Moving the men’s drop-in shelter from Grace

An article by Pat Schneider provides some background on the potential move. It is an exciting prospect for the future of homeless services in Madison, and for Grace Church, too. If the shelter moves, we will engage the community and our congregation in a conversation about our future ministry and mission in a spot where we have been worshiping and serving God for over 150 years. At the same time, we will continue to advocate for “the least of these.”

In the spring of the year, kings rape and murder: A Sermon for Proper 12, Year B

It’s been a violent summer, a violent year, in the United States. On Friday, I read that so far there have been 204 mass shootings in the US in 2015; Friday was the 204th day of the year. It’s estimated, because for some reason no one keeps official records, 516 people have been killed by law enforcement officers in 2016. There was Charleston, the shootings in Tennessee and Lafayette, LA that occurred this past week. We had the spate of shooting incidents in Madison this spring, some of them hitting close to home to members of our congregation. Continue reading

A Holy Place for Compassion and Rest: A Sermon for Proper 11, Year B

 

After hearing today’s readings, you might suspect that I selected them for the occasion, as we make last minute preparations for the beginning of construction today and over the next few days. But that’s not the case. As you know, we follow the lectionary and so the fact that we heard the story of David’s desire to build a temple, and the famous image of Christ the cornerstone from Ephesians, are only coincidental. Continue reading

Kings behaving badly: A Sermon for Proper 10, Year B

 

Are y’all already as tired of the presidential campaign as I am?

. It’s not just that our own governor has announced he’s a candidate for President; it seems like every day we hear about another Republican who has thrown his or her hat into the ring. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has already visited Madison and the media are paying close attention to the horse race between him and Secretary Clinton. Apart from the entertainment value of Donald Trump’s outrageous statements, I expect that by next November we will be weary of it all, even while we have to gear up for the next cycle to begin in January of 2017. Continue reading

On being sent out: A Sermon for Proper 9, Year B, 2015

By now, most if not all of you have heard the news coming out of the just-concluded General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Among many other resolutions passed and the election of a new presiding bishop, the items that got the most attention outside of the church from the mainstream media, were the resolutions concerning marriage—the change in the canons, removing the reference to man and woman in the definition of marriage, and the approval for trial usage of new rites for marriage.

We are not of one mind on these issues. Some of view these changes positively, as signs the church is responding to cultural change, embracing and welcoming diversity. Others are much more cautious, even opposed, struggling to understand how these changes fit in with scripture and tradition. While Bishop Miller has suggested that congregations may use these rites when they become available on the first Sunday of Advent this year, as a congregation we will have to discern where we are and how we might move forward together as the body of Christ.

If you are interested in this issue, I encourage you to stick around after service today and join me in the library for a conversation. Bring your questions and concerns as we talk together about the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church as well as marriage equality. This conversation is not just about gender and sexuality, it is about hospitality and mission, two themes that find resonance in today’s gospel.

Jesus comes home in the first section of today’s reading and isn’t welcomed with open arms. Remember that he has been on the road, visiting the towns and villages of Galilee, but also crossing the lake and working in Gentile territory as well. He has healed people, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, cast out demons, and taught crowds. Now he’s home, enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and preaches. The response from the community is astonishment. They know this guy, he’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary. They know his family and wonder where he gets off talking with such authority and performing the mighty acts they’ve heard about. Their response of astonishment and offense seem to limit Jesus’ ability; instead of performing “deeds of power” similar to those he has done elsewhere, in his hometown, he only heals a few people by laying hands on them.

Jesus resumes his itinerant ministry, teaching and healing, and as he does, he commissions the twelve to share in that ministry. Like Jesus, they traveled about, healing the sick, casting unclean spirits, and preaching repentance. Indeed, these are precisely the same activities that Mark shows Jesus doing in the preceding chapters. The disciples become an extension of Jesus’ himself, proclaiming the coming of the reign of God, and in their actions, offering a foretaste of that reign.

But there’s more. In addition to sending them out and empowering them, Jesus gives them instructions on what to take with them and what to do. They’re to take no provisions with them, no bread or money, to wear sandals and not even carry a change of clothes. In fact, so puzzling are these instructions that when telling the story, Matthew and Luke change the details. In Mark they are to carry a staff and wear sandals; in Matthew and Luke, they are forbidden either sandals or a staff. But all three agree that if they come to a place that rejects them, they are to leave, and as they leave, shake the dust off of their sandals, symbolically demonstrating their rejection of that place.

On one level, these instructions reflect a central concern in the first century or so of Christianity, the local community or congregation responsibility to provide for its leaders, especially for itinerant evangelists. Paul addresses such issues in his letters, stressing at times that he was paying his own way; and in Christian sources outside the New Testament, we see similar instructions for the lifestyle of evangelists. And over the centuries, these instructions have provided inspiration for movements like that led by St. Francis of Assisi, who sent his followers out two by two, and instructed them to wear sandals, no belt, and take no money with them.

We may get caught up in the specificity and simplicity of Jesus’ instructions as well as the dramatic image of disciples shaking the dust from their sandals as they leave a place that rejected them. These details reflect two larger themes that deserve our attention. First, mission. The very word comes from the Latin word, “to send.” Here Jesus sends the twelve out. They are doing the very things that Jesus has done; they are extending his ministry, his proclamation, his presence, and his healing, in places where he cannot go. They are expanding his influence and message.

