Worship Schedule

DayTimeService
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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

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Temptations and the False Self

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 1—Year C; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13. Video.

Happy Valentine’s Day! So, what do you think we’re going to talk about today? Love? No. We’re going to talk about temptation! But to understand the nature of temptation, we have to get a few things out of the way first.

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So, how do you most want to be perceived? How do you most want people to think about you? Or, what do you most long for? Give me some adjectives. Good (E&A). Strong (P&C). To be safe (SSS). To be rich (All of the above). Kind (E&A). Smart (P&C). Fast (P&C, SSS). Winner (P&C). To be popular (E&A). To have our basic needs met—enough food, enough money, shelter (SSS). On this Valentine’s Day, to be loved (E&A). Etc.

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These ways that we want to be perceived, these ways that we want people to think about us, these things that we long for—they fall into three categories, into three realms—the longing for safety, security, and survival, the longing for power and control, the longing for esteem and affection. Cynthia Bourgeault has rightly identified these as the three power centers of the False Self. These are the drives that literally drive us—they drive our motivations, our actions, our behavior, our choices. These are the brakes, the gas pedal, and the steering wheel when the False Self has the keys to the car.

So, Jesus has just been baptized; he is full of the Spirit, he’s just returned from the Jordan River, and the Spirit (Did you catch that? The Spirit!), the Spirit leads him out into the wilderness for a little period of integration. Any time you have a profound spiritual experience, you then enter a period of time when you have to make sense of what it all means and often that period of time feels like a wilderness where even familiar things look strange. When things in your soul get completely reoriented, everything changes. So, when Jesus got baptized and those heavens opened and he heard God say, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased,” Jesus touched his True Self—he understood who he really was, and it utterly and completely changed him. But it’s not all roses and rainbows from there. The Spirit understood that for him to understand the depth of his True Self, he, Jesus, would have to confront the power centers of the False Self.

So, off into the wilderness he goes to be tempted by the devil—διάβολοςthe one who throws things apart, the one who would test Jesus to see if he really was grounded in the True Self, the one who would try to separate him from the True Self.

Now then, Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days so he’s at a distinct disadvantage. I know when I run a few hours past a meal and my blood sugar is dropping that I can get rather grumpy. I don’t think clearly, and I am certainly not at my best. I can’t imagine 40 days. So, he is running on fumes. The text tells us, “He was famished.” Ya think? At any rate, Jesus is not at his strongest, and if we think about our lives, there are plenty of things that can throw our equilibrium off, that can knock us off our game.

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So, the devil comes to Jesus and says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

And, we are in the heart of False Self power center number 1—the longing for safety, security, and survival. “You’re starving Jesus? If you’re the Son of God, just command this stone to become a loaf of bread, and you’ll never, ever have to be hungry again. Your basic need to survive will be secure. And just think of all those starving the world over. Just think, Jesus, of how you could secure the survival of all of those people.” You see, the False Self doesn’t just tempt us with bad stuff, but often, temptation comes in the form of doing great good.

But Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ Oh devil, my sense of safety and security and survival rests somewhere else.”

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Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

And, we have entered False Self power center number 2—the longing for power and control. “All the kingdoms of the world. I can give you all these, all their glory, all this authority. Just think what you could do, Jesus, if you controlled all the kingdoms of the world? World peace at your fingertips.”

Man, the devil is crafty.

But Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Devil, my power doesn’t come from control, from power over, my authority springs from a different place.”

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Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple—the highest point in Jerusalem—saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

And, hello False Self power center number 3—the longing for esteem and affection. This one could also be safety, security, and survival, but there is a subtlety to this temptation that is different that the stones to bread temptation. Here, the devil is challenging Jesus’ sense of importance. “Jesus, if you are really all that important, if you’re really the Son of God, then God will send all the angels to protect you and bear you up so that you won’t even stub your toe. If God really loves you, then you can jump and you’ll be just fine. If God really loves you, nothing bad will happen to you.”

Oh, the devil goes to the heart of our deepest fears. Are we really loved? Does God really love us? Shouldn’t we test that love so that we know it’s true?

But Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Oh devil, I know I am a Beloved, and I don’t need to make God prove it because a love that deep can’t be proved in any way that will make rational sense; a love that deep can only experienced and embraced.”

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When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. And Jesus emerged from that wilderness full of the Spirit.

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He had faced the three power centers of the False Self—the longing for safety, security, and survival; the longing for power and control; and the longing for esteem and affection—and in each instance, he opted for a deeper power, the unshakeable power that comes when you rest in the True Self who knows it is beloved of God, period, no matter what. The True Self who knows it is always and forever connected to God, who knows it’s impossible to be thrown out of God’s Presence because it lives in union with Presence. It’s like the True Self is the life inside the womb of God—God’s life flowing seamlessly into the True Self which is our DNA. We may forget that we live in that union; we may be asleep to that union; we may lose sight of that union, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. The bond established in baptism is indissoluable—INDISSOLUBLE! It can’t be undone.

So, on this first Sunday of Lent, we need to get crystal clear about who and what are trying to throw us out of Presence. We need to get crystal clear about how these power centers of the False Self—safety, security, and survival; power and control; esteem and affection—we need to get crystal clear about how these show up in our lives, and about how they are tempting us. None of these will bring us what they promise. Our true security, our true power, our true esteem come from one unshakeable source—“You are my Son, you are my Daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.”

Tune you ears, sharpen your eyes, awaken your senses to spot those temptations that would whisper, “You’re on shaky ground, you’re weak, you’re not really loved, you’re not good enough, who you do you think you are?” These are the lies of the devil, the one who would try to separate us from our True Self.

And when you go to reject those false claims for the lies that they are, know that Jesus stands right there with you, giving you the strength to stand in the FULLNESS of who you are, giving you the strength to know that your status as a Beloved is not for sale to the highest bidder. You are God’s Beloved; this is your True Self, and it is absolutely secure, always and forever.

And when you are rooted in that identity, the False Self holds no appeal, and the devil doesn’t stand a chance. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

February 14, 2016

Live an Unveiled Life

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Last Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C; Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; II Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43a. Video.

It’s all about glory today, glory and power.

We start with Moses coming down from Mount Sinai. He’s hauling down the two tablets of the covenant, and he didn’t know that the skin of his face was shining because he’d been talking with God. Now, everyone else—Aaron and all the Israelites—they saw his face, they could see that it was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

Why? When someone comes into a space who is full of glory, radiant full of glory, like you can just see this radiant, powerful energy coming off of them, why are people afraid to get close to that? Is it because it feels out of control or unpredictable? Is it because they fear it might be contagious? Is it because they wonder what might be asked of them if they, too, held that much glory and power?

Well, Moses senses the people backing away, so he calls out to them, to reassure them that it’s still him, a changed him, but him all the same, well, not quite the same, but he reassures them that it’s him. And his reaching out to them makes all the difference. Aaron and the leaders, they returned to him, and afterward, all the Israelites came near to Moses, and he charged them with all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, when he charged them with what the LORD had spoken, the Israelites would see his face, and that the skin of his face was shining again—that glory, that radiant power, that energy, it was written all over his face—and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with the LORD.

I noticed something this week I have never noticed before—I always thought that Moses would put the veil back on his face when he would he leave the tent of meeting with the LORD, but he doesn’t put the veil back on until after he has shared with the people all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to the people. The people are not spared the full power and glory of what God is trying to say through Moses, but they do get space to take it in and integrate it and appropriate it in smaller doses. It’s hard to take in all the glory of God at once, especially when that glory is going to transform us and change our lives and charge us to live our lives in the world differently for having encountered that glory.

The people of God are not off the hook. They see this glory, and hear this glory, and they are changed by this glory. And that is an awesome thing. Mysterium tremendum—that wild combination of fear and awe that accompany encountering God in the fullness of God’s glory; the overwhelming mystery that both draws us in and makes us want to run away—often a mark of encounter with the Holy.

