Worship Schedule

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

St. Lukes Blog

St. Luke's

St Luke's Episcopal Church
170 Councill St
Boone, NC 28607
828-264-8943

A journey in discernment

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

Well, it’s been quite a week. So, I don’t know how to do this other than to head straight for the elephant in the room. So, this will be part sermon, part testimony, and part me talking to you as your priest.

Monday, the Standing Committee announced that I would be among the slate of four candidates who will stand for election as the seventh bishop of our diocese. I shared this news by email on Monday, but I need to be able to tell you the story of this last year.

One of the hardest pieces of this for me has been not being able to talk with you about this, but now I can, and I want to, because this is a story about discernment, and this is work that all of us are to be about all of the time. So, I’m going to share some of my process with you this morning, but I want you to be thinking about how and what the Spirit might be stirring in your life as I do so.

When Bishop Taylor announced his retirement a year ago, some colleagues encouraged me to think about this. Up to this point, I had never thought this was something I wanted do—I think it’s a really hard job, and I have watched it age people I love. I began to pray about it, and the first thing that came back was “I want you listen to this.” I couldn’t say “no” to the clarity of that voice; it would have felt unfaithful to say, “No thanks; that’s not in my plan.” That call to listen combined with my rule of three—when three people ask you to consider something, you need to pay attention (remember, that’s how our discernment to combine worship services began, except I was really hard-headed on that one so it took four people)—so, when the third person spoke to me last spring, I knew I had to pay attention. It’s interesting, but in today’s passage from Acts, Peter recalls this vision where a sheet comes down from heaven with all these “unclean” animals along with God’s instructions not to call profane what God has declared clean, and Peter recalls how all this happened three times. This vision completely reoriented Peter’s understanding of the mission before them. When you are hearing things more than once, when you are experiencing a pattern, you need to pay attention.

And so, I started to pray and talk with people who knew me well, and I started to battle those internal voices. I started living all the Brené Brown training I’ve done up close and personal. Whenever we enter the arena, there are certain voices waiting for us. The first voice that came was “there is not enough of me to do that job.” Brown calls this the voice of scarcity, all those “not enough” messages. God answered that one right away, “Yep, you’re right, there’s not enough of you to do that job. There’s not enough of anyone to do that job. If you are called to do this work, I will supply what you need.” Oh, I realized that this was going to be about faith. Man.

When Spirit is nudging you, what “not enough” messages rise up that keep you from following where Spirit is leading?

Well, if you can knock the not enough messages back, the next one that’s waiting right behind it is “who do you think you are?”—the voice of comparison, the voice that tries to keep us playing small. That voice and I have been BFFs throughout this past year. I tend to want to banish that voice, but my spiritual guide gave me wise counsel. He said: “Don’t send that voice away. Turn into it and speak back to it. ‘Who do you think you are?’ ‘Well, I don’t know, and that’s what I’m trying to find out.’” That response robs that the who-do-you-think-you-are voice of its power.

So, when you are about to take some risk or act with courage and the “who-do-you-think-you-are” voice whispers in your ear, what do you do? Do you heed it? Do you wrestle with it? Do you look at it, smile, and say, “I hear you, but you don’t get the keys to the car?”

Early on, I realized that I thought I had willing energy for the work of bishop, but I wasn’t sure I had wanting energy. And from the beginning, I decided that I would not do this unless I could sense wanting energy and could sense where there would be joy in the work. So, I have listened with my all my heart and mind and spirit. I have had wonderful companions who have helped me unearth the gifts and skills I possess for this work. I have listened deeply to the intuition of my body. I have had the incredible gift of having to wrestle with my shadow and those places in my being that still needed to be healed and transformed.

I have reflected and reflected and reflected on the gifts I’ve been given and the skills I have cultivated, and this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is where you come in. You see, you have shaped me into the leader I have become. You have pulled me forward into uncharted waters. You have pressed me to wrestle with our prophetic call as followers of Jesus and our pastoral responsibility. Together, we have learned the value of experimenting and the power of creativity. Together, we have learned what it means truly to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. Together, we have learned how to turn fearlessly into this moment in which we live—in the world, in our culture, in the institutional church; together, we keep turning straight into this moment and proclaiming that we will not live from a place of fear. Together, we have learned how to be present to what is dying knowing and trusting that liminal space where something is being born, even in the midst of the dying. You have shaped me into a leader who can move with courage, even when she’s really afraid; who understands the gifts that come with vulnerability; who understands the value of encouragement; who knows that we only lead from within our humanity; who is not afraid to fail, which means you can try anything. Quite simply, you have taught me what happens when we set our eyes on Jesus and love one another as he has loved us, and that’s exactly the commandment that Jesus gives his disciples today in John’s gospel.

And so, over the last year, I’ve claimed these gifts and skills that God has given me and that you have shaped. And as I have looked out over the landscape of our culture and church, I have wondered if these are indeed the gifts and skills needed to help followers of Jesus throughout the Episcopal Church in Western North Carolina make the turn we need to make. Beloved sisters and brothers, we have shared something so good, so vital, so alive—I want to encourage other communities of faith as they discover, claim, and celebrate that same vitality in their own context. I have shared this kind of vision with the Search and Nominating Committee. They have listened to me dream, and they have discerned in me the capacities that they feel could serve our diocese well. They have also discerned this about three other very gifted candidates, so let’s be very clear, there is still much discernment to be done—the Spirit is still very much at work sorting all of this out.

Last week was the retreat with the candidates out of which the Search and Nominating Committee made their final recommendations. Five intentional holy conversations over the course of four days, interspersed with worship, silence, prayer, and many informal conversations. It was hard, and beautiful, and holy throughout. Last Friday, I got the call that it was the Search Committee’s desire to recommend me. I had 48 hours to pray and give them my decision. Several really important conversations happened for me last Friday with wise counsellors, colleagues, and my spiritual guide. About midday, I could feel myself leaning into a “yes,” and my body got lighter. I had been holding such tension for weeks. I didn’t know it was humanly possible to have that many butterflies living in your stomach. And, I was really hungry. My appetite had come back with a vengeance.

