These readings today are not just appropriate to the end of Lent and the new breath of Easter, but feel very specific to our community. Two funerals this past week for Gerry Knechtel and Gerry Haight and Terri Ghee passed away yesterday. It is a lot for our hearts to absorb. We may feel rung out. It is easy to feel parched and heavy like the valley of the dry bones.
Our reading from Ezekiel may sound uncomfortable with all of that rattling of bones. It can also be cathartic in that we may feel as exhausted and parched as that valley. And while as a child I found it quite terrifying, Ezekiel’s vision is actually empowering and it is hopeful.
Ezekiel prophesied at a time when the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. During the diaspora after the
destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.
the people were conquered, scattered and displaced.
The people were lost. “They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’”
But the story is a hopeful message.
The valley of the dry bones is the people of Israel.
God essentially tells Ezekiel to give them hope.
He says, tell them, I will raise them up and put the Spirit of life in them, and they shall live.
It is about resurrection life… not the final resurrection but resurrection life that still comes to us from God after a tragedy, or death, or loss.
There is rebuilding of places, and things, and hearts, but sometimes we have to go through the valley of dry bones, the grief, and letting go completely, before we can find the strength to rattle our bones off of the couch, out of the ditch, or from the valley we find ourselves in.
The story of Lazarus is also about this process. It is unique in the miracle stories, in that there is so much spoken about what is happening before the miracle in that difficult and dry space. The Gospel takes us through the story of grief. We hear the questioning and the pain.
Since we know how the story ends, we may forget to listen anew and hear the words, but “When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.”
Mary and Martha ask Jesus, Where were you? The community asks, couldn’t you have prevented this?
Isn’t this what we ask of God at these times?
There is weeping. Martha and Mary and their friends are weeping. Jesus is weeping. His humanity is on full display here in a way that is very moving.
The Gospel is assuring us:
We do not meet resurrection in this life or in the life to come without tears and grief. We often do not meet change without some form of grief.
This morning our Prayers of the People will be a special litany that the Bishop has asked all our churches to participate in. It is an apology for slavery - specifically for the Diocese’s historic role as it benefited from slavery. Yesterday we had a service in the cathedral. I was unable to go down because of Gerry’s Haight’s burial yesterday. I watched most of it on FB. It was a moving service. I encourage you to go on the Cathedral’s website and if you can’t watch the service at least listen to Bishop Dietsche’s sermon.
The Diocese has been working on anti racism for thirty years and reparations for twenty years. We’ve been working up to this service of apology for five years. This beautiful Diocese was built on slavery. Yesterday and today we stand here as the Body of Christ and as a voice for the Diocese. This Diocese, this Body of Christ includes individuals, and voices, and emotions of a multitude.
While some of those emotions may not feel specific to you, they are specific to us if we recognize we are all united in Christ.
Our collective body is rattling its bones to healing. And it is uncomfortable.
Participating in a collective apology and a collective grief opens us up to the healing breath of God for the whole body.
Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones as the People of Jerusalem is communal. The divine breath of God infusing the whole community is the basis for a new community based in life and not death.
In Romans, Paul too speaks to this new community of Christians being alive in the Spirit:
to “set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Both Ezekiel’s prophetic vision and the story of Lazarus are premonitions of the resurrection of Jesus into the Christ.
As the Body of Christ, Paul reminds us:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
Life and Peace and Joy are the promises of our hope and faith as Christians.
While our mortal bodies may question and grieve, our Spirits are held in those promises.
Resurrection is always meant for the entire community. That is the good news of the Gospel.
Resurrection life is not meant for Jesus alone.
It is not meant for ourselves and our loved ones.
It is meant for the whole world:
The basis of a new community: Life and Hope and Joy.
As the Collect states today,
Let us pray:
Grant your people that among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed where
true joys are to be found.
There’s a lot of themes about water lately. That beautiful Spiritual: Wade in the Water…
Today We have Moses bringing water from a rock, the site of the well of Jacob, and Jesus’ pronouncement of living water.
Last week Father Masud Syedullah spoke about water as creation, and remembering that we are born out of water -we arrive in an amniotic fluid, which breaks as we enter into the world. It’s like Genesis, where God divided the waters from above and below, and made the heavens and the Earth and all that’s in it. New Creation. Children.
Today, the children will be doing a workshop with Maribel which will include water and the structure of snowflakes. Snowflakes are made of hexagons the most common shape intrinsic in nature. And yet we also know that no snowflake is ever alike. They are each unique as we are.
Through the new and old testament water is used as a symbol of wisdom. It flows; it navigates gracefully; it is a creative force that adapts and changes, can transform, and like a stream will move toward the source, to the powerful ocean.
Wisdom: It’s something that we thirst for; it’s something that we desire; it is something that we seek.
And indeed something we require for life.
So water is nuanced both spiritually as well as literally in our stories.
