Jesus’ health insurance policy

Jesus didn’t believe in universal health coverage. Not until a bold woman of native descent called him to account (Matthew 15:21-28).

Jesus was ready to stand on the strong and stable principles of citizens first, in-groups and out-of-pocket expenses. He had his speech locked and loaded, teleprompted told her that she must make way for those more deserving than her own sick child; that resources are scarce and must be rationed according to rank, relationship, and level of in-network coverage.

Do you know this story? Have you heard this biblical argument for ignoring the least able to afford to live – literally to live – in America today?

This, mind you, was not the woman, bereft of contraceptive coverage, who crept up to touch the hem of his robe to stem her incessant, intolerable bleeding (Matthew 9:20-22). That’s a whole other story. This is the one, the mother of a tormented child, demented to distraction by her pain, who called him out face to face at a town hall meeting.

“Even the dogs get to eat up the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.” She spat Jesus’ own prejudice back at him, turned her poverty into a privilege, proud of her disinherited heritage.

He tried ignoring her. Then, she was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

I am an immigrant. I am a mother. I am a follower of Christ, and I am in awe of this woman with more chutzpah than Yeshua, more juice than Jesus, who converted Christ to compassion by confronting his prejudice and pricking his privilege into action.

I am not a politician, policy expert, or economist; but I have visited patients in my brief stint as a hospital chaplain who, in extremis, lost their extremities – toes, feet, and further –  because they could not afford to keep up with their diabetic treatment and control. I have encountered too much despair, unmitigated by adequate mental health coverage until the crisis comes, and the 72-hour watch, if it is not already too late. I have sat in the underwear of the woman venting blood before contraceptive coverage became preventive care and saved her sanity.

I am an immigrant, and a woman, and a Christian. I have decent health insurance and I can access good care for my family whenever we fall sick. In this great country, God knows, I know of no one who deserves less.

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The Sparrow

For the sparrows that feature in this week’s gospel reading. This poem was first published by the Collegeville Institute’s Bearings. Coincidentally, today I fly to Collegeville.



I

Sparrow is packing heat.
He has taken up residence
atop a propane burner on the deck,
building his family into their nest;
an outrageously flammable construct.

We hold our fire,
keep our distance,
while sparrow, careless, kicks back.
Is this bald-faced contingency a design flaw, or
the conceit of a bird-brained genius?

II

Sparrow’s out foraging.
Tiny unseen beaks sing
improbably loudly
their repetitious repertoire
of faith, hope, and hunger
to the father.

III

Sparrow stakes his claim to the feeder
which I had bought, and filled, and hung;
beneath his scolding, I beat a retreat.
Unabashed, he faces down the scarlet cardinal;
unchastened by the chattering squirrel,
careless of the black-wigged crow,
the bold, brown ragamuffin knows his place,
beautiful in the eye of the Beholder.

IV

… and then he was gone,
without a word of thanks,
regret, or good riddance;
only the quiet absence
of a watchfulness I had grown
used to turning aside.

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A louder peace

“As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matthew 10:12-13)

This is Jesus, instructing his apostles, sending them out to preach the good news of God’s love, revealed in the person of Christ. And in the midst of a world, like ours, at war with itself, he talks of peace.

He tells his disciples to do their own work of peace without worrying too much about whether or not it is worthy or wasted work. The work of peace, Jesus tells them, is never wasted. If it finds fertile ground, it will grow in those with whom you have shared it. If not, it will return to grow in you.

We know, in our present situation, how deeply the work of peace is needed. It is hampered, sorely, by our tendency to judge, to discern who is deserving of our peace, and who is not. But Jesus instructs us: do your own work of peace. Let your peace be upon any who will receive it, and if not, let it continue to grow in you. Do not be deflected from your own peace by any unworthiness of judgement or of faith. Do the work of peace.

We may, like Sarah, laugh to think that such an old and dried-up thing as peace could ever bear fruit; but then we would be underestimating the long arc of God’s kingdom, and the power of the Holy Spirit to provoke new surprises, new life, new laughter without notice.

How will we do the work of peace in a divided country and a divisive world? Jesus suggests, one household, one family, one greeting at a time. When you enter the house, greet it with peace – no exceptions. When you encounter a stranger, let your peace be upon her, without reservation. Choose to associate with those of a different race, generation, political persuasion – and let your peace be known to them, without price. Be as wise as serpents, and gentle and innocent as doves. If they are worthy, your peace will grow in them, and if not, it will continue to grow in you.

