Dear Friends of Second Church,
Dear Friends of Second Church,
I was saddened this week to read about the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef and food journalist.
What a week, right?
The designer Kate Spade and the chef Anthony Bourdain, each dead by suicide.
It is a reminder to us all about how important it is that we care for one another, and help those who are suffering from depression to get the treatment they need.
We need to learn how to push beyond appearances and be available when people need us to be.
I especially feel that in the case of Anthony Bourdain, who is being remembered as a complicated, but wonderful man.
His book, “Kitchen Confidential,” was a powerful description of what it was really like to work at a high-end Manhattan restaurant.
The short answer was that it wasn’t pretty.
When Bourdain said that, he had a way of making you listen.
So when he issued the stern admonition: “Do not order fish on Mondays,” you listened.
The New York Times said that this single warning alone effectively torpedoed the sale of seafood in Manhattan restaurants on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays…for ten years.
But the thing I am remembering today is his work on television.
I’m told that if you are a food person, there are lots of shows to watch right now.
There are lots of celebrities to follow. There are lots of techniques to learn and lots of signature dishes to experience in any number of wonderful places, and any number of noteworthy characters to take you there and show you how it’s done.
But within that world, Bourdain was different.
For one thing, his food shows were as likely to feature cooking from a take-out place in Detroit as they were some high-end destination restaurant in Dubai.
Bourdain wanted to know what and how people ate as part of their daily lives, wherever it was they were from.
And a big part of his work, too, involved simply eating with people from different backgrounds and points of view.
He believed in the power of the table that way.
As one tweet I say on Friday put it:
“Anthony Bourdain had one of the only shows on t.v. that tried with all its might to teach Americans not to be scared of other people.”
What a worthy project that was, especially now.
Frankly, if only our religious institutions embodied that same commitment to finding common ground around a common table.
If only we did so with just a fraction of Bourdain’s openness, curiosity, and hospitality.
What remarkable things about our neighbors we would be learning if all across the country and the theological spectrum, that were our focus.
Praise God, the Holy Spirit would be hovering over every church in the country every single day.
What a remarkable witness it would be.
We’re not there, yet. Not today.
Sometimes, I admit, that gets me down.
And yet, I take comfort this morning because, as our Gospel reading makes clear, this challenge of witness…this challenge of engaging our neighbors would have been familiar enough to Jesus, too.
Mark’s story this morning comes from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the days just after he first calls his disciples.
It was a heady time.
Very quickly, it seems, his message has started to catch on.
The crowds coming to hear him along the Sea of Galilee have started getting bigger.
They’re big enough that now Jesus has to preach from the bow of a boat anchored a few feet offshore — which was kind of the ancient world’s cheap solution for stadium seating.
The people want to hear what he has to say.
He’s begun healing, too.
That actually turns out to be more of a thing, because controversially, Jesus is willing to heal even on the Sabbath.
That gets the attention of the powers-that-be.
It tells us something important about those powers that a man can come up out of nowhere and start healing the sick — I mean, doing legitimate, honest-to-goodness, “take up your pallet and walk” type healing…un-withering people’s hands kind of healing…the casting out demons kind of healing…
A man can appear and start doing all of that, and their reaction is: “Not on Sunday he’s not. Doctors offices are supposed to be closedon Sunday. This did not get approved…We have to get down there.”
Little surprise that, if that’s their m.o., then what they see…what they find when they arrive there doesn’t change their mind one bit.
They they are with their clipboards, writing it all down furiously…every last detail…every quotation…word for word…every little thing they overhear in the crowd.
Finally, one of them gets a little sick of all these bumpkins getting so excited, and sneers and says something like, “This ‘rabbi’ sure does seem to know a lot about demons….Wonder how that happened….” Says it just a little too loudly, accidentally-on-purpose.
Another one picks up on that line and says, “Hmm. Wonder if this is ‘heal now, pay later’….”
And another says, “Wow…I sure hate to see someone take advantage of desperate people…Who does that?”
However it is that they do it, whatever it is they say, somehow, click by click, moment by moment, comment by comment, they shift the tone of this event.
It’s no longer about what’s happening and how wonderful it is.
It’s about this guy, and the fast one he’s trying to pull.
And the point is not simply that they think Jesus is a bad guy.
It goes further than that.
What they’re actually saying is that he’s sub-human.
When they say that Jesus “has an unclean spirit,” they’re staking their expertise, their reputation for righteousness, their long church resumes against this guy who showed up by the seashore.
It’s not simply that they disagree.
