I think it’s full.

Listen along here.

The gospel according to Luke, the fourth chapter:

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

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I grew up in a big, old, red farmhouse. It had three floors—basement, main, and upper. The bathtub was on the top floor. [That’s important for the story.] Like many of you, my parents would often start the bathwater and then attend to another errand while the tub filled. They would pull the knob, get the temperature just right, and then walk away to sort some laundry, get a cup of coffee, or corral a child.

One morning many years ago, while my grandparents were visiting, my mother started the water in the bathtub and then decided to get back into bed for a few minutes. When she awoke, more than a few minutes later, and ran into the hallway, water was everywhere. It was pouring over the side of the tub, it was pooling on the tiled floor, it was gushing under the bathroom door, it was quickly crawling across the carpeted hallway. After turning the water off as quickly as she could, she ran downstairs to the main level. And that’s when we heard my very controlled mother yelp. We all emerged from our bedrooms and ran to the living room to see what see what she was seeing—the water had already found its way down and was shamelessly spraying from the chandelier that hung above the grand piano.

My scientist grandfather quietly remarked: “I think it’s full.”

Luke tells us that Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Theologian Justo Gonzalez reminds us that “in the entire New Testament, only Luke uses the verb “to fill” to refer to what happens to a person.” According to Luke, lots of things fill us—rage, deceit, and joy, to name a few.[i] It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to recognize that some are more desirable than others. “[But] in all of these cases, being filled with sometime refers not to an interior attitude,” Gonzalez says, “but [it refers] to an emotional or spiritual fullness that overflows outwardly. Whatever is filled with rage acts accordingly. Whoever is filled with deceit acts deceitfully. [Whatever is filled with joy acts joyfully.] Likewise, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an interior condition but is rather a spiritual reality that overflows outwardly.”[ii]

For Luke, “filled” means spilling over, overflowing outwardly, shamelessly sprinkling everything and everyone in its path…the Holy Spirit doesn’t mess around.

When I first drafted this sermon, I put a placeholder right here that simply read: STORY. It served as a reminder to me that I thought it would be rhetorically powerful to tell a story about an individual who was obviously filled with the Holy Spirit—you know, someone like Dorothy Day or Oscar Romero or Edith Stein or Daniel Berrigan, someone who overflowed outwardly, someone who the Holy Spirit used to change the world. This past week, after way too many hours thinking about who it should be. I finally settled on Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, the founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, a young baker who started a company in East Harlem that employs low-income women, who were born outside of the United States, to bake their native breads—breads like tortillas, injera, and babka that have been passed down to them through the generations. But when I finished telling Rodriguez’ story, I was uneasy.[iii]

In graduate school, my friends and I often joked that everyone suffered from imposter syndrome. That is to say, when we were sitting around a seminar table, each of us had the feeling that we didn’t belong, that we didn’t have the gifts that everyone else did, that we weren’t measure up to the wit of the person to our left, that we weren’t full of wisdom like the person to our right. Turns out that most of us are exceptionally skilled at self-judgement; we’ve been practicing our whole lives.

When we talk about the fullness of the Spirit, we are at risk of the same thing. When we talk about the Spirit’s spilling, our tendency is to immediately point to someone who seems to be filled just a little fuller than we are. We settle into our own deficit and say that unfortunately the Holy Spirit didn’t seem to make it down our chimney this year.

But, for those of us who don’t think we fit the mold, Luke—the gospel writer with whom we’ll spend the whole year—is so generous. Whereas Matthew, Mark, and John are a little stingy with their references to the Holy Spirit, Luke says the Spirit’s fullness is all over the place. If hard numbers are your thing: Mark references the spirit six times. Matthew cites the spirit twelve times. The spirit shows up sixteen times in the gospel of John. Here, in Luke there are about sixty references to the spirit’s presence.[iv] The Spirit is everywhere. The Spirit eventually finds her way to everyone.

And if that’s not enough to rouse us from our fears of inadequacy, it’s not the likely characters who receive the fullness of what the Spirit has to offer. In Luke, it’s Zechariah and Elizabeth. It’s Simeon and John. In Luke, the Spirit’s fullness finds its way to the poor, the captives, the wayward, the oppressed. The Spirit even fills that boy with no spiritual pedigree, that boy with no formal education, that boy without a dime to his name—you know that boy from the suburb way up north called Nazareth—that boy named Jesus. Ironically, it is exactly to those society deems unworthy of the Spirit’s power that the Spirit comes.

