St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church of Ridgefield

October 3, 2017

Responding to violence…again

Our salvation is found together…

Responding to violence…again

When the news story first came across my screen of the deadly shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night, I was struck by the terror of it.  “Should I write some sort of reflection?” I wondered to myself.  “Are people sick of reading some written reflection in response to violence?  Didn’t I just write one?  What could possibly be new to say?”  My tired, weary thoughts made the need for words and action even more profound.  VIOLENCE KEEPS HAPPENING!

Last year at this time, I was preparing for a trip to the Holy Land, a visit to Israel and the West Bank.  Aren’t you worried about the violence? People would occasionally ask me.  To what am I comparing the violence in the Middle East?  Who can judge between a shooter at the Al Aqsa Mosque and one in Las Vegas?

The Apostle Paul’s lament in his Letter to the Romans seems most suited for today.  Recalling various verses from the Hebrew texts he ruminates…

 What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 
   there is no one who has understanding,
     there is no one who seeks God. 
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
   there is no one who shows kindness,
     there is not even one.’ 
‘Their throats are opened graves;
   they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’ 
   ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ 
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; 
   ruin and misery are in their paths, 
and the way of peace they have not known.’ 
   ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’                      Romans 3:9-18

I believe that we will not find our way until we find ourselves in the Mercy that is God.  Discovering ourselves there will give us the strength and direction to find our way forward together.  No one is going anywhere.  The Violent are within each of us.  Our salvation is found together.  Jesus’ death on the cross shows us that although grace and mercy and love and forgiveness are free, our salvation is not.  Allowing ourselves to be saved is going to cost us something.

 

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August 16, 2017

Why it’s important to always speak up

There are people who listen to our words and consider our actions. What do they hear? What do they see?

Why it’s important to always speak up

In difficult situations it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. 

Knowing that your words carry gravitas and impact can be the “turn of the screw.”  So, I sympathize with public figures, like our President, who discover that every word spoken—or not spoken—is being listened to.

Lest we think that we’re off of the hook, however, we have our own area of influence.  There are people who listen to our words and consider our actions.  What do they hear?  What do they see?

What I hope that you hear from me is that white supremacy…or any other kind of supremacy…is wrong.  Our own Christian faith makes this very clear, with no room for misunderstanding.  Whether it’s Jesus who challenges the morally righteous or Paul who scolds the early followers of Jesus for seating themselves at the table according to status, these are only two examples of the many ways in our  scriptures that make it clear that there is no room for outcasts in Christ.  All are one.

This Sunday’s appointed lessons make this point clear.  In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, God says, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  The few verses from Romans emphasize that God’s favor on people other than the Hebrew people does not diminish his original blessing on the Hebrew people.  And Matthew’s Gospel leaves no room for confusion on our part– Then Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”  (To read these pieces of scripture, go to http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp15_RCL.html )

Freedom of Speech is not freedom to hate.

Hatred and division are not American values.  (Or am I wrong on this?)  I will work from the foundation of my Christian values toward eliminating hatred and division in our world.  I don’t want my moral failure to be indifference or surprise that hatred and division are alive in this world. 

German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) spoke a lamentation that I hope will never be mine.  Taken from Wikipedia, here is part of “his speech for the Confessing Church in Frankfurt on 6 January 1946, of which this is a partial translation:[1]

“When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.

Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – “should I be my brother’s keeper?”

Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers

I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.” 

I don’t want to fool myself in thinking that hatred and division will simply pass on by.  I’m smart enough to notice that it hasn’t happened yet.  Hatred and division were there in the time of Jesus.  And they’ve been allowed to have a place in the public sphere for way too many months now. 

How will I use my God-given creativity and my commitment to the power of Love to change these things?  How will you?

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June 29, 2017

Non-dualistic thinking

Non-dualistic thinking has opened for me a way to accept and proclaim the redeeming work of the Living God; the grace known in Jesus Christ…

I’m passionate about practicing and teaching non-dualistic thinking.  Non-dualistic thinking helped me change my question: Is this good or bad?  into the following questions: What is good and what is bad in this situation?  How do I know this?  Non-dualistic thinking allows me to be in relationship with these questions, which I find myself only capable of doing with God’s help.  The by-product of this way of thinking is that I grow in relationship with God through the very events/occurrences of my day.  Each event becomes an invitation to receive grace; an invitation to engage the Holy One – The Sacrament of the Present Moment, as Jesuit Priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) wrote over three hundred years ago. 

