The Rev. Canon Britt Olson – August 5, 2018

We live in a time of outrage, resistance and protest; of uncovering what is wrong and speaking truth to power. Every news cycle contains new revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up, of egregious racism leading, in some cases, to wrongful death, and of political skullduggery which cheapens democracy and the integrity of our common life.

The church cannot be silent or collude with the evil that so often damages the most vulnerable. Preachers are called not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable. We are to prepare sermons with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, attentive to the conflict between the prophetic Christian message and the complexities of an imperfect and sinful world.

And so, for the past six weeks, this Christian preacher has been wrestling with the many ways we fall short of the ideals to which we have been called, both as individuals and as a community. According to Matt, who was here for all of the previous five weeks until he and Nora left to move to Michigan, “You’ve been on fire!” I think that was meant in a good way!

We have a strong Judeo-Christian tradition of telling it like it is. The prophet Nathan is a great example. After the greatest King in Israel’s history commits horrific abuses of power, lust and cover-up in the rape of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah David thought he had gotten away with it. He even married Bathsheba and was expecting their child, his heir. Her fragile position forced her into shame and secrecy. Only David’s battle captain, Joab, knew what really happened and it was to his advantage to keep silent.

So David has no idea what’s coming when Nathan visits him and tells his little story about the rich man, and the poor man with his one beloved lamb. David rationalized his own behavior so much that he does not recognize the trap set by Nathan’s tale. In his own righteousness, David is outraged. He is quick to condemn the rich man. He is anxious to show his own compassion. He wants to take matters into his own hand to punish the wrongdoer and set things right for the victim. He once again thinks that he knows best, that he has the power and can control things to determine the outcome. He has forgotten the source of truth, the judge of all, the good shepherd who cares for each lamb.

Sin is so predictable. The methods may be different but through the ages the impulses are all the same: greed, lust, power, selfishness, pride. Sin doesn’t vary that much. What is interesting about sin is God. God’s approach to sin and the sinner is always nuanced and personal. Grace is never formulaic. God’s intricate weave of justice and mercy is wiser and more subtle than any system of punishment and rehabilitation that we can conceive.

David convicts himself by his own judgement. “You are the man,” proclaims Nathan and all his justification and avoidance is destroyed. The great revelation is that God has never been apart from David. God knows his heart and cares deeply about all those he has wronged and wounded. What had been secret will now be in the open. The shame of David is uncovered. The consequences he faces are awful; the death of his and Bathsheba’s son, unending strife and more rape and murder within his own family. As he begins to fully experience the weight of it all, David finally says, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

From this confession and repentance, something new and surprising is birthed. From death and destruction there is an unexpected renewal and hope. It is no shock to God that David has sinned so badly. After all, it is what every human being does, each in our own way. It’s only more spectacular because of David’s status and how far he has fallen from his own self image. Sin doesn’t surprise God and it shouldn’t really shock us either.

After all, every time we are outraged about the despicable behavior of another, we might have to face the words, “You are the one” in relation to our own greed, lust, pride, and hatred.

I became aware of this in my own life recently. The diocese has joined an ACLU lawsuit to prevent the seizure and destruction of the personal property of the homeless. I was called upon to give a deposition and I know the real pain that is caused when people lose what little they have. But this past week I was fed up. I was determined to make sure that no one was camping or dumping their stuff on our property. It’s an eyesore, it attracts more campers, it makes our neighbors crazy and our tenants nervous. I was so frustrated that I considered hiring a truck with two big guys to come and take away all the crap on the parking strips. Until… I read the story about the poor man who had so little, just one lamb and nothing more. What would it mean for me to take away the few meager possessions of the poor? After all, it would take an entire moving van to fit all the junk I own. “I am the man!”

Scripture is so dang convicting. God is so dang sneaky. God has more ways to reach me than I can possibly keep up with. We can hear how David responded to the preaching of Nathan and the conviction of his heart and spirit. We can share with David in a heartfelt response to our sin and God’s presence in our lives. With David we can move from denial, justification, and digging ourselves deeper into a bad situation. We can experience grace and renewal by growing in humility, prayer and compassion.

We can do so by joining David and every repentant sinner over the centuries in praying Psalm 51. It is the classic text of one who has faced her failure and turned back to God. It encompasses any possible wrongdoing but it doesn’t leave the one who messed up focused primarily on how he has screwed up.

This psalm is a plea for God to make it right when we cannot. It is prayed with faith and trust that we will not be left forever in shame and condemnation. The one who prays Psalm 51 is one who believes that God will not ever abandon her. There is hope that we will be restored, that we will once again experience the joy of God’s Spirit. There is faith that we can have a renewed and right spirit again.

When we come back to God in honesty and repentance, we come into true humility. Not humiliation. Humiliation just leaves us in shame and blame. Humility reveals our true nature in relationship to God and our neighbor. Humility allows us to see ourselves and others as both flawed and deeply valued. It grounds us and gives us a solid place from which to effect true change in our lives and the world. It reminds us that we are not God and that God is good.

When we confess the truth about ourselves and God we are brought back to a life of prayer. Relationship is restored. Blockages are removed. Barriers are broken down. We begin to experience that unity spoken of in Ephesians. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” We are not separated from God or others but belong to one another. We are given the opportunity to pray for others and to let them pray for us. We learn the strength of vulnerability as we open ourselves up in prayer.

