Streams in the Desert, The Rev. Canon Britt Olson – December 11, 2016

The people in the Bible are no strangers to fear, distress and despair. They know what it means to wait and wait and wait for God’s promises to come to pass. They are the ones who long for things to change for the better. They hope that the way things are now are not the way they will always be. The people of the Bible, who are after all the people of God, are Advent people. Those in the Hebrew Scriptures are expecting a Messiah and the restoration of Jerusalem as the great City of God. And those who have experienced Jesus as the Messiah in times of great tribulation and difficulty are waiting for his return.

During their time of waiting, sorrow and sighing have laid claim to them. Isaiah writes to a people in exile. They have been forced from their homes, removed from the holy city of Jerusalem, where they have worshipped for centuries in the Temple. They have been taken into captivity in a foreign land where they have been forced into slavery. They are without familiar landmarks and in danger of losing even their identity because so much that matters most to them has been stripped away.

 

As their time of exile continues, those who remember Jerusalem are getting older. They are losing their eyesight and their hearing. They have been made lame by hard labor and long travel. Their hands have become weak, and their knees are feeble. They are the only ones who remember what it was like to ascend to the mount of the Lord and to enter the courts of the Temple. They alone can describe what the streets looked like and the special foods tasted like. The customs and rituals that bound them together as a people of God are slipping away, and they are the last to hold onto them.

Meanwhile their home is falling apart. It is becoming a wilderness, a dry and arid place. The city is falling into ruin. They are afraid and anxious.  All that they hoped for, all that God promised appears to be slipping away.

Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist is experiencing something similar.  He finds himself in a small cell in one of Herod’s rural jails, waiting to be executed. The man who traveled freely, living in the wilderness, roaming free, is now in prison. The mighty prophet whose message was heard by the thousands of people who flocked to him is silent and isolated.

He had always been so sure about his message. He was clear about who he was and what his role was and he was certain about Jesus, so certain that St. Luke tells the story that John actually jumped in the womb when his expectant mother came near a pregnant Mary. Tentative and doubtful are words that had never been applied to John the Baptist.

Yet, here he is in prison, asking his disciples to convey to Jesus the most plaintive of questions, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Can you imagine it?  Certain, confident John now wonders if everything he worked and sacrificed for was worth it. And if Jesus doesn’t turn out to be what John expected, John won’t have any time left to wait for another to come. His own death is imminent.

Into the lives of desperate and despairing people, God speaks words of hope and accomplishes deeds of deliverance. This is what God has been doing for God’s people since the world began. God speaks and a garden comes into being where before there had been a barren desert. God acts and the blind see, the lame walk and the wounded are healed. God makes a way for those who have been in exile to return and be restored.

God speaks in Jesus. God acts in Jesus.

When John is despairing and alone, Jesus sends a message to him. It is a message to restore hope and to provide comfort, but also to open John’s eyes to something more. John had expectations of what God’s coming Kingdom would be like. And he certainly had ideas of what God’s Messiah would be and do. His vision probably included cleaning up corruption, restoring righteous leadership, clearing out the Roman occupiers and setting up a just government. He had been working pretty hard to get people ready for the changes that were coming. As a model for this new rule, there could be no one better qualified than John. In the Kingdom of Righteousness and Justice that he proclaimed, he set the standard. Think of it: he was a vegetarian on a strict diet. He lived simply with almost no possessions. He was celibate, utterly devoted to his religious practice and regular in prayer and fasting. He was the first citizen of a renewed and restored religious order. And he thought Jesus would make it all happen.

Instead Jesus confounded him. He spent all his time with outcasts, the sick and disabled. He seemed to break a number of religious rules and ignore some religious practices. His diet seemed to be a bit heavy on wine and frequent feasting, often with some unsavory characters. Jesus didn’t even have as many followers as John did. John at least had spoken out publicly against Herod’s adultery, even if it had landed him in prison. While John was suffering, Jesus wasn’t living up to his expectations.

But you know that Jesus loves John and he admires him. He sends messengers to console him. Using words from Isaiah he reminds John that the Kingdom is often revealed in the most intimate and personal ways as God restores sight, heals the lame, cleanses the leper and raises the dead. He knows what John is facing. After all, Jesus himself will face a similar fate. Both of them will die. But Jesus knows that God is present here and now as people experience God together.

And then Jesus does one other thing for John. He affirms him in public. He tells the people that John is the last great prophet and the messenger of the new age. Jesus is certain that there is no other human being who has been truer to the ideals of righteousness and justice in this world. But the best of the kingdoms of this world cannot compare to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is calling all of us into.

In his kingdom, even the least, the last and the lost are great. In the Kingdom of Jesus the weak are made strong, the sorrowful are comforted, the sinner is redeemed and the despairing are restored to hope. Ultimately even death will be conquered.

And the best news that Jesus brings is that this all begins now. It’s all happening here. The Kingdom is present when Christ is near. Jesus opens the kingdom for John while he waits alone in a prison cell. The Kingdom opens later for Jesus while he hangs on a cross. And the Kingdom is present for us no matter how much sorrow or sighing we have experienced.

A few years ago a good friend of mine was dying, too young and too quickly from rapidly metastasizing cancer. He had been in exile from the church for years because he had been deeply hurt. As a gay man and a pastor he lived in silence and in fear until he couldn’t take it anymore. He always found something to criticize when he visited a church, and he was both witty and sad in his caustic commentary on how the church fell short of its ideals. One of the churches he had tried and rejected was one that was very familiar to me. As his condition worsened he longed for communion and for community. He began to come for the Eucharist as he was able. He asked if someone could offer the newcomer’s classes to him personally since he couldn’t be present for them. He started to receive home communion and pastoral visits.

In the midst of terrible desolation, pain and fear, he found his greatest comfort in the words of Scripture, the sacraments and in the community that loved and accepted him with open arms. He began to plan his funeral, trusting that the community that had welcomed him home would be willing to mark his passage into his eternal home.

My friend wasn’t cured of cancer. John the Baptist never got out of prison until they lead him out to be beheaded. Jesus’ journey took him to the cross. But in the midst of those circumstances God opens eyes and ears to the Kingdom of Heaven where love, joy, freedom and healing are the deepest reality. God was present for my friend in ways that healed his soul and restored him to communion. Jesus was present for John to strengthen and encourage him during his final days. And God will be present to you, good people, through all the changes and chances of this world, and we will all return with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon our heads; we shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Amen.

 

3 Advent, Year C                                                 December 11, 2016

Isaiah 35:1-10                                                      St. Luke’s, Ballard

Matthew 11:2-11                                                  Britt Olson

December 4, 2016 – Walking a New Path, The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Provisions for the Journey – what a wonderful theme the Stewardship Team chose for St Luke’s first annual pledge campaign in many years. Borrowing an image from the radio station KPLU, which recently became KNKX, St. Luke’s is a 125-year-old start-up!  We’re definitely on a journey filled with challenges, opportunities, excitement and anxiety.