Peace is not passive, mind you. The work of peace is important and active and vital. Be as wise as serpents, and labour for the Lord. Spreading the good news of God’s love revealed in the person of Christ means bringing good news to the poor, and freedom to the captive; healing to the hungry, and life to the walking dead.

The work of peace means facing up to a justice system which operates in a system of injustice to keep the lives of men like Philando Castile cut short and lets loose those to whom his life mattered little. There can be no peace without justice; we have work to do.

The work of addressing gun violence – on Monday night, your Vestry talked about this very work, and then this week, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were considering a bill to deregulate silencers for privately owned guns, even as their Capitol police protectors were running towards the sound of gunfire to save their colleagues from further damage and danger. The work of addressing gun violence is not about becoming quieter. It is loud and it is necessary, and it is the work of peace, to pound our assault rifles into ploughshares and our handguns into pruning hooks.

The work of peace is not a quiet, unassuming activity. It is on fire with the heat of the gospel, fuelled by the hard wood of the cross.

We spent the rest of the past week, some of us, learning about the saints at summer music camp. We heard of St Francis, who stripped away everything he had of privilege and background to address the poverty and inequality he saw around him, to protest the perversion of God’s kingdom that is promoted when some lives seem to matter more than others.

We learned about Mary, who said, “Let it be to me as the Lord has spoken,” and then turned around and sang a song of revolution, in which the proud are scattered in their imaginations, and peace falls upon the lowly and the humble.

We learned about Fanny Crosby, who was not content to praise God in hymnody and song alone, but who also pestered Congress to improve education for her blind students and for people with disabilities – doing the work of peace, which is the work of justice, with a song on her lips and steel in her heart.

This work of peace is not without risk. See, says Jesus, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Francis lost his family. St Cecilia lost her husband, her brother-in-law, and her life. St Ignatius was eaten by lions – these things can happen in the course of working for peace.

But for most of us, the risks are more modest: the risk of failing to grow the peace that is in us; of failing to share it. Of wondering, when things go wrong, whether there is more that we could or should have done to make a difference in this divided world; to do our own work of peace.

Let us make a new start this morning, sharing the peace that Christ has given to us, without reservation, indiscriminately. Greet someone new as we share the Peace this morning; let your peace be upon them, and let it be grown also in you. Practice peace on one another, that we may go out from this place in peace to love and to serve the Lord, to grow God’s kingdom one greeting of peace at a time, speaking peace out loud.

“As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

Amen.

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The Nicene Creed for hymn singing

As promised on Sunday, here is a metrical (8787) version of The Nicene Creed, closely adapted from the translation included in the Book of Common Prayer.

We believe in God Almighty,
Father of Creation, who
made all things in earth and heaven
that are seen, and unseen, too.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus,
only Son of God, unmade;
of his Father’s love begotten,
through him all that is was made,

God from God, true God from true God,
Light from Light, who’s always been,
before time from time eternal;
with his Father one true Being.

Now for us and our salvation
he came down to earth from heaven;
by the Holy Ghost and Virgin
Mary he became a man.

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
crucified for us, entombed.
Three days later he is risen –
Scriptures told of his return.

He ascended into heaven,
sits at God’s right hand on high.
He will come again to judge us,
king whose kingdom never dies.

We believe the Holy Spirit
gave us life; will always be
with the Son and Father worshipped,
Three in One and One in Three.

Spirit speaking by the prophets;
we believe the Church is one
holy, catholic, apostolic.
By one baptism guilt’s undone.

We believe in resurrection,
hope of a new life to come.
We believe in God, Christ Jesus,
and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Image: First Nicea Council Icon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Songs of praise to the Trinity

A sermon for Trinity Sunday, 2017, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid. The metrical version of the Nicene Creed which we sang is appended below, and will be published this week in a separate post. We sang it to the hymn tune, Merton.