Well, Paul takes up this idea in II Corinthians. I don’t like how he starts with it— he ties Moses veiling his face to an assumption that the minds of the Israelites were hardened and that a veil lies over their minds. I think that’s selling Moses and the Israelites and the God who made covenant with them short, and frankly, if their minds are hardened, then so are ours because we still wrestle with being in close proximity to glory and the power that pours from it. But that detour aside, Paul gets a lot right in this passage. Jesus takes Moses one step more. Jesus lives an unveiled life 24×7. In all his words, in all his actions, he lets the glory of God shine through, fully, radiantly, powerfully; Jesus shows us what it looks like when the glory of God is pouring through our human flesh—and in him and through him, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. In his Spirit, there is freedom—the freedom to live with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the LORD everywhere—Jesus looking out through our eyes into the face of the other, Jesus gazing back at us through the eyes of the other. When we live with unveiled faces, we are mirrors of the glory of God, reflecting that glory everywhere. Can you begin to feel how powerful all this is?

And then we come to that experience up on the mountain where Jesus took Peter and James and John to pray. This is about 8 days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God. A good, theologically correct, rather abstract declaration on Peter’s part—but what he had professed, he was about to see up close and personal. And it’s in that experience of praying, of communing with God, that Jesus’ face is changed—echoes of Moses all over again—and his clothes become dazzling white—and he is surrounded by Moses and Elijah from that great communion of saints. They, too, are shrouded in glory, and they are talking with Jesus about the journey that lies ahead for Jesus and his great crossing over that was about to be accomplished. Interesting, even Jesus needed guides to make his journey of dying.

Peter and James and John, they almost miss this encounter with glory because they were weighed down with sleep. Let’s just stop right there. Think of all the ways in our world that we are weighed down with sleep, that we are numb to what is happening around us, that our hearts and minds and spirits and bodies are dulled; in so many ways, the culture conspires to keep us sleepwalking through our lives—we, like Peter, James, and John, are weighed down with sleep. But they fought to stay awake, and so must we.

And since they stayed awake, they saw Jesus’ glory and the saints that stood with him. And in the face of all that glory, what does Peter want to do? Capture it, contain it, build a place where it can dwell where he could find it always. But there was one problem with his plan…any guesses? Peter located the glory in Jesus and Moses and Elijah, and he wanted to contain the glory out there, instead of allowing that glory to sweep over him and transfigure and transform him. He didn’t know any better, but God would not let Peter off the hook. God was going to rip off the veil of Peter’s good, theologically, abstract ideas about all of this and leave him standing naked before the glory of God—God would encounter them directly in that cloud that dimmed their normal sight and opened their eyes to see and their ears to hear the Holy Onenot mediated through Moses, or Elijah, or even Jesus, but purely, directly, beautifully, mysteriously spoken straight from the heart of God. Peter, James, John—“listen to this One, he’s my Son, see his glory, see his radiance, see his power—all that I AM rests in his being; listen to him.”

An encounter with glory like that changes you, forever. And it took time, but slowly, slowly, Peter and James and John, and all the others, and you and me, we get it. All the glory that God has poured into Jesus’ being has also been poured into ours, but we struggle to know what to do with all that glory and power—we may mask the negative qualities that we don’t want others to see in us, but we also mask the most powerful aspects of ourselves. It’s Jesus who shows us how to live our lives unveiled and how to make manifest that glory and radiance and power in every moment of every day in every encounter with every person and every thing. Jesus shows us how to let glory shine through us and how to see glory shining before us.

It’s a scary proposition to be sure because once you feel that glory in your bones and taste the sweetness of the power of God moving through your being, you can’t ever play small again, and that means you’re going to risk a lot. That means you’re going to be exposed. That means you are going to dare to speak to those who are afraid of glory, you are going to dare to speak to them of the things that God has laid on your heart. You will act with courage and charge this world with the things that God commands so that all creation may sing of the glory of God. At times, this will make you immensely unpopular. People may shrink back from you; the powers-that-be will certainly try to get you to put your veil back on; they may suggest building a booth to keep this glory thing neat and tidy and locatable. But the Spirit blows where she will, and Jesus is never content to stay in a box on a mountaintop. No, not even a day will pass before he’ll be back at it wrestling with the demons that would rob us of our wholeness, calling us to task for not trusting in the power given us.

Living as mirrors of God’s glory, living as conduits of God’s power—this turns moments of mysterium tremendum into mysterium tremendum as a way of life—a life lived as a living, breathing expression of overwhelming mystery—awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

In his weekly reflection this past Wednesday, Bishop Taylor quoted Marianne Williamson. I’ve seen this quote many times, and it is often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela—you can certainly picture Mandela saying it, but it comes from Ms. Williamson—and no matter how many times I hear it, it never fails to catch some place deep in my soul that knows that what she speaks of is true. Hear her words:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

How are you actively taking the veil off of your face so that the glory of God can shine through? How are you living an unveiled life? How are you making manifest the glory of God that is within you? How are you giving others permission to do the same? Many are frightened of the dark right now, but the only way out of the darkness is for us relinquish our fear of the light.

So, make your way to the tent of meeting with the LORD; spend time communing in prayer; let God fill you with glory; listen to the life of Jesus and learn how to live an unveiled life, and then, let that light pour from you, fully, radiantly, gloriously, powerfully.

And know that as you surrender to that glory, and to a great measure, surrender your right to control, know that, in that moment of transfiguration, in that moment of both awe and terror, you will know why glory was never meant to be contained in a booth. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

February 7, 2016

Be Kind to One Another

The Rev Deacon Greg Erickson; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany;

 

Biology 101

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21; Video

Today, we get to join the Corinthians and go to Biology 101. We will be covering the body as a system. This class will be taught by the esteemed Professor Paul, whose last name we don’t really know.

The body is made up of individual members—one body, many members. For example, feet, hands, ears, eyes, nose, head, and parts of the body that we might consider weaker, less honorable, less respectable (Paul leaves these to his student’s imagination). Now then, if the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” does that make it any less a part of the body? No. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, how could you smell? The body works as a system, and all these members are arranged to help the body live well. If all were a single member, where would the body be? And like any good professor, Paul repeats his theme—many members, one body.

So, the eye can’t say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” In fact, those members of the body that seem to be weaker—they are indispensable. Those members that we think less honorable—we clothe them with greater honor. And our less respectable members—we treat them with greater respect.

But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

And then, like any good professor, Paul makes the connection from this body system to the real arena of applicationthe community. Now then, YOU are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And then he goes on to lay out all these functions within the community: apostles, prophets, teachers, doers of deeds, healers, helpers, leaders, Spirit-mediatorsso many members, so many gifts, all of them a part of the body, all of them needed for the body to live well. No gift better than another, all matter to the body; no gift worth less than another, all matter to the body.

And in his introduction to this lecture, Professor Paul indicated that he was taking this up another notch. It’s not just about the community of faith, but it’s about something so much biggerit’s about Christ and the Spirit and breaking down barriers. Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. There were societal barriers between Jews and Greeksnot so with the Spirit, not so with Christ, not so with his body. There were societal barriers between slaves and those who weren’t enslaved—not so with the Spirit, not so with Christ, not so with his body. No one group gets to look down upon another, and those who have been at the bottom—those who are weaker, those who have had less honor, those who have had less respect, they are lifted up in this body—they are indispensable to this body; they are clothed with greater honor, more respect.

Look around our community, our society—dear body of Christ incarnated at St. Luke’s, how are we doing at breaking down the barriers? How are we calling out those who would say to another, “I have no need of you,” starting with a piercing self-examination of that voice within ourselves who thinks that about another? How are we making known to those who have little power in our society that they are indispensable? How are we lifting up those who lack honor and respect and treating them with the respect and dignity that is their Godgiven birthright? How are we having the same care for one another? How are we suffering together? How are we rejoicing together? Where are those spaces where we even experience being together in the one body? Or are we just trying to go it alone being a progressive foot or a conservative hand or a libertarian eye, or a black shoulder or a white knee, or a male hip or a female elbow, or an Episcopal ear or an Anglican head?