Today as we celebrate the gathering-in of the provisions we need for this journey, it’s appropriate that we are in Advent, the season of both endings and beginnings, of remembering the past and moving towards a new future. With the Advent characters of John the Baptizer, Mary the young peasant girl, Joseph the carpenter and the great prophet Isaiah we look for light and hope in the midst of days that are often dark and troubled. We search for the path forward when it doesn’t always appear clear or we’re not sure which direction we should be heading.

This is often how it is when you start off in a new direction in life. Maybe you’ve made a move to a new place and you’re learning to find your way around when the streets and the people are unfamiliar. Or maybe you’re in the same city but your living situation has changed. Sometimes the new path forward begins with a pregnancy or adoption.

Other times a death brings you to a fork in the road and unfamiliar territory. The ending or beginning of a job, a change in your health, a new relationship or the collapse of an old one; all these events can result in a change of direction, a new course, an unfamiliar path.

Internal changes can be just as powerful as external ones in determining direction.  A spiritual awakening at any age can upend everything you had planned. A faith crisis might cause you to question everything you had accepted previously. New insights, new questions, fresh eyes open new paths and uncharted territory.

Advent, the coming of Jesus, even the promise of the coming of Jesus changes lives. In the time of the prophets, it is this vision of God’s peaceable kingdom that gives hope and resilience to a people who were threatened and overwhelmed by violence, death, destruction and wickedness.

That vision, that promise and prophecy of the coming Christ, is like a shining star providing guidance and direction through the centuries. It orients God’s people to the hope of peace and the end of violence and destruction. It motivates us to wait and watch and work for its fulfillment. It drove John the baptizer into the wilderness with a radical willingness to leave nearly everything behind in order to be ready to embrace the coming of God’s promise.

Often that’s when our journey starts, when we choose to or have to leave behind most of what we’ve relied on or held onto. John’s message of repentance is one of letting go and re-orientation. It’s like the preparation for a big move when you hold a huge rummage sale, donate to Goodwill and post stuff on Craig’s list.  It’s the changing of patterns and behaviors that keep you from moving in the direction you need to go. It’s getting help for your drinking, letting go of the bitterness of a broken relationship, practicing generosity in the midst of anxiety over money. It may mean abandoning beliefs and ways of thinking that no longer fit with the vision of God’s kingdom.

This letting go and re-orientation sometimes needs to happens around our relationship to money. It’s easy to spend our energy trying to get more and worrying about what we don’t have. We get trapped into comparing our possessions and lifestyle to others. Instead of being free to give and receive openly, we find ourselves holding tighter.

Repentance around money begins when we start to let go, even just a little – when we practice generosity and thankfulness. For me and many others, it’s like packing for a trip and realizing there is too much to fit into the suitcase. I can either try to get a bigger bag or give up some of what I think I need. Giving as a practice, giving as a spiritual discipline, is a type of repentance that leads to freedom.

Like most people I started with a tiny percentage.  When I realized that I had grown to pledge 10% of my income, there was even more freedom for indulging a “generous impulse.” The more I give and grow in trust, the more I recognize how much I have been given. Often we’re encouraged to give because we have been given so much. I find that the more I give, the more I realize I am receiving.

Repentance happens when we come to the end of our road, when we’re forced to choose a new way, when we abandon the path that no longer leads to life.  Repentance often puts us in a wilderness place first before we are able to take steps towards the promised future. Repentance may put us on our knees before we are given the strength to rise to our feet and begin anew. Repentance is the message of John but it is a message of preparation, not a destination in itself. Repentance prepares the way for the promised Christ to enter in. Repentance is never the goal or the end but rather the beginning to a wild journey with God’s Spirit. It begins in the wilderness, but the journey leads towards the land of promise.

Last week I went for a hike in what once was beautiful wilderness but then became a place of destruction. In the early 20th century, most of the forest around Hood Canal was clear cut. Trees over 200 years old were cut down, leaving tall stumps and cleared land. For many years I imagine the land was bleak with little that was green and growing. A few big fir trees were left in hope that they might seed a new forest, but other species grew in faster.

As I walked the trails I was thinking about this sermon.  I was also thinking about last week’s sermon from Phyllis, reminding me to get out where the green things are! I came around a bend in the trail and in front of me was a huge Douglas Fir stump, nearly 10 feet high. The tree must have been old and gigantic. For over 100 years that stump stood there. It was dead, useless, truncated, a sad reminder of what used to be. It was present during those barren years after the land had been cleared. It was present as new and different species began to grow up around it. It was a lifeless reminder of a once great old growth forest.

But recently something changed. After over a century, right out of the center of the stump, a new shoot was growing. It was probably 15 feet high and 6 inches around.  New life. New hope. New beginning. There was a sign nearby saying “nurse tree” but I kept hearing the words of Isaiah in my head, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”

New growth emerges from the dead stump. Flowers bloom in the desert, and springs well up in the wilderness. Life comes out from the tomb of death and darkest despair. The promised Christ has come, is coming and will come again and again to breathe the Spirit into us and to restore hope.

God is the one who provides for our journey. God gives us everything we need for the way ahead. Look around. Here is light for the darkness. Here is food for the hungry, the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Here are companions on the way, surprising company for the trip. Here are the prophets who point to the truth. Here are the saints and disciples whose lives encourage and inspire us. Here are the waters of baptism in which we are reborn to new life and renewed for service.  Here are the words and stories to guide us. And here is the Word, the root of Jesse, the promised One, the hope of Israel and the good news to Gentiles.

Where will the journey take you? Where will it take St. Luke’s? Only God knows.  But God has already provided all we need for the way ahead. Yes, we will have to let go of what hurts us and others. There will be times of wilderness and wandering, there will be challenges and dangers. But we are to hold fast to the promise of God, the promise that has come to us in Christ and will come again and again.

The benediction or blessing for Morning and Evening prayer comes from the passage in Romans that we heard for today. It is especially appropriate for this season of Advent, this time of waiting and longing and preparing for the journey ahead.

“’The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Advent 2, Year A                                                          December 4, 2016

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-19                                    St. Luke’s, Ballard

Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12                            Britt Olson

November 20, 2016; The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Proper 29, Year C

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Like many of you, I’m still processing our recent election. The reaction to an outcome that was unexpected for most people has run the gamut. One universal response is that this election has shaken things up. When so many of the journalists, pollsters, pundits and predictors “got it wrong,” it’s hard to know where to turn for wisdom and understanding.

Over many centuries, a major source of comfort, wisdom and perspective for God’s people has been the Psalms. This book of songs, prayers and poetry covers the breadth of human experience and emotion. There are psalms for celebration and for lament. There are angry psalms and joyous psalms. There are psalms that deal with the intensely personal and others more concerned with the political. Often all of these aspects and more are expressed in the same psalm. When we read or recite psalms we are praying the prayers and singing the songs that our ancestors in the faith have prayed and sung for millennia.

