Worship Schedule

Sunday8:00 amHoly Eucharist Rite I - Chapel
Sunday9:00 amChristian Formation
Sunday10:15 amGlad News/Sad News
Sunday10:30 amHoly Eucharist Rite II - Sanctuary w/Music
Monday6:00 pmCentering Prayer and Study
Wednesday12:15 pmHoly Eucharist with Healing Ministry

St. Lukes Blog

St. Luke's

Community Page

Organization Page


Embrace the abundance of life

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 10—Year B, July 15, 2012

II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

So, you know how fairy tales have that happily-ever-after ending. And, then there are the real fairy tales. The fairy tales as written down by the Brothers Grimm. And those fairy tales are pretty dark and pretty gruesome. Well, today, we’ve got the Brothers Grimm version of the gospel.

And the fact that we are celebrating Harper’s baptism today—oh, gosh, that’s the icing on the cake.

I don’t even know where to go with this story. It is gruesome. It is deadly. And it is oh, so human, like the fairy tales so often are.

Let’s remember where we are in the story. Jesus has just sent the disciples out in two’s to cast out demons, anoint the sick, and cure them. They have had great success, and word of their success has reached King Herod. Now, this is a different King Herod than the one around at the time of Jesus’ birth—this is that King Herod’s son who had charge over the region of Galilee. So, people are trying to figure out who this Jesus is? Who is this man who can cast out demons and cure the sick and can even empower his disciples to do the same? Some thought John the baptizer had been raised from the dead. Others thought Elijah. And when news of it came to King Herod’s ears, oh, he just knew that John had been raised, the same John whose death he had ordered.

Then King Herod spirals into a really bad flashback where he relives what led to John’s death.

You see, King Herod himself had John arrested and thrown in prison. Why? Well, John had confronted the king, told him that it wasn’t lawful for him to have married Herodias, who happened to be wife of King Herod’s brother Philip. And according to Leviticus 18:16, 20-21, John was right. It was pretty forbidden by their law. So, this did not endear John to Herod, and it especially did not endear him to Herodias who has a big time grudge against John. She wanted to kill him, but she couldn’t because Herod feared John. Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, and King Herod protected him. The text tells us, “When the king heard John, he was greatly perplexed; and yet, he liked to listen to him.” Isn’t that an interesting description? Perplexed but he still just had to listen to him.

But one fateful day, King Herod gave a banquet to celebrate his own birthday. Everybody who was anybody was there—courtiers, officers, all the leaders of Galilee. And his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and danced, and her dance was beautiful, and it greatly pleased the King and his guests. In a fit of joy and gratitude, King Herod said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And then he upped the ante, “I solemnly swear, whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”

If you were Herodias, what would you ask for? A job, debts paid off, some savings? A cellphone, an ipad, a Nintendo DS, a bike?

Well, she didn’t know what to ask for, so she ran out to her mother and asked her, “What should I ask for?” And without batting an eye, her mother replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”

Immediately, the daughter rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” That “on the platter” part was her own twist on the request.

The king was deeply grieved; yet an oath is an oath, and out of regard for that oath and for the guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. The king sent a soldier with orders to bring John’s head. The soldier did as he was asked and brought the head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

When the disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

So many dimensions to this story! Resentment and grudges can take us to incredibly destructive places, a la Herodias the mother. Ceding our desires and wishes over to another, a la Herodias the daughter. The desire to save face and the ability to violate your own sense of integrity to save that face, a la King Herod. The prophet’s courage to call a leader to account and to speak truth to power, a la John the Baptist.

Can you see yourself in these characters? Can you walk in Herodias the mother’s shoes a bit? Can you identify resentments and grudges that you carry deep in your soul, and can you see how they will eventually bring you to a disastrous result? Can you walk in Herodias the daughter’s shoes and identify those places where you don’t claim your own deepest desires, but instead give them over to somebody else to determine for you? Can you see how that, too, comes to a disastrous result? Can you see those places in yourself where you have sacrificed your integrity on the altar of being liked or keeping others happy? Can you see how conflict avoidance run amok can, again, bring about a disastrous result? These are our dark shadows. The worst of our projections played out in the lives of the people around us.

But can you also see your bright shadow? Those good and noble qualities that we project onto others that we shy away from claiming for ourselves. The courage of John the Baptist to speak the truth to the powers-that-be. Can you identify times when you, too, have borne that courage, or do you think that only the prophets of old have that kind of guts. Can you identify what it has cost you to speak such truth? You and I, we have that ability to see and speak, no less than they. And can you see the disastrous results that come when we refuse to speak that truth. Such was the failure of most of the Christian Church in Germany in World War II—we know how that turned out.

And then there is the evangelist himself, Mark, who forces his listeners, both then and now, to hear this gruesome and tragic tale. Why? Why does Mark tell this story, and why do we need to hear it?

If the gospel is trying to say one thing to us today, maybe it is this—being a disciple is going to cost you, a lot. You might get crosswise with people who will hold the power to kill you, quite literally kill you, but even if they don’t kill you physically, they can do you damage in a thousand different ways.

Oh, Harper, I wish I could promise you that life from this moment forward will be happily-ever-after. You are so beautiful and innocent, of course that is what we wish for you. But we know that that is not how life goes in this world. This life holds its share of tragedy and brutality and injustice and death.

