March 24, 2019 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

There is a long tradition of mysticism in Christianity. It is a river that runs deep through the centuries and has been practiced by men, women and children from every time period, background and outlook. It includes famous mystics like St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, the person who wrote “The Cloud of Unknowing,” and thousands of everyday folks who have had direct experience of the divine.

Mysticism is not just present in Christianity. It can be located in the rivers of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. These are great rivers of tradition, practice and devotion. They each have their own separate identity and yet, the stream, the life-giving water that flows in each one mingles and recombines with others as river water evaporates into steam and cloud and then descends once again as snow, rain and hail.

In Judaism, one Rabbi who is fascinated by this strand in his faith is Lawrence Kushner. He defines a mystic in this way:  “A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.”  That hidden unity is revealed as we understand ourselves ever more deeply to be located within God, part of the divine, in contact with a reality much larger than we are normally aware of.

I am not a mystic. I don’t do well with silent meditation. I’m happiest when actively “doing” something and less comfortable simply being. I’m more of a “Martha” than a “Mary,” paying attention to the practicalities, making sure the tasks are done. I’ve never had dramatic visions, heard the voice of the Almighty or been pulled out of this dimension into some higher, purer, spiritual plane. I’m an Episcopalian in part because Anglicanism is known to be a pragmatic, realistic sort of denomination, not prone to extremes (generally :).

For that reason, preaching on texts where there is direct, mystical encounter with the holy are very intimidating to me. The last time I preached was on the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus goes up the mountain and is changed temporarily into glory. Today we’ve got another mountain top, but it’s Moses and the burning bush. These are overwhelming experiences. People and plants are transformed. The voice of God speaks. The very ground becomes holy and the people involved take off their shoes, they fall on their faces, they tremble. Nothing will ever be the same.

Sometimes we long for such a clear and unequivocal communication of the divine presence. We may even ask or demand God to show up, to answer us, to fix the desperate situation we face. We may try to earn or trick God into a manifestation through extreme fasting, long prayers or particular methods that have seemed to unlock mystical experience for someone else. We need direction, healing, proof that God is real and cares for us. We want answers to the question of why we suffer, why the world is in such bad shape and why God doesn’t intervene. Or maybe we were once touched by God directly and we wish for a repetition of that amazing event.

Yesterday I went looking for encounter. For me, that mostly means paying attention when I’m walking. Did I mention that I suck at meditation?  My top silent prayer record is less than 15 minutes. It’s a good thing I have a spiritual director who contributed a chapter to the book, Spiritual Direction for the Extrovert!  She’s the one who gave me permission to pray while walking. It seems to work for me.

There are some practices that set me up for a holy encounter while walking. When I walk while reflecting on Scripture it seems to help open my mind to a different kind of understanding. When I intentionally offer to God the people and problems I am concerned about, there is an attentiveness that seems reciprocated. All those everyday things that help nurture my relationship with God, like worship, prayer, holy learning, service to others, sharing the good news, confession and Sabbath rest provide support so that my eyes and ears can be open to receive God’s presence.

So I went walking in the Washington Arboretum. I was looking for azaleas in bloom, or at least cherry trees and some camellias. I was in search of fresh, green things and a good place for my dog, Sally, to stretch her legs. It turns out that it’s too early in the season and Azalea Way was still mostly bare twigs. It also turns out that our recent snowpocalypse punished the trees and shrubs in the arboretum. Everywhere there were downed limbs and broken branches. I had no difficulty observing the brokenness and damage of our world.

My head drooped as I surveyed the destruction and it bowed further as I thought about the crises I see on our streets every day from homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness. My heart was weighed down by the anger and disgust some people express towards those who are suffering in these situations and to those who are trying to help. I wondered how we could keep going here at St. Luke’s and in the Edible Hope Kitchen, caring for those on the margins, working to foster Beloved Community, seeking to love God and all our neighbors. How will we ever be able to develop our property in a way that fosters these values we hold so dear?  My walk was getting heavy and I was no longer looking around me.

This is when it’s good to have a very active, three-year-old black lab. She chased up a side path around the corner and I followed. As I rounded the bend, there was a 40-foot-high old magnolia. At the very top of the tree canopy were enormous purple/pink blooms, just being touched by the sun. I remember coming to the garden later in the season in previous years and seeing the remains of these blooms and being sad that I had missed the full flowering. But now, I was here! I was in this place at the right time. This great tree had put forth all its energy one more time into gorgeous flower. It was old and damaged and it was glorious.