It took me a while to turn to the psalms in order to deal with my own response to recent events. One of my favorites is Psalm 46, which we recited together today. It begins with those most comforting words, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Sometimes the events that shake up our world are natural disasters. The psalm describes the movement of the earth and mountains being toppled into the depths of the sea. I’m reminded of the destruction and disruption that the landslide in Oso a few years ago caused. I’m also personally aware of the shock and devastation a huge earthquake can cause. When I was a little girl in Alaska, our family lived through the largest recorded earthquake in North American history. There are floods and fires, tsunamis, hurricanes and even very large storms that disrupt lives and are really, really scary.

The psalmist also writes about waters that rage and foam and mountains that tremble. Those who try to prepare us for disaster say that Puget Sound is a likely location for a big earthquake, a tsunami or both. And even though I’ve begun storing water in the garage, these possibilities don’t really worry me… yet.

Right now it’s my dreams that cause turmoil. I’m in a boat that has lost power and is being tossed by the waves. I’m tumbling about in the surf unsure of which way is up or down. I wake up startled and disoriented with my heart pounding. And when I have the sense to pray, the words come again.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Once again nations make much ado and kingdoms are shaken. Some of our leaders and guides have turned out to be flawed and false. There is nothing new here. Jeremiah wrote about bad shepherds who divide the sheep and scatter them so that they are vulnerable and lost. He warned against leaders who are only interested in their own gain. He lamented over God’s precious people, the sheep and lambs who are taken advantage of and who are afraid, dismayed and lost.

In the midst of turmoil, despair and danger God makes us this promise. God promises to be with us. God will bring together those that have been scattered and divided. God will raise up shepherds who protect the most vulnerable, who stand up against those who would fleece the sheep and use them for their own gain. God will seek out the lost and the missing. God will execute righteousness and justice and stand against corruption and deceit.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Here’s the shocking thing. God has done and is already doing this but in ways that are very different from our ways. God does all this in Christ Jesus. God is with us in the one who was crucified, died and is risen. God works in weakness. God demonstrates glory, not on a gilded throne but on a wooden cross. God changes the world, not by retaliation, attack or defense but by the sacrificial, self-offering of the crucified One.

The whole world was watching as Jesus hung on the cross. Roman soldiers whose power came from their weapons and military might found in Christ a different kind of power that awed them and brought some of them to their knees. Weak and unprincipled religious and political leaders cynically posted a sign proclaiming the seemingly weak and powerless Jesus as the “King of the Jews” not knowing that their positions of power would pass away and that Christ would reign for ever and ever.

Jesus, who had been betrayed, denied, beaten, bullied and bloodied demonstrated real power as he proclaimed a message that continues to ring through the centuries, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  The Good Shepherd of all the sheep stretched out his arms of love on the cross and embraced the whole world–all of us who are failed and flawed–in the arms of his embrace. At the end of his life, in the most horrific circumstances when it seemed like the whole world had gone mad to execute the Lord of love, Jesus shared the message of God’s Kingdom, the paradise where he is with us today, this day and always.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

November 13, 2016, The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Proper 28, Year C; Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thess. 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Today is an interesting one in the life of any preacher whose church uses the common lectionary. You see, we’ve come to the back of the book, the final pages, the end of the road in terms of the preaching cycle. The church year concludes next week and the new year begins with Advent the week after. On top of the conclusion of the yearly calendar, we are coming to the end of a 3-year cycle of readings. We’re at the bottom of the barrel.

In other words, I didn’t choose the Scripture you just heard and are holding in your hands. I never get to choose what to preach on. Together we wrestle with the breadth and depth of human experience and God’s message as we find it in the Bible. One can only hope and pray for God to speak to us both individually and collectively through the words of Scripture in our own time.

And boy do we need to hear God speak now! We’ve come to the end of an election cycle but we have yet to begin a new administration. It is a time of radical transition. We are living in the aftermath of one of the most stunning elections in history. It seems as if most of the people and institutions we have counted on are reeling from the unpredictability and divisiveness of this process. Many of you are overwhelmed.  Some are fearful, some hopeful.

Enormous amounts of distrust and suspicion have been uncovered in our nation and are continuing to increase. Many people are in varying stages of grief and loss.  Much is unclear.

We are a people living in a time of upheaval, not only in our own country, but around the globe. The world we thought we knew has ended, and it’s not clear what the new one will be like. This may produce anxiety or anticipation. Some things are being cast down and others are being raised up, and it’s not at all clear what it will be like when and if the dust finally settles.

The people of God have been here before. In fact, this experience is common enough that there is a title for various passages in the Bible that describe it. We call these passages of Scripture, apocalyptic literature. The word apocalypse literally means “revelation.” In apocalyptic times the events that happen disclose what is going on beyond and behind history. The inspired writer describes what is really real and truly true in the face of forces, powers and events that seem overwhelming and enormous. Every year these apocalyptic writings are assigned to the weeks just before and during the Advent season. They are the wake-up calls that alert us to the fact that everything may not be OK, that we need to keep our eyes open, to pay attention and to stand up for the right and the true.

It’s not that we know or think that the end of the world is imminent. Jesus warns people often not to worry about figuring that out. There have been many previous times that have been experienced as world ending. In fact, major historical crises trigger end-of-the-world thinking.  We can’t predict what will occur. Much seems unclear. What is ending for sure, is the world we thought we knew. And that may be terrifying.

In addition there is an element of judgement in apocalyptic literature. God will pronounce a verdict on failed persons and institutions. “The arrogant and evildoers will be stubble” as Malachi predicts. Those systems that degrade and devalue all that God loves will pass away. Ways we had become comfortable with, or taken for granted, or failed to see are exposed when they fail to protect the ones for whom God is deeply concerned. Injustices that had become ingrained are dramatically overturned.

Jesus pointed all this out.  He warned people that some of the institutions that seemed most solid and powerful, like the massive Jerusalem temple, would be torn down and utterly destroyed. He predicted the strife, wars, natural disasters and terrifying events that befall humanity all too frequently. He knew his followers might become scared, confused, discouraged, overwhelmed, defensive, violent or faithless. He even knew they might face persecution and suffering.

And so he called on them to do what needed to be done, and he promised that they would not be alone, and he reminded them that what is really real and truly true can never be taken away. He told them that they would be witnesses: witnesses to hope in the face of despair; witnesses to God’s love in the face of hatred; witnesses to the value of every human being, particularly the most vulnerable, the poor, women, those not in the majority, those scorned by cultural prejudice, children, refugees and immigrants who are strangers in the land; the despised, the different, the disabled. He let them know that they could stand up in the face of overwhelming challenges, that they would speak up with words that come from the deepest place of the spirit and that he would be with them forever.

We are those who have the Spirit of Jesus alive in our very bodies. We are called by him to pray and witness and serve in his name, whatever the circumstances, no matter how overwhelming the situation is. We may be called to great acts of sacrifice but usually we’re asked to perform small and frequent acts of faith and compassion. When Martin Luther was asked about the possible end of the world during the time of the Protestant Reformation and the threats and violence that movement unleashed, he responded, “If tomorrow is the Day of Judgement, then today I want to plant an apple tree.”