And lest we think Paul has an agenda (and frankly, what teacher doesn’t), don’t blame him—he got it from Jesus.

Luke 4. Jesus’ inaugural sermon. His first chance to lay out his vision, his mission, before the hometown crowd. Nazareth is his Iowa. He has been filled with the Spirit and field-tested his vision with Satan in the wilderness, and he is pumped up! The synagogue in Nazareth is packed—they haven’t seen a crowd like this in a long time. All ears are leaning in to catch his 10-point plan. And like any good leader trying to establish his vision, he lays out a good and solid foundation—Isaiah 61. Good choice. A favorite of his listeners.

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And like any good leader, he has tweaked his source ever so slightly to put his own stamp on the vision—Jesus explicitly lifts up the poor, in addition to Isaiah’s oppressed, and he is going to help those who are blind recover their sightJesus is about restoring the vision to all those who have lost it. And he won’t let go of that radical, radical vision of jubileethe year of the Lord’s favor—a vision to forgive all debts and give those who have had to economically sell their soul a chance to start all over again—clean slate, fresh start, and a place to call home.

And Jesus rolled up the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him; they were on pins and needles waiting to see what would come next. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

When you hear people say, “God has a bias for the poor and oppressed,” this is where they get that. The God of Isaiah proclaims it, the God of Jesus proclaims it, the Spirit of the Lord proclaims it—the weaker, disrespected, dishonored members of society, the Spirit of the Lord has come down through Jesus to bring them out of the shadows and lift them up, so that they, too, know they are indispensable to him and to his body. We, and they, are members of the body and members of one another. We aren’t whole if we aren’t suffering with these members of the body, and we aren’t whole if we aren’t rejoicing in their gifts, and if we think we have no need of them, well, they’ll be enjoying jubilee while we, like that elder brother of Luke 15, stand outside and miss the party. We, and they, are members of one another, so in very real terms, we can no longer speak of “we” and “they,” but only of how we are one.

Take a look around, any more, there are precious few in this world who understand what it means to live as the body—the body is not well—on almost any level we can think of, the body is not well. Paul, Jesus, they are all trying to show us the way to wholeness, the way forward that will lead the body back to health.

Take your place in the body, and let’s be the hands that reach out until everyone knows they belong. Only then will we find the wholeness that we’re all looking for. Amen.

 

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

January 24, 2016

Walking in the Way of Love: A Response to the Primates Meeting

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C; Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11; Video

Well, we made NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Fox News, and CNN on Friday, so here goes a lesson in our polity, a lesson in the way we are structured in the Anglican Communion. And you need to know this so that you can make some sense out of the news that has hit the papers and airwaves. So settle in, this is going to take me a while to explain, and you are going to have to work to understand it.

Let’s start with this: The Episcopal Church has not been suspended from the Anglican Communion—repeat—we have not been kicked out of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Primates are comprised of the senior bishops of the 38 Anglican Provinces. The Episcopal Church is a Province; The Church of England is a Province; The Church of North India is a Province; The Church of Nigeria is a Province, and so on. So, the Primates have been meeting this past week in Canterbury, England at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A piece of their work addressed what consequences might follow for The Episcopal Church in relation to the Anglican Communion following our recent changes concerning marriage. Let me read you the recommendations of paragraphs 7 and 8 of their statement:

“7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

“8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”

These recommendations were adopted by a majority of the Primates present.

Please don’t focus only on the sanction part and miss the call to “maintain- conversation-with-the intention-of restoring-relationship” part.

In the full statement, the Primates also said the following, “The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.”

It is important to note that the actions of the Primates in no way change the actions that the General Convention of The Episcopal Church has taken that have moved us toward full sacramental inclusion for all people when it comes to marriage and ordination.

In Anglicanism, each Province is autonomous and free to make their own decisions with regards to matters within their Province.

It is also important to note that the Primates Meeting is but one of four Instruments of Communion for the Anglican Communion—the other three being the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference made up of all the bishops across the Communion, and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)—which is the only Instrument of Communion that has the involvement of lay people, priests, deacons, and religious, in addition to bishops. The ACC is the most representative body amongst the Instruments of Communion, and it is this body which facilitates the cooperative work of the churches across the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church has three representatives to the ACC. The Primates have no authority over the ACC. In fact, as a body, the Primates have no constitutional authority to enforce their decisions at all; the ACC is the only constitutional entity of the Anglican Communion, and how they choose to act on this statement will be up to them. More than you ever wanted to know about Anglican polity, right?

Even so, what the Primates have done hurts.

It especially hurts our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters for whom these actions feel like a kick in the gut.

It hurts those of us who understand that the actions our Episcopal Church has been led to take have indeed been actions guided by the Holy Spirit undertaken through a 40-year period of deep and thoughtful study of scripture and theology, as well as listening deeply to the experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Episcopal Christians, not to mention soaking our discernment in prayer. This week, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, summarized this so beautifully when he told his fellow Primates this: “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

What the Primates have done hurts those of us who are deeply committed to relationships that span the world. A good part of my heart resides in the Diocese of Durgapur in West Bengal, India, and truth be told, no statement of the Primates is going to stop us from companioning with our brothers and sisters in Durgapur, and what is true of us is true of hundreds of dioceses and thousands of congregations across the Anglican Communion. Let us not think that the Anglican Communion is the Primates; the Anglican Communion is a complex web of relationships that span the world. But what the Primates have done still hurts.

And when you’re hurt, it’s hard to see where those inflicting the hurt are coming from, but I think we also have to stretch to understand more fully the context in which many in the Global South minister. A context that places some of them next door to a version of radical Islam that sees in the actions of The Episcopal Church one more sign of the encroachment of a decadent Western culture.

But what do we make of all this on a Sunday when all the lessons are dealing with abundance and generosity and MARRIAGE? What a delightful set of scriptures to sit with as we ponder all of this.

Let’s not give ourselves over to “the-Anglican-sky-is-falling.” Instead, let’s buckle down and do what we do best—meditate on scripture, and given the actions of the Primates at the Primates Meeting this week, the irony of these passages assigned for today is just too much.

Isaiah, what you got?

 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,

until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.

The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;

and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;

for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Okay, so maybe we take some comfort that God won’t keep silent and God won’t rest until the way of love is vindicated and the wholeness of all the people of God—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and those who think none of those manifestations of human sexuality is compatible with scripture—God won’t rest until the way of love and the wholeness of all the people of God is lighting our way.

And maybe, in the midst of all this, God is trying to call us by a new name. But understand brothers and sisters, we in The Episcopal Church are not termed Forsaken, nor are we termed Desolate. We are a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD and a royal diadem in the hand of God.

Here is what God has called us, get a load of this name, My Delight Is in Her and our land shall be called Married. Married—isn’t that beautiful. The LORD delights in us and our land shall be called Married and God is rejoicing over us. Thank you, Isaiah.

And then there’s the psalmist.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds…Your righteousness is like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep…you give them drink from the river of your delights…For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light. Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, and your favor to those who are true of heart.

Love, love, love…all the way to the heavens. And God understands actions taken to set right what has been wrong, actions taken as a matter of justice. And hard though it may be, the river from which God has given us to drink is full of delight; the well of life is deep, and as long as we keep looking to God’s light, we will continue to see light. As long as our hearts are true, and we continue to seek to know God, we will continue to be enveloped in loving-kindness.

And then we come to I Corinthians 12 and Paul’s teaching concerning spiritual gifts.