I didn’t hear a voice. I wasn’t transported to another dimension. But the words of Scripture suddenly echoed in my brain. “I am.”  “I am” is here. “I am” is with you. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Jesus, Peter, Mary of Magdala and Martha; the God of all those who have gone before me is here. It’s the same message that Moses and Jesus heard.

It’s the same message for us. I have heard the cries of my people who are suffering. You are called to respond to them. I will be with you. With God all things are possible. I have the cattle on a thousand hills. I will be at your right hand. I will walk with you through desert, fire and flood. I will bring you and all my people safely home.

The holy one, blessed be God forever, is still active and present in our generation. Circumstances and situations may have changed but the vision is still the same. God has called us all to feast at the great banquet where everyone is welcome. God feeds us in body and soul so that we might feed others.

In just a few minutes, the spiritual pilgrims and companions for this year will be coming forward for the Rite of Welcome. Together we are walking this path, the Way of Love. We are called to “Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go and Rest.”  This Rule of Life opens our ears and eyes and heart to experience God’s presence. As we welcome them, each pilgrim will be signed with the cross to recognize that every part of them is engaged in a holy journey. It’s not that the heavens will open up and the Spirit will descend like a dove, (although anything is possible and this is St. Luke’s, Ballard after all!)  It’s more likely that they will have fresh eyes and ears to see and hear God in their daily lives.

The gardeners had been active in the Arboretum. They didn’t immediately uproot the damaged plants. Instead, they had been tending them, propping up sagging limbs, clearing out dead branches, adding nutrients. Gardeners have eyes to see life where it looks like death. They remember the fruit and flower even in the dead of winter or the damage of natural disaster. They have hope for the following year.

This Lent, let’s let our good gardener loosen our hardened soil, pour into our parched soul the nutrients we need to flourish and feed us with the nourishment that will strengthen us to bear good fruit. Amen.

January 27, 2019 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.  The Spirit has brought us to this place and this very day, the Spirit is at work to fulfill the promise and purpose of God.

This is a pretty bold claim.  It can so easily be misused by a preacher who confuses her own agenda with the movement of God’s Spirit.   It’s hard to argue when someone claims to be guided and informed by the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it’s a way to whip up enthusiasm and excitement in the moment and on the surface without tapping into the solid, sustaining, movement of God that leads us through the highs and lows, the good times and bad, the joys and sorrows of the Christian life.

Each of us has probably experienced cycles of spiritual passion and growth followed by challenges, distractions, and disillusionment.  For many the difficulties, doubts, conflicts and questions end with either being “done” with Christianity or answering “none” when asked about religious affiliation.  Congregations experience these cycles and many would say that whole civilizations do as well.  The history of St. Luke’s tells a story of growth, conflict, decline and rebirth that has been repeated a number of times over our 128 year history.  There are times when we have been the center of revival and renewal for Seattle, the diocese and even the West coast and others when we could barely keep the doors open.

Today is my fourth Annual Meeting with you and again I say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.”  God’s Spirit has brought us thus far by faith and will lead us on into a future that we cannot fully imagine.  It is a future filled with excitement and possibility and fraught with risk and anxiety.  There will be joys and sorrows, challenges and opportunities, setbacks and miracles.  It is life in the Spirit and it is not for the faint of heart.  The way of Jesus is rarely comfortable or predictable or easy but it is the way of abundant life with food for the soul and the cup of new life.

This is the year that St. Luke’s will undertake the development of the property we inhabit.  Since 1980 there have been no less than 4 property development plans that never came to fruition.  I’m certain that well-meaning and sincere people put energy and resources into those plans.  But for a variety of reasons, they never materialized.   And it would be fair to ask, what’s different now?  Why are we ready now to go forward now?  What’s changed?

It’s probably the same question the Israelites asked Nehemiah about the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  The city had been taken over by foreign armies, the protective walls broken down and the gates damaged.  The inhabitants fled or were taken away as slaves.  Once everything of value had been removed, only a small group of the elderly, the young and the disabled were left.  The former glory of the Holy City was gone.

