other?
What if we found the ark, the scrolls, the teachings -- were actually light, not heavy, not a burden, not scary. Didn’t need 12 men to carry.
What if we each could be the ark, a holder, a container for the teachings the healing, the reconciliation for the world.
We don’t need a phylactery tied onto our forehead to help us remember, but have the teachings so deep within us, living within us, that we could be the container for the healing when life seems scary.
DOK – container for prayer
RC Woman Priests movement – container for reconciliation
Last week a neighborhood group met here, at Epiphany. It was a frustrated neighborhood group, along with their adversary and a mediator. It was likely the argument would end up in court.
I was asked to offer a friendly welcome ….. I offered them the space of Epiphany for their work, because Epiphany is an ark, a container of reconciliation. That is the work we do here each week, the heavy lifting we do. And it is not a burden, but light.
So whether we see the Presence of God going before us and we want to reach out and touch it, or we hear the words spoken, or we take in the Presence in the bread - wafers lighter than air, wafers that melt on our tongues and then are gone, but not gone, the presence of God is not gone but is in us, so that we now become the very thing.
We take in the words,
we take in the bread and the wine;
we take in the promise of Jesus, take it in and it becomes us.
So when things get scary and our burdens heavy, we can become the ark and the scroll and the teaching. We become this whole story of the Crossing over the Jordan river,
We become the container and the holder, the promise of reconciliation,
we become the salvation of Israel, the sons and daughters, and we become the coming of the Kingdom.
Proper 22A The Rev. Cynthia Hizer
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA
Oct 2, 2011
Forgive us those things for which our conscience is afraid (from opening Collect of the day)
In the name of the creator, redeemer and sustainer+
Almighty God. That is how we began our worship today. It begins most of our ancient prayers. We want to believe something or someone out there is Almighty, something outside of us will soothe our fears, help us stand up and not be afraid.
So we come here every Sunday to be immersed in the Word and Sacrament, or as Paul says, to be found in Christ.
God gave Israel commandments to bring an ordering to life, an ordering that demands harmony and generosity. They actually command a baseline of dignity, command a moral universe, as if we can’t do it on our own.
And we were commanded to surrender to the Almighty, just as we were commanded how to act and how to think, because we didn’t have conscience. We just had laws, a hedge around the vineyard.
These 10 Commandments were the start of church laws. We have had more since: Luther, the Penal Code of Queen Elizabeth, and the response to it - the Westminster Confession by the break away Presbyterians, even the Canons of the Episcopal Church. Canon Four, for example, gives two ways for priests to be defrocked: 1) to act in ways unbecoming, and 2) acting as a heretic about Almighty God.
A lot of history has passed since then. We keep wobbling our way toward justice and peace. Equality and justice are household words. Modern words. Women can be ordained priests. Prisoners are less often in dungeons.
We are still working on those Commandments, like killing, even though it’s right there, right in the commandments, number 6, “you shall not kill.” Most of us may have the right sentiment even if we don’t voice it - against the death penalty or unfair convictions, or hunger, or war, or for the right of marriage for all people, or even that all people are the children of god, made in the image of God. Forgive us for those things for which our conscience is afraid.
Last week we held a clergy gathering at camp Mikell. A priest came to explain the new same-sex blessing rite that will be presented at General convention next summer. Now it is not marriage. It is a blessing. It is a wonderful blessing, and a giant step that our Church has taken in human rights. But it is not marriage. We still cannot say that all people are children of God. Because children of God would be allowed to marry.
Forgive us for those things for which our conscience is afraid.
It seems a long way to get to where we are today – after theism, after Luther, after the Enlightenment and modern medicine and the bomb and the quark – we just know too much now for a three-tiered universe, and a flat earth, and maybe, for an Almighty God.
We are just way too evolved. We want some direction; at the same time we don’t want to take direction. This is our modern dilemma.
This is the middle land we have come to – the hidden, subtle place that hangs between heaven and earth, the place where we are falling, headlong. Kant wrote about it, and Kierkegaard and DeBose and James and Merton. About this place that isn’t quite anyplace. For us, there seems to be no almighty in the heavens, and no security from science below. Discovering the theory of relativity and the uncertainty principle, while wonderful, haven’t ended our injustices.
But here in the middle is where we find within us, our own interior, moral compass.
Not above, and almighty, and not below, with logic. But hanging in the center, in our center, is our own moral authority. Where we might not have to be commanded to do justice. Where we might find true wisdom and courage. It is actually where God is, the Almighty God. It is where we are found in Christ.
