Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Actions speak louder than words. Actions speak louder than words.
In a culture that is either indifferent or resistant to Christianity this Holy Week and the great three days of Easter, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Feast of the Resurrection either go unnoticed or unobserved. Our beautiful liturgies and sermons will have little impact because they will be heard by so few and embraced by such a small percentage of the population. Like the early church which was a beleaguered minority in a majority culture of Roman occupation and religious pluralism, we can only hope that they will say of us as was said of those first Christians, “See how they love one another.”
Actions speak louder than words.
These three days are filled with action. From last Sunday’s palm procession we will engage in rituals that have shaped Christians almost from the beginning. We will wash feet and share a holy meal with Jesus and his followers. We will experience the desolation of emptiness as the sanctuary is stripped of everything festive, everything that speaks of Christ’s presence. Tomorrow we will offer solemn prayers, read the Passion Gospel and touch the rough wood of the cross. Finally on Easter we will rise up rejoicing, singing our Alleluia’s and feasting with the saints throughout history who know the power and glory of the hope of the resurrection.
It is in these actions that we will come closer to the mystery that is Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection and know in our own flesh what it means to be those who follow in his way. We will also receive and renew our commitment to love as he loves, to serve as he serves and to offer ourselves as Jesus offered himself for all humanity. As we live his way of humble service our actions will speak louder than all of our words.
When I was a priest in Nevada our new bishop agreed to join me as the co-chaplain for our high school youth retreat called Teens Encounter Christ. It was a good event and at the end of the 3 day weekend the teens who served on the team were cleaning up the church. I was sitting at my desk in my office taking care of “important” business when teens started trickling in with concerned looks on their faces. “Did you know that Bishop Katharine is vacuuming the church right now?” They didn’t want to get in trouble. They didn’t want her to have to do such a menial task. They knew she was important and had a lot to do. One of the adults wondered if I would speak to her. But I didn’t. Bishop Katharine and I had known one another for a long time. One thing I was certain of is that she would always be the one helping out at any task that needed doing. If you had her over for dinner, she would do the dishes. If you suddenly lost your voice and she was available, she would come and preach for you. If you were a teenager in trouble or a priest with a difficult situation, she would be there for you.
Bishop Katharine who is now the Presiding Bishop for the entire Episcopal Church never forgot the words of Jesus. “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Each of us has an opportunity to be the one who serves others in Christ’s name. It is our holy calling. When we feed others in the name of Christ, we are feeding Jesus himself. When we visit others in prison in the name of Christ, we are visiting Jesus himself. When we pray for others in the name of Christ, Jesus is praying with us.
But there is another side to Christ’s service that can be more difficult for some of us. Not only are we called to serve, but we are asked to receive. You heard Peter struggle with this. He didn’t think that Jesus should be washing anyone’s feet and especially not his. He objected to being served. He either thought he could do it for himself or someone who had a lowly position should be doing it rather than his Lord. He resisted having his feet washed.