Paul doesn’t want us to be uninformed. He warns us about how we can be enticed and led astray by idols—like say, the idol of the rightness of our cause, or the idol of thinking our brothers and sisters are just unenlightened. If we are claiming to speak by the Spirit of God, we better well understand that there is no room for cursing Jesus and that includes brothers and sisters who’ve also been marked as Christ’s own forever who hold different understandings of human sexuality. There is room for critique of some of the ways that Western culture practices sexual expression—for instance, promiscuous behavior is not okay; objectifying the other is not okay; and an approach to relationships that keeps all your options open and always has an exit strategy misses the grace that comes in a committed relationship shaped by steadfast love that has weathered its share of Good Fridays and come through to Easter.

Paul goes on to explain how there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of services, but the same Lord; and varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. He explains how to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge, to another faith, to another gifts of healing, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

What would happen if our brothers and sisters across the Communion could come to see that the Spirit has given us in The Episcopal Church a particular gift to offer as we seek to serve the common good?

What would happen if we could come to see that the Spirit has given our brothers and sisters across the Communion a particular gift that is theirs to offer as they seek to serve the common good?

We have learned so much from our brothers and sisters in Durgapur about faithfulness and manifesting abundance in circumstances of devastating poverty, and they have learned so much from us.

What if we in The Episcopal Church could honor the particularity of the gifts we have been given, trusting that the same Spirit is activating all of these gifts in everyone, and that it’s the Spirit’s choosing as to which gifts are given to whom, not ours?

And then we come to the gospel. Jesus has the last word. The wine at the wedding feast has run out. Jesus doesn’t want to solve this problem; he just wants to enjoy the party for goodness sake. Even so, his mother pushes him to get involved. I am guessing that Jesus is looking down upon this holy mess in our blessed Anglican Communion and saying, “I don’t want to solve this,” and I am praying fervently for Mary to push him to get involved and stay involved. He doesn’t turn to the containers of wine; he turns to these big, huge water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification, and he orders them filled with water, and he changes that water used for one ritual purpose into the wine that allows the marriage feast to continue.

It is in our Anglican DNA for our ritual containers to grow and expand and hold new wine. The fact that I, as a woman, stand before you at this altar as a priest is evidence of that. We have not thrown out the doctrine of marriage. We have come to understand how that solid, traditional, ritual container can indeed hold the new wine of deep and committed love between people of the same gender.

And Jesus won’t just change this water into wine once, but again and again, until all of us are gathered at the wedding feast. We might need to drink the wine of charity toward those who’ve hurt us. We might need to drink the wine of understanding. We might need to drink the wine of courage to stand fast in what the Spirit has led us to do. We might need to drink the wine of reconciliation. We might need to drink the wine of agreeing to disagree, and yet, agreeing to join in the feast together anyway. Who knows what wine we will be needing to drink, but whatever it is, you can bet that Jesus is going to take what we have known the best, that which has been most familiar to us, and transform that into something new, right before our eyes.

I have been in this conversation around human sexuality my whole ordained ministry. I have prayed it through, studied it through, held it up to the light of scripture, and listened to the hearts of many, many people. The Spirit has led The Episcopal Church as a whole, and St. Luke’s in particular, to this new wine. And on that day in October when we blessed the marriage of two women, love indeed reached all the way to the heavens. I have never known such Delight in the land called Married.

But I also know that we need our brothers and sisters across the Communion and the particular gifts that the Spirit has given them. I pray that our hearts may be open to receive all that the Spirit has given them to offer for the common good.

May we never forget that we all drink from the well of life; we are all gazing into God’s light, praying for that light to guide our way; we are all seeking to know God and be true of heart.

Institutional chess aside—let us be about the way of Jesus seeking to walk ever more deeply in his Love. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

January 17, 2016

With you I am well pleased

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Baptism of Our Lord—First Sunday after the Epiphany—Year C; Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Video.

Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Have you ever stopped to consider that this sacramental rite that is so much a part of our community is something that Jesus himself underwent? Maybe if we understand what’s going on for God and Jesus in his baptism, we might just understand something about what’s going on for us in ours.

It’s the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, and Herod is ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip is ruling over the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis (in modern-day Syria), and Lysanias is the ruler of Abilene (also in modern-day Syria); it’s the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. This is the canvass upon which these events will play out—a complex political situation, with imperial power located in Rome and puppet rulers in Israel interfacing with religious power centered in the Temple. These are not good times for ordinary folk. They are longing for things to be different, but they have no idea how to make them different.

And John took to heart this wilderness that had engulfed the world around him, and instead of fighting it, or trying to distract himself from it, or numbing himself to it, he gave himself over to it and went more deeply into it. The wilderness was where John made his home. It was into this moment that the word of God came to John. Don’t blame John for his fiery prophetic talk—he’s only speaking the word that God gave him. Granted, he’s a little hard to follow, or maybe he’s pretty easy to follow, and we just don’t like what he says. He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s a mouthful. He quotes the prophet Isaiah and talks of preparing the way of the Lord and making straight his paths and filling what’s low and bringing down what’s up and making crooked things straight and rough things smooth. John reminds people of that grand vision of Isaiah where all flesh, all flesh, shall see the salvation of God.

Now then, people are flocking out to hear John and to be baptized by him. He is definitely not your warm and fuzzy spiritual director. He calls them a brood of vipers. He wonders who told them to flee from the wrath to come. He exhorts them to bear fruits worthy of repentance. He warns them of the dangers of tribal identity and thinking your tribe earns you anything. His words are fiery and leave no room for business as usual. Some listening get the urgency of the moment. They ask what they should do. “Share your coats, share your food, be content with what you have,” was what he said in reply.

These are the waters stirring in that wilderness place in that wilderness time; these are waters into which Jesus himself will be baptized. The people were filled with expectation and they are wondering about John. What he says touches something in their hearts. It speaks to that piece of them that knows things are not as they should be. Is this the leader they’ve been looking for? Is he the One? “No,” John says with piercing clarity. John may lack tact, but he does not lack clarity. He knows who he is, and he knows who he isn’t. John understands the limits of his role. John baptizes with water, but the One coming, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This One coming, he will do his share of shaking us up, too, what with that all that stuff about threshing floor, winnowing fork, wheat and chaff—but his approach is going to look a little different than John’s approach.

And somehow, all these exhortations that John keeps throwing out, the people, they hear them as good news. Sometimes, our way out of the wilderness begins when we can admit how far we are from the peace and wholeness and abundance and joy that God longs for us and the world to know.

So the people, they are ready to repent. They long to be forgiven of all the ways they have missed the mark. They go down into those waters to be cleansed of all that has stood in the way of realizing the dream of God for all creation.

 

And then, there he was. Jesus. He was among those who had gone out into the wilderness. He was among those who knew things were not as they should be. He was among those who longed for things to be different. He, too, wanted to repent. He, too, wanted to be forgiven of ways that he had missed the mark. He, too, wanted to be cleansed, and to set about realizing the dream of God.

But as he came up out of the waters, something unfolded in a different way. Jesus’ first action when he broke the water was to pray, was to open himself up fully and completely to God. And, in that moment, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

+++

Sometimes, people repent because they are afraid of what is to come. Sometimes, people repent because they want the future to be different. But Jesus shows us a whole other level to repentance. Sometimes, you repent to open yourself up completely to God, so that you can remember who you are at the most basic, fundamental level—“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, with you, I am well pleased.”

Whatever else building the dream of God will entail, it all begins here, in this moment, grounded in being God’s sons and daughters, grounded in being absolutely, fully, and completely loved by God, grounded in a deep, deep understanding that we are enough, right here, right now, and that in us, God is so well pleased. As children, isn’t that what we longed to hear from our parents and teachers—that they were pleased in us? As adults, isn’t that still what we long to hear—that the people who are important to us, that they are pleased with us? We may or may not have heard that when we were little; even now, as grown-ups, we may struggle to hear that from others still, and yet, all of us, young, old and in-between, in our baptism, this is exactly what is proclaimed by God who knows all the ways we miss the markYou are my precious child, I love you with a love that you cannot imagine, and with you, I am so well pleased.