The people in their exodus from Egypt, in their thirst wonder is “The Lord with us, or not?”!
It is our question when we are struggling…
it is the question of the Samaritan woman…
and it is the mission of Jesus to say: yes, God is with you.
In the Gospel story today there is a lot about thirst, and seeking and wisdom. It’s about bonding - having this deep conversation: a deep theological conversation between two people from different cultures. It’s one of the longest recorded conversations Jesus has with another in the Bible…and it’s deep as the well is deep.
Jesus has come through Samaria, not because it is necessary physically to get from point A to point B (we know from maps), but spiritually it is necessary for him to enter Samaria: To bring the message as he says to his disciples …to that “field that is ripe.” Ripe for harvesting. The people are ready… and perhaps we are ready to reach across the divide.
Jesus comes and engages a woman in conversation who is completely surprised by his presence and this bold address from a Jewish man. She is in the midst of her daily routine drawing water.
And the water of the well as symbolic of wisdom, gives us two levels of meaning here…she has also come to this space that represents part of her spiritual identity. It’s not any old well of water. She’s come to the well of Jacob, where her ancestors have been worshiping for a long time upon this mountain.
Now Samaria is made up of people that have been brought together in this region through resettlement after the Babylonian war.
The King of Assyria captured the Israelites of Samaria and deported them to Assyria, and, not only that - but brought in peoples from five different Babylonian cities to resettle Samaria, worshipping their five different Gods… The original Samaritans who were not replaced worship Yahweh, but believe Mt. Gerizim, the place of Jacob’s well is the holiest place, not Jerusalem. But by Jesus time, Samaria is also made up of individuals who have brought five other gods that they have been praying to and sacrificing to.
The region is not of the one God, Yahweh, who had originally made a covenant with the people before the Babylonian war.
So this is very interesting to me, and this is why I think the Gospel of John is so brilliant because he’s talking to us on two levels…about revelation and conversion of a whole region explaining one larger version of history through metaphor… and through a very personal connection between a woman, seeking wisdom and depth who encounters the Messiah in that process.
She says to him but you say that we have to go to Jerusalem for one God, and he says to her, I’m not saying you have to go to Jerusalem. I am saying that God is found in spirit and in truth not in any one location.
“God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
That God is available to you wherever you are. That is radical good news.
John’s message is wrapped up on the personal level through a story that conceives her as having had five husbands. This is John’s brilliant way of talking about that covenant relationship of God to his peoples. In both the Old Testament and the New we hear of the metaphor of Israel often as a woman and God as her bride groom. A bond. And this is what’s happening for Samaria.
Jesus has entered Samaria and positions himself at the well with an encounter with a woman. Well-encounters are found in famous stories from our patriarchs and matriarchs. They remind us of, Jacob and Rachel, Isaac and Rebekah, of Moses and Zipporah.
These encounters between men and women at wells, are about marriage. So we have the symbol of the bride and groom. John is telling us about a particular encounter with the grander message that God, the bridegroom of Israel, is and has always been the bridegroom of Samaria: One God for all people. A covenant relationship God means for the whole world.
Jesus’ successfully conveys to her that God is a God of Spirit who is not found in one location and is meant to be living water, and that is a saving message for the whole world.
The Samaritan woman runs to share her experience with the town. And upon meeting Jesus, there is a conversion of the entire Samaritan village who come to believe Jesus is the Messiah.
We have a radical bonding of peoples that have been estranged from one another.
For us today, we may not think of the Messiah as having been brave, but the human Jesus and his disciples were quite brave in entering the Samaritan territory.
The Samaritan woman was also brave in her conversation with Jesus. They each were willing to brave the gap.
She is willing to express her own beliefs and he is willing to listen. He takes the conversation from the literal to the spiritual, and she keeps up. They are both listening closely to one another. Their conversation is a model for all of us. There is mutual give and take.
They model that in our very intimate encounter with the Messiah, we will find that like the Samaritan Woman “we are fully known.”
God incarnate in Jesus shows us the willingness to reach beyond our human made boundaries; that God in Spirit and Truth will repair and reconcile us to ourselves. There will be no lost remnant….
That relationship is always available, God as Love incarnate is the well from which we may draw ceaselessly because the well is not simply deep, it is living water that flows …in Spirit and in Truth.
“the savior for the whole world" brings the radical and healing message that we are all the Spiritual children of a Living Loving God.
For each and every one of us is unique as snowflakes and marvelously made!
And our mission is to reach across divides to love others, to be brave in our conversations, to be loving in our listening, to be wise…
to be Wise: adaptive like water, to be graceful in our encounters, to remember that we always flow from and toward the source, we name God.
This morning we have the cross veiled for Lent. It is not required in the Episcopal Church, although I am accustomed to it. There seem to be a variety of historical, theological and mystical reasons given for why we may do this.