Finally, to pray Psalm 51 is to enter more deeply into the compassion and mercy of God, the grace that first comes to us and is epitomized in Jesus. We can come before God in the middle of our screw-ups not because of ourselves, but because God has intervened for us in love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of God frees us to have compassion on others and to see them through the lens of love. We are literally broken open so that we can reveal our authentic selves and receive others into our broken open hearts.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go to one of our homeless neighbors to apologize for not treating them with dignity and respect. I can’t tell you how hard it is right now to believe that some of our political leaders are human beings deserving of compassion. It’s going to take daily praying Psalm 51 to help me work effectively in our church to respond to systemic racism and sexism and my part in it.

But we are people of faith, hope and love. We have the story of David and we have the life of Jesus. We know how bad things can be and we know that there is redemption and grace to cover a multitude of sins. And we trust that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God and that we will all be one in spite of our sins and sorrow, we will all dwell as part of one body which is built in love.

The Rev. Canon Britt Olson – July 28, 2018

If you’ve been dipping into church this summer in between weekends away and other commitments, you’ve heard me preaching a lot out of the OT books of Samuel, which recount the stories of the early kings of Israel: Saul, David and Solomon. And even if you think the Bible is often boring and sometimes incomprehensible, you probably know about David the shepherd boy and Goliath the giant; about David the young king who restores the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem; and about David and Bathsheba.

But since most of you are Episcopalians and it’s not the custom to bring your bibles with you to church (although I trust you all have the Bible Gateway app on your smart phone!), let’s check what you remember about this story of lust, sex and murder.

Do you remember that Bathsheba tempted David into sin by exposing herself to his view? That she wanted to entrap the handsome, powerful young ruler? That she knew exactly what she was doing? If so, you may have had your memory shaped more by Hollywood than the Scripture. For centuries, this portrayal has crept into art, novels and movies with Bathsheba as the beautiful temptress and David the man who could hardly resist her charms. Serious scholars of the Bible have offered similar theories and interpretations.

But if you pay close attention to the Bible you will find that the blame for this tragedy of rape, murder and the consequences lands squarely on David. He is the man who “took” the only wife of Uriah, used her and then planned to abandon her until he discovered that she was pregnant with his child.

Or maybe you remember that this was just one slip, one mistake that David made and when he discovered her pregnancy he tried to make it right by calling her soldier husband home so that the child would have legitimacy through their marital relations. Or that David was so very sorry for what he’d done that he married Bathsheba and gave her a wonderful life and that her son Solomon would become a great King and build the Temple. After all the good he did and his beautiful faith in God, this very human sin was an opportunity for repentance and a renewed experience of his worship of God.
But, if you read the account, you know that David never had any plan to care for Bathsheba and that in fact, he effectively murdered her husband Uriah, an honest and honorable man, and destroyed the life she had known. His sense of entitlement, his abuse of power, his selfish grasp of only what he wants ruins Bathsheba and puts the nation and the royal succession at risk.

Be careful with the Scripture. When it is used to justify a point we want to make without considering the integrity of the text and the relationship of the Holy One to humanity, it can bite back. We can find ourselves convicted of the very things we have accused others of.

David’s is a story of an extraordinarily gifted and successful man who puts his own needs and interests above everything and everyone else. He and his innocent victims suffer terrible consequences and the nation is put at risk because of the immorality and failure of its King.

To quote from Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
We are at an incredibly sensitive and tender time in our relationships with one another at work, in public, in our leadership, in the church and in our daily lives. Every day brings a new revelation of the equivalent of “You are the man!” as those who have engaged in abuse, harassment and even rape are accused and exposed. Many who have been victims are terrified of what it will mean to tell their stories. They have too often been scapegoated by being accused of encouraging or acquiescing to behaviors that left them damaged and shamed. Too often the Davids of our day have been excused or protected and their abuse has been downplayed.

The consequences continue to play out in our families, institutions and communal life. And, in our church. For the first time in my over 30 years of ministry, we have begun to speak aloud what has only been whispered. Abuses that have been kept confidential, effectively protecting the perpetrator, are beginning to come to light. Structures that have privileged the influential, the male, the ordained are being examined for how they reinforce patterns of abuse, discrimination and harassment.
It’s a tender and terrifying time for those who have been abused or discriminated against. It is a nerve-racking time for those who are examining their conscience and behavior to discover or admit for the first time they ways they have wounded others. And it’s a risk to the survival of a shrinking church to deal directly with what has been kept quiet or covered up.

And yet, we are the People of the Book. It should not surprise us that even those who have found favor with God can sin mightily. We should not be afraid to tell the unvarnished truth. After all, the Bible is extraordinarily honest about David’s failures even as it records his great gifts and heroic deeds. There will be more stories of abuse and those who tell them will need to have companions and advocates standing with them. But true healing will only be complete when there is honest admission of guilt.

It may be even harder for the perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment, and systemic discrimination against women to examine and discover their sin honestly admit their wrongdoing. There are consequences.

But we are also Jesus people and that very fact gives us deep resources of strength and grace to honestly face our sin and its very real consequences. We follow the one who refused earthly acclaim and power in order to stand with the ones most wounded and marginalized. We eat with the One who can feed thousands with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. When we fall into despair, sorrow and remorse, and fear is threatening to undo us, we hear the words of the one who says “It is I; do not be afraid.”