This week Sara opened the Chapel early on Wednesday morning for those who wanted a quiet place for prayer. A couple of our guests, Keith and Pete, asked if they might join me. For over 30 minutes they were on their knees.  Mine couldn’t hold out that long. We prayed silently. We prayed out loud. And after some time, I felt the Spirit in my spirit. The Spirit has a pretty good track record in our historical chapel! They felt it too and both mentioned it to me later. An African American Pentecostal man, a white ex-con, and an exhausted middle-aged preacher drew close to God and therefore closer to one another in the presence of the living Christ. When it felt like we were done, we all wanted to do more. Pete helped with the garbage, Keith went to help some people outside, and I started scrubbing pots.  Prayer, service, testimony. They may not seem like much in the face of enormous change and challenge but through prayer, service, testimony — and endurance, –Jesus promises, you will gain your souls.

We will not be overtaken by the forces which dehumanize and denigrate the children of God. We will be given by the Spirit of Jesus the strength and the courage to stand “against the rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.”  (Ephesians 6:12) We will not cease to pray in the Spirit at all times. We will not cease to do good and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Regardless of the changes and chances of this life, we will rest in the eternal changelessness of God.

We will persevere in the power of the resurrection. We will put our trust in the One who made the Pleiades and Orion, who brings light out of darkness and has conquered death.

Let me close with a favorite prayer, “O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal.”  Amen.

November 6, 2016; Sara Bates

Proper 27, Year C

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

The Sadducees in today’s gospel reading are scared – scared that a young Jewish teacher is gaining too big of a following.  A following that might listen to him as he speaks against the way they run the Temple, upending the tables of merchants inside its walls.  The Sadducees, you see, were the ones who had authority over the Temple and were responsible for ensuring its place as a house of prayer.  But Jesus accuses them of making it “a den of robbers” in the chapter just preceding today’s reading.  It is no wonder then that the Sadducees are looking for a way to discredit, incarcerate or kill Jesus without infuriating the crowds.

Because Sadducees followed the teachings of just the first 5 books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, which is not explicitly mentioned.  Jesus on the other hand, like the Pharisees and many other faithful Jews, believed and taught his followers that the resurrection of the dead would happen.  Thus this was the topic they chose to try and trap Jesus with. They use the example of a levirate marriage, from the law of Deuteronomy 25:5-6,”If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.  The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

But of course, they are also trying to mock Jesus, so they say that not only did the wife have to marry one of her husband’s brothers, but six of them. – each dying before she could bear a child, and thus having to marry the next brother in line till none were left and she herself died. So the Sadducees ask, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

In unusual fashion, Jesus responds not with a question, but with a statement “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”

In other words, the resurrected life is not a continuation of this life, but a new life.  Life as a child of God; a life where marriage is unnecessary.

For in the time of the Old Testament and that of Jesus, marriage was necessary.  Many of us are likely aware that marriage at that time was a means of obtaining and protecting property, of increasing safety and security, and also a way of continuing one’s life and name beyond one’s own mortality, through the production of children.  This is more than apparent in the law of the levirate marriage.  For when a husband dies without having produced a son to carry on his name, the widow is not discarded or pushed aside, but instead remains in the protection of her husband’s family through marriage with a brother-in-law. The widow even has the authority to publicly shame the brother-in-law who refuses his duty.

The truth is, marriage is still seen as being important in today’s society.  Perhaps not in the same way, as when women were considered to have no worth outside of their male relatives and men needed children in order for their names to live on.  Yet marriage is often still seen as something one must do to be considered good and successful, as well as things like getting a college degree, having children, and owning a home.  Trust me as a single, childless woman, who doesn’t own her own home, it still matters.

But that’s why Jesus’ response is so important!! He is saying that in the resurrected life, we will be children of God, living under the perfect protection, peace and love of God.  There is hope in the resurrection of a life that is based on God and not on our society’s economics, patriarchy, misogyny, and racism.  There is hope in a new resurrected life that is not a continuation of this one.

We aren’t told exactly what that will look like, I doubt it is all of us sitting on clouds in the sky, but we still can have faith that it will be better.  But what are the actual things we want to be better?  What changes would we like to see in the new life?

Then I ask the question, why should we sit around and dream about how life will be better after we die? Instead, we should go out and make it better today in this life.  As Karoline Lewis says, “How we imagine resurrected life gives us a glimpse into what matters for our lives here and now.  What we want resurrection life to be is, in part, what we want or wish life to be now.  We can spend a lot of energy asking about or imagining the details of eternal life, or, we can channel that energy toward how the security of its promise might make a difference for how we choose to live now.”

If we imagine a life with God to be one where all have shelter, why don’t we go out and work for affordable housing for all.  If in the resurrected life we imagine sparkling rivers of clean water, then we could stand today with the Water Protectors in Standing Rock. We can today raise our voices in proclaiming #BlackLivesMatter, encourage and support more women to run for political office, apply for higher wage jobs and actually paying them the same as we pay men. We don’t have to wait.

We don’t have to wait; for today the resurrected Body of Christ surrounds us.  The Kingdom of God breaks through in our worship today, in the singing, in the prayers, and in the Eucharist.  God sees us as our full selves, and calls us to see ourselves and each other in the same light.  And in the words of Paul to the Thessalonians, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”

 

October 9, 2016; The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Proper 23, Year C

2 Kings 5:1-15; Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Did you pay attention to the words of our opening hymn? Maybe you were just trying to figure out the tune and keep up with Ivar. Maybe you generally don’t sing in public. Since it’s a fairly new hymn by a living composer, it may not have been familiar to you. And since it’s in the Lutheran Hymnal you may have never encountered it before although we have sung it at St. Luke’s a time or two. It’s a hymn I really like.

This past summer I got to work with the composer at a conference in Albuquerque. My husband Bryon and I were planning the worship and Marty Haugen, who composed the hymn was the musician. At a workshop he led, he told the story of how the hymn came to be written.

Marty is actually a member of the UCC church. He was commissioned by a Catholic parish to write a hymn for the opening of their newly renovated sanctuary. Since the construction took a long time, Marty had a chance to get to know the people of the congregation and to hear about their hopes and vision for their church. He knew that one of the primary changes they wanted to make was to open up the worship space to the entry way and the baptismal font.

The plan was to make the walls out of glass and to expand the font to an actual baptismal pool with running water. In fact, he showed us the photo of how they accomplished this.