And when the Spirit comes, she never tires of telling us the truth. She says, “I choose you. You are mine. And I give you particular gifts, gifts that don’t match the one sitting to your right or to your left. Gifts of evangelism, prophetic speech, power, healing, assistance, leadership, miracle-working, and tongues. Gifts of love, poetry, music-making, building, acting, dancing, shouting, singing, and yearning. These gifts overflow outwardly, they spill onto others, they sprinkle everyone in their path. I entrust them to you for the sake of the whole world, with all its joy and all its weariness. Like it or not, y’all are epiphany,” the Spirit says, “the very means by which Christ is made known.”

From where I stand this morning, I see a community gifted with the Spirit for the sake of the world. In the quiet words of my late grandfather, “I think it’s full.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.


 

[i] Luke 4:38, Acts 13:10, Acts 13:52.

[ii] Gonzalez, Luke. The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel.

[iii] It’s a great story…for another time. Read more here: https://hotbreadkitchen.org/

[iv] These are Gonzalez’ numbers.

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Mary, Martin, and Mateo

The gospel according to John, the second chapter:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

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In the gospel of Matthew, it’s a sermon that jumpstarts Jesus’ ministry. In the gospel of Mark, it’s an exorcism that gets him on the map. In the gospel of Luke it’s a spirit released from a man with a shriek that earns Jesus local notoriety. In John, it’s Cana.[i] Way, way before author Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, my grandmother told me that first impressions are important; it’s fair to assume that responding to a booze emergency at a townie wedding wasn’t how the Son of God hoped to take his first steps into the public arena.

“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come,” we hear him say when the party disaster is made known to him. Interpreters have been hard on Jesus for his tone. They suggest that Jesus is distancing himself from his mother with this harsh address. But, having older brothers and a mother, I hear it differently. I hear Jesus say: “Mama, please, don’t make me do this.” And I hear Mary say, “But, Baby, they have no wine. I’ve watched you for thirty years and know you can do something about it.”[ii]

To Jesus’ “not yet,” Mary says, “now is the time for you to be who you are.”

The whole theme of time is important in John’s gospel, but it’s tricky. One of my teachers says that “[here] we actually have two time frames operating simultaneously. There’s ordinary clock time. It’s a few minutes after [nine/eleven] o’clock on a Sunday morning in January. Ordinary time. But above it is God’s time. Eternal time. And like a sewing machine, eternal time keeps [pressing] down into ordinary time, creating signs and wonders of the fullness itself.”[iii]

On April 12, 1963, eight prominent religious leaders—seven pastors and one rabbi—crafted and published a letter in the local newspapers urging the Black community to withdraw support from the demonstrations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. These men—considered by most to be progressives—encouraged the community to “show restraint,” to “observe the principles of law and order and common sense,” and to “press for change in the courts, not in the streets.” In words that their children would later say came to haunt them for the rest of their lives, they wrote, “We are now confronted by a series of demonstrations…We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.”

In response to the clergymen’s letter, Martin Luther King penned and published a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, saying,

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

I wish you had commended the Negro demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.[iv]

To the church’s “not yet,” Martin King says, “now is the time for you to be who you are.”

This morning we are the church as we witness the needle add another holy stitch to the fabric of our community as Mateo—the newest revolutionary in Christ’s family—is dunked in the waters of baptism. The name Mateo means “gift of God.” In our baptism class, we say that on this day we hear God say to Mateo: “You (the wet one there with all the water on you) are mine! I love you! I will not abandon or forsake you. You are part of my unending life.”[v]

With God’s blessing, we say to Mateo, “baby, now is the time for you to be who you are.” This isn’t a one-time address; we promise to keep repeating it again and again. It will be our refrain through his untimely squeals and his wiggles and his adolescence and his prodigal years; it will be our refrain through his doubt and his loneliness and his pain and his hard times; it will be our refrain as he stands with the least of these, as he stoops at the feet of his neighbors, as he turns the other cheek, and as he prays for his enemies; it will be our refrain as he ages, and loves, and forgives, and feasts. “Baby, now is the time for you to be who you are.”

And, people of God, I’m confident that if we say it enough, we’ll come to believe that this refrain is spoken for us, too.