Earlier that morning, I had awakened remembering what my spiritual director back in Kentucky told me when I was discerning whether or not to marry Jim. That wise nun told me this: “Cyndi, this man has been given to you to work out your salvation with in fear and trembling.” Truer words were never spoken. And last Friday, it came to me again, “Cyndi, this work is being given to you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Some of the deepest work I have had to do in recent years has been as a result of being in this discernment process. I have the deep sense that this work as bishop would cause me to continue to do my deep work, that it would grow me, not just as a priest, or a bishop, or a leader, but as a human being. For me, there is a certain obedience that comes into play when God is stirring your soul at this kind of level.

So, where might Spirit be calling you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? And I mean salvation in the sense of wholeness. What might Spirit be calling you into that will press you to do your deep work, that will be for your greater wholeness?

And so, I called the Search Committee Chair last Saturday morning and told him that it was “with excitement and joy that I say a hearty “yes” to their desire to recommend me for the slate.” And when I let myself lean into that “yes” I could sense the joy that lay underneath it. I know what it is to love a community and to be loved by that community, and I sense that I have this capacity to love communities of faith across this diocese as we have loved one another. We have embodied gospel love for one another, but it is hard to hold that love still—and neither you nor I can stop where that love may yearn to flow. Joy is always found when we let love flow.

I discovered one other piece over the weekend that feels important. I finally acknowledged and claimed that wanting energy. I think it’s been there for a while, but in that deep “yes,” I finally claimed that I want to do this. It is tempting to hedge a bit, not to let my heart leap too much, because of course, if not elected, the disappointment will be profound. But this has been part of my journey the last few years—not to give in to foreboding joy, that place where we don’t let ourselves expect too much so we don’t have to feel disappointment. I am making a conscious decision not to hold back, but to lean in fully. And so, I’m all in. I’m letting my heart leap, and I will risk the grief and loss and disappointment that will surely come should I not be elected.

And so, I turn this back to you—as you discern where Spirit is calling you, where are you letting your heart say “yes” and leap, and where are you holding back to avoid potential future disappointment?

For today, now this might change tomorrow, but for today, I am deeply at peace. All year long, my arena has been to show up in this process as fully and authentically me as possible. I have done that, so to my mind, I’ve already succeeded. There have been so many surprising discoveries and gifts along the way, and so no matter what happens, this has been a journey well worth taking.

And, dear brothers and sisters, there is so much we will learn in this in-between time. It’s the chance to remember that the church doesn’t revolve around the priest anyway. You know that. You are the body of Christ; you are fully empowered baptized followers of Jesus. You have a great Vestry and great leadership across this congregation. God has you well in hand—God is the Alpha and Omega—your beginning and your end. All you have to remember is the commandment that Jesus has given you—three times in three sentences in that passage from John—“love one another…just as I have loved you, you also should love one another…by this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” You know how to do that better than any community I know. In that love, you are absolutely secure, and that love will see you and me, together or apart, through the days and weeks and months to come.

I don’t know any more than you do how this will all unfold, but Julian’s words ring so very true right now—“And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well.”

Fear not St. Luke’s, Spirit is moving, in your life and in my life. Listen to her voice, and trust that all really will be well. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

April 24, 2016

Who is the Good Shepherd?

Follow the Love

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

If we think witnessing the empty tomb turned us upside down, that’s nothing compared to what happens when we have to engage with the reality of resurrection life. It’s one thing to know that love has come again; it is quite another to reckon with it in the nitty gritty of your life.

So let’s jump in. Saul, who will become Paul, is on a mission. He’s obsessed. He doesn’t just dislike the disciples of the Lord, he wants to destroy them. He breathes threats and murder—really, that’s what it says—he breathes threats and murder against them like he breathes air. He goes to the powers-that-be and asks for letters to the synagogues in Damascus so that if he finds any who belong to the Way, men or women, he could haul them back to Jerusalem. His thirst for the blood of these perceived enemies can’t be assuaged in Jerusalem alone, he has to expand the reach of that hate wider.

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

Jesus has bound himself to those undergoing persecution, and when we persecute anyone, we are persecuting him. That’s a daunting thought.

But Jesus doesn’t consign Saul to the outer reaches of darkness; no, Jesus tells Saul to get up and enter the city, where he will be told what to do. And this was no privatized religious experience. The men traveling with Saul heard the voice, too. This was a confrontation with witnesses. That makes it a little harder for Saul to turn back.

Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Saul can’t see—he can’t see physically; he can’t even see with his mind’s eye—he is completely, totally, absolutely disoriented. Every way that he had of seeing had to be dismantled so that his heart could be awakened again and have a chance to source his sight from a different place than hate. And Saul, big, bad, independent, murderousthreatbreathing-renegade Saul, will have to depend upon others to help him find his way. If his confrontation had a communal dimension, so too will his healing.

Now enter Ananias. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

Now, Ananias had heard about Saul. Everyone had heard about Saul. Ananias knows how much evil he has unleashed on brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. And Ananias knows that he has authority from the powers-that-be to bind all who invoke Jesus’ name. So, step into Ananias’ shoes. How are you feeling about taking up this particular call? What are you thinking? (pause) I know what I’d be thinking, “Uh, no way Lord. That’s just not smart. That’s way too risky.”

But when has true transformation ever been a cakewalk? Saul had to leap in the dark. Ananias has to leap with full knowledge of what could be done unto him by this man who’s been breathing threat and murder. Both have to leap. And Jesus won’t be deterred anyway. He’s knows that this meeting, this relationship, will be for the transformation of both Saul and Ananias.

So Jesus hears him out, and I imagine as with the rich young man, looked at him and loved him and said, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” And this “suffering” is “pascho” in the greek—it’s tied to the kind of suffering that Jesus is always talking about, the suffering that his disciples never could understand, the suffering that is tied to the paschal mystery, the suffering entailed in dying, the suffering entailed in rising, the suffering entailed in being stripped of our illusions and prejudice and blindness and everything we think we see and understand, the suffering entailed in letting go and being made completely new. Saul is getting a new heart, but Ananias needs a new heart too if he is to let Saul out of the box that he’s got Saul in.

So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then [Saul] got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Now, this confounded those who previously believed as Saul believed, those who believed that those who belonged to the Way of Jesus deserved to die, and in short order, they were plotting to kill Saul.