Some of you may have noticed last week that instead of our usual recitation of the Nicene Creed, we sang that long and ancient screed that comes in the centre of our service. With our bishop’s permission, I made a metrical and rhyming version of the prayerbook text, and Chase selected a familiar tune from our hymnal to which to set it. One of the reasons that we decided to do that was to reintroduce the idea that this Creed is a part of our praise and worship of God. It is not a stand-alone statement, or a contract to sign before Communion, and still less do we intend it as a litmus test of our beliefs and faith. It is, at its best and in its highest vocation, a song of praise to our God. Trinity Sunday seems like a pretty good time to explain why that might be.

I know that some of us have trouble with the Creed. We find that it makes us say things of which we are uncertain, or even with which we sometimes disagree. If that is your experience, I invite you to consider the disciples who received Christ’s great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel account. They worshipped him, we are told, but some doubted. Some doubted, even as they worshipped in the presence in the Risen Christ! Jesus didn’t separate these goats from the sheep, though, but gave to them all the great commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No summary of God, long, short, or sideways, nor even, it seems dropped directly from the lips of the living Lord Jesus will ever be adequate to erase all of our doubts, nor to engender our full understanding. Yet we have been given a glimpse, by this Trinitarian formula, into something important about who it is that we worship; and it is because we find it important to try to name who it is we worship that we have been using the Creed in our worship since the church’s infancy.

We say that God made us, and all that we inhabit; that it is only in God that we live and move and have our being. We say that Christ is both wholly human and wholly God – that God in absolute truth and sincerity came to dwell with us, out of God’s pure love for us. We say that the Holy Spirit is not some ghostly emanation from the heavens, but that the full force of God continues to move among us, so that in God we continue to live and move and have our being. The Trinity is our assurance of Emmanuel, God with us. We worship, we doubt, we worship anyway; and the God whom we worship receives us all, which is a pure blessing.

In fact, the other scriptural definition of Trinity that we hear this morning comes in the form of a blessing: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Corinthians 13:13)

This, writes Edwin Hatch, also tells us something about the nature of the God that we worship. Edwin Hatch was a nineteenth-century preacher and teacher who wrote the famous hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God,” and who preached on Trinity Sunday, 1888, at Westminster Abbey, on “The Threefold Benediction.” He began,[i]

It is remarkable that one of the two most explicit recognitions of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity in the New Testament should be in the form of a benediction. The fact is itself a sermon. It is full of instructive lessons. It tells us, above all, that the revelation of the Trinity is a revelation not of an object of speculation, but of a living truth. It recalls us from metaphysics to life. It reminds us that in our world of effort and failure we need the varied help of God. It reveals to us that God, who in His trinity of Persons is very near to us, is near to us with a trinity of blessings.

I will not read to you his entire explication of the argument, but it is all bent towards that assurance of God with us. He says,

[God] comes close to us with the awful revelation of His infinity. And then, in close communion with us, He whispers to us with tenderness, as of a mother to her son, “I, God, am yours; I, your God, am your Father and love you; I, your God, am your Saviour and have redeemed you; I, your God, am your Helper and can sustain you.”

And so our ancient creeds and our struggles to articulate what it means to say that God is God lead always, if they are faithful, back to worship: wonder, love, and praise that God, our God, should be so gracious as to bless us with God’s very being.

And when we share that blessing, well then we share in that nature of God which is to bless, which is not turned inward not satisfied with itself, but which reaches out to nurture, to love, and to bless. What kind of God we say that we worship matters to what kind of Christians we will claim to be, and how we will see the work of the church called out into the world.

And when we come together as the church; when we sing or say the Creed, with our worship and our doubts, our dilemmas and our divine inspiration, we do so not to try to define an indefinable God, nor to prove our proud orthodoxy, but to render grateful praise to the one in whom we live and move and have our being: our God. And while our worship here on earth will always be but a faint echo, it is amplified by the voices of the church triumphant, already gathered around the throne of heaven, who have seen the mysteries of God face to face; that God who is always One, and who multiplies through God’s very self blessings upon us. This One is a God who hears us, receives us, embraces us in all of our folly and faith and our doubt, forever faithful to God’s own nature, which is forever turned towards us in love.

Amen.

____________________

[i] Both quotes are from “The Threefold Benediction,” Westminster Abbey, Trinity Sunday, 1888, by Edwin Hatch. Memorials of Edwin Hatch, Edited by his brother, London, 1890, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Angican Quest for Holiness, complied by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001), 488-493

____________________

The Nicene Creed (8787)

We believe in God Almighty,
Father of Creation, who
made all things in earth and heaven
that are seen, and unseen, too.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus,
only Son of God, unmade;
of his Father’s love begotten,
through him all that is was made,

God from God, true God from true God,
Light from Light, who’s always been,
before time from time eternal;
with his Father one true Being.