In the wilderness that is our lives and is our world right now, this is finally the solid ground upon which we can stand. And how solid is it? It is Isaiah again who helps us catch the grand vision—Thus says the Lord, who created you, who formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

This core identity is not an avoid-all-pain-and-struggle proposition. No, that’s not the promise. The waters will come, the rivers will rise, the fires will rage, we will lose our way, as will our children, as will those we love with all our might.

The promise is that the LORD who created us and formed us has called us by name, and claimed us, and redeemed us.

The promise is that God has promised to be with us through it all.

The promise is that we don’t have to be afraid.

The promise is that God is relentless when it comes to searching out the lost and bringing them home. However far we, or those whom we love, lose our way, God’s love extends out farther and will catch us up and carry us home. The shepherd searches always.

 

Today, Jesus goes down into those waters, and so do we.

Today, he repents of any story he has been telling himself about his own unworthiness in his person or for the task at hand, and we need to do the same.

Today, he discovers what happens on the other side of repentance when you open yourself fully and completely to God, and we are invited to open ourselves as well.

Today, he hears who he has always been, and we are called to remember what God has declared about us.

Being God’s Beloved won’t spare us pain and struggle—one quick look at Jesus’ life will disavow us of that notion—but being God’s Beloved is what will give us the grace and strength and courage to keep making our way in the wilderness, hearts open, love flowing, embodying the very peace and wholeness and abundance and joy that is the dream of God.

The One we’ve been waiting for has come. The waters that poured over him have poured over us. He lives in us. No matter what comes, never forget today; never forget how Beloved you are. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

January 10, 2016

Be Egypt for Another and Find Egypt for Yourself

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Christmas II—Year C; Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23. Video. 

We’ve had all this momentum toward Christmas. All the preparation. Whether it was shopping, or getting ready to travel, or preparing food, or learning music, or decorating the sanctuary—a lot of energy getting ready for this birth and all the celebration that surrounds it. And now all this activity is winding down as we turn back toward the normal rhythms of our lives. We’ve had the huge event and are left to wonder, “What now? What next? Where do we go from here?”

The scriptures do not leave us hanging; they tell us in painful detail exactly what comes next. If we had any illusions about beatific scenes of mother and babe and adoring wise men being the happily-ever-after ending to this story, this morning, Matthew takes that script and says, “Not so fast. That’s not the world we live in.” The world into which Jesus was born looks a whole lot like the world we inhabit as the calendar turns to 2016. A world with its share of brutal dictators scared to death of losing their power, so scared that they will unleash unimaginable violence on the most vulnerable in their society—read the horror that got unleashed by Herod in the three short verses omitted in the reading from Matthew this morning.

In this season when so much of our news has revolved around the worldwide refugee crisis, especially those fleeing the war in Syria, can we just sit with this story from Matthew on the quite literal level? We no sooner say our goodbyes to the wise men who have come to celebrate the birth of this holy child, then an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” So Joseph got up, and took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until Herod died.

Before we consider any policies with regards to refugees, could we just sit with this passage for a good long while and contemplate our Lord’s first days, weeks, months, and years of his life? Jesus’ father, Joseph, gathered up his family and fled by night to another country to escape the violence of a brutal dictator who was terrified of losing power. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were absolutely dependent on the kindness of strangers in a foreign land, and Jesus doesn’t make it to his adult life and his amazing ministry without the hospitality of the Egyptians. And he and his family don’t just reside there for days, or weeks, but it’s years. As Christian people, this story has to be in the forefront of our imagination as we grapple with these complicated questions before us as a country. Sometimes, that first, plain meaning of the scripture really is that plain and provides the place where we need to wrestle. So, in the coming week, I invite you to sit with this story from Matthew 2, but add back in verses 16-18.

There is another level on which this story is operating, and it is deeply personal. Ten days ago, we marked that God had been born in our flesh. There is this divine spark that has been birthed in us and that divine life is starting to grow. It seems there are a lot of new grandparents in our midst as of late, and I heard one of them remark that in those first few days and weeks of life, the child changes so much every single day.

So, how is this divine life inside of you growing and changing every single day? Can you feel it? Can you see it? Can you sense it? This hope that has been implanted in your being, can you feel how it is taking shape? To see the dignity that resides in every human being because God has become flesh in us, to be a people of profound and deep hope who actually believe that the impossible is possible with God, this is a dangerous thing in a world that thrives on cynicism and fear. Are we conscious enough, awake enough, to pay attention to our dreams? Can we hear that angel of the Lord say to us, “Get up, take the child and everything that would nurture that child, and get thee to Egypt?”

In other words, do we understand that there are plenty of forces in this world that would like nothing better than to destroy the dignity and hope that has been born in us. God has taken all the love that birthed creation itself and poured it into our frail flesh. We are filled with a love that surpasses understanding and that much love will always be a threat to those in power because love that deep and broad can always outlast fear. But for that love to have a chance to grow into the full stature of peace and nonviolence and compassion, it has to have the space to stretch its wings and fully expand.

As this new year begins, I would ask you to think about the forces in this world that seek to destroy what has been born in you. How is an angel of the Lord trying to get your attention? Where is your Egypt, that safe space that God is calling you to go, so that you may protect and nurture this burgeoning divine life inside of you?

This isn’t about escaping the brutal forces of the world forever—that angel will come back to Joseph and tell him when it’s time to go back home. Yes, Herod will be gone, but Herod’s son is waiting to fill his shoes. Joseph, and we, aren’t called to escape to Egypt forever, but only for a time. This is about a season of strengthening the hope and divine life that is within us so that we can embody that hope in a world where brutal forces still hold sway.

St. Paul understood this rhythm—I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you Paul understood that wisdom and revelation are always a work in progress; it’s always a process of coming to know, and for Paul, that coming to know is intimate, it’s relational, it’s coming to know the Beloved. Paul understood that it’s always a process to have the eyes of our heart enlightened; and it’s always toward a purpose, toward the goal of knowing what is the hope to which he has called you.

If ever there was a time when the world needed us to be people of hope, it is NOW. But as any of you who have been around a baby know, growth and development take time and space and environments that will nurture something so tender. At this moment in the life of our world, what could be more tender than the divine hope that has been squeezed into our very human flesh?

What is the hope to which he has called you? If you are heeding the angels in your dreams, if you are keenly aware of those places and spaces that will nurture what is growing in you, over the coming year, you will discover the hope to which he has called you. And in the process of embracing and strengthening that spark, hope will move from a call to a way of life.

Welcome to 2016. Amidst the celebration, there are still the likes of Herod, and fear and a brutal taste for power are still far too present. Be Egypt for another. Find Egypt for yourself. HOPE has been born in you, and in me, and in every human heart that can make the space for it, and the world needs desperately for this HOPE to have a chance to grow. Amen.

 

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

January 3, 2016

Breathe, Fast and Feed

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Advent 3—Year C; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18 Video

Never has Advent seemed more important than it does this year. Last week, we were stunned by the shootings in San Bernardino. This week, we are stunned by rhetoric that would bar Muslims from entering our country and consider closing some mosques; some have floated the idea of registries. Leaders of all faiths, including a wide range of Christian voices, have condemned these proposals. Fear is rampant among us; we, as a people, have been triggered, and our brains are working really hard.

I was at a training with clergy a week and a half ago, and I got a quick lesson in some brain physiology. There is the thinking part of our brain that can reason and think and make choices. This includes our prefrontal cortex which controls our executive function (and, as any of you who have raised young people will know, this part of the brain is not fully developed until the late 20’s).

And then, there is this mid part of the brain, the limbic area, and in the limbic area is the amygdala, whose purpose it is to remember anything that has threatened us, scan the environment, and sound the alarm if it perceives danger.

When this alarm sounds, the survival brain swings into action—our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster, and chemicals flood our brain to give us the energy to fight, flee, freeze, and some add a fourth response, appease.

When our survival brain is kicked in, our prefrontal cortex, our thinking brain, goes offline.

