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St. Lukes Blog

St. Luke's

St Luke's Episcopal Church
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Boone, NC 28607
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Belief matters….

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks: Trinity Sunday—Year C; Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Oh, it’s Trinity Sunday. What pops in your mind when I say, “trinity”? C’mon, word association. Give it to me. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. One in three and three in one—kind of a three musketeers of divinity. Impossible, nonsensical math. Abstract theology. Nicea. Doctrine. THE CREED. Belief writ large.

Yes, discussion of the trinity usually leads us right into a discussion about belief and the creed. So, it’s time for a little congregational exercise. Some of you in the Friday class have done this, but even if you have done it before, you may find yourself in a different place this time. So, please stand. Here’s how this works. I am going to recite the Nicene Creed slowly, very slowly. Stand if you believe what is being said and sit if you don’t. You may go half way in between if you are not quite sure. You may go up and down as much as you wish. So, here we go.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

So, what do learn from this? Well, there were very few times when everyone was standing, and there were no times when no one was standing. We learn that the community, as community, can proclaim this. And if we have done this before, or if we were to do this 6 months from now, we would probably learn that these beliefs are fluid. The what of what we believe changes over time; the that we believe does not. We also learn that we can be playful with articulating our faith, and the sky won’t fall—indeed, nobody was struck by lightning as they sat down.

Diana Butler Bass in her book Christianity After Religion has an excellent chapter on believing. She walks us through how we get way hung up on what we believe, when the much more important question is how we believe. The important question, Butler Bass says, is How would believing this make my life different?” or “How would this change the world?” She says, How is the interrogator of direction, of doing, of curiosity, of process, of learning, of living. When we ask how, we are not asking for a fact, conclusion, or opinion. Rather, we are seeking a hands-on deeper knowledge of the thing.” Butler Bass continues, “From what to how is a shift from information about to experience of. What is a conventional religious question, one of dogma and doctrine; how is an emerging spiritual question, one of experience and connection.”

So, here’s the deal—when we come to the creed, are we bringing a what perspective, or a how perspective? Are we arguing with its precepts because the what doesn’t make sense, or are we plumbing its depths as a source of meaning?

Belief has come on hard times lately. With all this talk about the collapse of Christendom, with the proclamation by Harvey Cox that the Age of Belief has ended and the Age of the Spirit begun, as we have begun to talk again of Christianity as the Way we are to live and the practices that make up our life as followers of Jesus, instead of Christianity as a set of beliefs to which we must adhere, with all of these shifts, it has become quite fashionable to bash belief.

But belief matters. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we have to be in lock-step about the particulars of Christian belief. I’m not saying that we can’t challenge beliefs. I am certainly not saying that we can’t question our beliefs—I have questioned my beliefs throughout my whole adult life. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make a stab at giving a fresh articulation of our beliefs. What I am saying is that belief matters. What we believe matters because what we believe drives our action.

Take God. If you believe that God is a judgmental Father, then fear is going to be a huge part of how you view God and the world. If you believe that God is the Father who looks toward the west, who waits and yearns for the prodigal to return, then you are going to have a deep sense of being beloved, and an even deeper freedom to take risks. If you believe that God is a nagging Mother, then either you will constantly be looking over your shoulder having internalized that critical voice, or you will be in open rebellion constantly asserting your independence. If you believe that God is the Mother who, as Hosea says, just can’t give up on that wayward child Ephraim (which was another name for the people of Israel) because she had nursed him as a child and taught him to walk, then you will have a deep sense of security that you are loved even when, especially when, you really mess up.

The question is not whether we have beliefs. Every human being has beliefs that drive his or her actions. The Boston bombers had beliefs that drove their actions. People that have stores of guns in the hopes of being secure are operating out of beliefs that are driving their actions. Beliefs about superiority based on the color of skin or gender or class or sexual orientation have historically kept, and still have to power to keep, peoples apart. So, beliefs matter; they matter a lot.

So, back to the creed and the trinity. Does the creed matter? Does the trinity matter? Yes, to both. Again, do we have to cling to the formulation written in Nicea in 325 and refined over the next 100 years? No—to say that that is the only articulation of faith for all time would make that vision of God into an idol. That cheapens the creed making something into a litmus test that was always meant to be an icon holding layers of beauty and truth. But understanding the need for fresh articulations doesn’t let us off the hook. In fact, it puts us squarely on the hook. We need to come to grips with how we understand this God who creates and this God revealed so vividly in the person and way of Jesus and this God who sustains us still because how we understand these things will drive how we treat creation and how we practice the way of Jesus and how we understand God’s relentless love that pulses through the world still.

As Butler Bass notes, the creed is a profession of love—believe—credo in Latin—I set my heart upon; it is a profession of trust and loyalty. In the original languages, it was never meant to assert an intellectual opinion; to believe was to belove.

Trinity as belief is an icon; it is to stake our life on the sense that God’s nature, in the core of God’s being, is relational—always giving, always receiving; always receiving, always passing it on. If you believe that the foundational matter of the universe is relationship governed by love, then you can’t barricade yourself from your neighbor, then you can’t hoard resources, then you can’t hoard love, then you can’t withhold forgiveness. If your security rests in this web of relationships, then you don’t need stores of guns. If your security rests in this web of relationships, then you can’t set off bombs in the midst of innocents because those human beings are an extension of your being.

So, in the end, I am not quite where Diana Butler Bass and other cutting edge thinkers, are. I still believe that belief matters because from that space, from that world view, from that frame is where our actions are born. To what, to whom, will you give your trust? To what, to whom will you give your loyalty? To what, to whom will you give your energy? Upon what, upon whom do you set your heart? What, who do you belove? Answer these questions, and the actions of your life will follow. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
May 26, 2013

You are already a child of God!