But here’s the deal. It also holds its share of life and vitality and love and beauty and resurrection. King Herod has this flashback because he senses that, though he could kill John the Baptist, he couldn’t kill his witness, his life, his vitality. That spirit could not be quenched, and John has come back to life, and the king knows that he has to reckon with the consequences of his actions. Who knows, maybe King Herod himself experienced transformation in the process of reliving this horrible memory.

Harper, today we baptize you into the whole story—the bad, the tragic, the unjust, the ugly, and the true, the alive, the beautiful, the courageous, the compassionate, the merciful. Today, you are baptized into the flow of Love that will never let you go, a flow that will always bring you to resurrection’s door, most especially at those times in your life that feel the darkest.

Today, the Spirit fills you with the prophet’s courage, and we promise to help you grow into the full stature of Christ—that Living Icon of God whom death and sin and injustice could not keep down. Today, we promise to help shape you, so that when you are faced with the choices of Herodias the daughter, you will know how to claim your heart’s desire to love God, your neighbor, and yourself. We promise to help shape you, so that you will know how to forgive instead of allowing your resentments and grudges to eat you alive and destroy those in your path. We promise to help shape you, so that you will know how to honor your inner God-given sense of integrity, instead of violating what you know to be good and true and holy.

We promise that you will dance, but it won’t be the dance to gain the king’s favor; it will be the dance of joy that comes from living in the presence of God—the dance that David danced before the Lord. Pure delight and gratitude.

So, Harper, sorry about the gruesome story, but just like with the fairy tales of old, the real fairy tales of old, these stories help us embrace the fullness of life—the dark and the light, the sorrow and the joy, death and the abundance of life. And here’s a promise you can stake your life on, wherever your story takes you, however your story unfolds, know that this Body of Christ will hold you all the way to the end. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
July 15, 2012

Go with the Living God, but travel light.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 9—Year B,
II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Today, we get Paul at his most confused, egotistic, humble, split personality, mystical, visionary, ecstatic self. Just listen. Now, I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body I don’t know; God knows. And I know that such a person (wink, wink)—whether in the body or out of the body I don’t know; God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mere mortal is permitted to repeat. Now, speaking on behalf of that one (wink, wink) I will boast, but on my own behalf, I won’t boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wanted to boast, I wouldn’t be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I’ll refrain from it, so that no one will think better of me than what you see or hear from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.

So, Paul has had this ecstatic experience. It is textbook for mystical experience. Paul has had a taste of union with the Divine, and fourteen years later, he still doesn’t have the words for the experience. And, he still doesn’t know what to do with it, what to make of it. I love this side of Paul! We have these mystical experiences too, and it can take us years, or a lifetime, to make sense of them. And, Paul has enough self-awareness to know that his ego could easily run wild with this thing. This experience knocked his socks off, and beyond that, he can’t say much else.

The leap he takes next is an unfortunate one. At the very same time he lives with the knowledge of this ecstatic experience, he also lives with the knowledge of what he calls “the thorn in his flesh.” If you know yourself to be beloved by God, in union with the Divine, what do you make of your trials and tribulations? So, here’s how Paul works it out.

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of that oppositional force, Satan, to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, three times I had a heart to heart with God, that it would leave me, but the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Then, Paul catapults right back into his ego, “So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” 

So, Paul has this incredible experience of divine union and this incredible experience divine abandonment at the same time. He knows what it is to be caught up in God, literally, and he knows what it is to hit a wall that you can’t get over and you can’t get around. But I think Paul makes a false step when he says that the one caused the other, that because God knew Paul’s ability to get puffed up in his ego, then God saw fit to take Paul down a notch or two or three. I don’t think God visits suffering on us to bring us down to size. I just don’t.

But even so, Paul’s insight into that suffering and weakness still stands. When we are in pain, when we hit the wall, when our own abilities and resources and power and insights just can’t get us out of the ditch that we find ourselves in, all we have to fall back on is grace. The power doesn’t shine through our strength; it is made perfect when we are at our weakest. It is the great paradox of Christian life. Richard Rohr says that success has nothing to teach us after the age of 30, but it is through our failures that we grow because it is in our failures that we discover the kind of grace, the kind of power that Paul discovered through his thorn in the flesh. And this grace and power gets revealed not through denying the thorn, but in the very process of how we come to live with the thorn; this grace and power comes as we integrate the thorn into our life; it comes as we fling ourselves more and more on the mercy and grace and power of God. I can’t make you believe this to be true; this is one of those central truths that can only be experienced, and once you experience it, you will know the truth of it. And when you experience, you, like Paul, will only be able to talk about it in the language of paradox. And in the midst of your divine abandonment, you may also come to know an intense experience of divine union. Maybe in the body, maybe out of the body, I don’t know, but I know that this experience of divine union in the depths is real.

And aside from the fact that this is the place where Paul articulates most clearly and beautifully the power of the cross in the nitty, gritty of our lives, the fact that he shares this at all is equally important. Paul is sharing his most intimate inner experience of God. Risky indeed. The authority he bears doesn’t come from the fact that he wrote a letter which we’re reading today; honestly, he was just writing a letter, not holy scripture. But his authority derives from the experience he has of God and Jesus. The very same place that Jesus’ authority comes from, and that the disciples’ authority comes from, and that your authority and my authority come from.

See, that’s the whole problem that Jesus has with the hometown crowd. They ask, “How can he have this wisdom? How can he do these deeds of power? He’s a carpenter. He’s Mary’s boy. We know his brothers. We remember when he threw mudpies at the camels going by. We know his sisters. What’s his source of authority?”