This is always the way. When we surrender and align ourselves with those being persecuted, we will become targets ourselves, but when Jesus confronts you, and convicts your heart, and throws you into that swirling, confusing darkness where everything you thought you knew becomes sand slipping through your fingers, when Jesus sends that messenger who awakens your conscience and consciousness, you can’t ever return to that state of not knowing again. When your heart expands and your mind is made new and you experience Christ-consciousness, then you don’t have the option of opting out because harm done to a brother or a sister or an enemy is harm done to your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.

And trust me, this will confound everyone around you because your heart yearns for the transformation of the enemy as much as it does for those who are walking the Way with you.

Living in the power of this love will give you everything and cost you everything. The power of this love restored Peter lifting him out of the shame of his denial, commissioning him for the tending, feeding, loving work that was his to do. And to make sure he got the message in his bones, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to profess his love for him—the same number of times Peter denied that love as Jesus made his way to the cross. Just as with Saul, Jesus didn’t consign Peter to the outer reaches of darkness; he pulled him back into life.

 

If you have ever really messed up and been on the receiving end of that kind of forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration, then you know how powerful this exchange between Jesus and Peter is. Peter is a different person for having blown it in such a colossal way, and he is a different person for having come to terms with it. Jesus loved Peter too much to sweep it all under the rug under the “it’s-ok-it’s-no-big-deal” rubric. By dealing with it honestly, truly, Jesus did not retain Peter’s sin.

But you can’t experience that kind of transformation and dodge what comes next. “Very truly, I tell you, Peter, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” After this Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

When Jesus throws us to ground with the stark truth of all the ways we persecute others; when he blinds us so that we can see a different truth, a deeper truth; when he convinces another heart that ours is worth saving, and when he restores our sight and restores us to relationship, then our life is no longer just our own. We have been swept up into love’s wide embrace, and that gift of transformation is never just for our individual edification alone, but through the crucible of grace, we are forged into instruments of peace and love and reconciliation for the salvation of the world.

When we were younger, we went wherever we wished, but our life is no longer our own. It wasn’t for Saul, it wasn’t for Peter, it isn’t for you, it’s not for me. All Saul could do was follow. All Ananias could do was follow. All Peter could do was follow. All we can do is follow. Follow the love that brings us back to life again. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

April 10, 2016

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them: Bob Ebeling and House Bill 2

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

We are a week out from that day, but we have to go back to that day because that day changes everything for us. There had been the news from Mary Magdalene, and Peter and the beloved disciple had confirmed her astounding news—the Lord was risen. Resurrection. A reality that blew their minds—it was real. You would think the disciples would be dancing in the streets, but they weren’t.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…The disciples had locked themselves away in fear; they were afraid of the leaders who had crucified Jesus, and if they let their support of him be known, well, who knows what might happen to them. But locked doors can’t keep Jesus out.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side; he showed them his wounds. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Brothers and sisters, this is the Pentecost event in John’s gospel. This is the coming of the Holy Spirit. And it comes with peace, and it comes with power. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is it. This is our call. This is our work. And do not underestimate the power involved in all of this.

There is a story that has unfolded over the last two months that has grabbed my soul. The story first aired two months ago on January 28th as part of the coverage marking 30 years since the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. For many of us of a certain age, we can remember where we were when that explosion happened. Bob Ebeling was an engineer for Morton Thiokol, a NASA contractor, who saw the potential problem with the temperature and the rubber O-rings. He and four other engineers tried with all their might and persuasive power to stop the launch. They presented data upon data trying to convince their managers at Thiokol and the powers-that-be at NASA to postpone the launch, but the decision-makers were determined to move forward. He told his wife that night, “It’s going to blow up” and watched in horror the next morning as it did just that. Three weeks later, he and a fellow engineer spoke anonymously to Howard Berkes, an NPR reporter and told the truth about what they knew.

In January of this year, Howard Berkes returned to speak with Bob Ebeling, now 89 years old, who this time allowed himself to be identified. Shortly after the explosion, Bob Ebeling retired from NASA. For 30 years, he had struggled with depression and been racked with guilt, feeling responsible for the explosion and loss of life. He concluded he was inadequate and didn’t argue the data well enough. He is a religious man, and for the last 30 years, he has prayed about this. He told Berkes: “I think that was one of the mistakes that God made. He shouldn’t have picked me for that job. I don’t know. But next time I talk to him, I’m gonna ask him, ‘Why me? You picked a loser.’”

In February of this year, Howard Berkes returned to Bob Ebeling’s home. You see, hundreds of people responded to that story in January. Listeners who wrote, “You presented the correct data and blew the whistle. You are not a loser; you are a challenger.” Engineers who spoke of how this was a case study in engineering school around ethical decision-making. Ebeling’s eyesight had gotten so bad that his daughter Kathy read him all these letters. It helped, but he was still all bound up.

 

You see, when Jesus talks about forgiving, we need to understand that the root of that word is deep—“afeame”—it means “to let go, to give up, to send away, to keep no longer.” And when Jesus talks about retaining, it’s root is equally deep—“krateo”—it means “to hold fast, not to let go, to continue to hold;” it’s the deathgrip—it literally means “of death continuing to hold”—it’s the death that won’t let go, and there is a powerful shadow side to this retaining“krateo” also means “to have power, to be powerful, to become master of, to lay hands on one in order to get him into one’s power.”

For 30 years, Ebeling had never heard from the people in power—no one from Thiokol, no one from NASA. True or not, he still felt his sins were retained. The NPR reporter got busy tracking down those decision-makers. Robert Lund was vice-president of engineering at Thiokol at that time. He wouldn’t agree to a recorded interview, and he didn’t want to relive it. At the time, Lund had been reassigned by Thiokol and was so shamed by the neighbors that his family was forced to move. But he called Ebeling and said, “You did all that you could.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

George Hardy, a former NASA official involved in the launch, also didn’t want to go back over this event, but he wrote to Ebeling and said, “You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you. The decision was a collective decision made by several NASA and Thiokol individuals. You should not torture yourself with any assumed blame.” He closed by writing, “God bless you.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

Then word came from the spokeswoman for Charlie Bolden, an astronaut who had flown the mission before Challenger and the current NASA Administrator—“We honor [the Challenger astronauts] not through bearing the burden of their loss, but by constantly reminding each other to remain vigilant. And to listen to those like Mr. Ebeling who have the courage to speak up so that our astronauts can safely carry out their missions.” When Ebeling heard that, he clapped long and hard and shouted, “Bravo!” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

Two weeks ago, on the Monday of Holy Week, Bob Ebeling died. He had been suffering with cancer. His daughter Leslie said, “It was if he got permission from the world. He was able to let that part of his life go.” For the last three weeks of his life, he was light and at peace. In his thank you to listeners, he said, “You helped bring my worrisome mind to ease.” If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.