It’s not that his approach looks to them like it’s disruptive or different or disrespectful.
They’re inclination is to suggest that he’s somewhere between some sort of two-bit demon and the Prince of Darkness himself.
That’s what they want people to think. That’s the rumor that they’re trying to spread around.
And this is very serious, church, and we have to pay attention to that because that’s what religion…that’s what their commitment to their faith has taught them to do.
Religion has the capacity to be the greatest label-maker that the world has ever known, and that’s just what’s happened here.
Now it’s important to note that this doesn’t simply mean that they would be considered bad Christians.
They would also have been considered bad Jews.
Scripture in both testaments is emphatic about the importance of honor and dignity for all people, strangers and kinfolk alike, as a central expression of righteousness.
These particular people have lost their sense of that.
And for us, all these years later, it remains tremendously hard to hold onto.
But the point is that compared to these distinguished visitors, Jesus represents a very different kind of faith.
Because Jesus recognized that, all too often, religion seems to provide excuses for avoiding and excluding the people who scare us most…the ones who challenge us most…the complicated folks who push us most.
He wants to teach us to look beyond labels, beyond externals, and into the very heart of all Creation.
He wanted a church that worked with all its might to teach us not to be scared of other people.
In fact, he wanted a church that was willing to work seriously at learning to love them.
Is church the only place to get that kind of faith?
I don’t think so.
Sometimes I think we learn more about each other by trying to agree on what toppings to put on a pizza than we do from months of sitting next to each other in church…not that you shouldn’t come to church.
But the practice of the kind of life that Jesus wants is bigger than one hour on Sunday, or one building and its programs.
In a very different context, Anthony Bourdain was someone who showed us how powerful breaking bread together, and cultivating true curiosity about one another can be.
He taught us the power of moving past our fears and preconceptions to learn the truth for ourselves.
At its best, in even deeper ways, the church has always remembered that, too.
And our challenge today is to make sure that we never forget it.
In a world beset with so many differences and so much fear, we are called to live differently.
And the world is called to know us by our love.
How many of you got up early to watch the Royal Wedding?
I admit that I myself did not.
But I followed with great interest the wedding sermon, which was delivered by an American pastor, Bishop Michael Curry, who is a gifted preacher.
The Bishop did not disappoint.
He gave a deep and thoughtful reflection on the central hope underneath each and every Christian claim.
He talked about the power of love to transform the world.
It is a great sermon, and I recommend it to you warmly.
But if you look it up online, you will see that the sermon was not entirely without controversy.
Well…controversy may be too strong a word.
When a preacher preaches, there are some people who focus like a laser beam on that.
There are others who seem more interested in how the sermon appears to be connecting with the congregation.
And apparently….apparently…if you looked at the Americans who were actually in the congregation at the royal wedding, you could see that they were focused on that sermon.
They settle right in and nod and smile at all the right places.
But not so for the Royal Family.
If you watch them, you can see that they seemed to find it all a tad long. Worse, they seemed to find it all a tad sincere.
You can see it on the tape.
You can see them exchanging side-eye glances, even shifting in their seats a bit.
The speculation is running that from their point of view, a sermon about the power of love to change the world is not really their kind of sermon.
Maybe not for a wedding. Maybe not for anything.
They’re the Royal Family.
Maybe to them, talking about “changing the world” through love or through anything else is like quoting that verse in Luke that talks about how God “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the humble.”
My guess is that you hear that sort of differently if you’re a member of the British Royal Family.
Because it’s one thing if you come to a wedding and the preacher stands up and tells you that love abides…that love is eternal.
And if he or she goes on to say that love is from God, well, a lot of people probably shrug and say that’s just part of the price you pay.
It’s a preacher up there preaching…what do you expect?
Love abides — that’s nice to be reminded about. Those are good words to hear.
But it’s something else when somebody gets up and says that love changes things.
That’s not necessarily all that great to hear.
Because that’s revolutionary.
And by God, it’s supposed to be.
Some people aren’t prepared to say that. They don’t really want to take it that far.
I mean, many of us think, sure, it’s fine for love to change some things.
Sometimes you hear stories about someone who had a near miss with mortality…how at the moment when it seemed like the end they saw the faces of their children…and how then when they survived, they had a new lease on life.
That reminder of the love of their children means that from that day forward, they have decided to change some things.
But when the Church says that love changes things, or when Jesus says that love changes things, and the Church is tasked with trying to think through what that means, the point is not that love only changes some things.
The point is that love changes everything.