I confess that I can get overwhelmed by the scope of the difficulties and my own limited resources. As we face the evils of racism, sexism, and abuse of power it’s easy to focus on how little we have. We’re like the disciples who can only rustle up 5 loaves and 2 fish in the face of 5,000 hungry people. It’s easy to get paralyzed when you feel powerless. We aren’t able on our own to solve every problem or heal every ill. We don’t have enough knowledge to solve this or enough money to fix it. Being nice, good people isn’t enough. Holding the right political positions won’t prevent anyone from grave error. Whatever we are or have on our own is just not enough.
But we are not alone. Jesus has called us together and placed us in communities of mercy and justice. God has placed the Spirit in and between us with the power to overturn the forces of evil and sin. None of us is ever alone.

I was reminded of this yesterday when we held the Memorial Service for Bevin, a 34-year-old woman who died in the van she was living in outside St. Luke’s. She had been in the neighborhood for just under 4 years. Her severe epilepsy made her unable to manage on her own although she desperately wanted her independence. She suffered with terrible seizures, memory loss and the indignities of being sick and homeless. The severity and frequency of her seizures led to her death.

But she was not alone. Close to 100 people attended her Memorial Service. An entire community cared for Bevin. There were people from various churches where she ate and got clothes on a regular basis. There were her friends who are part of the unhoused community in Ballard, including the man she lived with in the van and his daughter. Many members of St. Luke’s and Edible Hope volunteers pulled together to provide flowers, photos, food and to help with the service. Business owners and employees from Ballard showed up to honor her with free Starbucks coffee and her favorite candy. There was so much love and care for her by so many different and diverse people.

As Paul writes to the Ephesians, “God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” With God’s help and in community we can care for the most vulnerable. With God’s help and in community we can feed the multitudes. With God’s help and in community we can confess our racism and work together for a more just society. With God’s help and in community we can name abuse and change our behavior.

I am joining with others in our church to develop ways to listen and respond to personal and systemic abuse and discrimination towards women. I am aware that this touches nearly everyone in some way and I want you to know that I am available to listen, to own the ways I have failed you and the church has failed you and to work together in community towards repentance and accountability. It is overwhelming and yet, I am hopeful because we are not alone on this journey. With Jesus in our boat, we will come to our journey’s end.

2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14 St.
Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

The Rev. Canon Britt Olson – July 8, 2018

Jesus went home for a visit and it didn’t go so well. He brought his loyal followers with him to meet his family, friends and fellow Nazarenes. He went to synagogue and preached the same message that he had been delivering all over the country. He demonstrated the wisdom and insight he had gained from the trials of the desert and the years of study, prayer and reflection. And the people were astounded at what they heard.

But they couldn’t get past their recognition that this was Jesus, who was familiar to them and yet so changed. They remembered the carpenter, the boy who played with his siblings, the child of Mary. It didn’t matter what he said; they heard it but refused to receive it. And the man whose teaching and presence transformed lives was amazed at their unwillingness to believe and receive what he had to offer. They couldn’t hear him and he couldn’t help them.

If that had been me, I would have been devastated. It hurts so much when the people you are most familiar with don’t get you, when the people you love and care for cannot or will not listen to your truth and affirm your deeply held convictions. And when the rejection is public and in front of your new friends, then the pain is accompanied by shame and impotence. When we go home, we want to bring all the good things we have learned and experienced to share with the people we care about, to offer them something that has benefited us. We can help others, why can’t we help those we are supposed to be closest to?

Jesus failed in Nazareth. He could do no deeds of power in that place. He converted no one and cured only a few. He left surprised and bewildered by their dismissal and lack of faith.

It can be hard to go home. Home is the source of our hardwiring. These are the people who formed us. We are shaped by their values, customs, habits, beliefs and prejudices. And even when we are hurt or angry at one another, these are the ones we so desperately want to love and understand us. We crave approval and affirmation. We want a chance to give back to them in gratitude for what they did for us. We want home to feel like home forever.
Sometimes that is just not possible. As far as we know, Jesus never returned home again. He famously said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

And yet, this trip home with his disciples is a turning point in the direction of his ministry. Out of failure and rejection there is a new beginning. From this point forward, the disciples graduate to a new level. Right after they witness the dismissal of Jesus by his hometown, they are sent out into all the villages around to be his witnesses. They are under no illusion that they will be universally well received. They have just seen how Jesus was run out of town. They know that many will refuse to listen to the message of the Kingdom of God. It has probably occurred to them that their testimony could get them in trouble.

And yet they go. They go with the authority and blessing of Jesus. They go, not in their own strength but with the power of the Spirit. They take nothing with them, no props, no resources, no wealth or weapons. They go without the promise of success and with the certainty of danger. They go forth in vulnerability and weakness, following the example of their Lord and teacher.

This is the secret of the Kingdom of God. It is not in strength or power that the love and grace and mercy of God is found. It is rather in our weakness that God’s power is demonstrated. It is in our failures that God’s grace triumphs. It is in our sin that forgiveness is released. And it is in dying that we are reborn.

The Apostle Paul had every reason to boast in his own pedigree, his education, his intelligence, righteousness and influence. He could have been insufferable in his arrogance and privilege (and sometimes he was!) But he knew failure and rejection as well as deep shame and remorse. His testimony and ministry come not from his own strength and power but rather from the place of his wounds and weaknesses, his “thorn in the flesh.” He is able to testify, “So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Think of that. I don’t want to be weak. I’d like to be successful and strong and smart and in control. I’d like to have it all together and to be admired and accepted and popular. I mean, isn’t that the image of ourselves we’d prefer to project? It’s so much more fun to be successful than to fail. It’s wonderful to be accepted and loved, rather than rejected and misunderstood. I’d be quite happy to be admired and respected by all.