Now for us and our salvation
he came down to earth from heaven;
by the Holy Ghost and Virgin
Mary he became a man.

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
crucified for us, entombed.
Three days later he is risen –
Scriptures told of his return.

He ascended into heaven,
sits at God’s right hand on high.
He will come again to judge us,
king whose kingdom never dies.

We believe the Holy Spirit
gave us life; will always be
with the Son and Father worshipped,
Three in One and One in Three.

Spirit speaking by the prophets;
we believe the Church is one
holy, catholic, apostolic.
By one baptism guilt’s undone.

We believe in resurrection,
hope of a new life to come.
We believe in God, Christ Jesus,
and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Holding fast to an ordinary peace

Whenever we visit the in-laws in the British midlands, my husband’s extended family gathers in a local Indian restaurant for a curry. On one such evening a couple of years ago, the service was, uncharacteristically, rubbish. We were beginning to get annoyed that our family reunion was not being catered to with – what? the respect? reverence? professionalism? that it deserved.

The sun sets late in England in the summer. A little after nine, the kitchen staff emerged blinking from their backroom furnace bearing a tray of small snacks. The wait staff met them with tall glasses of water, and they quickly, almost furtively (except that they could not altogether suppress their ravenous joy), broke their fast together.

After that, the service picked up. The whole atmosphere improved, along with our own attitudes. After all, it has to be really hard running a restaurant in the West during Ramadan.

On our way out, the manager stood at the door, as usual, to shake each hand and smile us away. A daughter said, “Our mum fasts, too.” I demurred; “Not hardcore, like you. I drink water at least, sometimes even tea. And I only fast one day at a time.” Still, he smiled more broadly, and we wished one another a blessed fast; all was forgiven.

The ordinariness of living together across cultural and religious traditions can lead to the occasional rubbing up of rough edges; slow service and forgetfulness of another’s fast. Such slight injuries might just be covered with a handshake and a smile.

I have been trying to fathom the ends of so-called ISIS, or Daesh, in the West. The terrorism of my youth came with clear objectives and ransom demands. This terrorism, though, seems something else. It is indiscriminate in wielding death. It is not being visited upon us on behalf of the ambitions of Muslims – the Midlands restauranteur or the Mayor of London or anyone in between. It is, I believe, intended precisely to divide them from their non-Muslim neighours, customers, constituents, as much as us from them. It is designed to turn rough edges into severing blades, and misunderstandings into willful incomprehension. It is bent on civil war, and it is not interested in supporting a winner, only the downfall of us all.

The Bangladeshi-born owner of a British restaurant caught up in the recent terror incident at Borough Market in London shared a similar concern with the Guardian newspaper.

‘“I hope this won’t break the resolve of people to stay united. There will be people who, whether they articulate it or not, will feel resentful towards people whose religion has been used to justify these terrible attacks. It’s understandable,” he told the Guardian.’

He understands that he might be resented, hated even for a terror that targets him, too. The humility, empathy, and will to mercy that well up beneath his words is a sermon many Christians could use to hear.

“The government should rely less upon religious leaders and really try to bring integrated Muslims on board, people who live their lives in a contented manner who say there is scope to prosper in the west. We should actively engage Muslim professionals instead of professional Muslims,” he went on to say.

Some politicians have called for greater segregation, isolation, even banning the free movement of people like this Iqbal Wahhab, or the manager of the local curry house, the Mayor of London, or the paediatric neurologist with whom I shared a podium at this January’s Martin Luther King, Jr commemoration. But it is the very ordinariness of our togetherness, the everyday interactions as ordinary people, with a shared hunger, thirst, handshake and a smile that will save us from our division and destruction.

We cannot fight terror with tyranny, ideology with ideology; but in all humility and with God’s grace, the imago Dei within, we can follow our own humanity into an ordinary kind of peace.

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Holy Comforter

Preaching and prayers for Pentecost, 2017, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio. “Praise & picnic” moved indoors because of unpredictable weather conditions …

The Holy Spirit is as unpredictable as the weather! One minute she is described as the sound of a rushing wind; the next sounds more like the sun, as flames as of fire rest on each of the disciples’ heads. I think it goes to show what lengths God will go to in order to reach us, to reach out to us, to reach God’s arms around us.