AMEN.


 

[i] To be fair, preaching and healing are often bound up together in the Synoptic Gospels.

[ii] My friend Jodi Hogue says it another way, which is also helpful: “I keeping thinking of the Wedding at Cana story for Sunday. And Jesus being not quite ready. Would that we all have a Jewish mama saying, “Come on. Yep. It’s time. Be who you are.” at our coming out. And a party waiting on the other side.”

[iii] Tom Long said this.

[iv] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/martin-luther-kings-letter-from-birmingham-jail/274668/

[v] These are the words of Marc Olson.

Incarnated Promise. Jay’s sermon for Baptism of Jesus Sunday

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

You and I might consider it a minor offense, but to philosopher, bishop, and saint, Augustine of the Fourth Century, it was one of the most significant events of his adolescence. According to his classic book, Confessions, he and some fellow mischief-makers decided one day to hop a fence and steal some pears from his neighbor’s pear tree. It wasn’t that they were hungry or that the pears were particularly tasty; they did it for the thrill. That act, Augustine concluded, revealed a pernicious, sinful nature within him.

There were no fruit trees in the neighborhood where I grew up. But you might say my original sin came through a game of baseball. In third grade, my friend Jason came over after school, and we sat on my front steps thinking about how to occupy the afternoon. One of us had a whiffle ball bat, but we had no ball. Eventually we discovered, though, that the stones from the landscaping in front of our house could serve as a decent substitute for a ball in our batting practice. We took turns pitching and batting. Then Jason came up with a great little game of seeing how many times we could hit a rock across the street to the sidewalk on the other side. We got pretty good at it and turned it into a competition. I guess I was so focused on the game that I didn’t notice the Lincoln Town Car coming down the street.

I heard the plink of rock hitting metal, followed quickly by the sound of screeching brakes. I didn’t see much, though, because by that point we were already running. We went through the backyard and through the neighbor’s property. We went around the block. After we concluded that enough time had passed, we returned home, thinking we were safe. But then around the corner came the driver of that Lincoln, and he was as angry as we expected him to be. He scolded us and took us to his car to show us what we had done.

About that time, my mom happened to look out the kitchen window, and she saw a strange man bringing me by the arm to his car out front. In about two seconds she was running down the driveway, yelling, “What are you doing? That’s my son!”

Now, I knew I was in trouble. But seeing my mom, hearing her voice, let me know that I was not alone. I was her son, and I was safe.

This morning in our celebration of baptism, we are reminded of the times and places when God’s promises for us take on flesh, when we hear and see and even feel the good news that we are loved, that we belong to God and always will. It’s one thing to know intellectually that we belong to God, just as I’ve always known my parents loved me. It’s another thing completely to be told it clearly in a moment when it needs to be received, to hear the words spoken directly to us, to feel the baptismal waters on our own skin.

Jesus himself received such an important and direct message of love. He had gone out to the river to be baptized by John, along with a whole crowd of people. Now, those people had not been driven out there by internal guilt about private sins or individual acts of mischief. They were drawn to the river by hope. They believed that God could do something new for their community of hurting and oppressed. They were filled with expectation. One theologian says they were a “multitude of Jews who were all waiting for the promises they heard about from their grandmothers.” And Jesus was with them. He stood with them on the river bank in their hope and expectation.

The Gospels say John preached a baptism of repentance, which means a turning in a completely new direction. That crowd followed John in turning away from the systems and powers that kept so many from living fully as God’s beloved children. But they were also turning toward something new: a new community, a new commitment to justice and peace for all people, a restored hope.

Jesus was also baptized. He walked into that water right alongside his neighbors, his brothers and sisters, and he himself turned toward the beginning of a new mission. Later, he’ll describe that mission as “bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free.” It was a huge mission. But before he began all that, he went into the water, and as he came up, he saw the Holy Spirit, incarnated in the bodily form of a bird, and he heard a voice from heaven say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” He saw and heard for himself that he was not alone, that he belonged to God, that he was loved.

Something similar happened to Jesus later on atop the mountain of transfiguration. That was another time that he needed a clear reminder of who and whose he was. But I expect there were many such times during his life and work. Maybe he heard it also during some of the times he went off to pray by himself. Maybe he heard it while worshipping and studying at the synagogue. Maybe he heard it from his friends, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, or even the disciples. Sure, Jesus always knew he was loved by God. His parents and grandparents had taught him the scriptures and brought him to the festivals of worship. He knew the story of God well. But he, like all of us, needed at times to hear that good news voiced and to see it in bodily form.