This past week, I’ve been listening to some really amazing and wonderful sermons by the top preachers in the country. The great news is that one of them is an Episcopalian and the other’s a Lutheran! Last week was the national Youth Gathering for the Lutherans and Nadia Bolz Weber preached a fabulous sermon that had the whole stadium shouting at the end. Not only that, she looked totally cool with a sleeveless clergy top that showed off her very buff, very tattooed arms. She was phenomenal.

And then there is Bishop Michael Curry, our own Presiding Bishop, the bishop who preached at the royal wedding. The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is being held in Austin for two weeks and they are live-streaming the worship. Bishop Curry is on fire. The Episcopal Church hosted a revival meeting and he preached a “Come to Jesus” sermon that knocked my socks off.

But here’s the deal. Both of these preachers have been rejected and despised. Both have been mocked and protested and hated. And that’s mostly by fellow Christians. You see, they don’t fit the image of a Christian preacher in some people’s minds. Nadia is too edgy, too honest about her former substance abuse and sexual immorality. She cusses too frequently and doesn’t look decent and appropriate. She couldn’t be ordained in the denomination she grew up in because she’s a woman.

Bishop Curry had protesters outside the venue where he was preaching. They object to his and the Episcopal Church’s full inclusion of LGBTQ folks. They don’t like his style. You could see some people smirking when he preached at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. And though most won’t say so openly, they don’t like that he is an African American man leading one of the major Christian denominations.

I imagine that both of these followers of Jesus have been discouraged, rejected and doubting. I know that they have risked everything for the gospel and that they have been afraid for themselves and those they care about. They have failed and floundered. Nadia’s marriage ended. Bishop Curry’s health has suffered.
And yet, they continue to testify to the message they have received, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God sends us out into this world, not in our own strength but in the grace of God, the love of Jesus and the companionship of the Holy Spirit. That grace is sufficient for you and for me.

Does your family misunderstand you? Are they unable to accept you for who you truly are? Is it a challenge or even impossible to return home? God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You are loved exactly how you are.

Is your work life a challenge? Is the pressure to do well overwhelming? Are you unsure that you are doing the right thing? Do you experience failure or unrealized expectations? God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You are worthy.

Are you demeaned for who you are? Do you experience prejudice because of your gender, skin color, age or identity? God says, “You are beautiful. You are loved and valued. My grace is sufficient for you.”

If you are holding a secret sense of inadequacy or shame, if you are feeling imperfect or unforgiven, if you wonder whether you matter or your life has meaning, God assures, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

God’s grace is sufficient for every one of us. God’s power is made perfect in weakness and failure. Jesus was not diminished by the rejection he experienced in his hometown. He was not defeated by the cross. In what seemed to be ultimate human weakness and powerlessness, God demonstrated God’s love and power to save.

My dear sisters and brothers. God’s grace is sufficient for you and for everyone you know. You are sent forth from this place to testify to that message of faith, hope and love to a world that is desperate to hear it.

Proper 9, Year B
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Sara Bates – June 26, 2018

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

These past couple of weeks I have seen a few storms pass through my life, this community and this nation. There were times when I thought I might drown in the waves crashing over my head while I tried to paddle. And just like the disciples in today’s gospel, there were a couple times when the fear paralyzed me. I just stopped paddling, wondering what I could do to prevent myself from going under. Going under the waves of grief from losing a guest of Edible Hope Kitchen, waves of anger at the hostility of neighbors and the increasing divides between the wealthy and the poor, waves of heartbreak as stories of children being ripped from their parents arms flood my conscience, and waves of vulnerability as I struggle to keep all parts of my life in order.

But I was not alone in my boat. Many of you were there alongside me. We paddled together. In fact many times when I was paralyzed with fear of drowning, there were others beside me who continued to paddle, helping me to reach shores along the way. And there were times when I was able to help paddle for others. But these waves haven’t gone away; they are still crashing against the boat.

It’s likely we will find ourselves, if we haven’t already, struggling against the waves and will ask Jesus, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Don’t you see that people are dying in our streets? Don’t you see that children along our borders are being permanently traumatized? Don’t you see we are paralyzed with fear and anger? Why are you sleeping?!!

Why is Jesus sleeping in today’s gospel?

It’s a good question. Why should we see Jesus sleeping while a storm rages as good news? Jesus sleeping on the boat is good news because it means that Jesus was truly human. He needed time to rest and recharge after a long day of teaching. He needed others to paddle for him in order that they could continue on to the other side where more work would be required. It means Jesus knows what it means to be tired and have the need for sleep.

And yet, Jesus is also the Son of God, and has the authority of God to still the waves. To call out and say “Peace! Be still!” and have the winds stop, the waves fall flat. To take comfort and rest in the power of God.