Jesus gets that they don’t get it. They never got the prophets either. The more people know you, the harder it is to get out of the box they put you in. The more we crave the security of tried and true sources of authority, the harder it is to spot the movement of the Spirit who refuses to be nailed down. The only deed of power he could do there was to cure some sick people who were wide open to being touched and who were way beyond arguing about sources of authority. Need will often lift the veil that blinds us to the possibilities before us.

Jesus has only one place to fall when those who were supposed to love and honor and support him take offense instead; he falls back into the arms of God, resting in his experience of union with God. He didn’t go the route of arguing his credentials; he just laid hands on a few sick people and cured them. He couldn’t give what those hometown people were unwilling to receive, but he didn’t stop the flow either. That’s one definition of sin that I’ve heard that makes sense to me, stopping the flow, stopping the flow of love and grace. In fact, not only did Jesus not stop the flow, Jesus expanded the channels through which this love and grace could flow. He gathered up the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

He even told them how to pack for the journey.

Now, how do we pack? Well, I am going to pull out my expandable suitcase. And I might need a jacket for the cool nights, and a tank top for the hot days. And long pants for the bugs, and shorts to stay cool. And I might need a swim suit, you never know. I need my tennis shoes, which need a certain kind of socks, and my hiking shoes, which need another kind of socks. And Jesus did mention sandals, but my Keens or Birkenstocks? And a hat. I need my hat. Well, actually, I need my sun hat and my golf hat. Oh, and a book or two or three—let’s see, Freedom of Simplicity, Simpler Living Compassionate Life, oh and Living with Contradiction—that should do it. And maybe a stuffed animal, a toy? Is this about how you pack??? Please tell me I am not alone here.

But Jesus told them to take nothing for their journey, no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; wear sandals, one pair, not even a second tunic; take nothing, except a staff, a walking stick, that’s all you got. That’s what the text records, but I imagine Jesus said a little bit more. Something like this: “You are going to have to depend upon the hospitality of those you meet. And don’t hop around too much. Sink some roots into a place. Sometimes, they will be able to receive what you have to offer, and sometimes they won’t. And if they can’t receive it, don’t sweat it, just shake the dust off your feet and move on. You have no authority but the authority I have given you, and that authority comes from one source and one source only, a living relationship with the Living God. That’s all you got. That’s all I’ve got; and it’s everything. All that I have been given, I have given to you.” (sounds like the seventeenth chapter of John) “So, go out and confront the demons, name them and cast them out. Touch the sick, anoint them, and watch them be made whole. The world will ask for your credentials; offer them the authority of your experience instead. You will have your walking stick. I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is there to steady you and give you a little support when the going gets rough, just enough for you to find your equilibrium, your steadiness; mostly that stick is there to call you back to your center so that you can ground yourself in the authority that rests within you, an authority that comes from that place deep, deep inside of you that is absolutely united with, bound to, connected to, at one with God. A place inside of you where God lives and speaks in sighs too deep for words.” I think Jesus said something like that.traveler with walking stick

If the emerging church thinkers are right, people of faith are waking up in a big way. After centuries of looking to outer authorities to tell us what we should believe about God, we are coming back to the immediacy of our own experience of God and Jesus. It certainly means we are traveling a whole lot lighter. That’s often confusing to the world around us, but as we open to our experience of God, as we share that experience with courage, like Paul, as we risk looking like a babbling fool, like Paul, as we put ourselves out there with our friends and family, with our neighbors and our co-workers, even with our enemies, as we claim our inner God-given authority, we free others to claim the divine authority that is also theirs. And then we can begin to see grace and power in places we used to call godforsaken. Then, we can see grace and power made perfect in places of utter weakness. Far from blocking the flow, we begin to facilitate it, participate in it, share it, expand it, just like Jesus did. Resistance just becomes one more place for God’s glory to shine.

Paul isn’t just doing a teaching on mystical experience; he’s inviting us to own our own. Paul isn’t just espousing his theology of the cross; he’s inviting us to claim our experience of the cross and to speak of how we found God there. Jesus isn’t just revealing the weirdness of small town dynamics in the town you grew up in; he’s inviting us to understand the true source of our authority. And the mission of the twelve isn’t just an evangelism strategy for first century Palestine, but a call to all of us to trust the authority Jesus has given us and to be bold in inviting the world around us to get a whole new mind.

You have so much power. You have so much experience. You have so much wisdom. You have authority. How are you claiming these? How are you stewarding these? How are you sharing these?

So, leave your baggage behind, and trust that the walking stick and what you carry in your heart and in your soul will be enough. Witness to the love of God that knows no bounds. Speak of the grace that is always sufficient. Show the kind of power that is made perfect in weakness. Invite the world to learn the language of paradox. You won’t be able to do a deed of power everywhere, but it’s time we started trying to do the deeds of power where we can.

If you sound goofy, don’t worry, you won’t be the first, Paul already has that t-shirt. But don’t be surprised at the deeds of power you will do as you claim this authority. The disciples cast out many demons and cured the sick. Who knows what deeds of power you will do on the journey that is now yours to make. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
July 8, 2012

Release your fear, embrace the change.

June 24th, 2012, Rev. Cyndi Banks
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 7—Year B
I Samuel; Psalm; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4. Jesus calms the storm. This was my favorite bible story as a child. My family had a Good News Bible—anybody else remember the Good News Bible from the 70’s? It had these really cool little pencil drawings, and those drawings absolutely fascinated me, and I absolutely loved the pictures that went with this story. I think I also loved this story because I grew up on the Ohio River, and I know what it’s like to be caught out in a storm, and I can remember my awe of my father as he would pilot our boat to safety.