The reason they did this was because they wanted everyone to know two things when they came to church. The first is that this congregation welcomed everyone. In fact they are one of the most diverse parishes in the city with people from every walk of life. They actively welcome people from the LGBTQ community. Their commitment to this practice brings us to the second thing they wanted everyone to know when coming to the church. The waters of baptism are central to Christian identity. It is through this new birth into the Spirit of Jesus that we are made One Body in Christ. It is in baptism that we drink the new life of God’s Spirit. And it is in baptism that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

So Marty wrote a hymn and this is one of the verses:

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat: 

a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, thorough Jesus, is revealed in time and space;

as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: 

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We are people who want and need signs of God’s love and favor. Think of Naaman, the proud, rich and powerful commander of the Syrian army in our first lesson. He wanted and needed to be healed of his leprosy, a hideously disfiguring and debilitating disease. In fact he came to his enemy’s land, the land of Israel in order to locate the small town prophet that a young Israeli slave girl had recommended to his wife. He came expecting that he would need to do something heroic and pay an enormous sum in order to get the prophet to work a miracle for him. Because he was such an important figure and had brought such vast wealth, he expected that he would be received as more important and valuable than anyone else who came to Elisha, the man of God.

But Elisha doesn’t treat Naaman any differently than anyone else in need. He sends servants to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the Jordan River, the river that hundreds of years later, Jesus would be baptized in. And Naaman was offended. He thought he should get more attention, more honor, special treatment. If it wasn’t for his brave and persistent servants, he would have stormed home unhealed and bitter, spoiling for a fight. Instead he follows the prophet’s directions and is completely healed. He is shocked and transformed. And the shock continues when Elisha refuses to accept any payment for the healing. All the credit goes to God. This healing is a gift from God.

Or think of the 10 lepers who came to Jesus for healing. This time, unlike many others, he doesn’t touch them but instead instructs them to head off to the priest so that they can be declared clean and restored to their community. They are healed before they even arrive. Their lives are completely changed and made new. They are no longer outcasts and objects of pity. The healing is the gift of God.  They didn’t have to do anything heroic, or beg or manipulate or pay Jesus off.

One of the ten is different from the others. All were healed but not all were transformed. One of them, a despised Samaritan whose people were considered to be religiously and culturally impure, wants more than just healing. His heart is so full of joy and amazement, he doesn’t complete the trek to the priest but instead turns around and returns to the source of the healing. He comes to Jesus full of praise and thanksgiving and throws himself at Jesus’s feet. God is working in the grateful outcast and the reluctantly obedient stranger.

So who is part of God’s family? Does it really include violent enemies and despised members from groups we disagree with? That’s one of the questions baptism and Marty’s hymn answers for us. God’s Kingdom seems to encompass all who receive the gift of God’s love and mercy and demonstrate their reception by their gratitude. It is this gratitude and worship of God that is at the heart of those who have become part of the Body of Christ.

In fact, “The root of joy is gratefulness… It is not joy that makes us grateful:  it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”  Bro. David Stendl-Rast OSB.

Here’s another verse from Marty’s hymn:

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone

To heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.

Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;

Let us bring an end to fear and danger;

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We get lots of opportunity to practice this joyful welcome here at St. Luke’s through the Edible Hope feeding ministry, our SHARE shelter, the garden and our many partnerships. In the month of October we will have two other ways to share our joy and to welcome all into the house of God.

On October 30 we will be celebrating All Saint’s Day, honoring those saints who have gone before us, the saints among us and the newest members of the communion of the saints through baptism. We welcome those families bringing children into the faith community through baptism and any adults who wish to publicly acknowledge their faith by receiving the gift of baptism. The waters in the baptismal font are at the entrance to our worship space. They remind us of the forgiveness, mercy and love of God in Christ where all are beloved and valued children of God.

We are strengthened and upheld in our baptismal identity by the testimonies of the faithful and their stories of healing and gratitude. Our Fall stewardship program has been developed to provide us “Provisions for the Journey” as we share our stories of faith and are given the opportunity to turn around and be God’s grateful, thankful people in our worship and giving. Beginning October 23, you can look forward to hearing from a diverse group of people from St. Luke’s whose lives have been touched by God’s grace.

It all reminds me of the final verse of Marty’s song:

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard

And loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.

Built of tears and cries and laughter,

Prayers of faith and songs of grace,

Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

October 2, 2016; The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Proper 22, Year C; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 32:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

I wish I had more faith. Especially after my weekend of gardening when I was moving various shrubs from one location to another. How nice it would have been to say to the Rhododendron bush, “Be uprooted and planted in the bed in the front yard!”  Instead my aching back tells me that I have to dig a fresh hole, amend the soil and then dig up the darn bush and cart it all the way from the back yard to its new home outside my front window.

I also wish I had more faith when I look around and see violence, wrongdoing, trouble, destruction, strife and contention. With St. Luke’s location here in Ballard there is no way for me to overlook the personal and communal crises that are harming so many.  I can’t step over the homeless man sleeping at our front door because I know his name and have listened to his story. When yelling and fighting break out nearby, I can no longer stay safely inside because people I care about may be threatened by the violence. When a senior pastor who has lived here for 30 years has to move because his rent is increasing, I have to speak up.

Today at noon in the Ballard Commons Park, I will be helping to lead a remembrance service for nine of the nearly 60 people who died on the streets during the past year. Small brass leaves with their names, birth and death dates will be embedded in the pavement. In the past, like many others, I may have failed to notice the 36 leaves that are already in place, but this year will be different. One of the leaves will be for Gary Oaks who died next to the dumpster in the alley down the street. While the police were waiting for the coroner to take his body away, I was contacted to come, uncover his forehead, bless him and pray for him and with those who had gathered in respect for a life ended in such loneliness and tragedy.

So with the prophet Habakkuk I cry for help. We all cry for help. Like the disciples we pray that our faith may increase when we come up against situations and injustices that overwhelm us. When there is no clear solution to the violence and destruction around us, we cry out. We cry in sorrow. We cry in anger. We cry to God, and we wonder where God is. We make our lament because the wicked surround the righteous and judgement is perverted. Wrongdoing and trouble surround us and we cannot hide from the pain and damage caused by the evils of the world.

Sadly this is not a new reality. In ancient Hebrew, the word translated as violence is ‘Chamas,’ which is defined as “the cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal rights of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality.”  This kind of violence may be systemic and institutional, but it always impacts directly upon individuals. It is the violence that the prophets who spoke truth to power experienced, and it is the violence that brought Jesus to the cross.

God stands with those who suffer violence. God is near to the oppressed and will not abandon them. God has given to the prophets, to Jesus, and to us a vision that is radically different from the violence and destruction we witness. In Habakkuk’s time, God encouraged him to write this vision in large letters upon a wall, the original billboard. It was to be so plain that someone running away in fear could not fail to read it. It is a vision of peace where the lion will lie down with the lamb, and swords are turned into plowshares.

It is the vision of Jesus where the Kingdom of God is more real than the kingdoms of this world, and all are welcome at the great banquet feast where there are no strangers or outcasts. It may seem like it is not yet here, but we are those who are called to wait for it, to work for it, to speak its reality into existence.

One of the most violent and dangerous places in our world now and over the past 35 years is Sudan and South Sudan. The referendum that split the country into two in 2011 and created the new nation of South Sudan was only three years old before the newest nation was split by civil war. Now there are hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people in both countries. The cycle of violence and poverty and death is constantly repeating. It is easy to lose hope in face of such overwhelming destruction and wrongdoing. It is easy to lose faith when trouble is all around and the innocent are suffering and dying.