Today’s gospel gives us permission to do likewise as the Body of Christ. To take rest when we are in need, and when we have rested, to hear the call of our neighbors to wake and use our voice to calm the winds and waves of oppression, poverty, torture and racism. We must speak out for peace among our neighbors. We cannot let the cries go unheard. I unfortunately got a glimpse of what it feels like to have one’s cries go unheard or ignored, when I broke my ankle and had neighbors pass me by out of fear or inattention. It broke my heart for those who I know face this daily living on our streets, in our detention centers and in our jails. So we must rest up and be ready to speak up, reach out and paddle for our lives and those of our neighbors crying out.

We need not be afraid, with just the faith of a mustard seed, we can bring the Kingdom of God into existence. We must have faith that this is not the world God wants for us, his children.

Now the work of bringing the Kingdom of God into existence is a big job, gigantic in fact, a feat as large as David killing Goliath. Both these readings speak of the logical fear almost all have in the face of seemingly impossible tasks. Just as the disciples are paralyzed by fears of drowning at night in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a storm, the armies of Israel and King Saul are paralyzed with the fear of facing Goliath.

But David and Jesus know that nothing is impossible with God. Because of this knowledge, David a young boy, with no experience of battle seemed confident to offer himself to take on Goliath, a lifelong warrior and a giant of a man. David was successful in a feat that seemed impossible, and was impossible without the skills and tools provided by God. David was not successful because he wore the armor of Saul or carried the king’s sword; No David was successful because he shed this items and instead trusted that God had already provided him with what he needed.

How often are we told we aren’t what is needed for the job, that we don’t have the right skills or tools. But what if instead of listening to these voices, we instead listened to God. What is God telling us? Is God telling us that he has made us for his purpose and given us the tools for his task? Is God telling us we need not be afraid?

We are all needed in one way or another to bring the Kingdom of God into our world, it is a gigantic job, but God has given us the tools, and reminds us that the Holy Spirit resides within us, enabling us all to take on the task. Not because we are so powerful, but because we go with God. Let us all go confidently to the battlefield to take down the Goliaths standing in our way, unburdened from the weight of the “armor” of others, and perfectly equipped.

Amen.

The Rev. Canon Britt Olson – May 6, 2018

For most of my adult life I have been a renter. It wasn’t until Bryon and I married 10 years ago that I first owned a home. I once calculated the number of places I had lived in my life and realized that I averaged at least one move a year before I turned 45. It was great to never be responsible for major upkeep like roofs, HVAC units and plumbing. It was fairly easy to pick up and move on when necessary and those frequent moves helped me avoid accumulating too much stuff.

But there were major disadvantages to renting. I always had to live with white walls and be very careful about what I hung on them. Then there was the garden. In many locations I either rehabilitated an overgrown garden or dug out and planted a new one. I planted herbs and annuals and vegies that grew fast. It was always difficult to leave the garden and move on. You’re never sure if anyone else will love and tend it after you’re gone. Even though the land never belonged to me, I had invested in it with my whole being and it had returned something beautiful and nourishing.

This past week as I dug out the sod, amended the soil and prepared the raised beds at our home, I realized that my gardening had changed. I was planning for how a shrub or tree might look after 10 years. I was moving things that would get crowded out over time if they stayed where they were. The roses I planted last year are doing great and should produce blooms this summer and for years to come. I’m adding to the blueberry bushes and thinking about raspberries.

There is something different about my relationship to this home and this garden. I’m home. The Pacific Northwest is the geography of my soul and I know how to grow things here. I’m investing in a future that may not even include me. I’m not just dwelling in this place. I’m putting down roots. I’m abiding.

To abide is to dwell in your heart’s home. It is to know where you belong. To be a renter is to serve the owner. You don’t really belong. You are only valued for the economic income you provide to the landowner. To abide is to be in a relationship of mutuality with the place you belong. You take care of it and it takes care of you. All the time, work and money you put into your abode is for a continual and future return. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a little land to produce fruit and flowers, trees and shrubs, vegetables and herbs, you can’t help but think of those who might come after you to reap the bounty of the land you have tended and cared for in your lifetime. There’s a difference between renting and abiding.

In the first chapter of John’s gospel, the proclamation that redefines a consumeristic understanding of the whole creation based on exchange and return is this. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The God of the universe pitched a tent in the middle of our human existence. The divine one became present intimately in Jesus. God chose to abide with us in all our frail, human messiness. God invested everything in this human adventure and gifted us with love divine, mercy unending and a willingness to sacrifice everything for our flourishing.

Like a rich woman who leaves her McMansion on Bainbridge and takes to the streets of Seattle to live amongst the unsheltered, God pitches a tent right in our neighborhood. Like a friend who moves in with you to bathe, feed and care for you during a life-threatening illness, God shares our sorrow and suffering. Like a vineyard owner who changes into work clothes and picks up pruning shears to work alongside the field workers, God partners with us in caring for this world.

By the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, as Jesus prepares to go to the cross and his death, he describes the complete turnaround that his life and ministry has made. God had been pictured as a strict taskmaster, a distant ruler, a commander requiring absolute obedience, an accountant keeping track of our good and bad acts. Jesus puts those myths aside. He contradicts all the false notions of God. His intimate knowledge of God opens up a different relationship with the Holy One. Abiding with us, we can no longer be known as servants. God names us as friends.

We belong to God. No matter where we go, God will accompany us on the journey. No matter what happens to us, God will never abandon God’s friends. God will not demand blind obedience, that’s not what friends do. God will not keep secrets. Because we are God’s friends, Jesus will make known to us everything he has heard from God.

