On my way home from visiting my in-laws this weekend, I started to wonder...did I need more time to say goodbye? A friend of mine announced her departure 2 months in advance of leaving, while another gave 3 weeks notice...how are we to know what’s too long, just right, or not enough? I guess there isn’t a magic formula, although I wish there was.
Now, before the liturgy police come to haul me away for not preaching the lectionary, I'm going to do it just this once. Because on the drive home, I started thinking about all the times during Lent I’ve preached on Jesus’ farewell departure. Every year I feel like saying, “ok, wrap it up, we know that you’re leaving...we just want to get to Easter”. In the Gospel of John, the discourse goes from chapters 14-17 and it covers a lot of important material that Jesus wanted to make sure the disciples understood before his crucifixion. If you were to read it all at once, you’d notice that there are four parts to his farewell…
So while I may feel a bit snarky about how long Jesus goes on in his farewell discourse, when read in its entirety, I understand it as a beautiful love letter to his friends...and while I am definitely NOT Jesus, I am inspired to give you my own prayer.
My prayer for the Gorge community is that you continue to work to preserve this beautiful place; that you care for the rich and the poor alike and that you continue to be strong in your commitment to justice and peace.
My prayer for the Diocese of Eastern Oregon is that you continue to be courageous in the building up of the Kingdom of God; don’t allow scarcity to be the motivating factor, but see yourself as a learning lab for new clergy, for new ideas, for new partnerships, and new leadership.
My prayer for St. Mark’s is that you continue to be the hands and feet of Christ at work in the world. Be a source of solace for those in our community who feel broken. Be a source of joy for those in our community who need to celebrate. Be welcoming and hospitable, courageous and bold, and love one another.
And more specifically, for all of you here today, I pray that you know that you are loved.
Know that you are loved.
You are a beloved child of God.
You are stronger than you think you are.
You matter more than you think you do.
You are standing on the precipice of transformation.
In his farewell discourse, Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” They followed him to sea shores, into towns where there were lepers, on to hillsides where people were hungry...both physically and spiritually. Like those early disciples who followed this itinerant preacher to the very end, you too have been called to go into unknown territory together. I truly believe, with all my heart, that you are going to do great things together as long as you remember to be guided by love.
Back in June, I told you about my six word stories...one liners composed of six words that explained who we are...elevator speeches if you will. Now, I’m going to give them to you...with a few more and a few less words.
You can’t say no to God.
You can only say yes to God.
You are standing on the precipice of transformation.
You are a beloved child of God.
You are loved.
I love you.
On Tuesday I sat with my good friend, David, in the sanctuary at Riverside. We had just finished a meeting and I was feeling overwhelmed...we were taking a moment just to breathe and enjoy some quiet.
For some time now, David has been pondering a tattoo and we’ve been talking about it off and on. So on Tuesday, we started talking about tattoos again, and I told him that I wanted another one...this time on my right forearm. This time I want it to be the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.” David pulled out his computer and typed up the phrase in Greek...beautiful and simple, and it speaks to my heart in this moment. So now I have another appointment with my guy Omar before I leave for California.
Now, maybe you’re asking what this has to do with Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke: Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?
I have resisted this passage from Luke every time it comes up in the lectionary...in other words, every 3 years. But guess what? Everything in life happens in circles. Six years ago today, on August 14, 2010, this was our gospel passage. Six years ago today, on August 14, 2010, you and Bp Nedi installed me as your Rector. And the cover of the installation bulletin had the Gospel of John’s passage “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”
So I’m going to look again at the Gospel lesson for today, but I’m going to use the Message translation to help me out:
Jesus said, “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!” Then he turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.”
Well, there you go. Jesus comes to change everything, to turn everything right-side up, to disrupt and confront, to bring about the God-season we’re in. And he doesn’t do it alone...he chooses us to help him.
On Friday night, I was driving back to Hood River from Portland. I had gone to see my friend Alexis and her baby. Alexis is the closest thing I have to a best friend. We’ve been in school together for several years and I was so excited when she and her husband moved here in 2015. So Friday’s drive home was sad for me. Suddenly, out of the blue, my friend Earl who used to be the pastor at White Salmon United Methodist called...he wanted to see how I was doing with the transition.