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks: Pentecost—Year C; Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Three baptisms on Pentecost! Oh, it doesn’t get any better than this! So, Asher, Dillion, and Kerrick, we better figure out what we’re doing here. So, let’s see how our baptismal theology has been progressing. Are we making Asher, Dillion, and Kerrick children of God today? No! Even if the passage from Romans might make us think that’s what we’re doing—after all, it does use the language of adoption—but Paul also says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God,” and it doesn’t get any broader than that. Remember, it was the Spirit of God that moved over the waters of chaos in the beginning and birthed creation. Remember, it was the Spirit of God that breathed life into the dust and birthed humanity. Every child is a child of God because every child contains the breath of God. So, we’re not making Asher, Dillion, and Kerrick children of God today; they are already that—that is their birthright; that is their inheritance.

And to give Paul his due—the contrast in this part of Romans isn’t between adopted children and biological children; it’s between children and slaves. What Paul is saying is, “You are a child of God, and God has not filled you with divine life so that you can respond to life as a slave of fear. You bear the Spirit of God; it lives inside of you. You know how intimate Jesus was with God; that is your inheritance—you and God are that close, but discovering that intimacy is going to cost you.”

Okay, Asher, Dillion, and Kerrick, here’s the fine print, sorry about this, but there is no way to that intimacy without intimate knowledge of the way of suffering. That’s why we mark you with the sign of the cross. Today, we imprint upon your being the paschal mystery, the dance of death and resurrection; today, we weave into you the paradox of suffering and new life, and we proclaim that this is the frame that will help you make meaning of your life.

Today, we weave you into a story, a sacred story that goes all the back to the very beginning, and we proclaim that this story is big enough to hold your story. This is the story where mistakes get redeemed, where losers become vessels of grace, where up is brought low and low is raised up; this is the story of grace beyond measure and of communities that find their way to the promised land together.  This is the story of visions and dreams and old people and young people and men and women all claiming their prophetic voice to say, “It doesn’t have to be this way, but maybe our world could look like this.”

Today, we weave you into a community that knows how to bear your burdens and celebrate your joys, and, sometimes, just sit with you in silence when words fail altogether. It is an amazing thing to live and grow in a community that is not afraid of dying—it means you can lean really hard into living. Stay with us, and we will show you how to lose your life, not once, but over and over again, so that you will be able to find the only life that is truly worth living.

The baptismal covenant gives you a starting place. It won’t be your ending place, but it is an awfully good place to begin.  The first part sounds like a bunch of belief stuff, but, at its heart, it says that you are woven into a Trinity of Love. Today, you are brought into a dance that is always moving between the God who creates, the God who redeems, and the God who just can’t let this world be and who blows the Divine Spirit through us all the time. You are in the flow—always have been, always will be. You won’t always be aware of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are in it, all the time. Your task will be to be conscious of it and to move with it.

Then we have the five promises that stake out the practices that help us live into the abundant life that is our inheritance as children of God. Looking to our mothers and fathers in the faith to gain strength for our journey; participating in the community that can support us, sustain us, and at times, push to go deeper; admitting how hungry we are for the bread of life and partaking of it every chance we can; and giving ourselves the gift of drinking from the spring of life through prayer in the 8,000 different forms that can take.

Not giving our energy to that which blocks the flow of love in this world, and when we do block it, returning to Jesus who can show us how to let go and let that love flow again.

Letting the good news of God in Christ live so fully in us that every word we speak and every action we take becomes a manifestation of that good news.

Seeking, really seeking, and serving Christ in every person we meet (oooooh, that’s hard sometimes!), and seeing that, through Christ, our neighbor is an extension of our very being.

And striving for justice and peace always, respecting the dignity of every human being, every human being; daring to believe that the kingdom of God that the prophets dreamed about and Jesus preached isn’t just some future picture postcard, but it is the ground beneath our feet; it’s the soil we are to work and tend and cultivate.

These promises are the practices that you will cultivate throughout your life. These are the practices that will help you, in the words of Richard Rohr, become that which you already are, a wondrous, beautiful, blessed child of God filled with light and life and power.

So, be forewarned, this is no small thing that we are doing today—this changes your life, forever, and you will spend the rest of your life figuring out what just what this change means. And, by the way, you can’t ever undo what we do today. As the prayer book says, “The bond established in baptism is indissoluble,” and what a grand and glorious thing that is? In a world where nothing lasts, nothing is permanent, in a disposable world that thrives on planned obsolescence; this won’t change.

You are a child of God. You belong to Christ, and he to you. You belong to us, and we to you.

So, dear Asher, Dillion, and Kerrick, welcome to this household of God; when your crucifixions come, be not afraid, grace will be found even there and Easter will come; proclaim with us the audacious truth of resurrection; and share with us in in the healing of the world. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
May 19, 2013

What keeps YOU imprisoned?

Cynthia KR Banks — Easter 7—Year C; Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 21-22; John 17:20-26

Prisons, jails, innermost cells. Earthquakes that shake the foundations. “That they may become completely one.” Protests. Burials. Lots of images swirling around this week.

Let’s start with the story from Acts.

Paul and Silas are still wandering around Philippi in Macedonia, and as they were going to the place of prayer, they met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. Now, one gift of divination is to be able to see into the future, but another gift is the gift of insight, you know, that scary kind of spot-on intuition. Well, this girl made her owners a whole lot of money by fortune-telling. So, while she followed Paul and Silas and the others, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She did this over and over and over for many days. So, Paul moves from being bemused to irritated to annoyed to very much annoyed. Eventually, he wheeled around and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And, lo and behold, it did!

So, if you are slave’s owner, how are you feeling about this? Not good. Their money-making well has just dried up, their source of income—gone. So they seize Paul and Silas and drag them into the marketplace before the authorities, the magistrates. And the owners told those magistrates, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” (They left out that little part about them being Roman citizens and, therefore, entitled to certain rights.) Well, crowd mentality took over, and the crowd piled on joining in the attacks. The magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After that, the magistrates threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. The jailer, he was a J’s J, a total 6 on the enneagram; he was a rule-follower of the highest order, so he took Paul and Silas to the innermost cell and fastened their feet in stocks.

Well, about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was an earthquake so violent that the foundations of the prison itself were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. Now, if you are a prisoner and the doors have been thrown open and your chains are unlocked, what are you going to do? [Run for it!] When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he thought that exact same thing, and he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he figured that all the prisoners had escaped.