So the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. It’s not a very big body of water; you can see all the way across it, and it’s surrounded by these glorious steep hills. It can be so peaceful out there, but fierce storms can blow up like that. So a great windstorm arose [I need some wind] and waves beat into the boat and the disciples pulled hard on the oars and didn’t make any progress and the boat was being swamped and the disciples were terrified. [freeze]

Have you ever felt like you are rowing as hard as you can and not making a bit of progress? Have you ever felt like you are just being swamped? Have you ever felt like the winds are swirling around you, and you are being tossed about by forces beyond your control?

We live in a time of windstorms and waves and tumult and chaos and it feels like we are being swamped.

Close your eyes. Think in terms of your life, think in terms of our community, of our nation, of the world, of the earth, think in terms of our institutions—call out the storms that are raging…

Conflict. War.

Economies that don’t work for the poor, for the middle class, or even for those at the top.

Governments that don’t work.

Kids that go to bed hungry in India and Africa and Watauga County.

People that can’t pay for medical care.

Broken families. Broken relationships. Kids and young adults who felt absolutely lost.

Institutions that are broken.

Working harder, rowing harder, only to see yourself losing ground.

And where is Jesus in all of this?

We look around, and he feels irrelevant, in the background, in the stern, asleep on the cushion. We cry out with the disciples, “Wake up, Jesus! Wake up and smell the coffee! Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” And Jesus woke up, and he rebuked the wind, and he said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Then he turned to the disciples, and he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”


The disciples thought Jesus was the one who was asleep, but here’s the deal—in our anxiety, in our fear, in our despair, in our lack of faith, we are the ones who are asleep. We are the ones who aren’t awake to the possibilities. It’s not that Jesus is asleep; it’s that he’s not anxious, and when you stop pulling so hard against the wind, when you stop trying so hard to make progress, when you realize that God is in the boat with you—peace descends upon you, stillness descends upon you, the waves don’t overwhelm you, but the dead calm holds you in its Presence.

And out of that stillness, out of that calm, out of that peace that passes all understanding, out of that space, new amazing possibilities emerge.

I have spent the last 3 days at the Wild Goose Festival, the Wild Goose being the celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit. This event is outdoors in tents on a farm in the center part of the state where it has been well in the 90’s with hundreds of people from every walk of life. There are white people and black people and brown people and Native American people from all over our country and from across the world. Catholics and mainline Protestants and Orthodox and Evangelicals and people who are “spiritual but not religious” and people of no faith at all. Wise, wise elders and kids and more young adults than I have ever seen at a conference having to do with God. People who love the church and people whom the church has wounded and people who are cynical about the institution but who are passionate about Jesus. People who care deeply about the gospel and justice and compassion and “the other” and are seeking new ways forward in these tumultuous times. There are speakers and artists and musicians and activitists and lots and lots of lovers of Jesus committed to his Way.

Yes, the storms are raging all around us, and these people are eyes-wide-open about these storms, but they are not paralyzed with fear. Jesus does care that we are perishing, but he’s not the one who needs to wake up—we are!

We’ve got to release our anxiety and our fear. We’ve got to let go of our obsession with progress and reaching the perpetual other side. We’ve got to be still and practice peace and get real comfortable with that eerie dead calm because that’s the space where new life is born, that’s the space where new dreams are dreamed, that’s the space where the impossible becomes the imperative. These storms raging around us can be places of transformation, but only when we give over our fear and sit in the dead calm.

So here are some of the transformative possibilities that caught my ears and my heart as I listened the last 3 days.

I heard about the soul of the new economy where a triple bottom line drives business—an economic bottom line and an environmental bottom line and a social bottom line. An approach where success is measured by how well all three of these bottom lines do, and not just the dollars and cents because, and here’s the take-away line, “what gets measured is what gets done.” “Regenerative economy” they call it, and really big corporations are beginning to catch the vision.

I heard young adults, “the Jon Stewart generation” one called himself, and some older adults who are cynical about the church, and yet, who yearn to become post-cynical Christians.

I heard challenges to the values that are driving us and killing us and destroying the earth, and I heard afresh the ways the gospel can set us free for the abundant life that Jesus promises us.

I saw a way of dialoguing where people engaged one another, challenged one another, speakers and listeners alike, but all done in a spirit of building up and not tearing down.

I heard speaker after speaker invite us to live with big, compassionate, clear-eyed, openheartedness and to extend that embrace to “the other”—like Jesus does.

The more we wake up, the more we will be able to see as Jesus sees, and then the more we will be able to live as Jesus lives and to die as Jesus dies and to discover resurrection as a lived reality, not a proposition of doctrine. The storms will still rage, but they will lose their power to frighten us—we’ll know how to rest while the winds blow and the waves beat because we’ll know that a deeper peace, a deeper calm, a deeper stillness dwells in our midst.

Tumultuous times don’t just rock our boat; they open up new spaces to see new possibilities because, frankly, the old ways just aren’t working anymore.

As you think about the storms that are raging, in your own life, in the world, how is Jesus calling you to wake up? What do you see as your eyes open? If you are still, what possibilities rise up?

The Teacher has stilled the waves. Sit with him in the boat in the midst of the dead calm that he has created. Sit there, just sit there. Be present to his Presence. Wake up and smell the life that is in your midst, and then do whatever you can to spread that life, that calm, that stillness, that peace across this storm-tossed world. The last 3 days have taught me, Jesus does care that we are perishing, and I know this because the people who make up his Body care. The storms are still raging, but we don’t have to be afraid—we have every reason to have a crazy amount of faith and an insane amount of hope. Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 24, 2012

Expand your vision of the Kingdom.