Nehemiah had been taken away also and was serving a foreign government.  He heard about the plight of Jerusalem and brought it to the attention of the ruler who not only gave him time off to return to Jerusalem but provided some resources for a building project.  Nehemiah arrived and first had difficulty getting anyone on board with his plan to rebuild.  Once they agreed to start, they had to defend themselves from those who would steal or destroy their work.  Then, of course, they started fighting with each other.  Anyone who’s ever built or remodeled, will know how tempers can be frayed.  I’m certain it was tempting to give up and yet, despite all the challenges, this rag tag people of God, along with support from unlikely partners completed the task.

It’s an amazing accomplishment but that’s not the most important part of the story.  It’s what happens in that community that makes all the difference.  At the end of the construction phase, Nehemiah as the governor, politician and developer along with Ezra the priest and the scribes who maintained the history and laws of Israel called all the people together.  This was a people who had lost many of their traditions.  Over years of occupation and oppression they had forgotten their identity as God’s beloved, their purpose and the promises God made to them.

And so it was that Ezra began to read their story back to them.  He opened the Hebrew Scriptures and the riches of their faith poured out upon them.  They heard about the beauty of creation and how God made it good.  They were reminded of their deliverance from the army of Egypt through the Red Sea.  As the day went they heard the cycle of faith, faithlessness, forgiveness, redemption and rejoicing that had happened so many times for God’s people.

They were reminded of all they had lost or forgotten.  In the rebuilding of their city, their place was restored, but more importantly, so was their purpose.   The connection to their past kindled hope for their future.  They rediscovered a deep spiritual heritage as a treasure more precious than any building.  They wept.  And then they had a huge feast and celebration.

It was a shared vision, enkindled by the Spirit of God in Nehemiah that carried them through all the hard work, fear, struggle and risk to a place of gratitude and celebration.  The buildings, walls and gates are important but they were never the final goal.  What God had in mind was a people restored and forgiven, a community gathered together and flourishing, a space for everyone to be safe and cared for.

The church is not a building.  The church is the Body of Christ and is built of and by its many members.  We are united in baptism as “all are made to drink of one Spirit.”  We partake of one bread and one cup, nourished by the love of Jesus.  We exist, not for ourselves alone, but for the community, beloved of God and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.  The goal of our growth and development is the common good, which means we are in this for others.  We are called to care for the weak and lowly, those who are on life’s margins.  We share the mission of Jesus articulated in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The church is the Body of Christ and as has so powerfully been articulated:

“Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

At this Annual Meeting and in meetings with the many people and groups who are part of our community we will be asking people to talk about how they experience the Spirit of God through St. Luke’s.  We may have to change the language for our more secular partners, but what we want to hear is how this place has been and can be a blessing to build up beloved community.  We need to hear from as many voices as possible.  By Easter we hope to have input from dozens or even hundreds of people who are touched and impacted by St. Luke’s.

This information will be gathered and summarized by members of the Property Stewardship Team (Mike Bigelow, Jane Frol, Bill Hoey, Christopher Mosier, Duke Vivian, Barbara Wilson, Susan Young and Dennis Tierney from the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia).  Their role is to advise St. Luke’s Bishop’s Committee and the Diocese, who owns this property, on a process of development that is consistent with the mission and vision of Jesus as it is lived out in this community.

After worship we will gather to participate in the visioning process.  I hope you will stay.  We need to hear from you if you have been a member for 40 years.  We need to hear from you if this is your first Sunday at St. Luke’s.  We need to hear from our guests at Edible Hope Kitchen and the businesses and residents of Ballard.  We will also be electing members to the Bishop’s Committee (Current Members:  Barbara Wilson, Senior Warden; Nathan Zetterberg, Junior Warden, Mike Bigelow, Julia Hunter, Duke Vivian, Bernadette Walcott, Susan Young and candidates, Alison Crowley and Suzi Spooner).  Finally we will be approving a budget for 2019 presented by our Treasurer, Jane Frol with Assistant Treasurer, Bill Hoey.

In the year ahead we will face obstacles.  There will be differences of opinion and setbacks.  But we have never been more ready to move forward.  God has brought us together and provided people who have the gifts we need to proceed.  We will have development partners to work with us on this large task. Each one of you has been given gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ.  The gifts vary and it is God’s Spirit who binds us all into one for the common good.