Brothers and sisters, we can help one another to let go, or we can hold power over and aid in death continuing to have its hold. And here’s what Bob Ebeling teaches us, we can’t do this work of forgiveness alone. We need each other to proclaim these truths to us, to help us tease apart what is our sin and what is not our sin; we need each other to proclaim the peace of Jesus that knows no fear; we need each other to stand up to those who hold their power over others and proclaim to them that, when they just won’t let go, they are in death’s grip, too; and we need each other to throw open our locked doors and move in the power of the Spirit to all those places where Jesus would send us, confronting the powers-that-be, just as Peter and the apostles did before the council and the high priest when they proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Which brings me to House Bill 2—AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR SINGLE-SEX MULTIPLE OCCUPANCY BATHROOM AND CHANGING FACILITIES IN SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC AGENCIES AND TO CREATE STATEWIDE CONSISTENCY IN REGULATION OF EMPLOYMENT AND PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS filed, read, debated, voted upon, and signed into law over the course of one day. This is not the time or place to walk through this in bill in detail, but

  • as a follower of Jesus who comes to the disciples huddling in fear behind their locked doors,
  • as a follower of Jesus who proclaims “peace,”
  • as a follower of Jesus who sends us to all the places that the Father sent him—to the lepers and prostitutes, to the tax collectors and the women, to the vulnerable and the powerless and the poor, to the stranger and all those considered “other,” to all those considered taboo,
  • as a follower of Jesus who sent Philip to proclaim the good news of the gospel and to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch, the non-normative sexual identity of that time,
  • and as a follower of Jesus who breathes the Holy Spirit upon us granting us the awesome power to forgive, to set one another free, and who reminds us that we, indeed, have the power to keep one another bound up in guilt and fear and a living death
  • as a follower of this Jesus, I must stand against this statute and the discrimination it enshrines.

John’s gospel goes on today. It’s the Thomas story. He wasn’t there that first evening. He won’t believe until he sees the wounds in Jesus’ hand and touches the marks of the nails and puts his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side.

A week later, Jesus returns and says to Thomas,Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

 

Brothers and sisters, what if we are Thomas, and what if Jesus is asking us to touch the wounds of our transgender and gay and lesbian and bisexual brothers and sisters? What if Jesus is asking us to come to deeper belief by seeing in the marks of their nails the marks of his nails and to know that when we touch their wounds, we’re touching his? What if Jesus is inviting us more deeply into what resurrection life is really about by seeing the new life that radiates through the journeys these brothers and sisters have had to make from death back into life?

 

 

I beg of our legislators to touch these wounds. I beg of our legislators to do as I did yesterday morning and read the record of violence against gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual brothers and sisters that has taken place over the last 45 years—read their stories, learn their names.

 

I beg of us to do whatever we have to do to proclaim “peace” to those who are longing to hear it and who now have a high likelihood of being subjected to violence for using a bathroom.

 

I beg of us to throw open our locked doors, as Peter and the apostles did, and, in the power of the Spirit, forgive, set free, let go, and, in the power of that same Spirit, challenge any power who wishes to hold that power over another.

 

And as we do this work, may we seek the transformation of those who just won’t let go, because salvation won’t be salvation until all of us are made whole, until all of us are reconciled, until all of us know the depth of peace that our Lord has proclaimed.

 

Receive the Holy Spirit. Proclaim peace. Forgive. Let go. Touch wounds. Believe. And then go out into the world to all the places that Jesus sends you. Amen.

 

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

April 3, 2016

It’s time to walk into life again

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Good Friday—Year C; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42. Video

There is no way to wrap our minds around this day. There is so much going on. A stream of events that lead to an inevitable end. Betrayal, denial, political hot potatoes, everyone wants action, no one wants to take responsibility. There is genuine wrestling with who this man is, question upon question, and answers that only lead to more questions. There are crowds that turn vicious. There is thirst. There is surrender. And those haunting words, “It is finished.”

What is finished on this day?

Wars still rage in Syria and Africa and a thousand other unnamed places. Those hungry for power and filled with hate still unleash terror on innocents in airports and subways and marketplaces. Violence still sends immigrants and refugees running for their lives. In our own country, words are hurled like grenades, and anger is spilling over everywhere. The world is divided into “us” and “the other,” and“the other” is to be feared. People still thirst—for justice, for work, for shelter, for food, for water itself. What is finished?

This story we tell today of events 2,000 years ago could just as easily be the headlines we woke up to this morning. And it’s so tempting to distance ourselves from these unthinkable actions, but we separate ourselves out from these actors at our peril. I am reminded of the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This day brings us face to face with ourselves. We are convicted at every turn.

But this day also brings us face to face with God and convicts us at the deepest level, and not in the way we might think.

This isn’t about how awful we are as human beings, and how God needed the sacrifice of his beloved Son to set the scale right. This is about seeing Love Incarnate absorb every last act of violence into his being—all the words, all the deeds, all the manipulations, all the terror and fear, all the injustices and indignities—Jesus absorbs them all. He doesn’t resist. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t fight back. He doesn’t appease. He doesn’t freeze. He stretches out his arms and embraces all that humanity could throw at him. He holds it in love until there is no life left in that violence. And as he breathes his last, he knows, “It is finished. It is complete.” Through him, Love has gone to the depths of hell and filled every last space of our limited, broken human existence with the Love that passes human understanding.

Human beings will go on being the limited, broken human beings that we are—we are still living Good Friday every day, somewhere in the world, and yet, something did get finished on that first Good Friday.

What got finished? The myth that God has forsaken anyone. Wherever there is suffering, wherever terror strikes, wherever bombs explode, wherever injustices are perpetrated and indignities are suffered, wherever mothers lose sons, and beloveds are rent asunder—God is there. God has stretched his arms out on the hard wood of the cross, so that we never have to bear the weight of our crosses alone. That doesn’t make it hurt less when crucifixion comes to us in all the ways that it comes, but it does mean we never have to make this journey alone.