We share God’s joy. This is not joy without suffering. Rather it is joy that cannot be stolen from us whatever life’s circumstances. Remember that curious phrase from Philippians, “For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross?”  Complete joy is joy that is not dependent on our situation, but rather on our status as God’s beloved friends and on the security that God will not abandon us.

We abide with God and in God. To abide in God is also to abide smack dab in the middle of this beautiful, broken world. It is to take seriously the command to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. The fruit we bear is the fruit of love. We are clearly called and commanded to love one another as God in Christ loves us. We are to pitch our tent in the middle of those with the greatest need. We are to care for our friends in their deepest distress and to labor in the field for a harvest that will nourish everyone.

At St. Luke’s we have been blessed to be a blessing. We are called to be God’s beloved community in this beloved neighborhood. We have been gifted beyond anything we can ask or imagine with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, baptized into the Body of Christ and commanded to live in love.

St. Luke’s was a renter congregation when it was first planted in Ballard at the end of the 19th Century. It took many years before the church was able to find land and money to build a permanent building. That chapel is now nearly 100 years old. There have been ups and downs, times of feast and famine in the life of this community. Sometimes we were bursting at the seams with people in attendance from all over the city, the nation and the world. At other times, we were nearly abandoned or closed.

Through it all God abides with God’s people. We are part of the larger Body of Christ, called to live in love and faithfulness and to tend this patch that is a legacy gift. Our Bishop Greg reminds us often that St. Luke’s is the heart of the larger Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. It’s the heart of Jesus that beats in this place and that powers us for the transformational ministry that turns strangers into friends and draws us to the table where all are fed.

Kristen recently preached a brilliant sermon in which she encouraged us to see ourselves not only as stewards of the gifts God gives, but as shepherds. Shepherds are intimately tied to those they care for. We are called not only to shepherd the riches of grace in the Christian tradition, in the gifts of word and sacrament, in font and table. We are commanded not only to love those who are in church on Sunday morning, but God’s friends who enter in through other doors to this holy space, in the Edible Hope Kitchen, the Bridge, Suzuki School, AA groups or through the SLUG.

Today we are taking seriously our care for all of creation. We are caring for the water cycle with our RainWise installation that prevents rainwater from overfilling the stormwater system, filters it naturally through our raingarden and provides irrigation from cisterns for our many gardens here. We are celebrating seven years of the SLUG gardening community where church members and neighbors work together to grow produce for themselves and for our kitchen and the Food Bank.

And today we bless the bees in our new beehives. These honey bees are so useful. They will pollinate plants in a 5-mile radius. They will produce wholesome, local honey that we can serve to guests in the Edible Hope Kitchen and share with others. We hope to get beeswax candles that can be burned at our first Great Easter Vigil next year as we celebrate the resurrection and the light of Christ in our midst.

None of us can say how long we will live in our current location. We can’t say for sure that St. Luke’s will still be here in another hundred years, or if so, what it will look like. We don’t know what state our planet will be in after another hundred years of global warming, pollution and over use.

But today we rejoice in the love that has brought us together, in the beauty and fruitfulness of this patch of earth, in the fruit of loving service that restores and heals in body, mind and spirit and in the love of God in which we abide and that abides in us, now and for ever. Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 10:44-48;  Psalm 98;

1 John 5:1-6;  John 15:9-17

 

April 29, 2018 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

How can we know God? After all no one has ever seen God.

How are we to understand the Scripture? The words are from another time and a culture that is far different from ours.

How do we live lives of meaning and purpose? Value is so often measured by what we produce, how much we make, our status and position.

And how in the world do we know where we belong? There are so many groups, causes and organizations vying for our time and commitment. No family or group of friends or institution is without conflict, hypocrisy and the many ways we can be wounded or wound others.

These are just some of the questions you may have asked yourself at one time or another. I think it’s fair to say that questions like these have been on the minds of those participating in the Spiritual Pilgrimage here over the past two months. They are questions of faith, identity, purpose and belonging. When you’re wrestling with these, you’re wrestling with what really matters and with who you are called to be.

We hear the Ethiopian eunuch asking the same questions in the account of the Acts of the Apostles. He wants to know God. He has a longing for God. He makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he hopes to encounter God. As a foreigner and a person whose sexual identity makes him unclean and suspect in Jewish society, he wonders where he belongs. He doesn’t fit in. As a successful and rich official of the Ethiopian court, he has the money, resources and learning to be riding in a fine chariot and possessing a rare handwritten manuscript of the book of the prophet Isaiah from the Hebrew Scripture.  He can read it but he isn’t sure of the meaning.

And yet, something in these words touches a deep place of pain and hope in the core of his being. His experience resonates deeply with the one described by Isaiah. He too was like a lamb before its shearer. His life and manhood were cut off. Justice was denied him. A future was denied him. He could not prolong his life through children and at death his life would be taken away from this earth. It seemed as though the prophet was writing about him, but that could not be! Who is this one who is wounded as he has been, who shares a destiny with him, who understands him in a way that no one else can?

The Spirit of God hears the longing and sorrow of the eunuch. The Spirit sees beyond his wealth, success and high standing to the pain and deep desire for affirmation and belonging in the heart of this court official. So the Spirit sends him Philip. Philip, who always seems to be the one to greet those on the margins on behalf of Jesus and the disciples. Philip, who certainly didn’t travel in chariots, dress in fine clothes, possess a copy of the Scripture or probably even read. What Philip lacked in success, standing and influence was absolutely unimportant to God or to this desperate man. What he did possess was direct experience with the living Christ, the Jesus who himself was rejected and despised, the man of sorrows, well acquainted by grief. The Messiah who produced no heirs and possessed no earthly kingdom. The suffering servant who was struck down, afflicted and cut off as a result of the sins and failures of humanity.