Simply it is a reminder that it is Lent. All year long we look to the bright cross, as the manifestation of our deliverance, our redemption…but during Lent, we especially spend time contemplating our mortality.
Part of our mortal nature…in this life ..is that we struggle to see clearly into the mystery of life and God. As Paul tells us in a passage from 1 Corinthians: We only see “dimly.” The true nature of God and reality is veiled.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And while things may seem veiled to us in this life… the veiled cross can also be a reminder that we are hidden in God.
As the psalmist sings today: “You are my hiding-place.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
There’s a lot that’s happening between Genesis and Matthew today. They are readings that ask us to compare Adam and Jesus. And Paul also does this through his complex letter to the Romans.
The lessons point us to this concept of harm entering into the world, how we respond to it - and how Love entering into the World (in the model of Jesus) responds to it.
Matthew’s gospel is very archetypal in terms of looking at three channels through which we can experience temptation, and it can be very subtle.
What’s interesting is that the earliest of writers who wrote Genesis are the ones that point us to that subtlety…that harm can be very simple. It’s very alluring: like the apple.
What is harmful is sometimes masked by what seems pleasing, good and right… what may even seem logical or just.
And in Matthew, the devil for example, quotes scripture: psalm 91, in his conniving test of Jesus…
“For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”
The devil cleverly uses what seems right and good and pleasing to tempt Jesus away from his true self.
The story of Adam and Eve is our archetypal story for humanity. It identifies deep questions. Why are we conscious of our mortality unlike other animals? These questions are unanswerable of course. This is an origin story based in archetypal relationships. The big bang theory does not do that for us.
Survival as humankind is based in relationships and trust.
Trust is something humans alone have - and have the ability to mutually nurture and develop.
These lessons are about human nature and primarily about relationship.
Jesus is in the desert to have his own vision quest, to discern these things.
being in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights was a way for Jesus to be in relationship with God: for coming into an understanding of his own humanity. To trust.
He goes into the wilderness, through this trial, before he goes out into the world. That is the hero’s journey.
And what happens?
He is tempted not to believe he is the beloved Son of God.
This experience shows his own courage to stand alone and to have personal integrity, faith and keen perception. To Trust. This experience and test is affirmation of his identity and belovedness.
He must go through this trial in order to be that model, to be a presence that is in communion (right relationship) with the divine. To know his veiled identity as the beloved.
Not only that, but every answer Jesus gives to the Devil comes from Deuteronomy 6-8.
After surviving forty years in the wilderness…just as they are about to enter the Promised land, the people of Israel hear these instructions:
One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word
that comes from the mouth of God.’”
‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Jesus’ trial is directly related to the trial of his people and also our deepest questions about redemption for humanity and our own lives…
In Lent we spend these forty days in reflection of that…
Do you trust your own belovedness?
Who are you.. hidden in God?
This time for Jesus in the wilderness comes directly following his Baptism. The Spirit leads him there.
And his experience is mirrored in our own baptismal covenant and the prayer that we say over the newly baptized…that was said over each one of us:
Let us pray…
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.
Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.
Jesus models this for us. That’s who we are hidden in him.
There is a lot going on in our world right now. These questions about harm and evil, and what is right and what is just, and how to discern through the madness of war weighs on us. We are flooded by the news and feel out of control.
But this is a spiritual sermon. We also have a lot going on in our own lives; trouble and despair and fear on more personal levels. So I invite you to spend this Lent focusing on your lives and those you love, to retreat from the television…(not to bury your head in the sand) but to invite the love of Christ into your intimate World to sustain you.
That is the message of our readings, that God will sustain us through the trials. That we can trust we are redeemed by Love; and to remember the words of Paul, that you have been fully known.
While we see only dimly, as life events - and world events unfold, hold unto Christ who knows you, and is hidden in the cave of your hearts.
In this week’s readings we hear the story of Moses’ time on the mountain with God. Did you remember: like Jesus, Moses also spent forty days and forty nights in communion with God. Moses ascended Mt. Sinai, the sacred mountain, symbolically considered the navel of the earth. axis mundi. Here was a space thought to connect this world to the next.
Moses was a mystical character himself. Part of a tradition of rich Jewish mysticism: He sees signs, discerns voices, has visions, you might say, vision quests. He is a man of conviction, a leader - and deeply spiritual. But I would say, (like for most of us) it is with a little hesitance and reluctance at first that Moses responds to all of these calls from God…
Moses is pretty human in that regard. He says, “Who me?” But whether or not he deems himself worthy, he does what I’ve spoken about in other sermons… “He feels the fear and does it anyway.” He goes up even though “the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain.” But he stays there for forty days and forty nights communing with God.
And when he comes down he has been transformed: His face glowed - and he came down from the mountain bringing us the first commandments.