But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Stop! Don’t do it! Don’t hurt yourself, for we are all here!” The jailer ran in and fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved, healed, made whole?” The Message translation says, “really live,” “what must I do to really live?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” and they told the story of Jesus and his way to him and to all who were in his home.

And that jailer took Paul and Silas and washed their wounds. He and his whole family were baptized right then and there, and he brought Paul and Silas up into his house and spread a feast before them, and that jailer and his household celebrated, in the immortal words of Prince, “like it was 1999.” Okay, for those of you who don’t remember Prince, or his music, that means they celebrated like there was no tomorrow; they had a party to remember.”

+++

There is so much in this story! Very real prisons, locked away places, innermost cells. What prisons do we see around us? Tangible and external ones and internal ones? How are we locked away, or who have we locked away? Are we the imprisoned ones? Are we the magistrates locking others away with our judgments? Are we the jailer guarding the door making sure no one gets out of line, ensuring that no one escapes the box we have put them in? What chains are fastened around our feet that keep us from experiencing wholeness, healing, that keep us from “really living”, as Eugene Peterson says in The Message?

And can we see that no locked away place is beyond the reach of the God? Can we trust that God can penetrate even our thickest walls and most impenetrable prisons? Sometimes, it will be a violent earthquake that shakes our foundations and sets us free, something that flings open the doors and throws off our shackles through no exercise of our will—that’s the very definition of grace. And here’s the amazing thing, when that happens, you don’t have to run away; no, you actually receive the grace to stand still, to stay put, because whatever has kept you locked away no longer holds any power over you. Wow! That’s amazing!

And when something like that happens to you, the ripple effect is astounding. That jailer was blown away that Paul and Silas were free and yet did not run away. Paul and Silas had a deeper kind of freedom—that jailer didn’t understand it, but he wanted it for his life and for the lives of everyone whom he loved. Prison no longer made sense to that jailer—all he could do was bind up wounds and bring them into his home and break bread and celebrate—no longer jailer and prisoner, but now, only brothers. He and his family belonged to Paul and Silas, and they to them. “That they may become completely one”—that was Jesus’ prayer the night before he died—this is what it looks like on the ground, in the flesh. It is radical, radical stuff.

How radical? As radical as Martha Mullen, a 48 year old woman in Virginia who was on her way to Starbucks this week when she heard on NPR that no Massachusetts cemetery would bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body. People protested the funeral home in Massachusetts that was holding his body. Comments made like, “He shouldn’t have rest. I hope his soul is in eternal damnation.” “… I think …they should have cremated him and put him in the Boston municipal dump with the rest of the trash.”

What is becoming of us? What are we becoming?

Yes, what this man did is horrific. Somewhere along the way, Tamerlan forgot that we are one, that we always belong to one another. Somewhere along the way, the flow of love in which we all live and move and have our being got blocked. Who knows how it got blocked, or why it got blocked, or what part his own will played in that blocking—I cannot presume to know such things, but the point is, the flow of love got blocked, and when that happens, we human beings are capable of horrific, evil acts, like setting off bombs at a marathon of innocents. However, Tamerlan Tsarnaev is still a child of God. He is still a human being in whom God has breathed the breath of life, and as such, he has an inherent dignity.

I am so struck by the contrast between the protest at that funeral home in Massachusetts and the calls for this man to be eternally damned, and the witness of the Amish in 2006 at the funeral of Charles Roberts, the man who had shot ten of their children, five of whom died. The day of that shooting, the grandfather of one of those little girls said, “We must not think evil of this man.” Amish neighbors comforted Charles’ family that same afternoon and extended forgiveness to them. The Amish outnumbered the non-Amish when they attended Charles Roberts’ funeral. Somewhere, the flow of love had gotten blocked in Charles Roberts, maybe it was connected to the premature death of his baby girl nine years before. But the Amish live in that flow of love and could gratuitously extend it, even to the murderer of their children.

Everybody deserves to be buried. Every body, as the sacred vessel of God’s breath, deserves to be treated reverently and with honor, even when that sacred vessel is broken.

What is becoming of us that we can’t see that???

Martha Mullen wondered the same thing. When she heard that story on the news, she first thought, “Jesus says love your enemies not hate them after they’re dead.” Her second thought went like this, “We can bury Adam Lanza, or the guy who shot up [Virginia] Tech, and this guy for some reason is different. And the only difference that I can tell is that people think that he’s a terrorist or he’s a foreigner or he’s Muslim.” Then she thought, “Maybe I could do something.” And she did. She emailed faith leaders throughout Richmond, Virginia, and an interfaith coalition came together—Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian—and Tamerlan has now been laid to rest in a small Islamic cemetery in Virginia.

To know our oneness, even with a person who has committed horrific evil, that is faith pressed down to the depths, faith pressed down to the outer limit of what our small human minds can fathom. Jesus himself was killed outside the city limits—he was considered cursed because he hung on a tree, so the religious law itself proclaimed. And our tradition proclaims that when Jesus descends into hell, he simply holds all the brokenness and sin that lies there, holds it in Love’s embrace until even that brokenness is reconnected to the whole.

This is grown-up faith.

This is the faith that doesn’t run from prison but stands there until the one who put you there is also reconnected to the whole. This is the faith that can’t hold another in chains because that other is brother, that other is sister. This is the faith that says, “Tamerlan deserves to be buried, and maybe I can do something about that.” I heard that same NPR story, and I, too, was deeply troubled. It was one of those stories that got under my skin. I got as far as asking, “What are we becoming?” but I didn’t get to the “maybe I can do something.” Martha Mullen is no famous person; she was on her way to Starbucks—I frequently make that trip myself—but an earthquake happened in her soul, and she was compelled to act. It was a little something that changed everything. The ripples from her action will be huge. Maybe next time, I’ll take the next step. Maybe next time, I will realize that I can do something, and that little something will be everything.