Now, found in Christ Sophia that is everywhere and especially in our center, in our wisdom, we are coming into our own new authority, a new righteousness, found in Christ.
CONSIDER THE LILIES
Pentecost 2 May 25, Church of the Epiphany. Cynthia Hizer
On this second Sunday of Pentecost, we are entering a new era of our liturgical year. Last Sunday was an ending of several things – Sunday School, Children’s Chapel, we blessed people graduating, and we had a general send-off for the summer.
We had a glorious Eucharist in the park, sitting on the hillside on the grass, smelling the flowers, with drums and guitars and picnic as a way to celebrate us and celebrate our ministries.
But this year-end celebration wasn’t our only send-off. Our readings last week also pointed us out the door – “Brothers and Sisters, farewell. Paul said in Corinthians. He instructed us put our affairs in order, stay strong in our faith and to live in peace.
Live in peace. Now that’s a perfect segue into this week and our holiday of remembrance. In fact our readings today are all about the peace that comes with the Kingdom. Our readings call us to confidence and trust. And smelling the flowers.
Our readings positively gush with the fragrance of lilies. They gush with comfort and assurance and the font of blessing that comes from living out of our faith first and embracing all that God provides.
Today Paul calls us to be stewards of God’s mysteries. To first be appreciaters. If I put our readings together right, I imagine that means we are to be appreciaters of the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields. Right now. See the birds now. Smell the flowers now. This is the Kingdom.
Our readings provide the tools we need to be stewards.
Here are the tools as I hear them:
1. Stop striving. Jesus tells us to stop worrying, because we are being taken care of in the most fundamental way, when we place faith first, faith ahead of stuff and faith ahead of anxiety.
2. Don’t think we know all the answers. This takes our ego out of the center and ever so gently offers the spiritual practice of surrender which leads us to humility, as we wait for the answers to be given.
3. Be content. I hear “Small is beautiful.” When our staff held our weekly Bible study last Monday, we stopped briefly at gratitude of everyday things. Then we moved on to the concept of relative poverty. Relative poverty says that whatever is the high bar of the culture – extreme wealth, for example, will create a sense of poverty in the middle and lower layers, even if those people are wealthy by the world’s standards. If the entire culture shares a more equal standard of living, fewer people are anxious.
How do we know when we have enough, with enough to share? How can we create a theology of stewardship so all can flourish?
5. AND Consider the lilies. The simplicity and beauty, the lily, is a powerful metaphor for the Kingdom. When we see beauty we see from the Kingdom perspective. Jesus sets up a comparison between God’s creation (birds, flowers) and human wealth. True wealth comes with the Kingdom.
Our question for today…… is how do we reconcile stepping out in faith when it is so much easier to be anxious. So much easier to have our cups be half empty. It almost feels righteous.
So just how do we occupy the Kingdom?
Where are the lilies in our daily life?
In Centering Prayer meditation, we choose a sacred word, and every time we find our mind wandering or worrying, we use our sacred word to sort of pull us back. It pulls us back to our prayer and to the presence of God.
So let’s use the word lily the same way, as a powerful metaphor for when we find ourselves slipping into anxiety.
Consider the lilies. Let’s just take this phrase. ….and see what we can make of it. It’s just three words. .. we’ll take one word at a time.
Consider: Consider what it means to look deeply at something, to attend to, turn our attention to, deepen our awareness, to measure. It is to see with new eyes. It means to look at without forming to an immediate opinion, to not be judgmental.
With our frenzied lives, our slap dash, in-attention to detail, we are too anxious to even notice the gifts around us. We walk outside on a starry night and say “wow!”
If we are to occupy the Kingdom, our first task is simply …….to… stop. Stop and consider. Stop and look and listen and feel the awe. Feel the presence of God. This is it in a nutshell. This is how we develop gratitude for all our blessings.
The earth was created so something could happen between God and creation. So let’s have an encounter, let’s take the time to wonder at the mystery of which Paul speaks.
The: “The” is not a wide span of the horizon, but a narrow slice. It is The Way that Jesus speaks of, The way to God, The Way of the Tao. We live in harmony with the mysteries when we turn toward them. when we focus, through faith, to this Way.
When I was first ordained a Deacon and started reading the gospel I would end the reading by saying “The Gospel of Our Lord.” I liked it. I liked the ring of it. Our Lord. I felt an intimacy with God each time I said it. But, “our” is wrong. What I meant to say, what our Prayer Book tells us to say is “the Gospel of THE Lord.” One Lord, not one among many, not a relative field of equals. One Lord. One way.