June 17th, 2012, Rev. Cyndi Banks

The Third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 6—Year B
I Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; II Corinthians 5:6-10, [11-13], 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Well, last week we saw Samuel bow to the people’s wishes and make Saul king over Israel. Remember, “We want a king! We want a king! Just like the other nations, we want a king!” But things don’t go well for Saul. From my impartial view, not all of this was Saul’s fault. God had some pretty strange demands that Saul didn’t follow to a “T”, and Samuel didn’t show up when he said he would which made Saul anxious which made Saul force himself to offer the burnt offering to get the LORD’s favor, and somehow, all of this made Saul fall out of favor with God who never really was keen on this whole king thing to begin with. It’s all pretty complicated. Anyway, God has pulled his support of Saul; Saul has lost the support of his super PAC, and when that happens, you are dead in the water. Samuel’s pretty torn up about it too.

So, today, the LORD says to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I’ve rejected him from being king over Israel; it’s time to move on; I’ve got my eye on someone to take over.” Off Samuel goes to Jesse the Bethlehemite. Jesse and his sons and the elders of the city of Bethlehem and Samuel all gather at the place where Samuel was going to make a sacrifice to the LORD. Samuel is convinced that the LORD’s appointed is before them. There’s Jesse’s first son, Eliab—he’s really tall and looks like a king. Nope. We’re told, “The LORD doesn’t see as mortals see; we human beings are all caught up on outward appearance, but the LORD, the LORD looks on the heart.” Abinadab? He looks kingly. Nope. Shammah. Un uh. Nethanel. No. Raddai—he looks regal. Nope. Ozem. Un uh. Oh, and we don’t have a record of the seventh son’s name, but he’s not the one either. Samuel is perplexed, “Jesse, are these all your sons?” “Oh no, there’s the youngest; he’s still out keeping the sheep.” “Well go get him. We’re not starting without him.” And they brought in the boy. He was ruddy, had a good, healthy complexion, and he had beautiful eyes, and he was handsome. He was the artsy one in the family, not your typical warrior type, more drawn to the lyre, that harp-like instrument, to be honest. But the LORD said, “This is the one; anoint him.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in his brothers’ presence, and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.

David, the young, artsy kid is kingly material—this is not what we expect. But this seems to be God’s preferred mode of operation. What we think should be used by God isn’t, and what we think is not a good candidate for God’s work is. And we can extrapolate this to a bigger field. The kingdom of God is often where we least expect to find it.

And that brings us to the gospel. Jesus is trying to describe what the kingdom of God is like. You can almost see him scratching his head—“What words can I use? What images and metaphors will help them to see it? What story could I use? What parable? I’ve got to turn their heads inside out so that they will see it.”

Allow me a detour. Have you ever noticed Jesus’ love of images, of parables, of the blessed metaphor? Why? Why use this language instead of concrete, literal examples, the stuff of the real world? Because the concrete, literal stuff stops at one level of reality, and one level of our brain—our rational minds. When we go concrete and literal, we get trapped in the measuring, observing, judging part of our brains, and more often than not, we will find whatever is being measured, observed, or judged to be wanting; it just doesn’t cut muster in our logical, rational brain, and so we can dismiss it. And note here, good scientific enlightened liberal thinkers are just as prone to this as are conservative the-bible-says-what-it-says-period literalist type of thinkers.

But if we can give ourselves over to images and parables and metaphors, we are invited into this territory, into this playground to play with the reality being described. With cold hard facts, we can stay at a cool objective distance, but images and metaphors and parables invite us to engage our imagination; they invite us to participate. They pull us into their creative tension and won’t let us go until we emerge a changed person. No wonder that Jesus uses this kind of language! It’s not that what he is describing isn’t real; it’s that what he is describing is infinitely real, and he doesn’t want us to stay in our “observer of reality” role—he wants us to walk into this world he’s describing with him; he wants our full-bodied, full-hearted, full-person—mind, body, heart, spirit—participation.

So, what is this kingdom like into which he is inviting us? Well, it’s as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, like Bill Marr did earlier this spring out in our garden, and then would go to sleep and get up, night after night, day after day, and that seed would sprout and grow. Bill, can you tell us how that happens? No, he doesn’t know how that happens. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. It is a total mystery. Oh, I am sure that there are botanists that could tell us a lot about the science of it, but could they really unpack the mystery of life? I sort of doubt it.

The kingdom of God is a mystery, but it is absolutely bent toward life, something that comes out of the dark, from the tiniest of beginnings, and can grow into something amazing. But there is more to the story…Jesus goes on, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest
has come.”
Jesus is upping the ante. Are we just going to gaze at the mystery and wonder of life, stand in awe of the Great Mystery, or are we going to harvest the growth, and make use of it in our lives and show others how to make use of it in their lives? Are we going to look at the kingdom of God from the sidelines as an observer, or we going to engage it in its fullness and claim this fullness for our lives and live out of this prodigal, extravagant, immensely abundant fullness?