In our Gospel story today, what we describe as the Transfiguration, Jesus also goes up a mountain, Mt. Tabor… and “His face shown like the sun.”
He takes with him Peter and James and John. Peter recognizes this moment as symbolic of their tradition. He wants to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to stay there and meditate with God. But …
While he was still speaking,
suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and from the cloud a voice said,
“This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!”
These are the same words we hear at Jesus’ baptism.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. Suddenly the heavens were opened,d and He sawe the Spirit of God descending like a dove and resting on Him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!”
Jesus was baptized by the Spirit; The Spirit that we understand as God working in the world.
Today we are celebrating the baptism of Liam Michael. And once again the voice resonates:
This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased!
Baptism is about God working in the world.
Peter wishes to make a very special and significant offering to the ancestors, but the voice from Heaven we understand to be God’s voice, interrupts and says, “listen to him.” The activity of the Spirit working in the world is present now. Wake up… or “Keep awake!” As Jesus tells us often:
God is working in the world.
We are at the end of Epiphany, when the Magi came to offer gifts to a tiny child, the one they anticipated would be the messiah. At the time this gospel is written the Matthean community who Matthew is writing to was struggling because Jesus was not the messiah they were anticipating… a strong King to win all of their battles through force. What’s happened?
Instead we know that the messiah turns everything on its head: our notion of what is strong.
Jesus came to teach us that the nature of God is love and Love is the most powerful force on earth.
The Transfiguration points Matthew’s community, and us toward the fuller story of the crucifixion and the resurrection. To remember …
The Transfiguration happens only after Jesus started revealing to the disciples that he is going to suffer and that this suffering is part of a larger story about what God is doing in this world. The shape of compassion and forgiveness, the shape of true power, the pattern of God is much richer than worldly power.
The pattern of the Spirit working in the world will be one of sacrifice for those we love; of healing and compassion for those we encounter; forgiveness that requires a surrender of our ego. This is Jesus’ way.
Early Christians were called followers of the way. A way that engenders a flow of love. Following the way is a wisdom path. It is a path that asks us to keep awake.
Christianity is not just a belief system. It is a way of participating in the World. Having Christ as our higher power asks us to operate on two levels which are symbolized in the cross. To keep awake to one another on a horizontal plane while holding a vertical relationship with the holy one. To stand in that space of two worlds.
The shape of the cross is transfiguring. It is transformational. The words that Jesus hears: This is my Beloved Son, are important for us, and his friends, but also so important for Jesus’ own strength as he enters into the most scary realization of his human life: that he will suffer.
These words, “You are my beloved” are a reminder that God is with him.
Jesus goes up the mountain to be reminded that God is the source of life. Like Moses, symbolically communing with God at the navel of the earth (the axis of two worlds) we can be present to both worlds. This is the epiphany of the Transfiguration!
Being present and awake on a vertical plane and a horizontal plane are not two different perspectives, but one enlightened way. As the author states in 2nd Peter today:
Pay attention to this message:
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns
and the morning star rises in your hearts.
In Baptism we say we are born again, because we recognize we are part of the transfiguration, transformation and the resurrection: part of the body of Christ, meaning we do not live only for ourselves, but we live for the benefit of all human kind, for justice and peace, for the thriving of community that respects the dignity of every human being. We strive to love one another as ourselves.
The water of Baptism symbolizes life: water of creation. It is our most ancient of relationships…with the Spirit moving over the waters of creation to bring life to the world.
When we speak to dying with Christ in the water of Baptism we are talking about dying to selfishness. Being immersed in the real world, in the chaos of creation; yet rising up through the living water into the knowledge that we are beloved by God and gifted for making a difference in the lives of others in this world.
We cannot be a Christian in isolation. It is always a path for the the community’s sake…
The water of Baptism symbolizes freedom. In the rite we will pray this, by returning to the story of Moses and our liberation from slavery in Egypt through the parting of the water.
Our readings today remind us that Moses and Jesus each spent significant time alone in dialogue with their creator. Their prayer must’ve been full of questions. Their days were dedicated to seeking, discerning and surrender. But this alone-time was not meant to secure private privileged relationship with God. Both Moses and Jesus come down from the mountain with missions, messages and responsibilities for the community. They remind us that God is always working through us for the benefit of others.
We say that Holy Baptism is an outward sign of an inward spiritual grace. We make it public because that grace is recognized by and through the community. It is a ritual that says, we believe that Liam is a beloved child of God, with the free will to make choices, but blessed by being part of the body of Christ (us) and with the Holy Spirit (God at work in the world). And all of this together will help him grow into wisdom and Love.
In the gift of Baptism we pray to be given an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage and will to persevere.
And today we pray that Liam will also be given the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.
In the renewal of our own baptismal vows, today Remember that each one of you is a beloved child of God. And in you God is well pleased.
And with Moses and Jesus…
“The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”