And so I told Earl that this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Leaving my previous church was easy...I was ready to go and I think the Rector was ready for me to go. But leaving St. Mark’s and Hood River...it’s harder than I could have imagined, and I’m excited, but terrified. And do you know what Earl said to me? He said, “Anna, I know you know this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. When you follow Jesus, you have to be prepared to have your world turned upside down. You have to be prepared to be uncomfortable because Jesus is working on something bigger. You have to go where you are called.” Well, dang it, Earl. Don’t you hate it when people do that to you? They tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it because throwing your own little pity party and eating ice cream for dinner is such a better plan!
But this is what Jesus does. This is what being part of the Jesus Movement is all about...experiencing growing pains, being called when you feel unsure, having the whole world turned upside down. And we signed on for it in our baptism folks! We signed up for being a part of this crazy Jesus Movement! But can you imagine if Jesus had come to “smoothing things over and make everything nice?” I can! If Jesus hadn’t called those folks who make up our great cloud of witnesses--the martyrs and the saints, Martin Luther King Jr, David Duncombe, Ed Browning--if Jesus hadn’t called those folks to be partners with him in the turning of the world rightside up--in disrupting the “norm”--yes, things may SEEM easier, but they really wouldn’t be. There would be outcasts, we’d build walls, there would be divisions deep in our core being. But Jesus calls us to something better. Jesus calls us to shake things up, to help him turn the world right-side up, to go to places that are uncomfortable, to experience moments of great joy and deep grief, knowing that we are running the race that is set before us.
When I was at St. Margaret’s, I was given my first copy of Malcolm Boyd’s book “Are you running with me Jesus?”. I think we have a copy of it here in the office. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Malcolm Boyd, he was an Episcopal priest in Los Angeles, and in 1965 published his book of prayers and ruminations titled, “Are you Running with Me Jesus?” He was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements, and his book is an expression of how he as a Christian, attempted to reconcile his faith with the politics of the time. Malcolm died in 2015, and the world became a smaller place.
But in this book, he writes:
It’s morning, Jesus. It's morning, and here's that light and sound all over again. Where am I running? You know these things I can't understand. It's not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it's you. That helps a lot. So I'll follow along, okay? But lead, Lord. Now I've got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?
So let’s continue the work our foremothers and forefathers started, let’s help Jesus turn the world right-side up and remember that he chose us and is running with us in this and every life transition we experience.
On Wednesday at pastor’s bible study, we welcomed a new pastor to our group, a woman from the Methodist church down in The Dalles and at the same time, I announced my upcoming departure. This group has been my lifeline in so many ways--they have helped me prepare my sermons for the last six years, they have helped me to better understand the Methodist, Lutheran, UCC and Unitarian church systems, they have been my friends and confidants, my prayer partners, and, on occasion, they have lit the necessary fire under my tuckus when needed. It will be very hard for me to leave this group. But it was also joyous to bring a new pastor into the fold! She quickly learned that this group is one that offers laughter, love, thoughtfulness, critique, and lots of care. She will be helped and held in a way that is unique for pastors and priests; this group is unlike any other of its kind...and I know that from talking to colleagues all across the Episcopal Church. To say an “Episcopalian, a Unitarian, and a Methodist walked into a bar” isn’t the start of a joke for us, it is a lived reality--ok, maybe not the bar part, but you get the point.
So what does this have to do with today’s gospel lesson, which is so often used in stewardship sermons--for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also?
Well, there are other important parts to this lesson from Luke that we need to hear, but especially verses 32-35. And this time, I want you to hear it from the Message translation.
Jesus said, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks.”
I love it when Jesus tells us to relax. I can just hear it in his voice...settle down, it’s going to be ok, you don’t have to have it all figured out right this minute, breathe. Honestly, I need to hear that ALL. THE. TIME. And I’m guessing some of you do as well.
And then this…”Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.” In other words, TRUST GOD. Be rooted in God. Be grounded in God. Have your feet firmly planted, knees bent, and breathe God in. Everything else...the need to keep up with the Jones’, the need to have everything JUST SO, the need to be perfect and meet unrealistic expectations out of fear of disappointing someone...not important. God wants to give us the kingdom when we are steeped in God.
And what does it mean to be steeped in God? It means giving abundantly. It means living in a way that sees that everyone is a beloved child of God. It means loving your neighbor as yourself. It means worrying less about what YOU have, and wanting to make sure that EVERYONE has a portion. It means praying and trusting that God is with you every step of the way.
And finally...and I think this is true for everyone, not just me…”Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be...awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks.” In other words, be ready to roll. Be ready to respond when God calls you. Be ready to be a part of the Jesus Movement, the Kingdom of God, a beloved Child of God. Be ready.