The task of the Church is about trying to discern what God wants love to change next.
And then the next task of the Church is to discern what God wants that love to look like.
And so if somebody hears that and thinks that God’s love isn’t revolutionary, well then…somebody wasn’t really paying attention.
Of course, this is not to say that the Gospel is somehow on the side of worldly revolution in any simple sense of that term.
Some people can be quick to baptize any revolution…every revolution…and that’s not right.
That’s not paying attention, either.
The point of this revolution is not regime change.
That’s thinking too small.
The point is regime transformation.
The point of this revolution is a world where love is not only the final destination.
Because in this revolution, love is also the way there.
It changes everything. And everyone.
That’s what this is.
Now the story of the first Pentecost is a wonderful story.
It’s as if the miraculous signs drop down from Heaven like fireworks, one after another.
Boom, boom, boom.
The disciples are together in a room, somewhere in Jerusalem, when boom… there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house.
And you get the feeling like they’re all looking around like, “What in the world??” when boom again, “divided tongues as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”
Now these were miracle people, witnesses to the resurrection, the people who had journeyed with Jesus…Christianity’s first All-Star team…and yet this was unlike anything even they had ever seen.
“All of them,” it says, “were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages….”
And the story goes on to say that “at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”
Each one, heard themselves, not only being spoken to, but being spoken to in their mother tongue.
It’s an incredible moment. An unprecedented moment. A major God-moment.
So it’s probably no surprise if I tell you that this moment is considered to be the birth of the Church.
But you know, it occurs to me that there are two ways that we can hear this story.
Because I think some people who hear this story probably place themselves in the gathered crowd.
They think back on that first Pentecost and say “Wow…
wouldn’t be incredible if God spoke to me that way? Wouldn’t it be amazing if God reached out to me, speaking my language?”
“What a difference it would make if God reached out to me, just like that…here in my little world…to hear God’s voice call to me….”
But then there are those who approach this story from a different angle.
Because there are those who hear this story and go, (MG: whew), “What new language is God challenging me to learn?”
“What are the words that God has placed on my heart?”
“What message do the tongues of fire resting over my head tell me to offer to the world?”
And I want to suggest that it’s those people who are truly engaging with the revolutionary loveof God.
It’s those people who are learning to ask what it is that God wants love to change next.
It’s those people who see that part of what God also wants love to change next isn’t just the world out there.
It’s the world within each of us, too.
Because the world changes as we hear the Spirit’s call and learn to love in new ways.
In learning new languages, we will both transform and be transformed.
In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God tells his people: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
And God says, “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).
On Pentecost, two things happened.
The Church learned for the first time that it was the Church….that it wasn’t just a random band of Jesus people, or people who got it, or whatever.
It was called to be a new thing: the Church. As such, it was a large part of God’s plan for the healing and redemption of the world.
Second, if you think about it, making ways in the wilderness and springs in the desert sound pretty close to impossible.
These things are contradictions in terms.
Or at least, they are if all you speak is the old language…they are if all you see are things in the same old way.
God asks, “Do you not perceive it?”
Do you not perceive it?
It is nothing less than a revolution.
What does God want love to change next?
What new language do you need to learn in order to be part of that change?
To be a Christian is not just to believe that love would change the world, or that love will change the world.
To be a Christian is to believe that love is already changing the world.
Love brings down the mighty from their thrones.
Love exalts the humble.
This might be hard for some in the British Royal Family to hear.
But it is good news.
In truth, it is the very best news that ever was or will be.
Mother’s Day is a day when we lift up our moms.
For some, that comes so naturally that it scarcely rates as a day.
There are some families where, on Mother’s Day, the grandmother shows up unannounced with dinner already made in pots covered in tin foil, along with flowers for her daughter, and all anyone has to do is go get it from the backseat.
These are families where motherhood has become a form of sisterhood — a powerful shared experience of family and what it is to be “the mom” and of all that demands.
There are families where mom gets breakfast in bed, made by everybody else, on Mother’s Day.
I have a feeling that in a lot of those families, mom may be a lot more awake than she pretends to be — that upstairs she is listening with her “mom ears,” those ears that always hear everything that goes on — and that the gift is not so much the breakfast she is served, but more the pleasure of listening to somebody else having to wrangle the children through an exercise involving open flames, getting things out of the knife drawer, and adjudicating who gets to carry the tray.
Of course, there are families where a phone call pretty much does it.
And there are others for whom even that might be asking too much.
My own grandmother was like that.