And some people got it, and some still didn’t, so Jesus tries again. “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? Oh, I know, let’s try this. Anybody know what this is? Can anybody see what this is? It’s a mustard seed. It’s teeny, tiny. It’s minuscule. And when it’s sown upon the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on earth;” (okay, the concrete literalists will get completely lost disputing that fact and say that no, a particular type of orchid seed is the smallest seed and totally miss the point—go with what Jesus is saying; it’s a parable, it’s a story)—“yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

So, the mustard seed, a tiny, tiny seed that grows and grows. How big does it grow? Well, 6 feet, 9 feet, some even say 12 feet tall, and it usually grows about as wide as it does tall. Now, here’s something to think about. Jesus is telling this as a parable, a story, and parables usually have this element of tension that’s there to turn our worldview upside down and pull us through to a different understanding. Where is the tension in this story? Well, there’s the whole dynamic of how something really little grows into something pretty big. Ergo, God can fan our small, little mustard seed kind of faith into a great big witness of God’s power and grace and love. There’s that.

But I think there is a deeper tension here.

Why did Jesus choose the mustard seed? Wouldn’t any kind of tree start from a humble beginning? The oak tree from a little bitty acorn? Or cedar trees from small yellow seeds? In fact, the oak tree was a favorite image of strength in the Old Testament, and the cedars of Lebanon, likewise, a symbol of strength and power and stability. And Jesus chooses a shrub, a mustard seed bush. Why?

I think Jesus is inviting us to expand our field of vision. Oaks are great, cedars are great—height and strength and stability and deep, deep roots are all aspects of life in God, but so is breadth and being low to the ground so that everyone, even the lowlife, can have access to this kingdom. Birds, yes, nesting places for them, but I bet some other surprising creatures inhabit the mustard seed shrub because it’s easy to reach.

For Jesus, the kingdom of God is as broad as it is deep; it’s as low as it is high. Mostly it’s accessible for all who have need of it.

So, what does it matter what the kingdom of God is like? Well, it matters because Jesus is setting the boundaries of how unbounded he wants our hearts to be. I Samuel talks about the heart factor, Paul talks about the heart factor. In fact, Paul goes further today, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” In this kingdom, it’s a whole new day. Whatever we were like before, we are not bound to be that now. We are a new creation! The old way is to guard our hearts, to protect them, to defend them—the old way is to stand tall and move out of our strength alone; the new way is to practice the art of the mustard seed shrub, keeping ourselves close to the ground, our hearts open and accessible to God, to each other, to those we meet out in the world.

Some odd creatures may find their way to us, so in need of the comfort we can provide. We’ll miss it if we hold ourselves above it all. Maybe it’s time we risk getting down close to the ground—as individuals, as a community. Maybe it’s time we let our hearts expand this way < > to include all that God includes in this world, as well as sinking our roots deep in God’s soil.

It’s all a matter of perspective, and today, Jesus is asking us to widen the lens. There is so much more to see of the kingdom of God than what we have been trained to see. So much more to love than we have allowed ourselves to love. So much more room for our souls to play. Let the mustard seed kingdom unfold before your eyes; let this smallest of images that Jesus has given us take root in your soul. God’s work, God’s kingdom, it pops up in the most surprising people in the most surprising places. Let the mustard seed grow inside of you and see what happens to your heart and to your life along the way. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 17, 2012

Who do you claim as “King”?

June 10th, 2012, Rev. Cyndi Banks
The Second Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 5—Year B
I Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15);  Psalm 138;  II Corinthians 4:13-5:1;  Mark 3:20-35

We have a lesson this morning in communal anxiety. Context is important here.

So, God has delivered the people out of slavery in Egypt. They have done their wilderness trek and found their way into the promised land that God had prepared for them. Two traditions then diverge. In one, they conquer this new land fast and furiously, mowing down any who would stand in their way, a la the book of Joshua. This is known as the conquest tradition. This is the kind of history that you tell when you want to impress people.  In the other tradition, the people of God took over the land in a much slower fashion. It’s not so much that the people of God conquered the land as they assimilated into it. There is much more nuance here, some sense that there were actually people who possessed that land before they did. This is story as it unfolds in the book of Judges. This is the story you tell when you are being honest.

And in this part of Israel’s history, all these various tribes that had come up out of Egypt are trying to figure out how to live together as a people. The book of Judges shows us kind of a loose organization, more of a confederation of tribes. The important thing here is that there is no central point of authority, no overarching structure, no leader at the top of the pyramid. When inspiration was needed, God would inspire someone who would rise up from among the people and point a way forward or offer a critique that was needed. These were the judges. They could be a man or a woman. They had a prophetic edge to be sure, mostly because God showed them what needed to be spoken, and they weren’t afraid to speak it. Some of these names you know: Gideon, Deborah, Samson, Eli, and Samuel.

The point is that when inspiration was needed, God inspired somebody, and the people got the direction they needed.

But alas, in anxious times, this calls for more trust than most human beings can muster. And so as these little tribes kept living together in this loose organization, they saw that the nations around them went about things in a different way. The nations around them were strong and mighty. They had armies, and they had kings. So, the people of God decided that they wanted a king. “Those people have a king; we want a king!”

So, the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. “You’re getting old, Samuel, and your sons aren’t following your path (as is the case with most of our adult children); appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” “We want a king, we want a king. They have a king; we want a king!” Can you chant that for me?

This did not make Samuel happy, and he prayed about it. Such a diffuse authority may have been chaotic, maybe a little unpredictable, certainly not controllable, but it was open to the movement of God. You never knew where the inspiration would come from, but you could trust that when it was needed, God would inspire someone to step up and give voice to the vision. But getting a king, oh, that was one giant step toward institutionalization. One more layer of bureaucracy mediating the holy. And that was going to bring a load of trouble. Samuel felt like this was a slap in the face. Maybe to him, mostly to God. For Samuel, to ask for a king indicated a lack of faith and revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of what it meant to be in relationship with God, of what it meant to trust God.