Lilies: Jesus does say lilies, he doesn’t say flowers, or wild flowers, or some other generalized botanical nomenclature. They personify the material world, the created world, the manifested energy of matter. They are Stuff we can touch and hold.
Caring for the lilies of the world is a concrete way we can be stewards of God’s mysteries.
Lilies represent the resurrection, and each Easter we flank the altar with white lilies. They embody the beauty, the awe, the remembering, they transport us. They are medicine for the soul.
Lilies make visible the outer expression of the invisible mystery of God. compassion for our brothers and sisters, as we are raised to our best selves.
What we are doing is inviting the Kingdom into our lives. When we invite the Kingdom and we continue to practice this, we can have an experience of gratitude rather than lack.
Lilies are the flower of resurrection. So let’s really consider it – our resurrection.
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany
The Rev Cynthia Hizer
When the Zen Master Suzuki first visited the West several decades ago, this was his observation of the religions of Abraham – “God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion!" -
It is disconcerting to step back and hear how someone else views what we think is just the way things are.
We can see why the Zen master might think this.
Many of our sacred texts teach us – Going up against things seems to be our second nature. We have the beautiful first chapter of Genesis, when all the world gets created and then lives in shalom, in harmony, as if we are being supported within the creation.
If we could only live in the first chapter of Genesis!
But from the second chapter of Genesis on, sin and separation from God sets in.
From there on the unfolding story is to subdue – the Amorites, the Hittites, Edomites, the Cannanites, the Jesubites, of course the Baals –
those who pray to trees in the garden –
that one always gets to me – it sounds as if treehugging environmentalists and Prius-drivers might go down too.
The bible seems determined to set up dualities and struggles between peoples –the armies of Israel against everyone else – it is one of our defining stories that the Zen master observed.
It seems the Holy People have to be set apart as the only way to create holiness.
Yet our scriptures keep redirecting us to another path of holiness, toward trust and well-being among creatures and plants and galaxies and God. This is the well-being and sense of support and ease for our lives that Jesus calls us to experience in the field of lilies.
The first chapter of Genesis is like this.
And the 49th chapter of Isaiah, which we heard today is like this,
and again, at the end of the 6th chapter of Matthew, which we just heard, is like this.
Jesus is in the midst of his famous Sermon on the Mount. His teaching is directing us
toward a consciousness of depth
rather than duality,
one that is absolutely counter-cultural,
then and now.
Even though we are told we cannot
serve two masters, and this sounds a whole lot like dualism, like more of the same old deal.
Jesus is really deepening the law and orienting it in a way that allows
for a spaciousness when life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
This is not a confrontation of two things, but a doorway. And anxiety clouds the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Anxiety and toil and worry – creates
“God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature.”
But it’s not funny.
Today we are being oriented toward a spaciousness and even a salvation that happens -when we can stop hoarding for ourselves –
a dream or a dogma or even a religion, – just for ourselves, for our own holiness.
Jesus is calling us to go deep into the wellspring of life in Christ, where we find we are deeply supported, where we find well-being, and spaciousness and shalom.
Margaret has been drawing lots of pigs lately, for a children’s book she is illustrating. And I have been looking over her shoulder as she creates pig faces with all the emotions needed to tell the story.
All it takes, she says, is one line, to make the eye happy or sad or shy.
How thin the line is between these differences, and I imagine, our differences. It would take only an eraser to take away those lines and change our story –
those lines that create God against man, man against God. Those lines.
What if we could erase them!
She brings home lots of children’s book, richly illustrated with big moons and purple skies,
big two-page canvases with images so riveting, so primal
that I can’t help but touch the pages.
And in that moment, it makes me stop and forget to worry and instead to be amazed.
And I realize I have just entered the kingdom of God.
We need – our souls need - these big canvases of paint and picture or flower fields that we can touch and enter into and participate in –
to jolt us into the primal beauty, the well-being, that really is our life.
This is how things really are.
This is what I want the Zen Master to know.
Like a perfect flower, we are supported deeply by the ground of being,
so much so that we are each inscribed in lines that show
==man with God and God with man,
==man with nature, nature with man
==nature with God, God with nature.
We are inscribed forever line by line,
into the palms of God’s hands.