Before any decision is ever made, we will seek to be clear on our vision and mission.   Through it all we will continue to seek the Spirit of God and to discern the way in which we are to go.  Many of you know Nancy Rogers, who has been a member for over 40 years and began our feeding ministry over 30 years ago.  She has witnessed St. Luke’s cycles of growth and decline.  For the past few months she has clearly told me that we need to be in prayer as a church about our mission, vision and direction so that we can be led by the Spirit in this process.  I think there is probably a way for us to do this without having to all be in the same place at the same time and you can sign up to participate.

What we begin this year may take a few years to bring to completion.   We’ll be sure to have a celebration and I trust that we, like our ancestors in the faith will be able to sing, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”  Amen.

 

 

 

January 13, 2019 – Kristen Daley Mosier

There are times in our life when we just need to feel like we’ve been made new. For me it was when I looked into the faces of orphans in Tijuana, Mexico and felt, at a bodily level, the itchy, dissociating comfort of my middle class upbringing. Another time came after I had ended a marginally supportive relationship and begun to explore new vocational callings, and this thing called ‘seminary’. Looking back I can see these moments aligned with a series of conversions—conversion to the poor, conversion to the life of the Holy Spirit; (and) most recently a conversion (back) to care for creation and the waters of my youth. Our baptismal journey is often a series of conversions, of significant encounters along the way, when something died making an opening for transformation, metanoia, to spark life anew.

Last summer I was going through some old family files when I happened across my baptism certificate from Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church (just across the water). I don’t remember the event myself, I must have been about three or four. But, there it was, proof of my initiation into the community of Christ. Had I known back in college that I had been baptized, I might not have chosen to get dunked while on my first short term mission trip to Tijuana. But my 18 year old self was feeling particularly overwhelmed by a desire for added assurance of grace. And so, I have been baptized into two waters: the Kitsap watershed (Bainbridge Island), and a reservoir somewhere south of San Diego and across the U.S. border (that may or may not still exist).

Have you noticed that it’s difficult to talk about death with others? It isn’t exactly a good lunch room conversation. Pastors and religious clerics learn over time—regardless of what books were read in seminary—how to conduct a “celebration of life” rather than a funeral. With the segregation/ outsourcing of aging and the infirm, it is quite possible to go through life without ever having the experience of sitting with someone as they die. Then those of us who are left behind are encouraged not to mourn because the individual is “in a better place.” Death is such a downer. But there’s a strange paradox at work: it is virtually impossible to ‘get on with life’ unless we go through the deathly experience. Even Jesus wept as he prepared to pray for his friend’s resurrection. Water and Spirit.

Baptism into Jesus Christ is one of the few places where death and birth sit together. Along with the scriptures and tradition, we say that to be baptized into Jesus Christ is to die with him and be raised into new life. In the Book of Common Prayer, the thanksgiving prayer over the waters states: “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (BCP, Thanksgiving over the water, 306)

Traditions that perform baptism by submersion demonstrate a very potent symbol of death and subsequent resurrection into new life. Water has the potential to drown us, and to spark new life by filling our very cells with essential atoms and molecules necessary for growth. This is among the greatest mysteries of the cosmos.

The baptism of Jesus is a Trinitarian event. It is among the most explicit texts that highlights the three Persons of God, united in word and mission. Here we meet the Spirit of God, descending ‘as a dove’ to alight on Jesus of Nazareth. Here we encounter (through the text) the voice of YHWH, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [cf. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3.17) “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1.11)] As Liturgical theologian, Gordon Lathrop, describes: at Jesus’ baptism, a hole opens in the heavens revealing God among us—the same God Who created the heavens and the earth, and Who promised Noah never again to flood the earth. Like Jacob’s ladder, there is a moment when earthly and divine realms meet. It is this God who is revealed through the person of Jesus, at the place where John baptized in the Jordan River. The revelation of the triune God is (in part) constituted by the waters of creation (flowing through the Jordan) and the fire of the Spirit. Water and Spirit uniting earth and heavens.

