Cynthia: Sermons Holy Days and Feast Days

Feb 2 Feast of the Presentation 
YrA  2014
Malachi 3:1-4
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-

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.

Palm Sunday Yr B 
The Rev. Cynthia Hizer
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA

In the name of the Holy One+

This morning we festooned our donkey with palms and flowers and a beautiful blanket made by the hands of our children. We took a victorious walk into Jerusalem with our king. But the truth is, we never quite know when a day begins, how it will end.

A lot happens between the beginning and the end of a day. A day can start sunny and simple and end complicated, or tragic.
We don’t really know where a day or even a week, will take us.

What we do know that is that today is vehicle, a bridge, a conveyer of sacred story.  The donkey is a vehicle. Holy Week is a vehicle.

It is a carrier between the hosannas and the Upper Room. It is the carrier between the superficial savior that the Jewish people craved and the inner transformation of our own souls.

It is a carrier to the place that today, begins in hosannas and ends in brokenness.
To the place of body and blood, of bread and wine, to the Upper Room and last supper when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his friends, when he initiated OUR being called, blessed, broken and given.
Because we are blessed before we are broken.
Today, Jesus is blessed before being broken. We wave our palms and follow the procession and yell “hosanna in the highest.”

Like the bread, we are blessed before broken, so that we can withstand the brokenness.  If not called and blessed first we would break with the brokenness.

But after the brokenness, because of the blessing, we are.
Things given are precious gifts used to reach out to others, a balm for the wound of brokenness.

It is the offering of the gift of restored life for which Jesus came.  

God comes to us wounded and crucified, to show that God is in all the same places we are.
Grace comes from it.
Restored life comes from it.

Each of us starts this week in a very different place from where we will end, a week from now.
But wherever we are, we begin it walking alongside a donkey, a beast of burden.

It is not enough to read about the donkey. It is not enough to see the words “Crucify him!” we have to experience it.
We have to lay down our palms on the road before our teacher, healer, lover and lord. 
We have to walk the path with Jesus.

We have to eat the last supper and wash each others’ feet.
We have to be in the midst of the stripping of the altar, when every single article is removed – every candlestick, every linen, every adornment that comforts us.

We have to sit at the altar of repose in this darkened church, maybe at 2 or 3 in the morning, with the cracks and creaks of the wood and the chill coming up from the stone floor, and

We have to approach the cross on Good Friday.

This week is our taking, blessing and brokenness and 
It is our bridge, it is our beast of burden to get us to someplace other than we were at the beginning of the week.

Some new animals may be coming to live at my farm: a donkey, and a one-eyed pony. We decided we wanted to buy our own baby donkey, a colt, and to raise him up in the Epiphany community. 

 Margaret found just the colt she wanted, and when she went to see him in his stall, there was another tiny animal with him in the stall.             
A one –eyed pony. A horse had bitten its’ face and damaged its’ eye. 

But it was clear that these two animals belonged together, the donkey and the pony. Margaret wasn’t sure –    did we want to take on this wounded animal?

“They come together,” the farmer said. “Take the donkey and take the pony too.”

Take the blessing, and take the brokenness.

And take the gift of Easter morning.


Good Friday Yr A 2011
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

During Lent I took some of the Sunday School classes through the Stations of the Cross. These are the carved wooden pictures that hang along the walls – they depict the stages of the Passion Narrative that we just heard. One week, even before the three and four-year olds got to the door, one little boy said – in a loud voice: “Is Jesus dead yet?”

Talk about jumping in! I hadn’t planned to start quite that quickly, that graphically. But there is an old story that says, “If you live in the neighborhood of a dragon, it is best if you recognize it.”

So we did, the children diving into the hardest part of our Christian story, the part where Jesus dies. The part of the story we soften or gloss over, for their sake, we think. As if they do not know sorrow or fear or dragons.