The Reverend Canon Britt Olson

The Third Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2015

“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Fifty years ago yesterday was Bloody Sunday. On that day a group of civil rights advocates and many ordinary people attempted to cross a bridge in Alabama on their way to walk to the capitol in order to demand fair voting practices. In response police on horses and with truncheons beat and bludgeoned unarmed citizens, women, young people, the elderly and black civil rights leaders who were committed to non-violent protest. That day the marchers were turned back, fleeing for safety, fleeing for their lives, seemingly overwhelmed and defeated.
It was a day marked by enormous obstacles and steadfast determination. It was a day of horrific violence met by a courageous refusal to retaliate or even practice self defense. It was a day when might seemed to triumph over right and the weak seemed to be defeated by bullies.
But Bloody Sunday did not end the dream of full inclusion for African Americans in the political life of this country. Just a few days later Martin Luther King Jr. led a much larger group of marchers from all over the nation, black and white, old and young, some still with swollen faces, bandages and bruises back over the bridge again. On the other side they were faced by an all white police force mounted on horses and carrying weapons that may still have been bloodied by the earlier attack.
The marchers faced an overwhelming force of power and privilege. They carried only their moral conviction and their solidarity with one another. They marched with faith and with hope and even with love in the face of oppression, hopelessness and hatred. When they reached the edge of the bridge and were face to face with those who had once already inflicted great pain and suffering upon them, Martin Luther King stopped and then knelt down in the middle of the road to pray. Soon those around him knelt as well and the wave passed back through the crowd. Catholics, Muslims, Baptists and atheists knelt to pray. Mothers, grandmothers and high schoolers knelt to pray. A future congressman and a few brave politicians knelt to pray. It was utterly silent as the force of human dignity and belief met the forces of violence and degradation.
The way was cleared. The marchers walked through the gauntlet of police in safety all the way to Montgomery and just 5 months later the President of the United States passed the Voting Rights act to insure that every eligible person in this country would have access to vote for their own governance. It was a triumph in a long march that moves inexorably towards justice and freedom.
For centuries Christians have come face to face with overwhelming challenges in their commitment to follow Jesus by loving God and loving their neighbor. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. Loving God faithfully has resulted in the death of countless martyrs. Loving neighbor as self has meant sacrifice and suffering in many situations. Standing up for justice in the face of oppression has gotten folks beaten, imprisoned and killed. Serving the poor is costly. Caring for the stranger is dangerous. Welcoming the foreigner can be uncomfortable.
In the world where success, power, might and wealth triumph, the way of Jesus seems foolish. In the face of overwhelming obstacles the few, faithful followers of Christ appear to be weak, powerless and unimportant. Imagine how it must have felt in those days in between Bloody Sunday and the decision to return to the bridge in Alabama. Imagine the temptation to give it all up as hopeless and to return home to safety. Imagine the desire to retaliate, carry weapons and fight back. Imagine how terrifying it would be to once again face the hatred and violence that waited on the other side of the bridge.
Those marchers were inspired by Jesus Christ and the centuries of his followers who count the cross, pick up their cross and keep following no matter how weak they feel or how foolish they look. Remember what Jesus said to the disciples as they faced the huge and glorious Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He promised that the Temple would ultimately be destroyed and he predicted that he would ultimately be put to death, but he also reassured them with the hope of resurrection. In the face of certain suffering and death, Jesus proclaimed the hope of new life. In the face of the sin and evil of this world, Jesus offered the enduring righteousness of God. In the darkest hour when all seemed to be lost, Jesus told them to look for the light.
The Temple was destroyed. Jesus went to the cross and died. But three days later the power of the resurrection overcame death, hopelessness, evil and darkness. And the Body of Christ is still alive even to this day in the presence of his followers who continue to carry their cross on the way to death and resurrection.
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
Dear people of God at St. Luke’s, Ballard, we are facing an overwhelming situation. We cannot maintain the buildings and programs here with our current resources. By the world’s standards we are weak with few human and financial resources. By the world’s standards we are foolish, dedicating ourselves to the least, the last and the lost in the middle of a neighborhood that wants to cater to the wealthy and successful, the best and the brightest. The temples of new construction and commerce threaten to tear down the sanctuary where so many have experienced the power of God’s Spirit.
We don’t know what the future holds for us. We do know that what is eternal is not built with human hands and can never be destroyed. We do know that the physical body of Jesus Christ was put to death on the cross but that the Body of Christ is alive and well everywhere that Christians pick up their own cross to follow him. We do know that Spirit can never be taken from us whatever our circumstances and the call to mission in this place with these neighbors continues no matter what.
And so we are called to be faithful. We are called to stop in the middle of the road and to get down on our knees and to pray. We are called to trust the power of the Holy Spirit rather than our own power. And we will need to be open to see where that Spirit will lead. It will mean that life as it has been at St. Luke’s will be changed but not ended. It will mean that there will be death as well as resurrection. It will require us to welcome the stranger, to love all of our neighbors, not just the homeless. It will require continued courage and willingness to sacrifice.
But we are not alone. We live with faith because we know that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. We pray because we trust that God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. And we live in hope because we know that God’s power has overcome death and the grave and brought us to life in the resurrection of Jesus.

The Reverend Canon Britt Olson

February 8, 2015 | The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

by the Rev. Robert C. Laird

Today’s reading from Marks’ Gospel
picks up right where we left off last week,
continuing a story that has already started;
it’s like we’re watching an old movie serial—
“previously, on Mark’s Gospel…”

Jesus has just called his disciples to join him,
and then they went to the synagogue in Capernaum,
where Jesus started teaching.

While there, Jesus encounters a man possessed,
and Jesus heals the man,
which is where we pick up our story today.

After leaving the synagogue,
they go back to Peter and Andrew’s house,
and where Peter’s mother-in-law is.

She has a fever,
and is so sick that she is confined to her bed.

Now, imagine for a minute
that you were sick in bed with a fever,
and your son-in-law comes home
bringing with him four men,
whom you’ve never met.

It’s safe to imagine that she was not thrilled to see them.

They told Jesus about her at once,
and Jesus went to her,
took her hand, raised her up, and healed her.

Note the next sentence:
“The fever left her, and she served them.”

She must have been so pleased,
this woman,
to have a son-in-law
who could meet such a nice guy like Jesus,
invite him over to her house
while she was sick with a ridiculous fever,
and heal her with just the touch of his hand,
so she could get back into the kitchen
and make dinner for them.