Eiscopal Church of the Epiphany
The Rev Cynthia Hizer
In the name of the Holy and Living God+
Today is Green Sunday, the church’s answer to Earth Day - when all the environmentalists and tree huggers and activists come out of the woodwork to celebrant and rant and remember -- to try to create a change in the way we treat the natural world. At Epiphany we have been celebrating all week, with talks, wonderful music, movies, and hikes. Today we have our favorite earthy music, an organic breakfast and special Sunday School class on creation.
But behind energy audits and carbon footprinting, talking about rising oceans and mountain tops being blasted away -- and all our irritating behaviors – I apologize for that – for asking people put recycling in the blue bags and compost in the white bags, carpooling and walking and bicycling, turning off lights behind you after you leave the room, turning down the heat or turning up the air. Behind all these activities – the reason we do this is because we are really just Romantics.
The Romantic movement in the 1700 and 1800’s was a revolt against the Enlightenment. It was the Counter-Enlightenment, a pushback to the age of Reason and everything mental. Wordsworth and Blake and Keats and Shelley - the lake country poets who -- like what the disciples must have felt when they saw the risen Christ on the shore of the lake – trembled with joy, yet trembled with disbelief – especially when he said “touch me and see.”
We are Romantics like that, who are in love with nature, love with the world, love with the air and water and sunshine and dirt, the incarnate, visceral, material world that is also shot full of spirit.
Like the Risen Christ, the world calls us to touch it and be awed by it, tremble with joy for it. And save it. Unlike the poets, we are also called to save it.
Last year – thanks to the efforts of our Earth Guild, Epiphany was named Green Church of the Year in Georgia. Big award that came from a lot of effort, a lot of recycling, a lot of turning off lights.
But like the poets, we were ready to go deeper. We wanted to remember why we do this - why we work so hard, remember the spiritual values behind what we do. And so this year, our monthly meetings have not been the usual business meetings and to-do lists, but readings and poetry and music and food and building a web of relationships.
We chose AWE, and GRATITUDE, SABBATH, JUSTICE, SUSTENANCE, HOPE, RECONCILIATION, THE INTERCONNECTED WEB OF ALL RELATIONS.
These are the spiritual values behind the work, what propel us to this work and to save what we love. To be environmentalists and witnesses and Romantics. These values. And they come from memories that formed us.
For me it was the farm I grew up on in Indiana. Where we made rhubarb pie and grape jelly and my mother won blue ribbons at the county fair. I built secret places down at the pond in the back of the field and caught turtles and crawdads, and we lived in one peaceful and connected web of relations. It sounds romantic, and it was.
The week before my father died unexpectedly - I was 22 and home for spring break from college. My father and I were walking the fields of this farm that my family homesteaded in the 1830’s, my German ancestors. My Pottawatomie ancestors lived on this land hundreds of years before.
As we walked, he bent down and scooped up a handful of dirt -- he cupped it in his hands. He said, “don’t ever sell this land Cynthia. This land… holds your ancestors. Your ancestors are in this dirt. This land… IS you. “It gives you life.” He pushed the dirt toward me for me to touch it and see it. “Save it,” he said.
A few years later I was living in Alaska in the wilderness. One day I was called back to the land of my ancestors. It was an internal call. I packed up and came home, ready to make rhubarb pie and grape jelly and win blue ribbons at the county fair. To be in a connected web of relations. Since my father had died my cousins had been farming the land. They were doing a lot of new fangled things - pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers. They had drained the old pond to make one long perpetual corn field. The turtles were gone, and the crawdads.
I told my cousins I just needed five acres to start a truck garden – They said – “oh you can’t do that. Since your dad died we have just been growing corn, and spraying to kill everything but corn. The herbicides have a half-life of about 50 years.”
I looked out at the land of my ancestors, the land that had given me life, the land I loved, and realized, in my lifetime I could not grow a tomato on it. I could not grow a flower. And I cried. I cried for me and my future children. I cried for the land. I hadn’t saved it, after all.
That was the day I became an activist. The day I realized this was a social justice issue – to speak for the earth, the voiceless, marginalized part of God’s creation that couldn’t save itself. and the people – also marginalized and in poverty that mostly live around the places of pollution – toxic waste dumps and landfills—the places we send our garbage. That was the day I started recycling and composting and turning off lights. It was the day I became a Romantic and was moved to touch and see and save whatever I could.