We never know when the earthquakes will come, but come they will. And when they come, doors open and chains fall off, and we can see with a clarity that we didn’t have before. The good news, and hard news, of Jesus is that we are one. Are we going to step into the flow of love that binds us to one another, or are we going to block it? What are we becoming? The answer to that will be revealed in the choices we make each and every day, in the midst of still waters, in the midst of small tremors, in the midst of earthquakes. We can choose to flee the prison, or we can choose to stay and engage the jailer and trust that his salvation and ours are inextricably bound together.

I may not know much, but I do know this, I want the freedom of the Amish to forgive, I want the courage of Martha Mullen to act, I want to know the love of Jesus that can reach out even to the enemy, I want to know that Love that can descend into hell and sit there until even that brokenness is reconnected to the whole. I want these things because my heart senses and my soul knows that this is what salvation looks like; this is what it means to really live.

May the earthquakes come, may the doors fly open, may the chains fall off, so that we may know that we are completely one. Then, let the celebration commence. You can do no other when you are that alive. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
May 12, 2013

What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; Easter 5—Year C; Acts 11:1-8; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus? I mean, there were certain things I had to do as a kid to be a girl scout. There were certain things my father had to do to be a Shriner and a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason. There are certain things you have to do to be a part of a sports team or a club or a civic organization. So, what do you have to do to be a disciple of Jesus?

Guesses?

Well, we get some clues from our lessons today—let’s see what they have to say.

Take the passage from Acts. Peter is in hot water with the circumcised believers. The Judean folks had heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God, but uh-oh—Gentiles do what? Eat all that meat expressly forbidden by the eleventh chapter of Leviticus. And Peter, hmmmm, he ate that forbidden meat with them. That violated the rules, that went against the customs.

Peter explained it to his Judean brothers and sisters this way. “I was in the city of Joppa, just praying and minding my own business, and I went into this trance and I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, and it was being lowered by its four corners; and it came real close to me. As I looked at it real closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. And I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I replied, because you know I follow the customs of our people, I told that voice, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice spoke a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, then everything was pulled up again to heaven. Then three men came to me from Caesarea, came right to the house where we were staying. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. Six of my brothers here, they came with me. We entered a man’s house, and he told us how he had seen an angel standing right in the middle of his house and that angel was telling him, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; and he will give you a message that will change your life and the lives of everyone in your household, it will make you whole.’ So, I began to speak, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them just like it did us at the beginning…I ask you this, ‘If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God.’”

Well, when his critics heard that, they got real quiet, like total silence quiet, like they were speechless. Then, they praised God saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

+++

What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?

If you’re a Gentile, it takes a willingness to admit the possibility that someone who knows Jesus just might know something, be able to say something, that will change your life, that will make whole something in you that has long been broken.

If you are already a believer, being a disciple of Jesus means cultivating a capacity to rethink, constantly, what we think we know about where God’s boundaries rest.

To be a disciple of Jesus means we have one ear open, always, for the Voice that will call us to go beyond where we think we can or should go.

To be a disciple means we have our eyes open to a vision that doesn’t make sense to us, but sure feels of God.

To be a disciple means we commit to being in a conversation with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit, with whomever and however the Holy manifests itself to us. Notice that Peter doesn’t just take the Voice’s commands on the first round, but that Voice came round three times before Peter agreed. When the Voice keeps knocking on our door, either in a voice, or in a dream, or in a nagging thought that we just can’t shake, then it’s time to tune in.

To be a disciple is to throw our distinctions to the windsGod will do what God will do—we don’t get to decide who is in the club. As the psalmist makes clear, from God’s perspective, everything belongs, even the sea-monsters, even the deep, even the hail, the fire, and the tempestuous wind; old, young; princes, paupers; everything, everyone belongs.

The Revelation to St. John tells us some other qualities we’ve got to have to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ve got to be willing to be made new. We’ve got to be willing to toss aside this notion that God is some far away distant being, either easily angered or mostly indifferent or just plain impotent. According to the Revelation, God is madly in love with us, bridal chamber kind of love. And that love can make us new.

Oh, and there is one other thing that we need to be a disciple of Jesus according to the Revelation. We’ve got to be thirsty for the water. If you want the water from the spring of the water of life, you’ve got to admit how thirsty you are for it. Maybe we don’t think we’re thirsty because we’re pouring all kinds of stuff into our souls, but really, is any of it touching that deep soul thirst we have for the Living God? Does any of the stuff that promises to jumpstart our life compare to the water that comes from the spring of the water of life? You taste that water, and you will never be satisfied with anything else.

So, humility, openness, a willingness to listen and to see, a commitment to be engaged in the conversation with the Holy, a willingness to be intimate with the Holy and to acknowledge our thirst, these are the qualities we have to cultivate to be a disciple of Jesus, but there is one thing more, and it is revealed in the Gospel of John. What else do we have to do to be a disciple of Jesus?

Love. We have to love. This is the new commandment that Jesus gives his followers the night before he has to enter the darkness of Good Friday. In fact, this is the only commandment that Jesus gives his followers. “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When I was a girl, you knew a girl scout by her uniform and the infamous cookies. You know a Shriner by the funny hat he wears, the good works he does, and an insatiable appetite for fun. You know a disciple of Jesus by their love. It is not by our creed or our customs, it is not by our denominational affiliation or where we go to church, people will know we follow Jesus when we love like Jesus. It really is that simple.

So, what do you have to do to be a disciple of Jesus? Not much, just love the world, all the world, even your enemies, love the world as much as Jesus did. By the way, loving that way will kill you, but that is never the end of the story. Sometimes the old has to pass away if we are to dance among the living in a world where God cannot be hindered, and everyone gets the gift, and God is making all things new. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 28, 2013

Engage in ongoing conversion

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; Easter 3—Year C; Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

So, instead of preaching today, I’d like to have each of you stand up, individually, and share your conversion story. That’s right, you get to share your conversion experience, but before we start, I just want to check-in, how are you feeling right now?

Now, I’d imagine that a few of you could actually get excited about this exercise, but I am guessing that most of you are thinking, “She’s lost her mind.” “There’s no way.” “Episcopalians don’t talk that way.” Nothing can strike more fear in an Episcopalian’s heart than being pressed to speak of their conversion.