It’s easy to see this as another example
of women in the Bible getting short shrift,
a woman without a name,
only known because she’s Peter’s mother-in-law,
and how often do mother-in-law stories
make the woman in question look good?

In this light,
this story fits right in with the countless others
throughout Christian history,
in which women make the ministry of the men possible,
and get no credit for it at all;
just think of the countless women
it would have taken to keep Jesus’ band of roving men
fed and cared for while the men
“[went] to the neighboring towns,
so that [Jesus might] proclaim the message there also,
for that is what [he] came to do.”

 

But perhaps there is another way to view this story.

Simon Peter’s mother-in-law,
lying sick in her bed with a fever,
sees that Jesus has come to visit her,
along with the disciples that are there with him.

And Jesus does something unthinkable:
he reaches out and touches her.

The story doesn’t have him talking to her;
it’s not like a hospital where he’d say
“Hi, my name is Jesus,
I’m the Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,
and I’m here to help you with your fever.
I’d like to take you by the hand
and lift you up,
if you’re okay with that.”

Instead, Jesus walks in,
when Simon Peter lets him know that she’s ill,
and he lifts her up,
and he heals her.

Jesus doesn’t have to say anything,
he just heals her,
and she gets up to serve them.

Getting up to serve them
shows that she is healed,
that the fever has left her fully;
and we can also hope it also shows her gratitude,
that the transformation she experienced
simply by touching Jesus’s hand,
and being raised up by him,
led her to service in the way that she was able;
our of her recognition of what Jesus has done for her
comes an act of service,
simple and pure.

And what’s more, her gratitude
pours out of her being healed on the Sabbath;
Jesus transgressed in his healing,
at least according to the customs of the day,
in order to heal this woman,
and in her gratitude,
she got up to serve him,
again, in transgression of the Sabbath,
because that gratitude came pouring out of her,
and she couldn’t help but serve them.

This mother-in-law’s act of service
is sharply contrasted with her own son-in-law’s behavior
just a few verses later.

“That evening, at sundown,
they brought to him all who were sick,
or possessed with demons,”
Mark tells us.

The disciples waited until the Sabbath had ended,
and then they went and got everyone.

One can imagine that Jesus may have been inundated
by the crowds,
and the Gospel says that everyone was there,
but that he cured many of them;
he couldn’t get to them all,
and had to leave to pray,
to strengthen and recharge himself
after the work he’d done.

And for taking the break that he needed,
the Disciples snap at him,
“Everyone is searching for you…”
having hunted him down.

Unlike the gratitude that Peter’s mother-in-law showed,
we see in this response only anxiety,
“There’s more people to heal, Jesus,
how can you take a break now?”
which is easy for them to say,
since they’re not the ones doing the work.

It’s worth noting
that Jesus can’t heal everyone in this story;
there are more people left that need healing,
there outside Peter’s door.

Jesus needs to recharge his battery
and take time for worship and reflection
before he can go on to cast out more demons,
and heal more people in the surrounding towns.

It’s an important message for us, too,
who in our own culture
feel compelled at times
to do more, and keep busy,
so we can avoid letting other people down.

Jesus is clear from the first
that he can’t do everything the Disciples want him to,
and that he needs to stay focused on his mission,
on his work.

We also need to stay focused on Jesus,
to keep our own business and work balanced
with time of reflection, prayer, and quiet.

The things that vie for attention in our lives
may not be all the sick people in a town
gathered at our door to be healed,
but the people and things in our lives
can be just as demanding as Jesus encountered today,
and the pressures we feel can be as strong
as a group of disciples hunting us down
to ask “Where have you been?”

Doing the work we’re called to,
and leaving enough time for us to care for ourselves
is a balancing act that can feel impossible.

But the response of Peter’s mother-in-law is telling:
Her service rose out of her heart,
when she rose from her sickbed;
She couldn’t help but respond to Jesus,
because Jesus had healed her.

When our service is a response to Jesus,
as opposed to a response to the pressures
of the world around us,
we can be sustained,
and find time for prayer,
and be the disciples that we are called by Christ to be,
instead of the disciples that the world
would prefer us to be,
which isn’t the same thing.

I would invite you this week
to spend even a brief moment in prayer each day,
time to re-center yourself
and listen to Christ,
and the call he has given you.

Let your service this week come from your deep gratitude,
and not from what the world expects from you,
in Jesus’ name.

August 10, 2014 | The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

by the Rev. Robert C. Laird

Growing up in Minnesota, I was involved as a musician in a youth program called Teens Encounter Christ, which is modeled on Cursillo.

On these weekends, I often heard the spiritual director of the weekend, a priest named Fr. Jim, tell the story of his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) experience while he was in seminary.

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