Trauma triggers our survival brain, being a bystander to trauma can trigger our survival brain, and the perception of threat is enough to get us there. The brain organizes the world by story, by looking for patterns of meaning, and it doesn’t even matter if the story is true or real—all that matters to the brain is that there is a story to grab a hold of, and when it latches on to a recognizable pattern, a little chemical reward gets released.

Why am I digressing so far into brain stuff this morning? Because I think we are at a really tough juncture as a people right now. As a country, we are facing traumas faster than our brains can process on multiple levels. Mass shootings, of any kind, fill us with fear because they are so random. And the 24-hour news cycle, with its constant replay of images and sounds and sound bites, not to mention all the stuff on social media, places us in a constant role as a bystander. We are living, breathing, eating trauma right now as a country, and our brains are on overload. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, hyped up and agitated, or if you are feeling completely fatigued and worn out, it’s partly because our brains just can’t keep up right now.

So, call me crazy, but right now, we are going to stop and breathe. No, I mean it, I am going to teach you about box breathing because breathing is the fastest way to calm our survival brain and bring our prefrontal cortex back online. You breathe in to a count of four, hold for four, exhale to a count of four, hold for four—so the whole cycle takes 16. Try it with me, and picture the little box. In-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4.

One more time, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, counting, and picture the box. In-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4.

Now, feel the energy in the room.

Dear people of God, your first job right now, is to breathe, calm your brain down, and ground yourself. We don’t have a chance at being discerning about anything until we do that.

The next thing we need to do is to be very discerning about the images, sights, sounds, and narratives that we are ingesting. In fact, some measure of fasting is called for right now. Yes, we need to be informed; I am not suggesting that we go into a bubble and wall ourselves off from the pain of the world, but I am suggesting that we don’t need to be glued to our TV sets, our computers, our smart phones, or our radios to stay informed. If you feel your body starting to ramp up, or if you feel your energy dropping through the floor, fast from the news coverage, fast from Facebook, and breathe—get grounded in the here and now, in this moment, in this space.

Next, as you are fasting on the news coverage, feed on the scriptures we have before us today.

Meditate on the collect and fix your eyes on a God who has a capacity to stir up divine power and to come among us when we are sorely hindered by our sins and divisions, fix your eyes on a God whose grace and mercy are bountiful, who longs to help and deliver us.

Take the first two lines from the First Song of Isaiah as your mantra—Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense and he will be my Savior. Guns won’t save me. Building a stronghold won’t save me. Building my defenses three feet thick and ten feet tall won’t save me. God saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. I will not be afraid. I will not be afraid. The Lord is my stronghold, my sure defense, and he will be my way to wholeness.

Drink in Philippians. Hear it again: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. This will not be a peace that the world understands; in fact, the world will look at us and think we are crazy. It is a not the peace of uniformity, or unanimity, or absence of conflict, or papering over our differences—it is that deep peace that can stand still in the middle of the storm; it is that deep peace that is beyond our understanding and comprehension; it is that deep peace that holds our hearts and our minds even when chaos is swirling all around us; it is that peace that knows that death and destruction never have the final word, and that resurrection will not be denied.

And sit down with John the Baptist and let him speak some truth in your ear. Bear fruits worthy of repentance—in other words, do your work. Don’t be claiming Abraham as your ancestor—don’t be claiming your tribe as the best; don’t make the error that they made and think your tribe entitles you to some privilege and forget that God chose you for service to the world.

Have the humility to ask John what you should do. Maybe you need to give a coat to someone who needs one. Maybe you’ve got food you need to be sharing. Maybe you need to work on being content with “enough” and give the never-ending-race-to-acquire-more a rest. Have the humility to ask John what you should do.

And don’t be looking to him, or anyone else, to be the Messiah. His baptism was with water and was about repentance, but the One to come, he baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire—power and heat and passion—his baptism moves us forward and burns away that which gets in our way of living in the wholeness that God longs for all creation to know. Jesus’ baptism isn’t just about repentance—that’s a step on the way, and a vital one—but Jesus’ baptism knits us into a Body where we are bound to him and to all flesh, knits us into a reality where our lives are inextricably bound up with the lives of our neighbor, near and far, and even more radically, holds a place at the table even for our enemy.

Advent takes seriously that the world is coming apart at the seams. All of that end-of-the-world-apocalyptic imagery is woven throughout this season, and yet, and yet, the mother of God is pregnant. Somewhere deep and hidden, life is stirring, a new something is about to be born, a something that will join heaven and earth, a something that can show us how to stand between the realms and in so doing can teach us how to stand in every tragic gap in this world. A hope, a hope, that is stronger than all that would try to deny it, a relentless hope is burning—one candle, two candles, three candles, four—a light shining out in the darkness. Advent…a blessed quiet in the midst of voices raging.

So, give your poor brain a rest. Fast from the fear and insanity. Feed on the scriptures, feed on this ancient wisdom that has seen it all before. Feed on those things that will calm your heart and quiet your mind and strengthen your soul. As Paul said, “Let the mind of Christ be in you,” and bring that mind, that consciousness, to all that is before us.

Our survival brain is a blessed part of our humanity, but it won’t get us to the peaceable kingdom where the wolf and the lamb lie down together.

For the rest of Advent, give your survival brain a much needed rest and create the space for the peace of God that surpasses understanding to take hold, in you and in the world. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

December 13, 2015

Dare to Hope

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Advent II—Year C; Malachi 3:1-4; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

The headlines are rough right now. The Paris attacks. The shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last week. San Bernardino this week. 300+ mass shootings this year. A first degree murder charge for a police officer accused of shooting Laquan McDonald, a 17 year old African American male, in Chicago, the video of which set off protests in that city. A civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS, resulting in a horrible refugee crisis. Have you lost hope yet? It’s tempting, isn’t it.

And it’s Advent—that season of preparation for Christmas. The culture does this in its own way, offering us all kinds of ways to get into the holiday cheer. You can eat your way there, or drink your way there, or spend your way there, shopping for loved ones like crazy. All of these offered to us as fast-track ways to joy. But you can’t fast-track joy, and the Advent that the church offers us knows that. No, if we are to know joy at Christmas, it will be because we do the hard work of Advent.

The collect reminds us that it’s the prophetic call to repentance that prepares the way for our salvation. It speaks of heeding warnings and forsaking sins, so that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. This is about a prophetic call to hear the pain of the world, as opposed to cranking the holiday cheer up so loud that you can tune out the pain. This is about repenting of that which will get in our way of wholeness. This is about heeding the warnings so that we don’t go the way of cynicism or despair. This is about forsaking our separation from one another.

Malachi also talks of the messenger who prepares the way—one who is like a refiner’s fire, refining and purifying. That’s hot, hard work, both for the refiner and that which is refined. That’s about burning away the dross, and being melted, and molded, and shaped anew.

Philippians draws our attention to the heart, and speaks of how we can hold one another in our heart. Paul speaks of longing for the Philippians with the compassion of Christ Jesus; he speaks of love that may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help us determine what is best. Can you imagine approaching all that is before us with longing for connection and compassion? Can you imagine bringing our best selves, full of love and knowledge and insight, earnestly seeking what is best in these incredibly complex times steeped in intractable problems?

And then, Luke locates all this preparation in time and space. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. The word comes to John in the wilderness at a specific moment, at a specific time, in a specific place, in a specific set of circumstances. God is not other than this world, far and distant. No, Luke locates God right here, right now, in our history, in our place, in our time, in our messes.

And that voice crying out in the wilderness tells us this, “It’s all going to have to get rearranged if all flesh, all flesh, is to see the wholeness of God. It won’t do for some of us to see it; no, this wholeness is for all flesh—God will be satisfied with nothing less.” And the landscape of our world, and our lives, and our hearts will have to get completely rearranged in the process.