Samuel takes his prayer to the LORD. And you know what the LORD said in reply, “Listen to them in all that they say to you; for they haven’t rejected you Samuel, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” But this wasn’t anything new to God. “They’ve been forsaking me and serving other gods since the day I brought them up out of Egypt. So, listen to their voice, but warn them, show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So, Samuel went back to the people. “Okay folks, here’s the deal. You want a king; you need to know exactly what that means. Full disclosure here. I’m going to read you the fine print. These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he (no room for a “she” here), he will take your sons and appoint them to chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; he will appoint commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties (sons will be dedicated to the army because whoever heard of a king without an army); and some of those sons will plow his ground and reap his harvest (operative word here is “his” because the king owns it all) and some will make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots (because kings have a way of wanting to increase their kingdom and most people don’t give over that land willingly, which means going to war). This king will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers (because everything is in service to the king—individual agency is out the window). Then he will take the best of your fields and of your vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers (“courtiers” are all those folks who make up the royal court—otherwise known as “the bureaucracy”—once you have a king, you have a lot of these folks). This king will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. Do you get the directional flow here? It’s taking what is yours and making it his. Culminating in the fact that you will be his slave, not just that your slaves will be his slaves, but you will be his slave.

Any allusions to our day and time coming to mind?

Back to the story. We have come so far from the freedom of the Exodus. Our desire to consolidate authority, our desire to be like the other nations, our desire to have somebody assigned to take care of us has landed us right back in the slavery we had been delivered from. And when that reality dawns on us, when we realize where our desires have taken us, Samuel, the prophet Samuel knows that we will cry out. “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves.” And Samuel prophesies, “…but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

So, Samuel lays all this out before the people. Now then, if you heard that litany that he laid out, what would you do? You are the elders of Israel, what would you do? You have a choice to make, “Do I continue to live with this messy, diffuse authority that calls for a whole lot of trust on my part, or do I plow forward determined to get that king?” What do you do? What do you think they did?

The text tells us: “But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we may also be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

And here is where we know that God honors our choices, that free-will is for real. God honors our choices even when God knows it’s a really bad idea. The people want a king, a king they shall have, and “they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal.”

Why is this so important? It is so important because we see this played out all the time in our lives and in our institutions. This has to do with power and authority and where it rests and how it works. You are made in the image of God. Richard Hooker thought that our very minds mirrored the mind of God—that we had wisdom and will, just like God—albeit they don’t always work in sync quite as well as they do in God, but nevertheless, our being mirrors God’s Being.

You have power, you have an inner authority, an inner nature, as Paul calls it this morning, and it’s being renewed daily. The Holy Spirit dwells inside of you and prays in sighs too deep for words. You do have an inner guidance. And yet, when we get anxious, when we feel like chaos is threatening to overwhelm us, we tend to grab for anything that will help us feel secure again.

So, we look for an authority outside of ourselves; we don’t trust the wisdom we have, and we discount the power that rests in our hands. We look to leaders and we look to experts and we look to those who “ought to know”—they come in all kinds of guises, they may have a lot of letters behind their name, or in front of their name, they may be ordained and wear robes or they might be elected in the public realm, they may even be inanimate—opinion polls or the latest trends on the cover of a magazine—it doesn’t matter what name they go by, what the trappings are, they are kings. And little by little, we give our souls away, we give away our lives, we give away our resources, we give away our sons and our daughters; little by little, we give over our minds, our hearts, our spirits, and our bodies to serving these kings, and we enter a kind of slavery. One piece at a time, we give our God-given authority, our God-given wisdom, our God-given power over to the kings, and we are the less for it.

Don’t make the choice our forebears did. When you are anxious, when you are scared, don’t look out there for some humanmade construction to calm the sea, even a holy construction like the church. The church is not immune to the ways of the king, and to the extent it functions that way, it will disappoint you. To the extent the church functions like the body of Christ, honoring all the members equally, even, especially, the inferior ones, as Paul says, to the extent the church functions like the body of Christ, it can help us remember, it can help us reclaim the authority and power and wisdom that God has instilled in each and every one of us. When the seas get rough, we can trust that God will inspire us, individually and collectively; we can trust that God will give us the wisdom we need to find our way forward; it may well up in you, or in you, or in you, or in me, but it will rise up. Remember, the disciples got really stressed out when they were out in in the middle of the sea and the storm blew up; Jesus did not. The chaos will not overwhelm us. We can trust that we will have what we need to move forward, or maybe just to stand still.

What would change inside of you, what would change in your life, if you really claimed this power and authority and wisdom that God has given you? I am not saying we should demolish all the institutions in our society, but I do think if we claimed the authority that is ours to claim, then we would hold those institutions much more loosely, and they would be greater conduits of life.