We walked from Station to Station, the children standing on the chairs and touching the wood, tracing with their fingers the outlines of Jesus with Mary, the women weeping, Jesus carrying the cross. The children were too young to read the service leaflet, so they listened while we adults told the story and sang a song as we moved from Station to Station. The children had a part, which they memorized quickly: “Holy Lord, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have Mercy upon Us.”

It gave me a little chill to hear them say these words. I wondered if the children thought about what the words meant, if they would remember the words and wonder why the Holy was Mighty, why they would need mercy. But I figured, knowing there is a dragon in the room and learning effectively how to embrace the dragon, might be the greatest mercy. It might offer the most hope.

I felt the need to soften the words of the story, to skip over lines. Still, if you live in the neighborhood of a dragon, it is best to recognize it. Is Jesus dead yet?

The children got restless. They clamored over the chairs, crawled on the floor, and stared into the stained glass windows. There, juxtaposed to the dark, dragon-like Stations, were jewel-toned pictures of Jesus offering mercy.  Jesus with the woman at the well. Jesus helping Peter to walk on water. Jesus with the little children. These are the pictures that surround us in this room, embracing us, with their mercy.

Finally, we made it across the room. We moved to the 7th Station, but what the children noticed was that it was in the neighborhood of the Baptismal font. They love this part of the church. They know the font, have sat on the floor for baptisms, watched the water being poured. Sunlight was streaming in the windows. The children clamored to the font, put their arms around it and traced the stone with their fingers, just as, a few minutes before, they had traced the dark wood of the Stations. I lifted the heavy wooden lid and they looked in, expecting water. Confident of the water.  confident that whatever dragons show up in life, the water would be there too.
Last Saturday I attended a funeral. At the gravesite, people were giving their remembrances of Al. The last was a six or seven year old boy. He said “I saw uncle Al at a Christmas party, and then I didn’t see him anymore, because he died.”

The little boy was the first to take the dirt and sprinkle it in the hole in the ground, over the box of ashes, and with each handful of dirt, the box disappeared, then the flowers disappeared, and then the hole in the ground filled up. A square of sod, green growing grass, was sitting next to the hole now filled. Some adults pulled it over the ashes, over the flowers, over the pile of dirt. The little boy patted the ashes and the flowers and the dirt and the green growing grass.


2010 Lessons and Carols
The Rev. Cynthia Hizer
Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

The barren trees stand startled, this side of Christmas. The longest, darkest night of the year is close, this hovering between last year and next year, between old and new. For the last few weeks the cold has removed all ornament from the trees –acorns, leaves, pine needles. At my farm this week, the last few gum balls fell to the ground. The stark outline lets us see what the trees and the land really look like.

Advent is this time of removing ornament - adornment, a time for rest and dreaming, a time to get down to our essential selves. Even the trees draw their sap down into their roots.

So the trees seem startled at the colored lights and streamers and tinsel that get flocked onto them by cheerful humans. What is this extraneous finery at a moment designed for dreamtime, in darkness?  What is this curious impulse of humans who haven’t lived through the night out in the garden, where the trees shiver together, sensing and awaiting the earth’s movement? The trees know it is not yet time to bring a new thing into being, not even a new heaven and a new earth. How can we pull out tinsel when the work of darkness is not done?

Here at Epiphany the church is also without ornament. It is witnessing to its essential self. During Advent, it is remembering who it really is. On Thursday, the adornment, the decoration of our church was two big plastic bags of empty cans sitting on the front walk, cans emptied of their contents to be used in cooking for Peachtree Pine, for feeding 500 cold, homeless men. The empty cans are our Advent witness, our adornment. Our essential self.

Only now in these last days of Advent, something shifts. The sun shifts, the trees call the sap back, call life back, and the Christ child takes lodging in our hearts. Isaiah remembers his prophecy. And Mary, Mary, says yes. It is time to breathe a new thing into being, a birthing from within.

Only now, tenderly, do we bring out the colored lights and streamers and tinsel and prepare for a festival. Some great hope for the world is overcoming us and we turn to the light and its sweetness. A sense of possibility a hope for the world, a joy. Come people! A baby is going to be born!