Advent is this wondrous season, so counter to the culture. A season calling us to go inward and quiet, a season calling us to hard work, root work, deep work. A season calling us to take seriously where our world is right now, and calling us to repent, but the repentance to which we are called right now (and maybe the people of God have always had to exercise this repentance) is to repent of despair and cynicism and easy cheery answers.

As I listen to the news, it is easy to go the way of despair. It is easy to be cynical. It is easy to say none of this will ever change. It is easy to put our hands over ears and throw ourselves into the food and drink and shopping and cheer. Advent calls us to repent of all of these and to look to the east where a much harder thing is being birthed—HOPE. Advent calls us to hope, deep hope, steely hope. The kind of hope that knows this birth will happen in the middle of a tyrant’s reign. The kind of hope that knows this child, the Prince of Peace will die a violent death, and in the process, will show a stronger way—the way of love and forgiveness and empty tombs and life that can’t be contained. The kind of hope that refuses to believe that the way it is has to be the way it is.

Advent is our time to burn off the dross of cynicism and despair, so that we can put on the armor of light. Only a heart that can dare to hope will know how to greet with joy one such as Jesus Christ because he is going to turn our world upside down.

So, put your ear to the world, and hear its pain, but don’t go the way of despair, cynicism, and denial that so many will go. Instead, as you hear all the pain that is out their right now, hear the longing of God for this world; hear God’s compassion; let your hearts be filled with that love, let it overflow with knowledge and insight. Be the people of God that God longs for us to be so we can help the world determine what is best, and point the way forward to a landscape where all flesh can see the salvation, the wholeness, of God.

Let your preparation be that of one who can dare to hope, even if we are the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. How will the world recognize the HOPE that has come if we don’t prepare the way? Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 6, 2015

Rector’s Annual Address and Sermon

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Rector’s Annual Address and Sermon (Video); Last Sunday after Pentecost—PR 29—Year A; Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

I want to begin by recognizing and thanking my colleagues. My words won’t do justice to how I feel about this staff, but I will give it a shot.

Deacon Greg Erickson. Always ready to serve; always leading with his heart. Wise, calm, and absolutely willing to wade into tough situations. I am grateful for his counsel, for his wisdom, and for his sure and steady presence. It means everything to me to know that Greg shares this work with me. These last few weeks have reminded me, yet again, that I could not ask for a better partner in ministry.

Catherine King. My work is out of the office as much as it is in, and I can do that because Catherine anchors the office. She, in her calm and steady way, just keeps moving forward. Catherine is able to do the ordinary routine tasks—bulletins, weekly email blasts—even while holding compassionate space for the very real human ache in our community. It’s the little things, like posting pictures of Agnes to our Facebook page this week. Nobody asked her to do that, she just knew that’s what needed to happen. Catherine, I have learned a lot from you and from the work we do together. Thank you for your wisdom, your commitment, and your dedication to your work.

Pat Kohles. Pat is another wonderful anchor. She keeps our finances straight and provides the Vestry, and you, the information we need to be faithful stewards of all you have entrusted to us. But she does more than post contributions and write checks. Pat is wise; Pat has a longview of this community—she knows our history; Pat sees beyond the numbers to the people of our community. Pat, you are so supportive, and that brings so much to me and to our staff team. Thank you.

Shane Watson. Shane is fearless. My gosh, what shoes to step into, and step into them he has. And Shane has had the presence and maturity not to try to replicate his predecessor, but he has owned and brought forth his own gifts for this work. Shane is a total team player; he is creative, and he has us so organized. In this interim period, thank you Shane for helping us to chart a new course and for helping us to keep expanding our musical horizon.

Suzi Mills. It is such a joy to have Suzi back with us in this interim season. She brings such gifts to choral direction. She brings out the very best in our choir, and they love the challenges she is bringing before them. And she comes to this work with such joy. Suzi is also a great team player and brings this confidence that has allowed all of us to take a deep breath and to know that our musical tradition at St. Luke’s will continue to be deep and broad and strong.

Suzi and Shane, thank you so much for continuing the tradition of having a blast while dreaming, creating, and crafting liturgy. You are blessing me in ways you’ll never know.

Sean Damrel. Sean is our new College Intern with Youth, and he has been a great addition to our team. Sean was formed in a wonderful youth program at his Episcopal church in Greensboro, and he found us his first weekend at ASU. He wants our youth to have that great youth experience like he had. He has a wonderful imagination and a grand sense of what’s possible. Our youth are enjoying him, and he has quickly won the confidence of our parents. Thanks, Sean, for the wonderful formation work you are doing with our youth.

Charles Oaks continues to care for our buildings with such love and attention. He does his work quietly when the rest of us aren’t around, but if you cross paths with Charles, please thank him for his ministry.

Elizabeth Fowler, Heather McGuinn, Victoria Fowler. These are our Nursery Caregivers who provide peace-of-mind to parents and loving care to small children. They introduce our little ones to the holy things and holy stories of our worship so that our littlest ones also have a sense of the holy during worship time. We are blessed with these competent, loving young women.

And I finally, I want to thank Jim and Julia. Jim, you do a lot of ministry in your own right, but I am most grateful for your ministry as my husband, partner, and soul companion. I am able to do what I do because of your support. And you hold me accountable—reminding me that sabbath is paramount and that priesthood, while a wondrous vocation, is but one part of who I am. Mostly, you draw me ever more deeply into the depths and mystery of God’s love and grace, and yes, forgiveness. Thank you for being my companion, always.

And Julia. It is not easy being a priest-kid. You know it; I know it. Thank you for being fiercely and authentically you. Thank you for the integrity of your journey with the big questions of life. I go deeper because of you. I see more because of you. I understand more because of you. Thank you for keeping my feet firmly planted on earth and for reminding me how love works in the daily rhythms of life together.

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Leah Moretz told me about a Kiwanis mantra: “The rear view mirror is small, the front windshield is really big—spend more time looking forward than looking backward.” So, I just want to file by title that there are 50+ groups, classes, and ministries that go on in and through this place stretched out over 6 areas: Outreach and Social Justice, Parish Nurture, Christian Formation, Liturgy, Finance and Stewardship, and Building and Grounds. We are alive and vital in so many ways.

I want to lift up a few things from this past year, partly because they are instructive.

Hosting the UniZulu Chorale in September. This began with a small “yes.” Could this Visiting Scholar at ASU named Bhekani be connected to our choir as a part of his experience? “Sure,” we said. And of course, we fell in love. So, when Bhekani asked if we could help host a part of his choir this fall, we said, “Sure” because Bhekani had become family. And so the St. Luke’s Choir, under the leadership of Pat Kohles and Suzi Mills, took on this project— wholeheartedly they took this project on, and for two weeks in September, our entire community was swept up into the lives of Bhekani and his beautiful students. Host families, meals, transportation, fellowship—you did it all. You gave those young people an experience that will change their lives forever, change how they understand the world, change how they understand our country. And at this current moment in the life of the world, that is a very, very, very big thing. Those young people were blessed, but we were immeasurably blessed, as well. And that is how blessing always works—in the act of blessing, you are blessed in return.

The Threshold Singers. This is one of those things that started with a spark and has taken off like wildfire. The idea was simple. A singing group that could sing people through those big, threshold moments in life—aging, illness, death. They meet on Wednesday mornings, and they go out and sing at Appalachian Brian Estates, Deerfield Ridge, Glenbridge. They go to the homes of our brothers and sisters when our brothers and sisters can’t come here. And let me tell you how powerful this is. I was feeling bad because I was at Diocesan Convention when Agnes Sayles died; I wasn’t there to do the prayers At the Time of Death. And then Mary Williams told me that the Threshold Singers had gone to Deerfield Ridge on that Thursday before, and they had sung to Agnes. Agnes did have the prayers At the Time of Death; they were sung to her. The community, this community, you sang her over the threshold.