The second theme is hospitality. Jesus is not welcomed back home—they take offense at him—and apparently because of this response, he is unable to do in his hometown all of the things he can do elsewhere. Jesus instructs the twelve on how to receive hospitality, and what to do if they don’t receive it. It’s that aspect of hospitality that we don’t often think about.

When we talk about hospitality, we tend to emphasize how open or welcoming we are or should be. We think about how we greet newcomers, how we embrace people unlike ourselves. All of that is important, of course but it comes from a position of privilege. We are the ones to whom guests come, we are the ones opening our doors, inviting others in. That’s not what Jesus was talking about here. He was giving instructions on how to receive hospitality.

The disciples he sent out had almost nothing—no food or money, nothing by the clothes on their back, their staff and sandals. They were dependent on the kindness of strangers, for shelter and for food. As recipients of hospitality, they were vulnerable. It’s not a comfortable place in which to find oneself, as anyone who has ever had to ask for help can tell you.

Can our hospitality embody such vulnerability and openness? Can we let go of our privilege and comfort and welcome the possibility of change when we welcome the stranger? Can we be open to their gifts and experiences, open to relationship based on vulnerability and openness, rather than requiring them to conform to our expectations?

We have talked a great deal about hospitality here at Grace; we are talking about issues of diversity and welcome, of reaching out to our neighbors, but most of those conversations are one-sided. We are talking to each other, but not to people beyond our congregation. We are thinking about how we might be more welcoming and do more outreach in our neighborhood and the community but what we are not asking people outside our doors what their needs, and gifts, are. Can we receive what they have to tell us?

Hospitality and mission; there’s something else we ought to reflect on in all of this. We see Jesus rejected because apparently his preaching offended the townspeople. We see Jesus telling his disciples what to do if they’re rejected when they come in his name. Can we imagine ourselves offending others in Jesus’ name? Can we imagine being rejected because we have said, or done things, that make our neighbors uncomfortable?

The most discomfort we might have is hearing these words of Jesus, as he tells his disciples, tells us, to go out and do his work, to travel lightly, to receive what others have to offer, to be ready to receive rejection. It may be uncomfortable, but Jesus is sending us out. When we say the prayer after communion, we accept that responsibility, “Send us now into the world in peace … to love and serve you.” May we accept that mission, may we do his work.

Update on Marriage in the Episcopal Church: Bishop Miller’s statement

Yesterday, the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops’ approval of the previous day, changing the canons (law) of the Church, and approving trial rites for marriage. My previous post on the topic links to the relevant documents and some of the discussion.

Today, Bishop Miller shared some of his thoughts and suggested how this might play out in the Diocese of Milwaukee:

While I have yet to work out the details, I anticipate I will authorize the use of the trial rites under guidelines similar to those set forth when I authorized clergy to bless civil marriages. As the new rites are marriage rites, clergy will be able to act as agents of the state should they so choose.

Jesus was hungry, not hospitable

I’m working on my sermon for Sunday. The Gospel is Mark 6:1-13. The passage includes Jesus’ visit to his hometown where he was unable to do any “deeds of power” but did heal some people. It also includes Mark’s version of the sending out of the twelve. Jesus instructs them on how to receive hospitality and how to respond if they are not welcomed in a village.

“Hospitality” is one of the key values of contemporary progressive Christianity, especially as mainline, mainly-white churches seek to welcome and include people of color, members of the LGBT community, as well as people of different socio-economic background. Often, such praiseworthy goals are connected with Jesus’ own practice of radical inclusion. Progressive Christians love to say things like, “Jesus practiced radical hospitality” or “Jesus welcomed all to the table.” Such arguments are made not just in our efforts toward great diversity and inclusivity, but also in the Episcopal Church in the ongoing controversy over inviting the unbaptized to receive communion.

Such statements may reflect central values in contemporary progressive worship and theology but as Andrew McGowan notes in a blog post, they don’t correspond to the gospel records of Jesus.

 the welcoming, inclusive, festive Jesus may be a common feature of many scholarly portraits; he is not, however, a strongly-based historical one. Jesus was most clearly someone willing to eat with diverse company, less an inclusive host than an undiscriminating guest. Jesus appears as host only in quite different and more historically contentious material, relative to that where he is depicted as keeping bad company or being a wine-bibber. The “guest” traditions about him are generally defensible; the “host” traditions tend to be more influenced by later reflection than material that scholars in general would actually attribute to the historical Jesus.

He concludes:

Meals were important to ancient Mediterranean society, Jewish and Greco-Roman alike, as venues for the expression and creation of social relationships—not just among families, but for professional guilds, interest groups and, of course, for religious purposes, too. Meals were venues for politics as well as piety, business as well as pleasure.

It is hardly surprising that we find Jesus actively participating in this meal-culture. It was the most obvious means for many types of social interaction, and the carefully-crafted Gospel pictures of Jesus sharing others’ tables certainly have a reliable core.

Nor should we forget the even more basic reality of physical need. Jesus was apparently an itinerant without direct means of support, and his willingness or even desire to be included indiscriminately is not really so surprising in itself. Hunger makes for interesting and diverse table fellowship.

In our gospel for this week, Jesus’ instructions to the disciples help them to receive hospitality, not give it. In many ways, that is more difficult for us. Offering hospitality, especially in the Church, comes from a place of privilege. Receiving hospitality requires vulnerability. That’s true in our worship and in our outreach programs.