I like the image of the Holy Spirit as the sun. It gives light for us to find our way. It warms our hearts and lifts our spirits. It is an essential condition of our life – without it, life as we know it would not exist. Even in the darkness, in the night, the sun does not go away. It is, as much as any created thing can be, steadfast. It is we, with our little planet, who turn our backs for a time; and when in the morning we complete our rotation and return to the sight of the sun, its apparent rising brings us new hope, a new day.

No metaphor for God is sufficient; and it is unwise to try to divide God into separate parts. Divine vivisection is not a recommended practice. Nor is it the done thing to multiply by three.

Nevertheless, today we celebrate the Holy Spirit: the ruah, the breath of God.

Jesus had told his disciples, when you look at me, you see my Father. We know Jesus as our only mediator and advocate, but he promised that the Holy Spirit would be our Advocate and guide.

When the Holy Spirit blew through the room on Pentecost, it was with the fullness of the power of God. This was not an emissary, an angel of the Lord. This was the wind that whipped up the waters of creation. This was the breath that Jesus breathed over his apostles, speaking, “Peace.” This was the fullness of God, reminding and reassuring those apostles and the others that God is not gone away.

So what do we mean when we celebrate Pentecost today, and pray, “Come, Holy Spirit”?

I think that we are asking, once more, for God to let us know, in no uncertain terms, that God is not gone away, has not forgotten us, or closed the doors of heaven on our troubles, our dilemmas, our terror, or our love.

We are asking for that comforter, advocate, and guide whom we were promised, upon whom we can rely, even in the darkness.

The Holy Spirit does not always come in dramatic fashion, with a rushing wind and tongues of fire. Sometimes, she comes in that still, small voice in the darkness, so quiet that we wonder if we are imagining her presence. Do not be fooled by her quietness; she only has the full power of God reigned in.

Do not be alarmed by her unpredictability. She knows what she is doing. She speaks your language. She knows your name.

She is not confined to dramatic events or unexplained experiences. She who brooded over the waters of creation and breathed it into life is as close to your life as your beating heart, and as concerned for your heart as your own hidden hopes and fears.

It was when the apostles were gathered together in one place, as we are now, that the Holy Spirit came with the fullness of God, goosing the apostles into life, and setting them loose on their unsuspecting neighbours. It is when we come together that we have the power to do greater things in the name of our God, in the name of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our voices become stronger; our reach longer. When we inspire – literally in-Spirit one another; when we encourage – literally give courage to one another; then we know that power in all of its fullness and its glory.

But do not forget, in those quieter, still moments, and in the silence that follows the storm, and in the darkness, that the Spirit is still with you, as close as your breath, always there to remind us that God is not gone away, that you are not forgotten, but that the Spirit of God broods eternally over you, her beloved child.

Amen.

___________________________________

Prayers of the People for Pentecost (with musical response)

Spirit of All Holiness, fill your holy Church with the breath of life, with the words of prophecy, with the humility to seek your kingdom come.             Response

Spirit of God Almighty, guide this nation. Impart your Wisdom to those in authority, so that all may become agents of your kingdom.                  Response

Spirit who brooded over the waters of creation, protect and preserve your work, we pray, and bend our wills to yours, to create and not to destroy.             Response

Spirit of Life, in you we live and move and have our being. Be among us, as we live and move and have our being in this community, and let us love our neighbors as ourselves.             Response

Spirit of Peace, give rest to the victims of gun violence, and turn the hearts of those who choose to study war. Spirit of Truth, shine your light on the lies that breed terror, and relieve the grief that oppresses us.              Response

Spirit of Salvation, bring your compassion and mercy to bear upon all those who suffer in mind, body, or spirit, and give rest to those who are in trouble. Bless and keep all who contribute to the comfort of others.      Response

Spirit of Reconciliation, we confess that we have too often failed to follow you into the way of love. Forgive us, and renew a right spirit within us, we pray.         Response

Spirit of Resurrection, bring to perfect peace those who have died, that in your new creation they may worship you in spirit and in truth. Response

Closing Collect 

Heavenly Spirit, help us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that God’s very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26, para).

Final Response

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