Philip was able to be the true companion of the Ethiopian, across every cultural, ethnic and sexual barrier. He could travel with this man because he knew the love of God which crosses every boundary by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Philip spoke, he spoke of his own experience of the love of God, which came to him in Jesus when he least expected it. He could tell the stories of how God’s love in Jesus was offered to all, without exceptions.

He shared how Jesus made a community of love and belonging out of a completely diverse and ragtag bunch of disciples regardless of wealth, age, religious identity, righteousness or religious standing. Jesus welcomed the political zealot, the woman trapped in prostitution, the ill in body, mind and spirit and ordinary fishermen.

When the eunuch heard this amazing, good news he took charge. Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He grasped the good news of God’s love and full acceptance. He trusted completely in the One who had experienced everything that he had and was able to promise new life, full acceptance and a new identity. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a witness at that baptism? The tall, African man in his expensive robes steps out of his fine carriage accompanied by a poor, young Greek Jew in travel stained clothing. They come to a small stream or wadi and Philip pours water over him in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The Ethiopian is born anew into a living hope, knowing himself as a beloved child of God and part of the inheritance of all the saints.  His life can never be taken from him.  He now lives in Christ and lives eternally.

We weren’t there, but…  We get to be present at baptism here in this community and in other places where Christians gather.  Many of us got to be present yesterday at St. Mark’s Cathedral when Nora, Keller, Suzi, Matt, Spiro and eighty other people were confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. It was grand. The music was top notch. There was plenty of pomp and circumstance including the bishop in all his finery. We heard an amazing sermon about the grace and love of God which comes to each of us as gift and blessing and is not conditioned by whether or not we are worthy enough, valuable enough, holy enough or have it all together. Thank you Kate Davis for preaching the good news!

It was a glorious two hours but at a certain point, I started losing it. All 85 of those to be received or confirmed formed an enormous circle around the altar. Our five were backed by friends, family and their pilgrimage companions along with other members of St. Luke’s. We were a pretty large bunch. As the bishop came by to place his hands on each of our beloved ones I felt the Spirit descend in a rush of affirmation and power. Each of us had our hands on the shoulders of the candidates or on the shoulders of the ones in front of us and we were all connected.  When the bishop was blessing Suzi, who was the first candidate, and then said “amen,” we joined in with a very enthusiastic and loud amen.

The Bishop said something like St. Luke’s Ballard is in the house and we all laughed with joy and gratitude and the rush of the Spirit. My heart was full to overflowing.

The author of First John is clear. We know and see God when we love one another. When we love another we enter into the flow of love that comes from God, through Jesus in the power of the Spirit. We don’t have to have perfect faith, complete understanding, or right behavior. We don’t even have to be religious by any institutional definition. “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Or, as the poet, Mary Oliver (a good Episcopalian) writes, “You do not have to be good.  You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You have only to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” (From Wild Geese)

We see God as we grow in love for one another, for all God’s creatures and for the whole earth. We understand the message of God’s love in Scripture as we gather with others in this pilgrimage of faith and wrestle with the questions and concerns we share. We come to belong to a vast community of faith, hope and love as we abide in Christ. Jesus, our vine, nourishes us and connects us to a living faith, a life-giving community and the love of God that surpasses all understanding.

As grand as yesterday’s liturgy was, it is the same form that we celebrate here in our humble little church every week. We gather with the signs of the table of Christ’s welcome and the font of new life. We hear the Scripture and puzzle it out together. We participate in the ancient and ecumenical creed that holds us in community. We pray for one another and the needs of the church, the world and the vulnerable. We share God’s peace and a common meal. And we are sent forth, like Philip, in the power of the Spirit to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

We won’t all be together in this place forever. Some will move away. Some will drift away or get mad and leave. Others will grow sick or die. Our lives will change. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch never saw one another again. And yet. And yet, they and we are bound together in love forever. We have been made part of the Body of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. We have been invited into the school of love in the community where we don’t all have to like each other or be alike but we get to learn how to love one another. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Amen.

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:24-30

1 John 4:7-21

April 1, 2018 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Alleluia!  Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus often occurs in the calendar at about the same time as the annual resurrection of the populace of Seattle. In April we begin to emerge from the tomb, umm… cave of our long winter hibernation. We come out of the darkness into the light. The gloomy tenor of our faces is replaced with a smiling, friendly visage and instead of grey and black, we put on clothes with colors and patterns.

Ferdinand and Isabella, the pair of Mallard ducks that come to St. Luke’s every spring to nest and raise their chicks are back. This year is special since we just completed our Rainwise project with cisterns to catch run off from the roof and a beautiful new rain garden that operates like a pond to filter water naturally back into the water table. The ducks love it!

The new homes for the honey bees are up on the roof. This is the first year they will take residence at St. Luke’s to help pollinate our beautiful SLUG garden, and the new native plants we have added to the landscape. By the end of summer we expect our first harvest of local honey which we will serve in the Edible Hope Kitchen. Our hope is that its healthy properties will combine with the nutritious food and services we offer to 180 guests every weekday morning will be a benefit and a sign of our love and care for folks experiencing homelessness and hunger.