OK. Breathe. I’m not really going to ask you to share your conversion story this morning, but why do a lot of us freak out at the prospect of doing just that?

Well, some of it has to do with how we understand conversion. Some of us get nervous because we can’t point to a specific moment, a specific experience where everything changed. I think it was William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience that first introduced me to the concept of “ongoing conversion,” that conversion isn’t a one-time event but is a lifelong process. When I learned that, it was an “ah ha” moment for me—that made sense to me because, at that point, I hadn’t had a sudden experience that changed me, but it had been a slow steady process of transformation—the kind of thing where you can look back and realize that you were once here and now you are here. That’s how conversion happens for a lot of us.

This is one way of broadening our understanding of conversion, but there are some other ways we need to rethink it too, and three characters from our scriptures this morning are our guides.

First, Saul. Saul of Tarsus. Persecutor of those early followers of Jesus. He was on his way to Damascus to round up some more people of the Way when boom, flash of light, Saul falls to the ground, struck blind. He has a profound conversation with the Risen Christ. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Lord, who are you?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Pretty dramatic stuff. I think a lot of us can’t articulate our conversion experiences because this is what we think conversion is—sudden, dramatic, flash of light, struck blind, total life change.

Saul goes on to Damascus where he waits for three days until he is visited by Ananias who restores his sight and baptizes him. His conversion was so profound, his name even changes to Paul, and the rest of the story is history.

But let’s go a little deeper. It wasn’t just a conversion to Christ for Saul; it was a conversion to “the other. He was persecuting people. Saul saw those followers of Jesus as a threatening “other,” not as brothers and sisters. And any time we see another as completely “other, we can do profoundly awful things to them. Saul’s conversion was to see how deeply related he was to these very people he hated. And when Jesus made known that kinship, Saul couldn’t persecute them anymore. Saul’s conversion enabled him to get reconnected to the whole.

Have you ever persecuted another? Maybe not as dramatically as Saul, but have you ever dismissed another because you have somehow framed them as “other” in your mind? And have you ever had a conversion experience that gave you pause, that helped the scales fall from your eyes and see that “other” as a brother or sister? If you are open to it, this can be a profound experience of conversion.

Or Peter. Wow. Peter. Now Peter is a follower of Jesus, so his conversion isn’t about his belief in Jesus. His conversion is about his belief in himself. He was deeply converted to Jesus through having followed him for three years. But, as we well know after Holy Week, he denied what he knew three times. Can you imagine how truly awful he must have felt? And he’d encountered Jesus a few times since that first day of the week, but he was still all bound up—guilt and shame, they do horrible things a person. He goes back to the one place where he understood how everything worked—fishing—he knew how to do that, and when nothing else makes sense, that’s usually what we do. But it wasn’t the same. He’d lost the touch. That is, until the Abundant One called him back to life. And with incredible elegance, Jesus gave Peter three chances to profess the love he had three times denied. Jesus’ overflowing love and forgiveness made the scales fall from Peter’s eyes. Peter’s conversion was about getting reconnected to himself—shedding his guilt and shame and touching once again his first love.

Have you ever blown it in a tragic way, in a relationship, in a violation of your own integrity, in a forgetting of your first and deepest love? And have you ever had the grace of a profound experience of reconciliation or forgiveness or a finding again of that love or passion that you had lost? This, too, is conversion of a most profound nature.

And then there is Ananias. He, too, is already a follower of Jesus, so his conversion is also not about belief. His challenge is resistance. The Risen Lord wants him to go visit Saul. What?! Ananias knew Saul oversaw the stoning of people like him. And Jesus wants him to go to Saul and heal him? Ananias had Saul in a box, had him figured out, defined and labeled and with good evidence to back up his assessment of this man. He’s actually not too much different than Saul—he saw Saul as totally “other”—Jesus helped him see that Saul was brother. Isn’t it interesting how it doesn’t seem to matter what side we stand on—we can still box in the other, and Jesus is always reconnecting us to each other, showing us our kinship when all we can see are our sharp edges and differences, labels and definitions, that box us in.

Ananias’ conversion is about overcoming his resistance and releasing his certainty about who Saul was. Ananias has to allow for the possibility that even a man like Saul can change.

Have you ever defined someone right into a box, imprisoned another by your assessment of who you thought they were? And then, have you grabbed an opportunity, maybe not of your own choosing, to encounter them in a whole new way? Again, Ananias got reconnected to the whole when he found room to heal his enemy. The scales didn’t just fall from Saul’s eyes that day, but they also fell from Ananias’.

If today is any indication, conversion is much more about how we get reconnected when we have been rent asunder, from ourselves, from each other, from God, than it is about professing our belief. It’s not that belief is unimportant; it’s just that it is the fruit of transformation, not its source.

Our deepest conversion happens when we get reconnected to the whole. This is the conversion that Jesus lives for, this is the conversion that Jesus died for. This is the conversion that Jesus rose for, this is the conversion that changes our lives, this is the conversion that makes us, and the world, whole. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 14, 2013

Jesus has risen, and he will find you

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks: Easter 2—Year C; Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…I love the lectionary. Here we are one week out from Easter, and the Church brings us back to that day, that very first day, as if to say, “The resurrection is way too big to get it all at once. Maybe your tomb opened last Sunday, but maybe it didn’t, and if it didn’t, that’s okay. Today, you get to go back to that day. In fact, we’re going to give you 50 days for this new reality to soak into your soul.” Thank you, Church for that! And honestly, with all the time we have spent in intractible ruts, with all the time we have circled round and round in deadening patterns, with all the time we have spent being so stuck, how could we possibly turn on a dime and embrace the astounding news that we have been set free for life? How could we possibly wrap our hearts and minds and souls around the reality that what we thought was dead, is not? What do we do with such freedom and possibility when we have only known sealed tombs? It takes time to adjust to resurrection reality, and today we acknowledge that we have all the time we need.