If you called her on Mother’s Day, you had to do it before the Mets game, or you wouldn’t keep her attention long enough to say thank you.
You’d be like, “Happy Mother’s Day, Nanny! I just wanted to call and say how much I…”
And she’d be like, “Wait, Mookie Wilson is coming up! Come on, Mookie! I just love Mookie!”
And you’d maybe try to fight that for a minute or two, but it never worked, and finally she’d say, “Well, this is long distance, so….” And that was your cue to hang up and let her get back to her game.
Which was always funny because if you were sitting in her living room, watching the game on some other day, her phone would ring constantly, and she had no trouble whatsoever talking and watching.
I think I was in my late 20s when I realized that it wasn’t her love for the Mets that was the issue. It was this particular kind of “thank you” that was the issue.
That if you wanted to thank my grandmother…if you wanted to show her love… to say “I love you” outright was not the way.
She was also not the kind of grandmother who wanted a hug ever, or who wanted a handmade card.
But a New York Mets cigarette lighter? She would have gone on and on and on about that.
It occurs to me that this is one of the great challenges of a day like this.
Because each one of us has their own particular language of love…our own particular ways in which we feel seen and appreciated and known for who we are.
It’s important because I’m not entirely sure that Mother’s Day leaves a lot of room for that.
Cards, flowers, breakfast in bed — those things all have their place, to be sure.
But if there is really anything to this day, it is because it offers us the chance to say to someone that they are noticed. They are seen. They are appreciated not just for everything they do, but for who they are.
You’ve heard about the mom whose family got her a new vacuum cleaner for Mother’s Day?
The good news is that the jury acquitted her of all charges.
If all we have noticed about our mothers is how much cooking and cleaning and carpooling and caretaking our moms do–if the only part of who they are that we’ve come to know about them over the years is the part about the logistics of taking care of us–well, shame on us.
If that’s all we’re celebrating on Mother’s Day, then we’re not celebrating our mothers much at all.
Really, we’re just finding another way to celebrate ourselves.
And that’s not the point.
I mean, is that who God sees when God looks down at your mom, or mine?
Does God look down at them, doing all the things they do, going all the places they go, spinning all those plates they spin and wearing all those hats they wear…does God look down at them and say, “Hey there’s whatshername, Max’s mom?”
Or does God look down and say “There she is. There is my child…who is doing so much…who is making it work in so many ways…She may be far from perfect and yet…Isn’t she amazing….”?
Isn’t Mother’s Day really supposed to be about giving thanks for that person…that person that God knows?
Do we see her today? How does she want to be loved today?
Do we really even know?
And not just her.
Another thing it’s important to mention today is that motherhood takes many forms.
Each of us is nurtured in so many different ways, and by so many different people.
On this day when we are called to see our mothers more deeply…more completely…let’s acknowledge how important it is for us to have people in our lives who see us with that same kind of profound insight. Who see something in us.
Today, I’m thankful because I’m aware, not only of my mom, but also of other mother-figures I have had in my life — especially spiritual mothers.
You see, my mother is not a particularly inclined to talk about religious things, and I grew up in a home without much, if any, God-talk.
There was a great deal of talk about right and wrong, and fair and unfair, and kindness and unkindness.
That has shaped me profoundly, and looking back on it, I feel very clear that the Holy Spirit was hovering over a whole lot of that talk.
But my spiritual life really came together because at various points in my life, other mother-figures appeared.
Other women, my true God-mothers, came along, and they shaped me decisively, and reshaped my thinking in important ways.
My God-mothers were women who were willing to talk about God…and prayer… the strength it takes to turn the other cheek, and to render to no one evil for evil.
There have been those God-mothers in my life who were not just willing to lift me as a spiritual person, though I’m grateful for that, too.
But what was even more important were that they were willing to level with me…they told me, not only about grace, but about the work of learning to carry their cross. Every day.
That’s formed me, too.
Some of them are in this very room right now.
Who are your God-mothers? Who has played that role in your life? Someone, right?
Who’s on your heart this morning?
A Sunday school teacher? A praying or a meditating person? The author of a book you read years ago but have never really forgotten?
Or maybe the person you’re seeing wasn’t even explicitly churchy…she was a God-mother of a different kind…maybe a beloved aunt who didn’t see things quite the way your parents did? A friend’s mom with a million bumper stickers on the back of her station wagon? The teacher or the boss who loved you dearly but rode you hard and didn’t see those things as opposites?
Didn’t these people give us life, too? Wasn’t the Spirit moving in them, somehow?