Teresa of Avila wrote:

          Christ has no body but yours,

           No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

           Yours are the eyes with which he looks

           Compassion on this world,

           Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

           Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

What an amazing and scary thought that is, that God can be incarnated in you and me.

It’s a bold idea, but I hope that I can be an embodied voice of God for you this morning. No, it’s not a booming voice from heaven. I don’t have the voice of Charleton Heston or Morgan Freeman. Hollywood would probably choose someone taller, fitter, smarter for such an important role. But I can say to you with confidence that it is God’s promise that you are loved, that you belong to God forever, and God is so very pleased with you. I hope you can hear that from me, as God’s promise. And when you come up to the table to receive some bread, and Pastor Ingrid or I say, “This is the body of Christ given for you,” I hope you understand that “for you” really means you.

Hear that promise for yourself, and then remember that others need to hear such promises of God from you, too. When we celebrate baptism, we surround the baptized with people—parents, sponsors, a congregation—who promise to repeat God’s message to them, again and again, especially when they need to hear it most. We promise to be that voice of God for them. It’s our first task as the church to tell people—child or adult, member or nonmember, person of Christian faith or another faith or no faith at all—that they are valued and worthy of love. Then we can stand with one another as sisters and brothers, a people not left alone, a people of hope.

Growing the Light

Pastor Ingrid’s sermon for Epiphany. Listen along here.

The gospel according to Matthew, the second chapter:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

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Our neighbors across the street had a menorah in their front window this Chanukkah, the Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights. On the eight nights between December 6 and December 14, I paused in the dark street in front of their house on my way home from work and peered into their home. [Don’t worry; it wasn’t as weird as it sounds.] Each night—moving from right to left, just like Hebrew script—I would witness another candle burning.

At the same time as I was peeping into my neighbors’ window, a rabbi by the name of Michael Adam Latz in Minneapolis introduced me to the idea of illuminators. Illuminators, he said, are people who create light in the night, who amplify the call for justice, who make our world more whole, who have—in his words—the chutzpah to light the first candle when reality tells us there is not enough oil. Illuminators know they cannot make the world right all at once, but they have the courage to keep trying—candle by candle. In short, illuminators seek to grow the light.[i]

Epiphany, the day of the church year we celebrate today, is the church’s day of illumination. Epiphany’s alternative name in Greek is τα Φώτα, which means “The Lights.” It’s the day when we tell the story of those wise guy stargazers who were sent on a mission to follow a star in the sky. It’s the day we consider the moment they laid their eyes on that fleshy little baby and his oh so tired parents. It’s the day we consider what it must have been like for them to recognize—really against all odds—that the little child was real bad news for Herod and real good news for those society didn’t have much time for—people with broken pieces, people who practice peace, and people who choose mercy-even when it comes at their own expense.

Usually we leave our Epiphany reflection there—in the warmth of the miracle of the dudes actually finding the Christ Child. But the passage we’re given takes us back on the road where the light is more difficult to see. One Mennonite theologian says that “when we think of epiphanies, we tend to idealize the sudden revelation, the moment of knowing, the one thing that launches us confidently on our journey: “Arise, shine,” says the writer of Third Isaiah, “For your light has come.” This is the kind of epiphany we want—the shining light, the voice from heaven, the glory of the Lord, the gleaming star. But I’m convinced the magi’s star is a fainter light than that. It’s trickier to notice. It’s harder to follow.”[ii] It is more like a single candle on 45th Avenue pressing back on a cold winter’s night.

As we turn the calendar to 2016, it is easy to shut the books on 2015 and say “see you later” to a year in which political rhetoric went off the rails [even more than usual], guns killed unarmed kids in American streets, horrifying conflicts in places like Syria forced millions from their homes, and the Earth continued to warm. It would be easy to collapse into cynicism, to say that nothing will change regardless of how many songs we sing or how many letters we write or how many marches we join or how many prayers we offer or how many candles we light. We’re not the first to be tempted to fall into the ease of cynicism. With the power of Herod and his cronies on their minds, I have to believe the wise men must have thought throwing their hands up, too, heading right back to the land from which they had come, and leaving the struggle to someone else. But they didn’t take the easy route.