In 2012 I made a trip to South Sudan. My heart and prayers had been with the people there for years and I wanted to meet them in person and let them know that they were not forgotten. I stayed at a small compound run by an extraordinary woman. Cathy was born and raised in Uganda. When she was a young woman she met a missionary from the Netherlands, Wim. They fell in love and married but were unable to have children themselves. What they did have was an unswerving commitment to serve those who were the most vulnerable.

They moved to Sudan before the country split into two. Wim served with a number of non-profits. Cathy ran their compound and got involved in the community. As she traveled through Juba, the largest city in S. Sudan, she was overwhelmed by the trouble and hardship of young girls who were abandoned or on the street, used and abused by adults, unable to go to school, invisible. She began to take them in, one by one. The need was overwhelming. She formed a non-profit organization, “Confident Children out of Conflict.”

Cathy is fearless. She raised funds from all over the world. She confronted male relatives who wanted to hold onto the girls because of the money they could make off of prostituting them or turning them into indentured servants. She went into the most desperate neighborhoods, including the one where people lived on top of a graveyard to pull children from the brink of death. That’s where she found Moses. His mother had no food for him and his older siblings were barely surviving. Moses came home with Cathy and Wim. He was so thin, they weren’t sure he would make it.

When I met him, he had just reached his second birthday and was beginning to thrive. Now he is in kindergarten. He speaks at least 5 languages because of all the volunteers from around the world who have become his caregivers and fan club. He’s just one of the many children, most of whom are girls that Cathy and her team have brought off the streets and provided for.

This year, things got desperate in Juba. The Civil War was being fought in the streets. The children had to be moved to a village for their protection. Violence, destruction, and lawlessness had taken over.  Cathy and Wim could have left for their own safety. They could have given up and let evil and wickedness take over. But they didn’t. I don’t know how they find the faith to carry on, but they have.

Things have calmed down. Moses celebrated his 6th birthday. The girls are graduating from school, singing in the Cathedral Choir and learning that they are worthy of dignity and respect.

How do I know all this?  Cathy and I are Facebook friends. Habakkuk may have been asked by God to write the vision on a wall. The teachings of Jesus may have been written on papyrus, but social media is the new public forum, and we have a call to proclaim the vision in new ways to new generations.

People use the media to promote a variety of messages. Some are self-serving. Others are racist, sexist, and derogatory. Some try to incite fear, hatred and loathing. Many are divisive and narrow. It seems like the loudest and most damaging and hate-filled get the most attention.

But we know that these are not the most powerful voices or messages. This is not the vision that will transform our world and bring the Kingdom into reality. The voices of our current day prophets like Cathy are filled with faith and hope and love. The voices which echo Jesus’s teaching of love and mercy are more powerful than the hatred and injustice that are around us. As the prophet instructed us, “Look at the proud!  Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”

It’s less important how much faith I have, but it really matters who I have faith in. Every week we affirm our faith. We believe in the God who has made heaven and earth, and who loves all of creation including the trees and the animals we love and mourn. We believe in the Son who suffered death and was buried and who lives in the ones we encounter who are hungry, thirsty or in need. We believe in the Spirit of life who speaks through prophets and saints like Cathy and inspires us to live as people of the resurrection.

So my friends, write the vision of Christ’s love. Greet a stranger, plant a garden, share a meal, stand up for justice, care for the most vulnerable, post something hopeful, bless a child. For “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love.”

“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Proper 18, Year C September 4, 2016, The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

When I was a senior in high school, I was part of something that I have been ashamed of ever since. I attended the same high school that my father and aunt had in the 1940’s. Then it was a mostly white school which drew students from the working and middle class neighborhoods around it. When I attended in the 1970’s, Grant High had been integrated by busing some students from nearby neighborhoods that were primarily African American. The reason for the segregation of the neighborhoods is a practice known as red-lining where banks, mortgage companies and realtors operated under a shared understanding that anyone who wasn’t white could only get loans and purchase property in certain areas designated by “red lines” on the map. Busing was an attempt to integrate students who might never otherwise come into regular contact with one another.

My parents taught me about red-lining. My father was a city planner and most of his work was in urban renewal in the very neighborhoods that had been set aside for people of color. My mother was an elementary teacher who taught in schools in the same neighborhoods.  They supported public schools and integration and an end to some of the damaging, racist practices of the government and culture. They were also the beneficiaries of those damaging practices.

My father was able to purchase a home on the GI Bill in a white neighborhood with a great interest rate. GI’s who weren’t white were not provided the same benefit. I don’t know if my Dad was aware of that in 1969.

My Aunt, my Dad’s sister, was different. She married the middle son from a family whose patriarch had developed a heating oil and furnace business. They raised their family outside the inner city and their kids attended mostly white schools. They had more financial resources than my public-servant parents ever had. So my uncle gave me a job at his family’s company. I’d take the bus every day after school to work 3-4 hours doing a variety of clerical work.

One day my Uncle called me into his office. I was nervous when I saw how nervous he was. He hemmed and hawed but finally he made it clear that he was asking me if I knew any black female students who might be willing to work with me at the office. You see, there was not one black office worker in the entire business and affirmative action was just beginning to take effect. My Uncle and his entire family had no contact with African Americans. And so he asked me to find someone for him.

I don’t remember if I talked to more than one person, but Shelly was willing and they hired her right away. She and I would ride the bus to work after school and sit near one another doing menial clerical work. We were polite to one another, but we never became close friends. I don’t even remember how the job ended for either of us, but it was my final year and I was heading for college. I don’t know what Shelly did, but we never spoke to one another after that.

And I’m so ashamed. I’m ashamed that I never realized how awkward and horrible it must have been for her. I’m ashamed that I never stood up to my relatives who demeaned Shelly by seeing her as a way to get around a quota. I’m ashamed that I participated in a system that benefited me but not her. I’m ashamed of my privilege and my ignorance and my failure to truly see Shelly and to embrace her as a friend, even a sister.

Because that is what she really is to me. I became a Christian halfway through that senior year of high school.  As I began to follow Jesus, my own family was ashamed, angry and confused. My family are atheists and my conversion created a lot of conflict. As I struggled with what it meant to love my family and to choose a different path than the one they had raised me with, other Christians were an amazing support for me.

They were family, too – a family that wasn’t created by blood or upbringing or even by similarity, but the family of God, the Body of Christ where we belonged to one another in a way that transcends race, background, language, political persuasion, and every other human distinction.

We get to catch glimpses of that reality in the stories of the early Christians, especially as we listen in on Paul’s short letter to a wealthy Christian leader, Philemon. Philemon and his wife Apphia were leaders of a house church and financial supporters of Paul. As many wealthy Romans of the time did, they owned slaves. Onesimus was a slave who at the very least ran away and possibly stole something of value in the process. He ended up as Paul’s companion. He converted to Christianity and became a supporter and partner to Paul when he was facing imprisonment.