What got finished? The myth that violence is redemptive. Jesus absorbed the violence so that we could see another possibility beyond the never-ending cycle of retaliation, so that we know that, while violence may appear to win in the moment, the transforming power of Love wins in the end. The world may try to seal that Love away, but the tomb just won’t hold.

As you lay your life before this cross this morning, what does it finish for you? What hard places in your own life are longing to know the depths of this Love? What violence in your own being needs to be left here, nailed here, held here, loved here? What violence in your being needs to be finished? What changes for you if you dare to believe that God has inhabited every last forsaken place in your life?

 “It is finished.”

Gaze upon this cross, until you release the breath you’ve been holding, and then fall into the arms of the Love that refused to let you go. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

March 25, 2016

What is finished? Good Friday.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Good Friday—Year C; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

There is no way to wrap our minds around this day. There is so much going on. A stream of events that lead to an inevitable end. Betrayal, denial, political hot potatoes, everyone wants action, no one wants to take responsibility. There is genuine wrestling with who this man is, question upon question, and answers that only lead to more questions. There are crowds that turn vicious. There is thirst. There is surrender. And those haunting words, “It is finished.”

What is finished on this day?

Wars still rage in Syria and Africa and a thousand other unnamed places. Those hungry for power and filled with hate still unleash terror on innocents in airports and subways and marketplaces. Violence still sends immigrants and refugees running for their lives. In our own country, words are hurled like grenades, and anger is spilling over everywhere. The world is divided into “us” and “the other,” and“the other” is to be feared. People still thirst—for justice, for work, for shelter, for food, for water itself. What is finished?

This story we tell today of events 2,000 years ago could just as easily be the headlines we woke up to this morning. And it’s so tempting to distance ourselves from these unthinkable actions, but we separate ourselves out from these actors at our peril. I am reminded of the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

This day brings us face to face with ourselves. We are convicted at every turn.

But this day also brings us face to face with God and convicts us at the deepest level, and not in the way we might think.

This isn’t about how awful we are as human beings, and how God needed the sacrifice of his beloved Son to set the scale right. This is about seeing Love Incarnate absorb every last act of violence into his being—all the words, all the deeds, all the manipulations, all the terror and fear, all the injustices and indignities—Jesus absorbs them all. He doesn’t resist. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t fight back. He doesn’t appease. He doesn’t freeze. He stretches out his arms and embraces all that humanity could throw at him. He holds it in love until there is no life left in that violence. And as he breathes his last, he knows, “It is finished. It is complete.” Through him, Love has gone to the depths of hell and filled every last space of our limited, broken human existence with the Love that passes human understanding.

Human beings will go on being the limited, broken human beings that we are—we are still living Good Friday every day, somewhere in the world, and yet, something did get finished on that first Good Friday.

What got finished? The myth that God has forsaken anyone. Wherever there is suffering, wherever terror strikes, wherever bombs explode, wherever injustices are perpetrated and indignities are suffered, wherever mothers lose sons, and beloveds are rent asunder—God is there. God has stretched his arms out on the hard wood of the cross, so that we never have to bear the weight of our crosses alone. That doesn’t make it hurt less when crucifixion comes to us in all the ways that it comes, but it does mean we never have to make this journey alone.

What got finished? The myth that violence is redemptive. Jesus absorbed the violence so that we could see another possibility beyond the never-ending cycle of retaliation, so that we know that, while violence may appear to win in the moment, the transforming power of Love wins in the end. The world may try to seal that Love away, but the tomb just won’t hold.

As you lay your life before this cross this morning, what does it finish for you? What hard places in your own life are longing to know the depths of this Love? What violence in your own being needs to be left here, nailed here, held here, loved here? What violence in your being needs to be finished? What changes for you if you dare to believe that God has inhabited every last forsaken place in your life?

 “It is finished.”

Gaze upon this cross, until you release the breath you’ve been holding, and then fall into the arms of the Love that refused to let you go. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

March 25, 2016

It’s too much, it’s too fast, it’s Holy Week

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks ; Palm Sunday—Year C; Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56. Video

How did it all go so wrong? Just 30 minutes ago, we were waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna in the highest to our king!” and 5 minutes ago, we were shouting, “Crucify him!” How did it go so wrong so fast? I don’t know, but I do know that we hit moments like this in our life. A plan doesn’t work out, a diagnosis comes, a harsh word is said, a conflict spins out of control, world events erupt, and whatever delicate equilibrium we have cultivated gives way to chaos, and we look up to find ourselves in a place that we never intended to be.

Our vision becomes clouded, courage fails us, betrayal seems like a good plan. The thoughts begin—move to silence perceived threats, keep the peace at all costs, mock another for that temporary kick of feeling that you are just a little bit better than the poor soul in front of you, deride, run away, weep until you can weep no more, risk your neck to care for a body who was someone’s son. So many thoughts run through our heads, so many words spill from our mouths, so much happening all at once. It’s too much. It’s too fast. It’s Holy Week. It’s the fullness of our humanity on full display. Nothing is hidden this week. Nothing. And truth be told, that terrifies us.

If we dare to walk through this week, we will touch the darkest places in our souls, and who wants to do that? Why would we want to do that?

On Thursday, clergy from across the diocese gathered with lay leaders in our cathedral in Asheville to renew our vows. In his sermon, Bishop Taylor spoke of Moses, a murderer, who was called to return to Egypt, that place where his face was plastered on “WANTED” posters everywhere, and the Bishop spoke of Patrick who was called to return to Ireland which had been the place of his enslavement. He went on to talk about how Moses and Patrick both had to return to that place of their primal wound. Primal wound. I’m not sure I heard anything past that. Those words strike something deep inside.

Holy Week is the journey we take to touch our primal wound. We touch those places where we have betrayed another and where we have been betrayed. We touch those places we promised we would never deny and yet did and remember the times we were denied. We touch all those places where we have unleashed venom upon another—in word, in action, in the thoughts we dare not speak, and we relive those moments when those words have been spewed at us. We touch those places where expediency became more important than the people in front of us and we recall when we were a casualty of the well-oiled machine. We touch that place where we just couldn’t stay present and had to run away, and we touch those times when we were utterly, utterly abandoned—by everyone, by God.