We need not either. As we step out of Advent and Christmas and we turn the calendar to 2016, I think part of our call as Christians is to also to look back on the lights that shone in 2015. The New York Times editorial board, in a piece entitled “Moments of Grace in a Grim Year” published a handful of days ago on Christmas Day, pointed to so many of the year’s illuminators, including: the unprecedented promises made by 195 countries’ leaders at the Paris Climate Conference; the humble swagger of a Pope who is consistently challenging the wealthy; the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of committed love between two people; the lowest use of the death penalty in two decades; and the Black Lives Matter movement that spread a message of peaceable resistance.[iii] From where I sit, these were indeed bright public lights. I’m sure there were also illuminators who flipped switches, so to speak, in your own life that you could add to this ever-expanding list.

This year’s symposium speaker, Wil Gafney, recently reminded me of something Howard Thurman, who was widely considered to be one of the greatest African American preachers in the 20th-century, wrote in the 1960s—another period in history that knew hardship. Thurman said that somewhere between the light and the darkness, between shadow and the glory, there is a space called the luminous darkness. Others have called it radiant blackness. Think of it as the night sky spangled with stars.[iv] I think Thurman’s words are helpful for us today. I think we find ourselves living in the luminous darkness. We won’t know it, though, unless we remind each other to look up and see the night sky spangled with stars. Or unless we remember to pause long enough to catch sight of the lone candle flickering in our neighbor’s window.

When the wise stargazers made it back to their hometowns, I like to think they started in on the work of the gospel. They didn’t need to wait for Jesus to grow in age and wisdom. The truth was that they were already having visions and dreaming dreams. They began to position themselves near to those with broken pieces and to listen to the cries for justice and to practice peace and to hold fast to God’s promise that mercy and life have the last word. Not only in some distant future, but right now. They had seen a star in the sky, yes. More importantly, however, they had seen true light emanating from a fleshy little baby that offered them an opening to believe, if for a moment, that what they saw around them—the abuse of power, the economic disparity, the violence, the complacency—wasn’t all there was. This light allowed them to believe the good news that God’s grace and joy were more powerful than any cynicism the Empire attempted to sling around their shoulders.

They had become illuminators—people who create light in the luminous darkness, who amplify the call for justice, who make the world more whole, who have the chutzpah to light the first candle when reality tells us there is not enough oil. Oh, of course, they knew they couldn’t make the world right all at once, but they had the courage to keep trying—candle by candle. Thereafter, their lives were devoted to one thing: Growing the light.

May it be so with us.

AMEN.


 

[i] These are the words of Michael Adam Latz.

[ii] Joanna Harader in The Christian Century.

[iii] To read more, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/25/opinion/moments-of-grace-in-a-grim-year.html.

[iv] To read more, go to http://www.wilgafney.com/2015/12/27/embracing-the-light-the-darkness-in-the-age-of-black-lives-matter/.

The Resurrection of Paul B. Eid (1923-2015)

Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from the memorial service for Paul B. Eid.

The gospel according to Matthew, the fifth chapter:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

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From an ancient Palestinian hillside, Jesus’ blessings ring clear. They are spoken for those society doesn’t much care for—people with broken pieces. We hear Jesus articulate eight specific blessings in Matthew’s gospel, but I’m confident that this was meant to be a “starter list.” Jesus must have known the collection of beatitudes would grow as his people continued to learn and to love.

This week, as I listened to Paul Eid’s family tell personal stories about their beloved husband, dad, and grandfather; as I learned more about Paul’s professional accomplishments as a church musician and social worker; and as I considered my own sweet interactions with Paul the past few years as one of his pastors, it occurred to me that Paul’s life clearly points to a whole host of beatitudes—blessings—that we might boldly add to the list begun so long ago. They might go something like this:

Blessed are the social workers with full hearts and empty hearts and hearts broken open by those they serve. Blessed are the kids in foster care who want only to feel safe and loved. Blessed are the kids who are carried from orphanages by hopeful hands to homes halfway around the world. Blessed are the fierce maiden daughters and prodigal sons. Blessed are the adults who ache each day with the want to be parents and the parents who struggle through the task of loving without condition; they will be filled.