To me, Mother’s Day wouldn’t be complete without them.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to put someone on a pedestal than to listen to what she has to say.
If you think about it, that’s something that Jesus and many women have very much in common.
Let’s not do that today.
Instead, let’s listen. Let’s ask ourselves how the people in our lives want to be loved today.
If we do it today, maybe we will make a point to do it again tomorrow, and so on.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus lifts his eyes to God and says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them.”
It is a prayer for his disciples — a recognition that even though he is soon to depart, his work continues in the lives of those who stay and carry on.
Today, I hear it also as a particular prayer for the many ways in which the love of our mothers and God-mothers continues the work of Christ in the world.
Hard as life can be, confusing as it can be, unjust as the world can be…nevertheless, there are those who have found a way to give us life in all its forms.
And the point, simply, is that God is glorified in that giving. God is present in that giving. God is transforming not only us, but all creation in that giving.
The job of Mother’s Day is to name that as we give thanks for our mothers and our God-mothers in whatever ways we do.
However we express it, may we always be grateful for the love in their labor and the labor in their love.
Dear Friends of Second Church,
Dear Friends of Second Church,
Last week, I was blessed to preside at a wedding in San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico.
What an adventure!
My last visit to Mexico was a four hour trip to Tijuana with my dad when I was eight, so I had a lot to see and learn. It was delightful.
I learned that Mexican children have the same loyalty to their mom’s mole recipe that Italian-American kids feel about their mom’s Bolognese.
I learned that weddings involve not only the ceremony, itself, and of course the reception, but also a parade through town led by enormous puppets and a mariachi band.
Most of all, I learned that the anonymous street scape of heavy doors and shuttered windows still offered momentary sightings of interior courtyards with bright tiles, gurgling fountains and hanging curtains of flame vine — places where anyone could happily hole up for the duration.
You don’t need to convince me that houses can have souls — or spirits, anyway.
I’ll save talking about the churches and what it’s like to pray in them for another post.
Eventually, though, it was time to go. As it always does, getting home involved waiting for a while in any number of lines — check in, security, boarding “zone,” immigration, customs, etc.
But I found myself thinking about the streets of San Miguel as I waited. About how the impatient guy in the Barca soccer jersey and the older couple in matching Travelsmith khaki vests were, in their own way, like those enormous doors and closed windows I had seen.
Any of us presents a face to the outside world that gives little clue to what might be found inside. Maybe we are carefully tended, manicured to the hilt. Or surprisingly unkempt, disordered in one part and wildly beautiful in another. The fountains flow with abandon in some; in others, the pools are melancholy and stagnant.
This is what God sees.
These are the courtyards He would tend with such patience and love, if we were willing…or where God sees His own handiwork already in blossom, creating a peaceful place where the soul dwells.
It makes me wonder what I need to do to welcome in the gardener — what needs tending to — and what it might be like to open the doors so that others might see.
See you in church,
Dear Friends of Second Church,
After the great joy of Easter last Sunday, today interjects a somber note, as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many of you will remember those days.
As it happens, I don’t.
My father had returned from Vietnam only a few months earlier; my mother was back in school, hurrying to finish a teaching credential and get a job—they were busy starting out and hadn’t yet started a family. So I arrived a little later — about two weeks before the shootings at Kent State in 1970.
But I have lived in the shadows, both of Dr. King’s moral vision and of the violence of those days, for much of my life. As we all have.
What I find myself pondering this morning is King’s tremendous hope for the Church, precisely in the face of turbulent and frightening times.
King spoke often about the call to be part of the “beloved community,” by which some understood him to be speaking directly about the Church—a community formed by and for the love of God and one another.
Actually, King’s hope went further than that.
He believed deeply in love of neighbor, and in the Church’s call to love and serve the world far beyond the walls of any particular community, or for the benefit of any one group—even a Christian one.
He believed that all people were loved by God and had a place in the beloved community, and that the charge of faithful people was to work together to ensure each person found that place.
He set a high bar back then. Perhaps it’s even higher now.
But in the days after Easter, I’m reminded that we stand under not only King’s call, but Jesus’ call to love and serve the world beyond the walls of any particular community.
The disciples were in complete disarray after Jesus’ death, miracle or no miracle. Yet they heard the call, and their mission grew clear.
We may feel scattered, ourselves, by a thousand different things, each important, too. Yet the call—and the vision of beloved community—still echo.
Imperfect as we are, burdened and busy as we are, may we seek to follow it.
See you in church,
Inspiring the world
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