These are our primal wounds. Maybe not all of them, but somewhere along the way this week, if you walk this journey faithfully, you will discover your primal wound. And in returning to that place, you will discover the truth that sets us free. For at the center of each of these places dwells Jesus—holding space, staying present, arms outstretched, embracing all of these primal wounds—filling them with his life, draining them of their power, redeeming them, transforming them, healing them.

We don’t touch our primal wound as some sort of spiritual masochism; we touch our primal wound to discover just how deep God’s love runs. If we are ready to walk this journey, if we are ready to look into every face this week, and see our own face looking back, if we are ready to touch that primal wound, then this week will be a place of revelation from start to finish.

And all the primal wounds that Jesus will absorb this week, they won’t disappear, but they become integrated into Jesus’ resurrection body. That’s the unimaginable possibility that awaits us too. Come one week from today, resurrected life will shine through our wounds, as well.

I wish you the holiest of Holy Weeks. Don’t miss this journey. There’s too much healing just waiting to be done, too many wounds to be absorbed and transformed, too much joy to hold when we discover that wounds don’t just bleed, but in fact, they are the spring from which resurrection flows. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 20, 2016

Lent: More questions than answers

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 5—Year C; Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8 Video

Oh, we are hurtling toward Holy Week at, what feels like, the speed of light. We are on this train speeding toward Palm Sunday, and all that follows, and there’s no stopping it. So, before we launch into these events that we know are coming, and that we know we have no control over, and we know we can’t stop—we get this one last chance to step back with Lenten spaciousness, and take stock of our lives, and see where we are. Because Lent is this stretch of time when we can slowly, methodically, take our lives out, and turn them around, and look at them from every conceivable angle. Once Holy Week begins next Sunday, we are on for the ride, and there’s no getting off until the Easter dawn breaks.

So, what are we given to contemplate today. A lot. The collect sets us up beautifully. Acknowledgement that God alone can align our unruly wills and disordered affections. Acknowledgement that love and desire are very much at the heart of the matter, and that it is only by grace that we are able to love what God commands and desire what God promises. There is the acknowledgement that life in this world is lived among varied and swift changes that can completely knock us off of our feet, and that amidst such flux, amidst the swirl of life that feels so out of control, amidst that, there is a longing in our hearts for our hearts to be fixed in that place where true joy may be found. We could just stop right here and meditate on this for the next 10 minutes, but there is more.

There is Isaiah and the LORD who proclaims that we are not enslaved by former things, by the things of our past, by the things of old; who proclaims that God is about to do a new thing, who whispers, “It’s on the cusp, it’s about to spring forth, do you not perceive it? Like the life that is about to burst through the soil all over these mountains, and the song of the birds that is growing stronger, and the light that is lingering later—small changes, are we paying attention? Are we aware? Are we awake? God is bent toward life and possibility. The God of Isaiah knows there is always a way through the wilderness, always a river to be found in the desert. Being perpetually lost is not our final resting place; there are waters that can quench our deepest thirst.

The psalmist reminds us that those who sow with tears do indeed reap with songs of joy, that those who go out weeping carrying the seed, do indeed come again shouldering their sheaves, bundles of harvest. And could it be that the two are inextricably bound up together? Could it be that the tears are good and necessary, and that it is our tears that water the earth where we sow the seeds that enable the new growth to come? Could it be that, as we shed those things that encumber us, that keep us from the fullness of life, could it be that we have to grieve the loss of those things, even as we sow the seeds of new life in God? But as with being lost, this grief is not our final resting placethe tears, like the liquid they are, are fluid. They flow, and they soften, and they transform our hearts; they prepare the soil of our heart for new life that will indeed be reaped with songs of joy.

And Paul, Paul takes us into deep, deep places today. Paul knows his False Self intimately. He’s the champion of soundbite credentials. I just love this: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. I am a zealous, persecuting, law-abiding, card-carrying Israelite, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, pure Pharisee.” My goodness, this man could run for office. He knows exactly which buttons to push with his audience. He can check all the boxes that prove his purity. By all measures of his society, and his party, he was a rousing success.

 

But Paul had had his dark night of the soul. Paul had been knocked off his horse. Paul knew what it was like to see nothing and to stumble around lost in the dark. Paul knew that all the trappings of the False Self mean nothing. Oh that everyone offering themselves for leadership would know what Paul knew. All this stuff, all these roles and accolades, all this puffing up and purity—they add up to nothing.

Paul continues: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul knew what we all come to know sooner or later in our lives, the gains just don’t satisfy our souls, they just don’t. Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, knowing that he has claimed me as his own, being found in him, knowing that I am beloved of God, knowing that God doesn’t love me because of what I do or don’t do, but knowing that God loves me because I breathe, because God looks in my eyes and sees God’s own eyes looking back, knowing that it’s all about trusting that I am loved with a love that will not let me go—this is the pearl of great price. And Paul speaks the longing that is in all of our hearts—I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. And Paul knows that you can’t get to resurrection if you don’t share in the sufferings, and you can’t get to new life without passing through death, and here we are again, back to grief and tears and praying for our hearts to be fixed as everything around us changes.

And finally, we come to John’s gospel, and this exquisitely beautiful scene of Mary pouring a pound of nard over Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. Let me tell you, this was not the done thing. It’s extravagant and sensual and so not respectable. And a thousand things could have been done with the money that could have come from selling that nard—why it was a year’s worth of wages. Judas is the sensible voice of reason, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? That really could have helped the poor!” Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone. She bought that nard for the day of his burial. That nard marks that death is coming. That nard is the fragrance of surrender that will open the gates of life. That nard is the sign and symbol and sacrament of a love that will transcend the realms. You can’t put a price on that. And Jesus then says something to Judas that should shake us all to the core. “Judas, you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. Judas, you want to give the money to the poor, but don’t you understand, you are always to have the poor with you. They are not people that you do things to, they and you are woven into a web of relationship, you are inextricably bound one to another. And when you fail to recognize an act borne of love, you don’t have me. Where love pours, there I will be, always. Judas, could you bind yourself in love to the poor the way that Mary has bound herself to me?” Now, that’s a haunting question for us to consider.

So much to think about today.

Where are our wills unruly and our affections disordered?

Where are we standing firm amidst all the varied changes swirling around us?

Where are we fixing our hopes, our hearts?

Where are we perceiving a new way forward?

What in our False Self are we needing to shed? How about our collective False Self that is running rampant in this election cycle? What do we need to suffer the loss of if we are to know Christ and the power of his resurrection?