With all of the changes in our world, I find freedom in not judging them.  Instead of declaring from the beginning that something is good or bad, I hold it open to see what threads of good and bad run beside each other.  Where these threads of good and bad form a knot of reality, I ask God how I can untangle or pull apart the good from the bad AND how I might be a part of God’s redemption of the bad.  Well, if not a part of God’s redemptive work, at least not stand in the way.  *smile*  This is slow and attentive work which in practice looks like prayer.  As I join in the work that God is doing, God is right in there with me correcting my efforts, coaching me in my actions, and forgiving my shortcomings. Richard Rohr stated it succinctly,  “Once you have known grace, your tit-for-tat universe is forever undone: God is everywhere and always and scandalously found even in the failure of sin.” (p 77, The Naked Now)

This is not perfect work.  I’m not even that good at it.  Nor do I always enjoy it.  When things are hard, I growl or yell when I’m alone — sound born from my frustration or impatience or plain-good-ol’-weariness.  And these sounds are prayers, too.  Inevitably, God reveals what thread of the knot of reality God is redeeming.  And by the flash of God’s redemptive love at work, I’m inspired and consoled to join in the effort that God is doing.  I’ll try again.  It’s obviously not my job anyway—it’s God’s work.  I’m simply on the team. 

Non-dualistic thinking has opened for me a way to accept and proclaim the redeeming work of the Living God; the grace known in Jesus Christ.  So, I’m passionate about cultivating this practice within myself, and coaching others in it as well, so that the Always Redeeming Love of God can be made known in the world.

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June 21, 2017

World Refugee Day

Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day, a specific day to remember the average people who flee their well-loved and familiar homes because of famine, war, or persecution…

Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day, a specific day to remember the average people who flee their well-loved and familiar homes because of famine, war, or persecution.  Episcopal Migration Ministries invites us to a moment of reflection with these words:

A great commonality across religions and global cultures is the tradition of breaking bread together. The sharing of food between people is an effective and enduring way to foster interpersonal, inter-religious, inter-ethnic, and international connections. 
…This call [to welcome the stranger] is the essence of growth and development for humanity.

Sitting down together at the table, whether with our family or with guests, reminds us that we are not our own masters.  We cannot sustain ourselves by our own will.  The invitation spoken at the Communion Table each Sunday reminds us of this:

“Come to this table…It is Christ who invites us to meet him here, sustaining us for the life we are called to in him.”

How do we allow Christ to sustain us?  How do we allow Love to sustain us?  Somehow we have to go deeper into our common ground.  We have to find our shared foundation, beneath the chaos and volatility on the surface.  Breaking bread with one another calls us into our common humanity.  We’re not sure how to deal with all of the strife (both personal and political).  There is no obvious life-giving answer.  I believe, however, that we’re called to a greater awareness of our connectedness with one another, our shared identity as God’s creation.  This awareness is the seed of action, and the practice that sprouts from this interconnectedness provides a way for God to work.

Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter see on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”  Mark 4:26-29

May we plant seeds of kindness in our common humanity so that God’s transforming work is better able to grow.

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June 12, 2017

Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.

This morning on the radio news I heard two gay men in Chechnya share their stories of violence and abuse in Russia because of the fact that they’re gay…

This morning on the radio news I heard two gay men in Chechnya share their stories of violence and abuse in Russia because of the fact that they’re gay.

How can the church speak into this world of violence???

We can share what we know of ourselves as children of God and how it is that we’ve developed our lives to reflect that truth.  The Episcopal Church took action to affirm God’s blessing upon LGBTQ people by establishing a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples: The Witnessing and Blessing of a Life-long Covenant.  (You can find this liturgy under the “Services” portion of the Welcome tab)  The following is an excerpt from the introduction:

Christian Life and Covenants

All Christians are called to bear witness to the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are empowered for such witness by our covenantal relationship with God.

Baptism initiates us into that covenant, making us Christ’s own forever and members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  The Eucharist sustains us in that covenantal life and strengthens us to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

Our covenantal life with God is expressed in relationships of commitment and faithfulness, including those of same-sex couples. It is the Church’s joy to celebrate these relationships as signs of God’s love, to pray for God’s grace to support couples in their life together, and to join with these couples in our shared witness to the gospel in the world.

In Matthew’s Gospel, at the very end,  

Jesus came and said to (the disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

We have Good News to share—That God loves all that God has made.  God invites all humanity into covenant relationship with Him/Her.  Go into the world and let people know that God has not forgotten them.  They—YOU—are loved.

 

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June 5, 2017

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. Really hard. It takes a lot of power. Sometimes more power than we have within ourselves.