The temptation is to stay locked up. It’s our default reaction; it’s familiar territory. The disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, but why do we stay locked up? What are we afraid of? But even if we lock ourselves away from this new life, this new life will find us. And when it does, it has only one thing to say to us, “Peace. Peace be with you. Peace.” And we look up, and we see the wounds, and we know that, whatever this Peace is that stands before us, it understands, it knows to the core, this darkest reality we have just lived through, and that makes it safe enough to trust this incarnation of resurrection.

But it comes with a cost. If you have died, and if you have risen, you have to share it. We are not given the gift of resurrection to stay locked up in ourselves, we must give it away to a world that is starved for it.

And then there’s the breath. The breath. Jesus breathes on us. And the breath that breathed life into creation in the very beginning, now breathes life into us. And we are given an even greater abundance of gifts. The Holy Spirit. Power. Forgiveness. The ability and responsibility to unbind one another, to set each other free. And the burden of retaining. I have always thought of Jesus’ words, “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” as his way of speaking about how we hold grudges—that if we retain the sins of another, neither they or we are ever set free.

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But what if he is actually asking us to do something much more audacious than that? What if he is asking us to risk bearing the brokenness, the separation caused by another’s sins, what if he is asking us to hold that broken space, and in the holding of that brokenness, be a part of reconnecting it to the whole, just like Jesus held all of sin and separation and brokenness of the world when he stretched out his arms on the cross? What if that is what it means to retain the sins of another? Talk about true solidarity with the suffering of the world!

And then, there is Thomas. Patron saint of all doubters. Hero to those of us who struggle to believe. He wasn’t with the rest that first evening. It’s my guess that, having heard the news from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was alive, he set out to go figure this out for himself. And so he wasn’t there when the Risen One busted through those locked doors. Oh, they told Thomas about the encounter, but Thomas was emphatic—he had to see it and touch it for himself. Thomas was not content, never had been, with anybody else’s explanation of these tender matters of the heart and soul. It had to make sense to him, it had to be coherent, the pieces had to fit together, or his integrity would not allow him to be a part of it. Thomas icons for us the light and shadow side of our need to understand the mysteries of our faith. Such a need to understand is a beautiful and human thing, but our minds can also hold back our hearts when they long to leap toward Love and Life.

But Jesus is so patient with our humanity. A week later, one week after that first day, that would be today, the disciples are again in that house. The doors are shut, not locked, but just shut—they are not quite as locked up as they were a week ago, they are willing to risk a little more. Jesus again came among them and greeted them as he had the week before, “Peace be with you.” And then, he turned to Thomas, “Thomas, put your finger here, see my hands, touch my side, don’t doubt, trust it. It’s true. You can be crucified, and you can live again. You can be wounded, as you have surely been, but the wounds are not your end, they have been held and loved and transformed into something that radiates life. This is what resurrection looks like. Not wounds that are ignored or dismissed, but wounds that have been redeemed. Trust it, Thomas. Trust it.”

Can we trust that whatever wounds you and I pick up along the way as we journey through this mortal life, can we trust that resurrection has robbed those wounds of their power to define us? We can stay locked up in our stories, we can cling to our wounds like grave clothes, or we can hear the proclamation of “Peace” as our emancipation proclamation. We have been set free. Oh, the scars will still be outward and visible, but our countenance will radiate the grace of redemption, the grace of wounds that have been redeemed, our countenance will radiate that grace from the inside out.

Our world is such a wounded place. And if we sit down and listen to one another’s stories, really listen, the wounds are there. As the 19th century Scottish preacher, John Watson, said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Can you think of anything that we long to hear more deeply than “You are more than the wounds you bear…you are made for life, fullness of life, abundant life…Resurrection isn’t just for Jesus, or even Thomas—it’s for you”—is there anything we long to hear more than that? We long to hear this good news; the world longs to hear this good news—can we receive it? Can we take it into our souls and make it our own? And then, can we bear witness to it as we move through this world?

Whether you are locked away or locked up or out searching, or have shut the door on the possibility that your life can be any different, it doesn’t matter—Jesus has risen, and he will find you, and he will meet you, and he will touch you, and he will invite you to touch him, until your mind quiets, and your doubts give way to hope, and your heart leaps, and you, too, can proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 7, 2013

He is risen!

Easter Day—Year B; Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Have you ever sat vigil with someone who was dying? It is an amazing, holy, sacred, luminous, painful experience, and it is exhausting. And once the death has occurred, a tiredness such as you have never felt before settles over you. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee had lived this very experience. They had been there every step of the way, all the way from Galilee, all the way to the cross. When others couldn’t stay, they remained. Even after he breathed his last, they stayed. They watched Joseph of Arimathea come and lovingly take their Lord’s body down from the cross. The watched him wrap it in a linen cloth. They followed as he carried it to rock-hewn tomb. They saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. And having learned the way to the tomb, they left to go and do what love demanded they do, prepare the spices and ointments to anoint the body of their beloved. And on the sabbath day, they rested. Read, “They fell into a hard, hard sleep.” Truth be told, they were spent. Their hearts had been through the wringer. Their bodies stretched to the breaking point. Their souls rent apart. They couldn’t go one step more; they had to rest.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, while the sun was just starting to peek through the mist, while the pavement was still wet with dew, they made their way back to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone, the stone, remember the stone? That huge stone that had been rolled in front of tomb to seal it, they hadn’t even thought about how they were going to move that stone. But you know how women can be when they put their minds to something. You think a stone would deter them from doing what love compelled them to do? Yeah, right. But their fierce determination would not have to be exercised, at least not yet. That stone had been rolled away. They went in, they had seen where his body had been laid, but they didn’t find the body. While they were perplexed about this…You think? Perplexed? I like the greek better—“they were entirely at a loss”—NOTHING had prepared them for this.

Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. Not in front, not behind, not above, not below, but beside them. The messengers came right alongside them in their perplexity. Their at-a-loss-ness turns to terror, they were “thrown into fear,” and they bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

 “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Where on earth else could they look? Death was all they knew. How do you turn a grieving heart on a dime? Love hopes all things, yes, but these women were realists. They had witnessed the death. They had pushed themselves to stay present to the dying when the others had fled. But now, Love was calling them to let the graveclothes lie and strike out to find the Risen One.