Earlier this week, I was at our clergy retreat, and some of us were talking about the campaign around the supper table, and someone remarked that what we are witnessing in this campaign is only mirroring back to ourselves what our culture and our society has become—coarse and meanspirited. I have to agree. This is what happens when we do not do our work, and when we let the False Self have free rein.

This past Wednesday in our Healing Service, at the time of open intercessions, I prayed for Donald and Marco and Ted and John and Bernie and Hillary—beloved sons and daughter of God. I prayed that we might see the face of Christ in them—as in our baptismal vow: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”—and I prayed that they might see the face of Christ in each other, and that we might see the face of Christ in all their supporters—and I know that Bernie is Jewish, but Christ is bigger than Christian faith—Christ as that icon that reminds us that God is in the flesh in this person before us. Disagree with policies and absolutely call violent rhetoric that incites violence out-of-bounds—but never forget that God lives in all these people. My concern is this: Are these individuals offering themselves for leadership awake to their True Self or is their False Self running rampant? And as we engage this election process, are we awake to our True Self or is our False Self having a self-righteous field day?

Richard Rohr says that the person who is living out of the False Self will do evil and call it good, and that evil can take a lot of forms.

Our job as Christian people is to call all of us back to our True Self—that self that Paul came to know, that self that longs to know what it means to know you’re a beloved son or daughter of God, who longs to know what it means to live as that beloved son or daughter of God, and who knows that all the gains in the world mean nothing if we don’t know that True Self. But we will have to die to our False Self, if we are to know the power of resurrection that comes when we know our True Self is all we really have. I pray that all those offering themselves for leadership will come to know these truths that Paul knew.

And the final questions with which we must sit.

Where are we being called to pour out that jar of nard in an act of extravagant love?

Where are we pulling a Judas and dodging binding ourselves with one another in love through the most elegant, and responsible sounding, deflections?

How are embracing the poor as our kin, instead of as the recipients of our charity?

How are the poor with us?

As I have said before, it’s Lent. We don’t get answers, only questions that will help us fix our hearts where true joys are to be found. Amen.

 

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

March 13, 2016

Transformation is the fruit of Love

The Rev Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 3—Year C; Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 63:1-8; I Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9. Video.

Whew! We’ve got some rough stuff today. I Corinthians 10—now this is Paul speaking: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, our ancestors were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. They all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and, for Paul, that rock was Christ. Nevertheless…” “Nevertheless” is never a good sign; it’s like saying, “I love you unconditionally, but…”—it sort of negates whatever came before. Back to Paul, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.”

It gets worse. Paul continues: “Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”

And then Paul goes all encouraging: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

But tell me, when you’ve just heard about all the awful things that befell those who strayed, do you trust the encouragement that comes at the end? I’m not feeling the love here. Do any of us ever change because somebody puts the fear of God into us? Not in my experience. Oh, fear, shame—they’re effective for a short-term shift in behavior, but these never result in true transformation. Transformation always comes through wooing; transformation comes when something is calling to you that is so much more attractive than what you are living right now. Transformation is never born of fear and shame; transformation is the fruit of love.

I love Paul. I find tremendous amounts of truth in Paul, but I think Paul got this piece in I Corinthians 10 wrong.

By the way, he does a flip-flop in Romans 9-11 when he makes the case for how these same ancestors, these same children of Abraham, will absolutely be enveloped in God’s mercy and compassion because God’s gifts and call are irrevocable. In I Corinthians 10, I think, for a moment, Paul lost sight of the gospel of Jesus. Paul’s human; it happens to all of us.

Which brings us to Luke 13. A rather bizarre, really puzzling, difficult passage. Some were present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

First of all, we know nothing about either one of these two events. Second of all, it still sounds like judgment. Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” That verb for perish means to be destroyed, like fully destroyed. I’m not feeling the love here either.

Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

But the nuances in this passage flip it on its head. Jesus’ listeners are doing one of those awful theological twists that was common in those days, and unfortunately, still all too common in our day—if someone, or some group, really suffers an awful fate, they must have been awful sinners, horrible offenders. If Pilate mingled those Galileans blood with their sacrifices, they must have really been evil. If that tower fell on those eighteen, they must have done something to deserve God’s wrath. Remember Job? This is the theology of Job’s friends—look at all that Job suffered, he must have sinned.

Jesus calls them on their poor theology, and even goes a step farther. “Do you think they are worse sinners than all other Galileans? No! Do you think they were worse offenders than all others living in Jerusalem? No! But unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

I still don’t like the sound of that perishing part, but the root for perish also means lost. If we can’t repent from looking at the fate of others and judging them for it, we’ll be lost. Jesus does not judge those Galileans or the eighteen from Jerusalem who were killed as being any worse than the rest of humanity who lived around them, but if we try to blame them, or make it all about them, we will lose our way, and that will destroy us. And, if we understand perishing in this sense of being lost, we’ll see next week that Jesus is all about searching for the lostlost sheep, lost coins, lost people.

And then there’s the parable that Jesus tells. The man is so frustrated by the behavior of that fig tree that he wants to just chop it down. Kind of a scorched earth approach. Ever been so frustrated that you want to lash out and destroy that thing, or person, in front of you that just won’t do as you want it to do?

But the gardener sees the potential that’s in that fig tree if it just gets a little nurture, which by the way involves getting your hands in the manure and working that manure into the soil and letting that mixture of good soil and manure soak into the roots trusting that growth can come from manure, if you work it right. And brothers and sisters , we’ve all got some manure in our lives that we need to work. I love it when Jesus gets earthy.

And, the gardener gives the man an out—if it doesn’t produce in a year, then you can cut it down, but the gardener well knows that that tree is going to be just fine. It’s the man who needs the space to let his heart soften; it’s the man who needs the space to be transformed.

Yes, there’s judgment in these passages today, but it’s not the weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth-burn-in-hell kind of judgment; it’s much harder than that—it’s the kind of judgment that happens when we hear the voice of Jesus, or he catches our eye, and we know that all that blame and anger we are casting over there about those people really says more about our own hard hearts than it says about theirs.

Jesus pierces us, cuts to the quick of our souls, but that wound to our heart can be the means to helping us rejoin the human race knowing that all of us are in need of the mercy of God, and we are utterly lost without it.