Forgiveness

Yesterday (June 4) we celebrated Pentecost, the Feast Day on which we remember God giving the Holy Spirit to normal people so that they might go out into the world with the Good News.  One piece of scripture that we read in worship was John 20:19-23 in which Jesus breathes on the disciples (those that knew and followed him during his life) and he tells them “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus thinks that it is a really big deal to forgive sins- to relieve people of the burdens that they carry around from their wrongdoings- burdens that are too heavy for us to carry for long because we get bogged down under the weight of them.  (Remember the character played by Robert DeNiro in the movie The Mission?)  So, Jesus went around during his ministry forgiving people, relieving them of their burdens so that they were free to live a new life!  Remember the story of the paralytic man in Mark’s Gospel whose friends lowered him down through the roof of the full house so that he could be healed by Jesus?  Mark 2: 1-12  Jesus first pronounces the man’s sins forgiven.  The religious authorities take issue with this and wonder who Jesus thinks he is, forgiving sins like that…like God.  To prove that he has the power to forgive people he does something that shows his power.  He tells the paralytic man to get up and walk.

Forgiveness is hard.  Really hard.  It takes a lot of power.  Sometimes more power than we have within ourselves.  If you find yourself having trouble forgiving someone, try this meditative exercise.

Imagine coming into the presence of the merciful love of Jesus.  This merciful love is so great that people instinctively humble themselves before the magnitude of it.  It’s a love force field.  What does this love force field sound like?  Look like?  You’ll probably need to sit in quiet openness to get a sense of what this love force field sounds and looks like.  Once you’re familiar with this love force field, feel free to ask Jesus to show you who else is there.  You can ask the Living God to show you what the person who wronged you looks like within this Love. 

God’s love for us is demonstrated in the power of Jesus and given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the power of forgiveness.

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April 14, 2017

Why did Jesus have to die? Part 2

“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”  (The Gospel According to Mark)  These were the words that Jesus prayed on the night that he spent in the Garden of Gethsemane—a real place on a hill right outside of Jerusalem. This night of prayer was right before that fateful Friday morning on which one of his closest friends (Judas) betrayed him and the trials began that led to his death as a criminal- hanging on a cross.

Jesus made his hopes known in his prayers. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to go through the future 24 hours that seemed certain.  So, why would God “will” Jesus’ death?  How could Jesus’ death be something that God could want?  I believe that God didn’t want it and that God didn’t will it either.  I believe that what God did want is what God still wants—for the redeeming power of Love to be known in the world.  And I believe that God is hoping to address all of our reasons for not believing that Love is that powerful.

I can think of nothing in all of creation that seems final, except death.  Surely death could get rid of Jesus.  Yet in Jesus’ resurrection we see that the Living God has the last word- not death.  That Love can overcome all things- even hate and violence.  Does it seem unbelievable?

For some it is still unbelievable.  For 2000 years, no one has been able to locate the remains of Jesus.  People all over the world, beginning on that first Sunday morning, have looked to prove that his resurrection is false.  And the harder it was to prove, the harder people tried.  For his first followers, they came to know of Jesus’ resurrection and attempted to describe it. The Apostle Paul, the writers of Matthew, Luke and John– each have worked to put it into words.  And their words and witness have helped people even in our day-and-age know his resurrection to be true, and thus the power of Love.

I don’t know that we could have known that the Living God has the last word (which is Love) if Jesus hadn’t died.

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April 10, 2017

Why did Jesus have to die? Part 1

Why did Jesus have to die? You’re going to find different answers to this question…

Why did Jesus have to die?  Part 1 by The Rev. Whitney Altopp

You’re going to find different answers to this question.  Not only might the difference in answer be found between Methodists and Catholics and Congregationalists and Baptists and Episcopalians, but you’ll find slight differences even among Episcopalians.  I’ll tell you the understanding that I’m currently working with.

I have a growing sense that Jesus “had to” die, not because God demands it, but because humans do.  Across cultures and throughout time, humanity has sought to reconcile themselves to the Divine with a perfect offering.  Whatever it is that is bigger than us, humans conclude, must want something more than what any of us average people have to offer.  I don’t have enough space on this blog to go through various examples.  You probably already know what I’m talking about through your general public education.  In these past 2000 years, Christians have often described Jesus’ death in this way—God needed a perfect sacrifice to wash away our sins.

However, the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old or First Testament according to Christians, the Torah according to Jews) spoke time and again of wanting something other than a perfect sacrifice.  Here is just one example found in scripture.  It comes from Micah 6:6-8    (spoken by the prophet)

 With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Aren’t there days that instead of acting justly or loving mercy or walking humbly, you’d rather just sacrifice something?

Part 2’s answer to this question will address humanity’s inclination to eradicate that which we don’t like.

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