Today comes as a timely, cautionary tale, we need to be on guard against those who would proclaim themselves king, and we need to be on guard against our desire to make them so. There is much at stake, namely, the extent to which we will participate in the enslavement of our souls, and at what price, and the extent to which we will live in the freedom for which God has made us. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 10, 2012

The Trinity–join in the dance

June 3, 2012, Rev. Cyndi Banks
Trinity Sunday—Year B
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday. The day that feels like we are sentenced to do theological calculus. The three is one and the one is three. How can this be? It makes no sense, at least not in any math I know. Is this doctrine an overly complicated piece of theological reflection that is way outdated and no longer relevant to us? Was this doctrine just the product of a good political fight and the compromise that resulted with its attendant winners and losers—it wouldn’t be the first time that a convention of the church had that kind of outcome. Or is it the very foundation of the universe, the very stuff of our being, the very stuff of Being itself, and in that sense not only worthy of our reflection, but central, central to our life and to our life in God.
Okay, let’s start with a visual. Richard Rohr says that when we reflect on the trinity, it’s important not to start with the three, but to start with the one, to think about the nature of the one.
But the problem with the one who is only one is that that one is very self-contained. Everything that one needs is within that one. That one is very efficient, very independent, but also very what? Lonely. That one is lonely. And that was not a place that God wanted to stay. What is the very first thing this God does? God creates, God pours God’s essence, pours the divine life out in an act of creation, and a creation of wonderful multiplicity and diversity at that. Hold on to that thought.
So the one is driven to be more than one; the one is driven to create the other. So what happens when we have two? Okay I need two volunteers, each of you take an end of this scarf. What happens when we have the two? Ah, they start a tug-of-war. So often the two devolves into two poles, two opposites who struggle and fight and pull against each other, think about that oppositional energy you so often encounter—the essence of dualism. The two that have no room for the third. The two that often don’t have room for the other. Or, conversely, the two come toward one another, and in creation, that often births a third.
So, what happens when the two become three. If they pull really hard, it becomes a triangle, but if they hold it more loosely, it becomes more like a circle. And the circle holds the potential to move like a dance. The Greek Fathers knew this when they described the trinity as perichoresis—“the dance around.” And the circle always has room to include another, and another, and another. The circle doesn’t struggle to resolve the tension in favor of one over the other. In this circle, all are equal, absolute mutuality and reciprocity, a constant never-ending giving and receiving, one to another, each being filled and each pouring out. And what is it that flows? Love.
Why trinity? Because one is lonely, is not in relationship, and two tends to fight, unless it comes together to create that third, and then all things are possible. Three leaves an open space where new things have a place to grow, and where the dance can invite another in. But it’s not just three autonomous individuals, it’s three fully integrated wonderfully distinct and different beings fully committed to being connected, to being in relationship with one another, giving and receiving, loving who they are and loving sharing themselves completely with the other.
Don’t you see? This isn’t about getting the doctrine right or the formula right or even the words right. This is about living into the mystery of God in God’s essence, in God’s being, in God’s very nature. It’s not just that “God is love,” as John I said a few weeks ago; it’s that God is the dance of loving. God is active and moving and inviting and wooing, celebrating difference and bringing it into relationship with the other in a way that is neither threatened by, nor subsumed by, nor consuming of the other. God in trinity loves the variety of this world, loves the difference that makes up that variety—this is the only kind of world that is worthy to reflect the majesty and splendor and glory of God. Think about this in terms of the energy of Godthat energy that is grounding and gives life to everything, that births, that energy that redeems the hopeless and makes the broken whole, that energy that moves and animates and energizes and sustains—the three energies of God in which the divine, and we, live and move and have our being.
We may ask, “What difference does it make?” It makes all the difference in the world because how we see God is how we will see the world. For a moment, forget about the theological calculus, forget about the fact that this was forged by a bunch of bishops in a fairly political church convention a couple of thousand years ago, forget that it is the doctrine of the church, forget all of that, and just contemplate the mystery of God, participate in the mystery of God, step into the circle and dance within the Dance that is God.
How would it change the world if we could live the life of the trinity?
What would our world look like if we understood and honored and loved each incarnation that we met as the unique creation of God that it is?
What would it look like if we were fully individuated and didn’t project our shadow, dark or light, onto the other, but let them stand as the beautiful other that they are? (Can you tell that I spent the last week with a bunch of Jungians, but it does ring deeply true.)
What if we could celebrate our differences and our variety and yet still be in relationship with one another?
What if we didn’t have to consume or be subsumed by the other; what if we didn’t have to threaten or be threatened by that otherness?
What if we treated each other as equals, what if the nature of our relationships was defined by how we allowed our buckets to be filled by one another and poured them out in return? The kenosis, the self-emptying, that at the same paradoxical time is completely, wonderfully full?
What if we measured our success in this world by the quality of our loving, a loving that knows how to let the other be in a way that mirrors God’s great let-it-be that brings a new creation into being?
What if we could live into and out of these amazing, profoundly different, yet intimately connected energies of God?
Can you imagine the creativity that would be unleashed in this world?
Can you imagine what would be birthed?
Can you imagine how our lives and our world would truly begin to reflect the glory of this dancing God?
On this Trinity Sunday, we don’t just stop to reflect on the nature of God, but we dare to step into the circle and join in the dance, and brothers and sisters, our very lives, and the life of the world, depend upon us doing just that.
I want to teach you a body prayer in the name of the Trinity. I offer it today as a way for all of us to mark our bodies and hearts and minds and spirits with this God who is trinity, who is the Dance. I’ll teach you the words first, and then I’ll sing the first round. Then I’d like for you to join me in singing and signing the whole litany:
In the name of the Father,
in the name of the Son,
in the name of the Spirit,
we are made…one.
In the name of the Mother,
in the name of the Son,
in the name of the Spirit,
we are made…one.
In the name of I AM,
in the Word made flesh,
in the Spirit who midwifes,
we are made…one.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 3, 2012