The unjust system of slavery separated Philemon and Onesimus. Even worse, the required punishment for Onesimus would be terribly harsh if he were to return to his master. And yet, that is what Paul has suggested should happen. He is sending Onesimus back to that horrible situation, with the added possibility of a severe judgement for his desertion.

But Paul is hopeful that there is a force greater than slavery, greater than the self-interest of the powerful or an unjust system. What Paul is counting on is the transformative power of the gospel. He knows that the wealthy and powerful Philemon and the powerless and vulnerable runaway slave are also brothers in Christ. More than that, Paul is like a father to Onesimus. And Onesimus has become Paul’s heart.

Paul doesn’t deal with the unjust system or order Philemon to welcome Onesimus back. Instead he appeals to love, the greatest force in human relationships. He loves both Philemon and Onesimus and he hopes that they might live in love towards one another. Paul is willing to pay the price financially for whatever has been lost. He is willing to pay the price of his own reputation in standing up for Onesimus and risk the loss of Philemon’s support. He is even willing to give up Onesimus’s companionship so that the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus can be reconciled.

What Paul hopes and longs for is so radical that he even wonders if this whole situation came about for this very purpose, so that “Philemon might have Onesimus back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother, … both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

What would it be like if the transformative power of the gospel reached into the unjust systems in our society?  What if illegal immigrants who work, raise families and participate in the community were given a path to citizenship rather than deported and walled away from the life they have here?  What if drug users who are willing to try rehabilitation, could do so rather than be jailed?  What if churches were no longer the most segregated public gathering places on Sunday mornings?  What if we took the risks to love ALL of our neighbors as if they were brothers and sisters?

My life has been transformed by the love of Jesus and the amazing people who follow him. I have come a long way from the 16 year old who participated in an arrangement that failed to respect Shelly and treat her fairly and with dignity. I still fail daily to truly see each person as my brother or sister in Christ and to treat them accordingly. There’s much more to do and so much more to learn.

My 40th high school reunion is coming up next summer. This week I looked Shelly up on Facebook. Guess what? She loves Michelle Obama, animal rescue videos and Jesus. So do I!  It breaks my heart that we are not friends. So I sent her a message. She probably doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. I wouldn’t blame her. But if she does respond, I’ve got some work to do, the real work of repentance and sorrow and the willingness to learn more about love and sacrifice for the sake of God’s beloved community.

Proper 10, Year C, July 10, 2016, Sara Bates

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

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus doesn’t answer him directly but tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan.

“A man is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, from David’s city of peace, perched high on a hill, twenty miles through the wilderness, to Jericho, located at the edge of the Dead Sea.  It is a dangerous road, not one to travel alone.” – James A.  Wallace

It truly is a dangerous road, as he doesn’t make it to Jericho before being beaten, stripped and robbed, left for dead.

A priest walks by, moving to the far side of the road to avoid him.

A levite also walks by, moving to avoid him.

But then a Samaritan, the one who has nothing in common with the man, does the unthinkable and comes closer to him.

Cares for his wounds, transports him to the safety of an inn, and pays the innkeeper to care for him as he recovers.

After telling the parable, Jesus asks a final question, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

This question and really the whole parable is upsetting to the lawyer and likely all who heard it because they knew that the only answer could be the Samaritan, but they didn’t want him to be his neighbor.  So instead of identifying him as the Samaritan, the lawyer answers “The one who showed him mercy.”

He could have also said, the one who came near to him.

For that is what really separates the Samaritan from the priest and the Levite.  He saw the man and came near to him.

In the wake of this week’s tragedies, I can’t help but also be upset by this parable.  Because I have to confess that I would have to put myself in the place of one who passed by the man lying on the side of the road suffering.

For my entire life I have seen my Christian brothers and sisters of color being oppressed, beaten down by a racist social climate, and I have not said or done anything to change it.

I have let fear stand in the way.

Fear of not knowing what to do, and most importantly fear of losing my own privilege.

I allowed myself to believe that the Civil Rights Movement had ended racism.  But for the past 10 years my eyes have been opened slowly.  In my studies of public health, I was shown report after report how the societal racism in the United States negatively affects the health of people of color.  I could no longer deny the fact that racism still existed.  And I even started to see my own white privilege and understand my part in societal racism.  I even acknowledged the fact that I am a racist because I haven’t actively or intentionally worked to end racism, but allow it to continue.

I have seen the wounded, and I continue to walk on by on my way to my high hill of privilege.

But recently it’s become harder and harder to just walk on by.

I usually get my news from social media, meaning the newspaper articles and tv news reports I see are posted on Facebook or Twitter.  Technology has drastically changed how I see the world.  Everything is instantaneous, less curated, and more opinionated.  It has opened my eyes to events I would have been unlikely to witness otherwise.  I have been witness to the last moments of peoples lives, people I don’t know, but that are instantly made known to me as children of God as their lives are being taken from them.  If it weren’t for cell phone video, I probably would have never known the names of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile.  They would have been just 2 of the estimated 136 black persons killed by police in America in 2016.

Now, it’s as if I’m not just seeing the lifeless body on the side of the road, but am seeing the robbery and beating taking place.  I am seeing the destruction happen, not just the results, and I sit and watch until the body looks just like all the other bodies left on the side of the road. But now this body has a name.  And each time I walk down the road, I remember that name.  But I have just kept walking until now.

I can’t keep walking though.  The young black men killed and the young black children who I don’t want to see killed have captured my spirit.  It is time for me to stop. Time for me to stop and come near to those in need on this dangerous road we are on together.

And that’s the thing I hope you all get from this… we are on this road together.  We need to come near to each other for safety.  We need to be neighbors; we need to be lights to each other in this dark world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This quote was lived out in this parish this week.

On Friday morning after a gunman ambushed the Dallas Police force at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, killing Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa (Zah ma reepa) and injuring 5 other law enforcement officers and 2 civilians, I received a message on Facebook from Canon Britt inviting me to join a discussion that was taking place. As I went back and read through all the previous discussion, I saw that Jasen Frelot who will be joining us this summer for a short children’s ministry internship was gathering leaders of churches throughout Seattle and the greater area to come together to act out of radical love. He was asking that we would help contribute and join him in delivering flowers to all the Seattle Police precincts and to officers on the street with the message, “Our prayers for safety and peace on this painful day. With gratitude, love, and hope for a more just and peaceful future.” Over 30 churches joined the conversation and put this idea into action, spreading the reach throughout the greater Seattle area. Canon Britt went with two fellow ministers to deliver flowers to the North Precinct, and since I was working in Snohomish that day, I went during my lunch break and delivered a bouquet to their police department as well. The receptionist there thanked me for the gesture and let me know that the officers were really struggling with the emotion of the day. Throughout the day I would see posts on Facebook and Twitter about various churches delivering flowers. But it was seeing Jasen and his daughter Ruby handing out roses to officers on the street that allowed me to understand the incredible need for love in these moments.