Now you are witnesses of these things. Don’t be afraid of being a Romantic. It holds the mystery and the salvation we are called to in the risen Christ that is in him and with him and through him, a precious web of relations.
the Rev. Cynthia Hizer
Epiphany, Atlanta, Ga. August 16, 2009
In the name of God the holy and living God.+
Here we are again, grappling with the gospel of John. This scripture with its shocking and raw descriptions seem good for maybe All Hallow’s Eve or All Saint’s or Good Friday. But here we are on a lazy Sunday in August and I wonder, how did this sneak in?
I thought we would get off the hook with these nice readings about wisdom. This reading is paired with wisdom readings.
It seems absurd.
But for some reason all our teachings together today are saying that for wisdom, for learning how to live, if we are going to use Jesus as a model for wisdom, flesh and blood need to be involved.
In an earlier phase of my life I was a food writer. I would travel around, interview chefs and write lots of recipes. Books and books of recipes.
I would hold food tasting parties at my house – we would all sit around, sip wine and critique my recipes. Then I would type them up and publish them.
It was the kind of life we imagine we want
when we grow up, then we would really be living. A fantasy life -- except that I threw away a lot of food while lots of people in the world weren’t eating at all.
And then, something happened.
One morning I woke up, in a hotel room somewhere, some food writer’s fantasy place,
and I realized it was over.
“I cannot …write one… more… chicken recipe.” I said.
What I really meant was, “I cannot write one more chicken recipe because this is not, I don’t think, what the world needs. Maybe more chicken, but not more recipes.
But what does the world need?” That was my question. I was searching for wisdom.
I was searching for a way to live, an authentic way to live.
It wasn’t too long after that after that I got re-engaged with God.
I made an appointment with my priest.
“I need dark chocolate,” I said, “not milk chocolate.” I probably meant a very very dark, 90% cocoa bean chocolate, maybe a rain-forest chocolate that would at least save an endangered species if not the whole world -- kind of chocolate.
But not milk toast chocolate.
I didn’t need a milk toast God.
This why we come to church. to get real.
To find the real, raw visceral unvarnished God that knows the unvarnished us, that can walk this path with us.
To experience the God that loves us, not just when we are being nice and things are going well and our books are getting published, but the God that could stand up to our blood and not blink and not blush.
Anne Lamott tells a story in one of her books about one of the lowest days of her life. She had just had an abortion – maybe her third abortion, she had lost count. Pregnant by a married man, again.
She drank too much and did too many drugs and slept around too much. She had just started going to church – tentatively –
she sat in the back and never talked to anyone – knew she wasn’t the kind of person they would want in their church. Knew God didn’t want her. Left before the Eucharist – couldn’t imagine accepting Eucharist.
On this day she fell into bed to sleep. But the bleeding wouldn’t stop. She was hemorrhaging, she realized. She was feverish and afraid but too weak to get up and go to the hospital.
Through her tears, she prayed, “help.”
Someone came into her room and crouched in the corner. Her brother, she thought, or the spirit of her best friend who had just died. Then she knew it was Jesus.
Crouched in the corner, abiding her, waiting with her, as she bled.
Jesus today is calling us to experience him as this raw, visceral and unblinking God, dark chocolate, not a sanitized version, but the God that matches our lives.
We don’t have to clean up our resume for this God.
Jesus of the gospels is not a milk toast God.
He is the God who understands how big and unruly and unvarnished life can be.
He knows because he is already there.
Jesus is saying, “If you want to really learn how to live, if you want wisdom, if you want dark chocolate,
“if you want a potent and authentic journey on this planet, walk in my shoes.
Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.
Offer forgiveness. Love your enemy.
Live my teachings,
Live my path. It’s bloody but it’s authentic.
In this passage Jesus is saying, in his oblique way, “Take me in, really take me in.
Let me live in you and grow in you.
Let the teachings, the path -- vibrate in you.”
This is eating the flesh and drinking, imbibing -- the truth of Jesus.
Warriors used to cut out the heart of animals they killed, and eat it to gain its strength or its goodness.
The theologian Cynthia Bourgeault says that this Eucharistic act of ingesting body and blood is not as much cultic but sacramental. Every time we process to the altar and hold our hands out and receive, we re-encounter this living presence.
It’s a spiritual practice. It’s a prayer.
This is learning how to live. It’s the only way he does live. Jesus is inviting us into his dance – of dark chocolate.
He wants us to get deeply involved in him.
Dive into him. He can take it.
He is real enough, potent enough, authentic enough.
And on the other side of that encounter, that meal, we will live forever.