What is this water, and what is it about water that makes it the ultimate symbol for the baptism event? Perhaps the obvious relationship has to do with cleansing. Water is used for washing and we are proclaimed clean from sin after baptism. This connotation has been a potent one since the time of saint Augustine. As he recounts in the first book of the Confessions, he was very nearly baptized as a child only because he became deathly ill. It was delayed, however, because, if he survived, the likelihood of him committing various sins was inevitable (read: adolescent shenanigans). The thinking was that, why make his soul sparkle now when it will no doubt get tarnished soon enough? Indeed, questions of grace and purity haunt our church traditions still. Baptism is intended to be a one time grafting into the living vine, where Eucharist is the regular re-membering of the body of Christ, suggesting perhaps to our detriment that you can only get clean once. Thankfully, it is the Spirit that cleanses.

Water is constitutive of creation and re-creation. According to the Genesis account, waters emerged on the second and third days of creation, when God separated the waters of the sky from those below, and then from the waters below from the dry land. Noah’s flood is a kind of creation 2.0 / God’s second round for creation, where water is the chaos from which Noah, his family, and the pairs of animals must all emerge. For Martin Luther, the flood becomes archetypal for baptism, rather than creation’s first go-around. In this way, baptism is again seen as a purifying, cleansing event for humanity; one that is ongoing throughout our lifetimes.

But what about _this_ water, here in our font, poured out for each one who comes for baptism? Or the water in which I was baptized as a toddler? Does this water matter? How does it matter?

The waters in which we baptize issue from and return to the waters of the Salish Sea, which is home to all five Pacific salmon species, giant octopi, jellyfish, Dungeness crab, seals, sea lions, and our beloved southern resident orcas. This past summer, the world mourned when a calf born to J35 (Tahlequah) died. What captivated so many of us was the display of unabated grief as Tahlequah carried her calf for over two weeks, assisted on occasion by others in the pod. According to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, Tahlequah traversed over 1,000 miles of the Salish Sea in approximately 17 days, keeping her calf near the surface, taking turns with others in the pod, refusing to let it sink. As her mourning persisted it compelled us to follow after her, until we too let our grief surface, carry it around, and just be with it. Day after day Tahlequah raised her dead calf for our eyes to see and our hearts to be moved to conversion.

Before we think that the work of conversion is our own, let us recall the hole in the heavens at Jesus’ baptism. In each of the gospel accounts the Spirit descends, joining Jesus and (in Mark’s account) even propelling him into the wilderness. As John says, baptism of the Spirit is one of fire. If the waters of baptism immerse us into a locale, baptism in the Spirit sends us across a myriad of dividing lines. Bob Ekblad, a professor at the Seattle School and founding pastor of Tierra Nueva (Burlington, WA), describes baptism in terms of border crossings. In a chapter titled, “Living as Wetbacks” he maps out just how when we become immersed in baptismal waters we not only follow in God’s work for the Israelites crossing the waters to freedom; but we are united with any and all whom Jesus considers friends—the marginalized, the undocumented, the outcasts, the lost. His proposal is an inversion from tradition in that, rather than baptism functioning as a sign of being set apart for God, cleansed and purified; instead dying to Christ means joining the damned. “Distinctions…are leveled.” Going into the water makes us border crossers by drawing us into relationship with others we never would have imagined, just as we are drawn into the life of the triune God as children. Furthermore, to live as a child of God is to experience the life of the Spirit in a way that is renewing; to tap into God’s creative power through prayer, worship, community and the sacraments.

Throughout my life, I have repeatedly returned to my baptismal waters, the Salish Sea, with a growing sense that our stories are mingled—more than mingled, that I am drenched in these waters. In remembering my baptism, I remember the waters that were poured over me. I pray for healing for the watershed and all its inhabitants—humans, fowl, and invertebrates alike. I remember and pray for the orca, the salmon, and the communities that depend on fishing, the families who must follow the harvests. Baptism immerses us into communion with an entire watershed community even as it is a symbol of new life.

What if we were to begin speaking of baptism in Spirit and Water as baptism into the resurrection life of Jesus Christ and into our local waters? If we take seriously God’s incarnation breaking into a particular place at a particular time, and the life of the triune God breaking over us in the waters of baptism, then we are participating not only in the great dance of the Trinity, but also in the life of the world around us. We awaken to the deep communion of Spirit and Water—life of the risen Christ, and the ecology of fellow creatures. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, and also the tears of Tahlequah.