In these moments where anger and sadness are more than appropriate, we can choose to instead spread love. Not just to the police officers mourning their fallen comrades, but people of color too. As Jasen said in a video post explaining why he choose to take these actions “We should have acted sooner, there is no excuse for not acting when our Brothers and Sisters in Christ are being killed.” He also said that he hoped that this day would “inspire [the churches that joined him on Friday] to no longer be silent in the face of oppression…There can never be enough images of white people and white churches, white progressives and white conservatives, and white people showing their support for black people and people of color.”

Jasen, you have inspired me. I will be there on the road with you, drawing near to those who are in need. Thank you for helping to call me closer to those lying on the side beaten and bruised. I hope that we all will draw nearer together in this time of pain and confusion, spreading the love of Jesus that is the only remedy to the evil of this world.

On the night Martin Luther King Jr. died, Bobby Kennedy said something that is truer even today “What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded me in an address he gave on this week’s tragedies, that we have in our prayer books that we can use to help draw us closer to God and one another.  If you would all turn to page 815 in the Book of Common Prayer and say with me the prayer For the Human Family (no. 3)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Proper 9, Year C, July 3, 2016, The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

Have you ever considered how the message and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth spread from his small hometown in a backwater of a tiny nation to cover the entire world?  After all, he didn’t write anything that we have evidence of.  The spread of knowledge happened very differently than it does now.  His active ministry lasted three years at the end of which his followers were only numbered perhaps in the hundreds but certainly not in the thousands.

Today we hear an account that gives some idea of how Jesus approached the sharing of his message of God’s love.  It happens near the end of his life as he is on the move towards Jerusalem.  He has influenced a fair amount of people through his teaching and healings.  He asks 70 of them to pair up and go ahead on the route he plans to take to be a kind of advance party.

He provides specific instruction for how they are to prepare people to receive him and while this account takes place while he is still walking on the earth, it also seems to apply to those who continued to spread the good news of God to the world after his death and resurrection.  The author of Luke may have intended both purposes in writing down such detailed guidelines for the followers of Jesus.

And I wonder, does this have anything to do with the world as we know it now?  I remember as a new Christian during college that I went on a couple of “mission trips” to the city in order to practice evangelism.  Our leaders trained us to go into public places so that we could strike up conversations with strangers.  The hope was that we would find a way to “lead the person to Christ” by sharing with them “Four Spiritual Laws” about how they were separated from God and needed Christ as the bridge to salvation.

Most of us were wildly uncomfortable with this assignment and certainly most of the people we tried to talk with were resistant, indifferent or even hostile.  I can honestly say that I learned a lot about praying for and paying attention to others and developed skills in having conversations that I had never possessed.  But I never was able to share the 4 Spiritual Laws or ask someone to become a Christian.  It felt false and forced and inauthentic.

That was over 30 years ago.  All the research tells us that there are now more people than ever before in the U.S. who claim no religious identity and that resistance, indifference and hostility towards organized Christianity has increased.

And yet the message of Jesus is desperately needed in our world, the message of love for enemies, of the freedom of forgiveness, of God’s grace poured out for all, of peace and the hope of a transformed reality.  I know that I will never again accost strangers and try to run them through a formula to get them saved.  And yet I do long for a way to share the hope that is within me and to speak to the pain and longing and seeking of so many of the people I meet.

There must be an alternative to formulaic evangelistic efforts or simply remaining silent.  Which got me thinking about the way of Jesus which in turn got me thinking about the “Way” or the Camino.  Some of you know that last fall I walked an ancient pilgrimage route across Northern Spain.  My partner and I carried everything we needed for 30 days on our backs.  We walked about 14 miles per day and stayed at night at hostels and shelters specifically set up for pilgrims.  We were provided simple meals along the way and often ate bread, cheese and fruit by the side of the path.

The remarkable thing is that we were very rarely alone.  People from every nation walk the Camino.  There are over 200,000 pilgrims every year now.  Each one walks for a very personal reason.  My walking partner and I are both Christian and we met and befriended a Hindu woman, an Israeli Jew, countless folks who are spiritual but not religious along with observant Catholics and many who were searching for something they could not name.

And they told us their stories.  Bobbie and I decided to make ourselves available to our fellow pilgrims by praying for them and by asking them the simple question, “Why are you walking the Camino?”  The answers stunned us.  We walked and cried with two different men from different countries whose sons had committed suicide.  We talked with 40 year olds who had lost or left their job and didn’t have any idea what they should do next.  We met rich businessmen who felt like there had to be more to life.  I wept with a mother whose only child was killed by a drunk driver and a recently retired cop who was burned out from seeing a lack of justice in the justice system.

Although we never advertised our faith and I rarely shared my profession as a priest, some found out and I was peppered with questions about Christianity and Jesus and my own convictions.  One woman walked with me for three days asking me to give her the entire historical development of the Christian faith.  Another spent hours asking me about her concerns about God and evil, life and death and her perceptions about Christianity that were all negative.  Frankly, I was trying to remember everything I had ever learned in Seminary at the same time as I revealed my own stories of faith and doubt of belief and rejection and the joys and sorrows of following Jesus.  Every day we walked the Camino, Bobbie and I were called upon to live and give testimony to what we believed.

The word creed implies what you give your heart to.  Each day we revealed at a deep level what we had given our hearts to as we listened to the stories of those who opened themselves to us.

This is what it must have been like for the 70 who went ahead to prepare the way for Jesus.  They came in poverty, carrying very little.  They allowed themselves to be vulnerable and needy to those who would receive them.  Instead of coming with all the answers, with great riches, power and influence, they came as beggars, dependent upon others for their meals and their shelter.  This is not the vision of a triumphant, wealthy, well-resourced organization with answers to every question and a program for every need but one beggar sharing with another where to find food.

I love that Jesus instructs them to eat whatever is put in front of them.  Hospitality works two ways.  It is the gift of the one who welcomes the stranger and provides for the hungry but also the graciousness of the receiver who is willing to share in whatever cuisine that is offered in honor of the host.  Humility and trust develop when we truly share in another person’s life.

They are to go out in their own weakness, as lambs in the midst of wolves.  This is not triumphant domination but rather risky relationship.  The disciples are called to share the gift of God’s love and the message of Christ but only when it is welcome and requested.  No force or manipulation is involved.

Ultimately their role is simply to prepare the way for Jesus.  When they return to share with him what has happened, they begin to boast and talk about some of the more dramatic successes they experienced.  Jesus reminds them that these dramatic successes are far less important than their identity as children of God who names are written in the book of life.

Jesus calls us to walk in this world as representatives of his life-giving way.  We don’t have to have all the answers, our lives don’t have to be perfect, we don’t need to be powerful or influential or successful.  We are called to walk in humility and trust, in weakness and vulnerability, authentically and honestly.  Because our lives are secure in God’s love, we can give ourselves away to those in need, to those who are hurting, confused, wounded and grieving.  Our foundation is firm in the one, “Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip.”