But oh, if we can stave off that desire to lash out, if we can repent of our judgment, if we can let Jesus help us work the manure and soil of our lives and be patient with ourselves and others, trusting in the fruits of compassion always born of mercy, there won’t be a need to cut ourselves, or that ever-present other, down. Amidst all the judgment, and blame, and shame in our culture right now, this is fruit that that we’re all hungry for. Amen.

 

The Rev Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

February 28, 2016

Transforming the Heart of Power

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 2—Year C; Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35. Video.

We have some interesting lessons today. Full of motion and movement. Full of courage and grit. Full of a crazy kind of hope. One story from the gospels, and one story from Genesis, back at the beginning.

For all of the conflict that Jesus has with Pharisees in other gospels, here, they are trying to help him. “Get away from here, for Herod (that’s the Herod Antipas in Galilee who imprisoned and killed John), for Herod wants to kill you. Jesus, it’s just not safe for you. You sound too much like John. You’re rattling too many cages. Herod, he holds a lot of power. Herod, he’s an establishment kind of guy, and the establishment, they don’t like the things you’re saying; they don’t like the things you’re doing. Jesus, this might be a good time to take a seaside holiday over in Tyre or Sidon, or maybe go on another wilderness retreat.”

Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

 “Listen, Pharisees, I appreciate your concern, I really do, but ain’t gonna happen. Not gonna stop casting out demons and taking on those forces that keep stoking the False Self and keep ripping us apart from our True Self and from one another. Not gonna stop performing cures and bringing health and wholeness to those who long for it. Not gonna stop this work because this work isn’t done. Not gonna stop moving toward Jerusalem and all it represents—the heartbeat of the establishment that is perfectly content for people to keep on suffering physically and economically and spiritually, that center that is perfectly content for all the power and wealth to accrue to an elite few while those on the bottom have no voice, no power.

 “I’ve got to get to Jerusalem because that’s where the prophets always end up—speaking truth to the heart of power. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

When Jesus talks about “gathering your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” whom do you picture? (pause)

I’ve always pictured the people of the land, the anawim in hebrew—the poor and oppressed and downtrodden. But looking at it in context, I think he’s talking to all these powerful forces that are hurting people and pulling people’s lives apart. I think he’s talking to the heart of the establishment and appealing to that hardened heart and calling it to soften. I think Jesus wants to gather all these powerbrokers and elites—religious, political, economic—I think Jesus wants to gather this brood under his wings so that he can show them a different way to thrive. But he knows, as we know, you can’t make people do a dern thing they don’t want to do, so if they’re not willing to be gathered, then all that is left for Jesus to do is to claim his prophet’s voice, and trust that his giving voice to God’s deepest desires will, somehow, be a part of ushering in the LIGHT and LIFE and WHOLENESS that is God’s vision for all of creation.

And why on earth would Jesus have such cause for hope? Well, because that’s always God’s way with God’s people. Case in point, Abram. He doesn’t have an heir, and as far as he can tell, he’s got no hope of one. And yet, God gave him a vision. Told him not to be afraid. Promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in heaven. And Abram believed God. And just as a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon Abram, God sealed the covenant with him by having a smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between pieces of animal. Kind of a weird ritual to our eyes, but one that apparently made a lot of sense to Abram. The point is—Abram trusted God’s promise, and God sealed his promise in a covenant with Abram. And on the other side of that promise was yet one more promise, the promise of land.

 (And just as an aside, the verse just after this passage indicates that this promised land would always be shared with a whole host of other peoples—Genesis 15:19. It’s important that we get that whole context.)

Trusting in God’s promise enabled Abram to keep putting one foot in front of the other toward that great unseen mystery that he could not fathom—descendants as numerous as the stars and land. Where does one get the capacity to trust on the front-end like that, without evidence, without proof?

It seems to me that trusting is the essence of faith. In fact, the original words for “believe” always lead back to “trust” at their root.

And once you leap into that kind of unknown, once you trust that God has sealed a covenant with you, why you are free to do all kinds of things. You are free to keep responding to the nudges of the Spirit. You are free to trust that there is an abundance in you that has yet to be born. You are free to speak the truth God gives you to speak. You are free to take on demons and be agents of healing. You are free to have a heart-to-heart with the powers-that-be; you are free to speak the yearnings of God’s heart, make known the ache of God’s heart, proclaim the hope in God’s heart…you are able to proclaim the concerns of THIS heart to the heart of power that has grown hard, knowing that the only thing that heart of stone may be able to do in return is to throw stones at you.

And still, in the midst of all that comes at us, we, just like Jesus, cling to hope, cling to the hope that surpasses human understanding knowing that big, immovable stones eventually get rolled away by LOVE and LIFE and a POWER that the powers-of-this-world cannot fathom nor understand. It’s the power that comes when you are not afraid to die because you trust in the promise and reality of resurrection.

That’s where we land on this Second Sunday in Lent. Having to confront a whole lot of things, personally, communally, societally that are diminishing the life and dignity of the most vulnerable among us; having to lean into trust; having to find our courage to know and claim and speak our prophetic voice in arenas that could do us great harm; having to trust that there is work for us to do, and that we will move forward, even when the Herods are on our tail.

There is just too much at stake. Jerusalems are everywhere, power-centers that needs to be redeemed, and people, anawim, that long for the fullness of life. You see, the elites may hold power, but they don’t hold life, because if you’re clinging to power and running from your kinship to your brothers and sisters, you have no capacity to throw your arms open wide and run headlong into the abundant life that God promises. Jesus knew that. That’s why he wants to gather them under his wing, and that’s why his heart grieves that they’re not willing to come.

So, what promise is God making to you that you cannot yet see and yet still must trust?

In your deepest and most terrifying darkness, what tangible signs might God be passing right before your eyes to indicate that God has indeed made covenant with you?

Where are you risking with the powers-that-be? Who is the Herod on your tail?

What demons are you being called to cast out? What healing are you being called to bring?

What prophetic voice is God calling you to claim? Where is the Jerusalem that you are called both to confront and to gather under your wing? How are you letting your heart ache when you encounter hearts of stone?

How are you trusting in resurrection knowing that a lot has to die to get there?

It’s Lent. No answers. Just a lot of questions. And courage, and grit, and a fierce, fierce hope that will pull us through, if we’ll but trust it. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

February 21, 2016