Blessed are the relationships that aren’t quite working. Blessed are the pastors and counselors unafraid of the pain and shame seated in each one of us. Blessed are the teenagers exploring human sexuality in a world chalk full of unhelpful binaries. Blessed are women in a society created, well, for someone else. Blessed are they who are living and dying with AIDS. Blessed are the self-aware; theirs is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are Christians who willing to step over congregational and denominational boundaries for the sake of relationship and justice. Blessed are the church organists and choir directors who lovingly lead the song of the people. Blessed are the tenors who sing descants far too loudly on hymnody. Blessed are the children of tenors who sing descants far too loudly on hymnody. Rejoice and be glad, Deborah, Jonathan, Kellen, and Rebekah, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.[i]

You laugh. It’s right to laugh. Commentators generally agree that the beatitudes are meant to startle. “The beatitudes have things backwards,” says one bible scholar. “To take them seriously is to call into question our ordinary values.”[ii] They are always reorienting our understanding of the world and God’s interaction with it.

Lois said that “blessing” was the word that kept on coming to her mind when she thought about her husband’s life. Contrary to what we are taught somewhere along the way, a life grounded in blessing doesn’t mean a life made easy. Paul’s family agrees that his acceptance, non-judgmental spirit, and loving compassion for the least of these were born, at least in part, out of his own lived experience. It need not be a secret that Paul lived through conflicted periods in his own life; he, like many of you, knew his share of sorrow and was intimately acquainted with his own fragility. Buoyed by many of you here today, Paul allowed these experiences to deepen his empathy for the sorrow and fragility of others. Son Jonathan said that “[his] Papa, taught [him] that to know oneself is an essential step in perceiving the value everyone has to offer.” Paul’s greatest struggles birthed his greatest gifts—gifts that this quiet maverick shared so freely with you, with me.

Son Kellen says that a certain, embodied peace found Paul in retirement. This man, who was always confidently blazing new trails as a professional at Lutheran Social Service and Children’s Home Society, became more and more himself as he aged. He lavishly loved his grandchildren. He and Lois continued to use their dining table to build community, living up to the plaque that hung on a nearby wall and read: “Sit long. Talk much.” With more free time, he insisted on helping his children with cross-country road trips, Rebekah said, even when his children gently suggested they’d prefer to do it alone. Daughter Deborah said that she watched as her dad, now in his late sixties, moved into an even deeper understanding of God’s grace; Paul’s whole theology came to rest in it.

It was at this point in his life, about twenty years ago, near to the north shore of Ottertail Lake, and with a song in his heart, that Paul Eid made a conscious decision to live into the fullness of the life he had been given. In a poem entitled “Date Unknown” he penned these words:

I choose to stay as now—alive and vibrant,

seeker of wild flowers and flowering weeds,

planter of color in summer gardens,

observer of little things, shapes and shadows;

worshiper of sunset and moonrise and season’s change—

silent enfoldment by a cloak of green,

welcomer of visits by intimate friends,

journeyer with Kathleen Norris through The Cloister Walk.

Norris, the author that Paul mentions, says that “the Bible is full of evidence that God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things.”[iii] Little things like flowering weeds, shadows, and silent green cloaks.

About ten days ago, as it became clear that Paul was nearing death, Lois asked him if there was anything he needed—if there was anything she could do to make the experience easier for him. He said to her, “All I need is love.” In his little bedroom, with his hospital bed in the center and gentle light filtering through the snow falling outside, that is exactly what Paul was given. God’s attention was indeed fixed on the little things and love infused the room in a way I will not soon forget.

Today, together, we form the loving community that carries Paul on the final leg of his baptismal journey after a full and beautiful and imperfect and blessed life. In so doing, we honor the holy promises that were made to him by both God and the church so long ago. We trust that death does not have the final word. “Even as we return a body back to the earth,” one theologian writes, “[we acknowledge that] this [is] not the end of the journey nor the final word, but that God [is] already speaking a new word, already performing beyond our sight and our full knowing another mighty work of hope.”[iv]

It is in this sure and certain hope that we entrust Paul B. Eid back to the One who lovingly created him 92 years ago, knowing that rest, eternal Mystery, and light perpetual have already found him.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


 

[i] Other preachers have added powerfully to Jesus’ beatitudes.

[ii] Allison, Dale. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.

[iii] Norris, Kathleen. The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work. Costa Mesa: Paulist Press, 1998.

[iv] Long and Lynch. The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and The Community of Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.