This past week I was reminded of God’s promise from the book of Isaiah. God promises a feast for all peoples, a feast of rich food, of rich food filled with marrow. In the holy days leading up to Easter we had our Maundy Thursday meal in the Edible Hope Kitchen where our fabulous cook, Robert had prepared not just ham, but roast pork and Tuscan chicken. Volunteers, guests and visitors sat around a table to share the meal where the love of Christ is tangibly present. The good news is that the same quality of food and care is served up five days a week, year round, to anyone in need.

These signs of resurrection life and the presence of the risen Christ are all around but we are often prevented from seeing or celebrating them. And we’re not alone. The gospel of Mark ends with the disciples scattered in their fear and discouragement and the women terrified and amazed. The power of God over evil, death and the grave had already taken place that first Easter morning, but no one had yet been able to see or receive it.

Fear, of course, is one of great blinders to resurrection life. Fear prevents us from seeing the other in the light of Christ. It makes us either timid or aggressive. It shuts down our options. It turns others into enemies. Fear prevents us from flourishing, from taking risks, from being vulnerable and therefore, from experiencing the deepest, richest connections of intimacy and love. Fear seized the women at the tomb of Jesus. It temporarily paralyzed them.

But then they are given something to do, something they alone can do. They are given the message of hope. The women are asked to bear the good news first to the disciples and then to the whole world. As they make their way from the tomb, each step creates confidence and strength. By the time they see the resurrected Christ, they have become the apostles he always knew they could be.

Shame, too. It keeps us locked up, unwilling or unable to accept the light of resurrection life. Shame sends us into isolation. Peter, in spite of all his protests and best intentions had denied Jesus three times. The shame of his cowardice cut him off from Jesus and from his friends.

It’s no surprise that the messenger of God instructs the women to tell “his disciples AND Peter.”  Peter needed desperately to hear that he had not lost the love of Jesus. He needed to know that God’s power and the forgiveness of Jesus were greater than the very worst he had done. The hope of the resurrection brings Peter out from hiding and transforms him into the rock and leader that Jesus always knew he could be.

And then there is the betrayer, Judas. By the time of Christ’s resurrection, he was probably already dead by suicide. He had traded the faith, hope and love of Jesus for his own idea of power and privilege. He had substituted a political solution for a transformation of life. He had sold his best beloved for silver to corrupt and venial officials. He was in a despair that led to death.

And yet, even in that dark place, the life of resurrection touches him. Jesus descends to the dead. The resurrection of Jesus has power not only for the living but for the dead. The resurrection defies time and space and makes a way where there was no way. The life of Christ is extended to all for all time and God is not willing that even one should perish, not even the most notorious betrayer in history.

It’s funny how resurrection life keeps popping up where we least expect it. A few months ago I needed to move some furniture here in the sanctuary. As I often do, I went out to the courtyard and into the dining room to ask if any of our guests could help me out. When I first began at St. Luke’s I wasn’t sure how safe it would be to do something like that. Fear and distrust of the homeless is often the result of unexamined prejudice and simple lack of contact and connection. Fear keeps us from seeing the other as a beloved child of God.

A guy in his thirties offered to help me that day. I was on a mission so I marched ahead of him into the sanctuary to get the job done. Suddenly he wasn’t with me. I whirled around but didn’t immediately see him. The lights weren’t on and he wasn’t anywhere in sight. I looked closer and saw his form huddled down  just inside the door, and I immediately was on alert. We were alone in the church. The lights were off. I didn’t even have my phone on me.

As my eyes adjusted, I realized what was going on. He had removed his baseball hat. His hair was dirty since he hadn’t been able to get a shower or do laundry on the weekend, but he had bared his head. He was kneeling and his head was bowed. As he rose up, he dipped his fingers in the holy water of the baptismal font and crossed himself. He had come into this place, this holy space where the presence of the risen Christ is acknowledged in the waters of baptism, in the reserved sacrament of bread and wine and in the light of Christ candle and he fell to his knees to worship. That day he reminded me that the resurrected Christ is alive and going before me. My fear, shame and busyness often prevents me from seeing and responding to God, but nonetheless, Christ is present.

This Easter Day we experience the risen Christ in light. In word and song. In the beauty of the earth and in the beauty of the faces surrounding us. We receive Christ in bread and wine and in the prayers offered by and for us. And we see the light and love of Christ in Skyler and those who love her and present her to God for baptism.

Baptism isn’t about being perfectly clean and pure. Baptism isn’t about what we can understand about God and reciting correct doctrine. Baptism isn’t magic to protect the child from evil and death. Baptism is grace and goodness, the life of the risen Christ offered freely for Skyler and for each one of us. Baptism is a gift from God that acknowledges the power of Christ’s life and love for us, no matter what!  We are given the opportunity of a lifetime to live into it. We are washed daily from shame and freed from fear in the waters of resurrection life. We are given a new beginning over and over again as we follow the way of Christ. Today I am so grateful for Skyler. She shows us the openness of a child, the trust of one who is beloved and hope for the future. It is so easy to see that she is precious and she reminds us that each one of us is precious too, each one of us is the beloved of God.  Her life began in the waters of the womb, is made alive with Christ in the waters of baptism and will be fulfilled when Jesus goes before her and with her into life eternal.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

 

Easter Day, B

Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8