They ran, these women come from Galilee ran to the eleven and to all the rest. They told all this to the apostles. But, oh, are you ready for it, it hurts, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Why, would you not believe these women? Were the apostles’ hearts too broken to hope, were they too afraid to risk believing that what the women said was TRUE?

But Peter, brave, impulsive, cowardly, jump-in-first-ask-questions-later Peter—he got up and he ran to the tomb. He stooped down, and looked in, and he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Again, the greek gets it better, “he marveled, he was full of wonder,” that great, great word from Godly Play that unlocks the soul of a child, and all of us, if we are open to it.

So, all week long, we have been walking in the shoes of all the characters who play a role in this drama, and now we come to today. Who are you today?

Are you one of the women come from Galilee? Are you grieving? Have you experienced some sort of death that has left you so tired that you don’t even know how to take the next step, but that next step keeps coming anyway? Have you come today expecting to continue your burial rituals, living out the rhythms of your loss, not daring to hope for it to be any different than when you felt it a day ago?

And when the holy messengers call to you and challenge you to lift your eyes, when they proclaim to you that your reality is not among the dead but is among the profoundly alive, can you allow your heart to leap because at some deep, deep level, your heart knows that what they speak is TRUE? Can you dare to see that your whole world has just been turned upside down but in a gloriously good way? Can you dare to see that your world has just been made completely new? Your life can change in an instant when resurrection calls your name.

And then, can you throw your reserve to the winds and run as fast as you can to tell others who are lost and afraid and grieving and locked away? Can you tell them, “We have to look in a new place, we have to look in a new way, we thought death was the final word, but death is never the final word, not where Jesus is concerned. He is alive. He has risen. And we are rising too!”

Or, will you stay where you are, locked away in your fear, entombed in your grief, safe in the certitude of death, and dismiss it all as an idle tale? Because if we can dismiss this as an idle tale, we can go on with business-as-usual. Oh, life will be painful, we have lost the One who made life make sense, but loss, we know how to do loss. But resurrection? Who knows what that looks like? Resurrection, life, there are no rules for how to do this. Resurrection is insanely unpredictable. Resurrection is risky. I don’t know that I can risk that much. No, it’s much easier to dismiss all of this as an idle tale, or a great myth, or a powerful story, but not really connected to reality.

Or, will you take the risk of your lives? If anyone had reason to be anxious, it was Peter. He had denied his Lord, not once, not twice, but three times. Jesus knew Peter would blow it, and Peter didn’t disappoint him. “If what the women said was true, how would Jesus receive him? Would he tell Peter to go away, and maybe with stronger words than that?” Peter had lost Jesus through his denials, he had lost Jesus in death, could he bear to lose him again? But Peter was as good as dead as it was; his heart was that broken. No, Peter would risk it all to taste the resurrection. Will we?

This isn’t just a great story that happened 2,000 years ago, but this is the deepest reality of our lives today, this day. The men in dazzling clothes have come along beside us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Whatever losses, whatever deaths, whatever death dealing patterns have become our tombs, the stone has been rolled away. It is time to leave our graveclothes behind. It is time to dance our way into the life that God is raising in us.

Resurrection life would be way too scary were it not for the fact that Jesus is one step ahead of us, and he is reaching back to pull us into this Life. All we can do, all we can do, is see our graveclothes lying in the dust. Your life is not to be found among the dead. You are rising. Be amazed. Be filled with wonder. Risk believing that resurrection isn’t just possible but is heartbeat of your life. The One who has risen before us, the One whom death could not contain, he has risen, and we can’t live among the dead any more. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 31, 2013

Rejoice and join the Risen ONE!

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks: Easter Vigil—Year C; Exodus 13:17-18, 20-22; Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12

In the beginning was chaos, and out of the chaos God pulled creation.  And it wasn’t long, until we had descended into chaos again, this time enslaved by oppressive forces, and God pulled us out of the waters to our freedom. And it wasn’t long, until we had descended into chaos again, this time, with hearts grown hard, and God promised to do some open heart surgery, taking out our hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh so that could love again. And it wasn’t long, until we had descended into chaos again, our spirits as dry and brittle as a valley of dry bones, and God promised that Divine Breath could make those bones live again. Are you getting the sense here that we human beings have a real hard time staying out of chaos? And over and over again, God dives into the depths to pull us toward life. If this past week has shown us anything, if this journey we have made from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him!” has shown us anything, it has shown us that, when it comes to chaos, God is all in.

But if tonight shows us anything, it is this—God can’t resist creating, and when we thought all was lost, that ancient song rings out, “Rejoice…this is the night, this is the night when darkness is vanquished, this is the night when the bonds of death and hell are broken, this is the night when wickedness is put to flight and sin is washed away…This is the night when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled to God.”

We may have a homing device on chaos, but God has a homing device on us, and Jesus drank the dregs of that chaos, so that in his rising, we might find our way home. God dove into the madness and pressed it to the bottom, and just as God pitched a tent in our flesh in the incarnation of Jesus, in Jesus’s death, God pitched a tent in depths of hell, and camped out there, and filled that darkness full of Presence. Chaos has lost its grip; we are consigned to the madness no more. It’s a whole new day, unveiled in the glorious splendor of this night.

This night is “wonderful and beyond our knowing. And the waters of chaos that would overwhelm us have now become the waters of new birth. Christ is risen, and we are born anew! And our first waking cry in this newborn life can only be, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

On a night like tonight, the poets say it best. Elizabeth Rooney penned this poem called “Opening.”

Now is the shining fabric of our day
Torn open, flung apart, rent wide by love.
Never again the tight, enclosing sky,
The blue bowl or the star-illumined tent.
We are laid open to infinity
For Easter love has burst His tomb and ours.
Now nothing shelters us from God’s desire—
Not flesh, not sky, not stars, not even sin.
Now glory waits so He can enter in.
Now does the dance begin.