You see this church doesn’t revolve around the priest or the priest’s pastoral ministry. You understand that you are fully empowered ministers of the gospel, and together, we do the work of the Lord. I can’t tell you what that means to me, and I can’t tell you how healthy that is for our church! And again, this ministry started because one of you had an idea, a dream, a passion that you wanted to birth. The best ministry happens when someone’s passion sparks another’s and the Spirit’s power is set loose.

Those are but two things that happened this year. There are many more examples:

  • the garden continues to be bountiful and to feed people in more ways than we can imagine
  • our outreach and justice ministries continue to grow and thrive
  • we continue to tend our interior life through food and fellowship, caring for one another in good times and bad
  • our worship continues to be vital on Sunday morning and our musical tradition just keeps growing and expanding as new gifts join up with old ones, and we continue to play and experiment in our Second Sunday services in the evening
  • our adults continue to have several avenues for their own formation—Sunday morning Adult Bible Study has taken off and is meeting a real need and our Friday morning book study continues to be a place of deep community as people explore faith and life
  • our Godly Play continues to shape our youngest members, and our youth have new opportunities for spiritual community
  • there are little elves who show up consistently and quietly to love and care for our building and grounds—painting doors, clearing out beds, cutting grass, tending graves, and doing all manner of little odds and ends
  • in fact, there are people all over this community doing what needs doing, tending what needs tending, quietly, behind the scenese, because they care about our common life

In all the ways that matter the most, we are vibrant and alive! We are known across the Diocese as a place of life who is not afraid to experiment. We are known for our creative approaches to formation and for our liturgy. We are known for our deep and abiding commitment to outreach and social justice. We are known for our capacity to face head-on really hard things and for our willingness to wade into the broken places of life. We are known for how we do life together. Bishop Taylor told me after his visit in October, “I think you all can’t get better in how you do community, and then you do.” St. Luke’s, you get it like no other Christian community I know.

We are living through another one of those really hard stretches pastorally. We’ve had stretches before of death upon death, but in 21 ½ years of ministry, I have never seen a stretch like this. Very complicated situations with profound brokenness, several of which have involved mental health issues. I am so deeply grateful for Mike Tanner’s vision and wisdom in starting the Support Group for Those Who Love People Who Struggle with Mental Health Issues. Trust me, God and I have been in deep conversation about all that is going on—Why so much? Why now? Why us? I think there is a call to us in this. The particular shape of this call is not clear yet, but there is something we, as the welcoming and fearless community that we are, there is something here for us. In 2016, I want us to keep our ear to the ground and see what that something is.

2016 will also be a time of dreaming for us as we consider the unbelievable possibility and potential of 3rd Place and our College Ministry. It is exciting to imagine what ministry could spring forth, not just to the ASU community, but also to people in the wider community who long for spiritual connection but are wary of the church.

And alongside this dreaming, we will continue to explore possibilities for our young children and our 6th-12th grade youth. Every church I know is wrestling with how best to meet the needs of their youth and their families amidst the demands of their lives. Sarah Miller always remarked that our youth program changed every year she was here. That’s just the speed of change in our culture. And our youth are worth it. They want to meet, they want to grow, they want to serve. And Agnes Sayles will haunt us from the communion of saints if we don’t do right by them.

This next year also holds the search for the permanent staff for our music program. We are learning much from Shane and Suzi about the qualities and combination that works best for our choir and congregation. We will be putting the word out far and near to see who God is calling to minister with us in this important part of our common life.

The shootings at a church in Charleston, SC in June stunned us, but out of that brokenness, local clergy have come together across several denominations to meet together on a monthly basis to support one another, to have the hard conversation around race and racism, and to talk about issues that matter in our wider community. This past week, that group hosted the Rev. Alexia Salvatierra here at St. Luke’s and we, and several lay leaders, trained together in faith-rooted organizing. We had a lunch with faith leaders and leaders of many of our nonprofits doing the frontline outreach work in our community. In the 11 ½ years I have been here, that has never happened. That group is going to continue to meet monthly to support one another. A mental health professional said to me recently, “The world is heating up, and you all are on the front lines.” We need each other, and there is this beautiful quiet movement happening in our community where we are coming together across lines and trying to do it differently. We are committed to civil civic discourse, and we are committed to acting with courage from our faith. We have no interest in partisan drama, but we care deeply about addressing structural issues. This is slow work, hard work, but good work. I look forward to seeing the fruit that will be borne of these relationships.

And, this past Thursday, the Vestry unanimously and heartily approved the Picnic Shelter Solar Project. I want to thank all of you for the feedback you gave to the Vestry in the process of discerning this project and thank you for your patience as we realized that we needed to back up in our discernment and really wrestle with the feedback we were hearing. Decisions are always better for the wrestling.

So, I want to share a few things that have come out of our Vestry discernment.

  • There is genuine excitement about this project, especially the creativity and the imagination of doing the witness to solar power in conjunction with a picnic shelter that can serve needs for fellowship.
  • The Vestry understands that there is a mission focus to this project. We have a huge number of 12-step meetings here every week. Members of these recovery groups often congregate outside before and after meetings. We imagine them making use of this space. We imagine students taking a break after classes. We imagine others who might want to come and enjoy a picnic in green space right in downtown Boone while their children play on the swings. We imagine all kinds of fellowship in our own community that strengthens our bonds of connection that give us the strength to go out and serve in world.
  • The Vestry believes in the witness to Creation Care that this project exemplifies. A witness as to how a nonprofit can move in the direction of renewable energy in a creative way.
  • There is also an evangelism opportunity here—a witness that speaks of good news! A grad student stopped me upon hearing about this project and told me how it spoke to her. Trust me, Millenials are paying attention—things like renewable energy and caring for the earth matter to them, and when the church is attending to such concerns, they take notice.
  • This project tapped into passion in a part of our community, and the Vestry believes that the money for this project will follow that passion. Just like when we redid our playground years ago, funding for this project will be beyond our annual giving that supports our normal operations, and we won’t build it until we have the money raised. A designated fund has already been established to receive gifts for this project, and $1,500 has already been given!
  • Some may still have some reservations about this project, but I want to remind us about a deeper value that we uncovered when we combined our worship services, and that is the value of allowing something to happen even if you don’t love it because you love a brother or sister for whom it is important. If this project is not your thing, I am inviting you to allow the space for those who do have passion for this to run with that passion trusting that at some point, they will allow similar space for something that makes your heart sing. If we expect unanimity, we are sunk in our capacity to adapt and change and move in new directions. No, it is the virtue of generosity of spirit that will serve us best.

I am also grateful for this process because it has allowed me to go much deeper in articulating a vision that is central to me as your leader, and that is this: all facets of our common life are intimately and integrally connected one to another. Our formation in the way of Jesus, nurture and fellowship, worship, outreach and social justice, caring for our sacred spaces, stewarding our gifts—all of these feed and shape one another. They all need to be strong if we, as the Body of Christ, are to be strong. Leave any out, and the Body just won’t work as it should. As St Paul reminds us, all of these parts of our life are to be treated with honor. Only when we tend to all of them will we have the strength we need to love as Jesus loves, and to live as he lives, pouring out his life for the sake of the world.

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So, a lot is ahead of us in 2016. Amidst all of these dreams and projects there will be new sparks that we have yet to imagine. Through it all, we will bury our saints and welcome births; we will share our joys and we will bear one another’s burdens; we will sing our praises and voice our laments; we will keep our ear to the ground, listening to our lives, to our wider community, to the heartache of the world, listening for the movement of the Spirit and praying for the courage to go where Jesus is calling us to go. And through it all, we will hold fast to Jesus and to one another because that’s what it means to do life together as those knit together in his Body.

Serving as your priest and pastor and leader—I don’t have words for what that’s like. I am awed by how you do what you do. I am awed by the way you come together and care for one another. I am awed by your passion and your commitment to live the way of Jesus here and in the world. I am awed by the sacred trust that you place in my hands every day.

I love you so very, very much—thank you for the absolute gift of living my priesthood among you. Amen.

 

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

November 22, 2015