Though chaos still swirls, and though we will probably find our way into it again, it will never have the power to destroy us because, this night, we are laid open to Infinity. Tonight, all creation is made new. Tonight, we cross on dry land and taste our freedom again. Tonight, our hearts of stone grow soft and tender. Tonight, our dry bones live. This is the resurrection of our Lord; we are laid open to Infinity; now nothing shelters us from God’s desire.

So, let us rejoice, and fall in love all over again; after all this time that we have spent in our respective graves, entombed in chaos, or our fear of it, it is time to join the Risen One and dance the night away. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 30, 2013

I am thirsty.

Good Friday—Community Service; John 19:28-29

Hear this scripture from John’s gospel.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.

“I am thirsty,”—once again, when Jesus’ pain was more than he could bear, the words that rise up within him are the words of the psalms. Once again, Jesus moves into solidarity with us. There are times when life brings us to our knees, when words sound only like platitudes, or when words fail us altogether, there are times when only the psalms can give voice to what we really feel—anger that borders on rage, paranoia that we would otherwise be ashamed to admit, sorrow deeper than we can imagine, joy that is unspeakable, hope that is unshakeable. The full range of humanity is in the psalms, and for Jesus, as he hangs there, the psalms are the only place he has left to stand.

And psalm 69 gives voice to the place Jesus now inhabits. “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck. I am sinking in deep mire, and there is no firm ground for my feet. I have come into the waters, and the torrent washes over me. I have grown weary with my crying; my throat is inflamed; my eyes have failed from looking for my God. Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; my lying foes who would destroy me are mighty…Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me…They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.”

This psalm is no longer just a hymn out of the tradition, but the deepest expression of Jesus’ deepest reality, but Jesus doesn’t quote the whole psalm, all he says is, “I am thirsty.”

“I am thirsty.” Thirst. It is everywhere. The people of God thirsted for water in the wilderness. The psalmist thirsts for the living God. In Isaiah, the land itself is thirsty. In Amos, God thirsts for justice; God thirsts for justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. In Matthew, Jesus thirsts for righteousness and commands us to give something to drink to the least of these. In John, it is the Samaritan woman who thirsts for the spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

Make no mistake. We thirst. God thirsts. Jesus thirsts. For justice, for righteousness, to know the Living God, to drink of the waters that will quench our parched souls, to taste of the wellspring of life. We long to thirst no more. We, like Jesus, are thirsty. And like Jesus, so much of what is given to us to satisfy our deepest thirst is sour wine, vinegar. It doesn’t satisfy our thirst. There is only one thing that can satisfy our thirst—the Living God, the One who has already taken up residence in our flesh, the Wellspring whose waters never fail.

The waters cut both ways—the torrent of waters can overwhelm us, threaten to drown us in the deep, but if we can open up to the deep, deep thirst in our souls, we can just as easily see that torrent of waters as a waterfall of God’s love pouring down upon us. We could just as easily see those waters rising as a spring of God’s life gushing up within us. These waters could just as easily be our very salvation. Can we, on this Good Friday, admit just how thirsty we are and allow God to fill us with the waters that never fail? Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 29, 2013

Why did Jesus have to die?

The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; Good Friday—Year B; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

This past Wednesday, our children made the way of the cross in the Great Hall. At the end, we gathered and talked. One of them asked me, “Why do they call it Good Friday?” Ah, that is the question. That is always the question. I told them of a woman, years ago, who came knocking on my office door about 10:30 on Maundy Thursday night. She had been keeping vigil in this space, and she had one question for me, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why did Jesus have to die?”

All week long, we have been stepping into the shoes of different characters. Judas, Peter, the sleeping disciples, the chief priests, Pilate, the mockers and taunters and teasers, but by now, on this Good Friday, Judas is long gone with his silver, Peter has heard the cock crow, the disciples have long since fled, the chief priests have won, Pilate has washed his hands, and the rest have rolled their dice and tired of the game. There are only three characters left today—God, Jesus, and us.

 “Why did Jesus have to die?” Did Jesus have to die? Could it have gone some other way? Could it have played out any other way? I suppose it could, and probably does—God has a good many religious and spiritual traditions through which to touch the human heart. But would it have been enough? If it had played out some other way, would it have been enough? Not the enough needed to placate an angry God, but would it have been enough for us?

How else would we see all the faces of the false self unmasked than through the One who begs God to “forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”?

How else would we ever be pushed to ask that hardest of questions, “What is truth?”

How else would we ever learn what it means to yield, to truly yield?

How else would we ever see the utter insanity of the myth of redemptive violence than in the One who hangs there refusing to do violence in return? In some earlier time, in some earlier part of the drama, God might have rained down fire upon this crazed, broken humanity à la Sodom and Gommorah, but not on this day. On this day, God receives this violence, and holds it, and in that receiving and holding drains it of its life and power. As violent as we human beings are, how else would we see that Love calls us a different way?

How else would we know, know without a doubt, that there is nowhere in our human existence, nowhere in our earthly life, nowhere in the hells we inhabit, nowhere that we can go that God has not gone before us, how else would we know that than through the One who has drunk the dregs of human suffering, drained that cup completely, drained it until “it [was] finished”?

How else would we ever know God’s complete, utter, total solidarity with us in the depths of our humanity than through the One who has felt our anguish, experienced our loneliness, known our fear, tasted our abandonment, borne our despair?

How else would we ever trust that when we feel forsaken, we are not forsaken. The One who cried that awful, piercing cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”that One filled even that godforsaken place with God. How else would we know that no place, no place in our human journey is godforsaken, no place is forsaken by God, how else would we know that were it not for this day?

Why did Jesus have to die? Why do we call this Friday Good?

Because nothing else would have been enough to show us the unfathomable depths of God’s love for us.

 “Do you know how much I love you?” This is the only question God cares about. And today, this is how God answers, “Let me show you. Let me show you. Nothing else will be enough. I must show you with my flesh, with my arms stretched out, with my heart exposed. Then you will know. Then you will know. Then, it will be enough.”Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 29, 2013