The other set of readings that we had to choose from this morning included God’s call to Abraham in Genesis. Abraham had no idea how radically his life was going to change by being ready to say Yes to God. He had no idea that he was embarking on a life-changing mission...one where he would become not just the father of a couple of sons, but the father of the three major world religions--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. He could have never imagined all the ways that God would bless him, encourage him, prod him along when he felt discouraged. And this is what Jesus was talking about when he said to “Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be...awake and ready...when God arrives and knocks.”
These next few weeks, I’m trying really hard to be awake, ready and steeped in God. I know in theory what I’m moving into in San Joaquin, I’ve read the book written by Jane Lamb about the outcome of the schism, I’ve had conversations with the bishop and the chancellor about bringing buildings back on-line, I’ve heard from clergy down there about how wonderful things are going to be now that the litigation is over...but like Abraham, I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into. So I have to trust God...I have to relax, but be ready. This will be my prayer, and I hope you’ll pray it with me.
And this congregation is also being asked to be awake and ready. God is knocking, and waiting to help you even more as you bring to life the Kingdom on earth. As your vestry and the search committee prepare for the transition of calling a new priest, I hope that you will relax and steep yourself in God. Try to be patient as the leadership prays and listens for the calling of the Holy Spirit. Step up and sign up when you are asked for help, knowing that you are participating in something greater than what’s best for you personally. Pray with and for this congregation, the community, and the diocese. I know that great things are ahead for you.
As the poet Wendell Berry wrote: Everything we need is here. It’s become my mantra since May, and I hope it will become yours as well.
So I invite you into a moment of quiet reflection. And after that I will be happy to take your questions, concerns, and wonderings as we prepare to be awake and ready for God’s knock.
Well, friends, it is good to be back with you. A month is a long time to be away from home. And it has been an abundant month in many ways...several of us have been travelling, we celebrated the life and ministry of our dear brother Ed and our talented sister Betty, we have spent time in reflecting on our life and ministry together, imagining the possibilities of what’s to come next. As a community, St. Mark’s has become a place of abundance and I have never been more proud of us than I am in this moment.
So I want to take a moment and reflect on how we have not only become a place of abundance, but how we are rich toward God.
Six years ago this past June, I became your priest and you became my spiritual home and community. And it took us a little bit to figure out how we were going to do ministry together...some things worked, and some things didn’t. But you were gracious enough to let me explore my passions with you and the Hood River community, and I can only hope that I have encouraged you to do the same.
It has been a blessing to watch Shea, Philip, Sam, Catherine, Cody, Elle, Gabriella and now Aidan graduate high school. It has been wonderful to cheer on our youth and their mentors to do their work at Blanchet House, Oregon Food Bank and Forward Stride in Portland. It has been incredibly humbling to sit with some of you as you grieve the loss of loved ones. It has given me a full heart to watch you engage with the homeless, hungry and neighbors in crisis because you see them not as “other” but as beloved children of God. It has brought me to tears when you’ve taken home laundry to mend, wash and fold for a child you’ll never know. Our prayers for a more peaceful and just world are answered daily...even in the face of disaster and hurt. I truly believe with all of my being that we are actively engaging and becoming what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called to us to be--the Jesus Movement.
And none of this has happened over night. We have and continue to work hard to spread the abundant love of God around us. Unlike the man in the parable that Jesus shared with those who followed him, we don’t store up our abundance because we’ve earned it or deserve it, but rather our abundance has empowered us to give more, love more, and welcome more.
And I am moved beyond words by your generosity of spirit and heart.
This year I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on my own abundance...the gifts and skills that I have to offer as a part of the Jesus Movement. In church lingo we call this discernment. With the guidance and support of colleagues, our Bishop Patrick Bell, and my spiritual director, I have been intentionally looking at the ways I can share my abundance with the larger church. Sometimes this discernment can be very easy and sometimes it means having to make hard choices...it’s the difference between storing up your treasures or sharing it freely...living for God. So after many months of conversation, prayer, and listening, I have discerned a new calling in my life as part of the Jesus Movement.
In early September, Matt and I will be moving to California so that I can begin a new ministry in the diocese of San Joaquin as the Canon to the Ordinary for Bishop David Rice. This decision was not an easy one and it comes with a price...it means having to say goodbye to this amazing community and to all of you. I am so proud of all of us...so proud of the work we have done together, the ministries we’ve engaged in, the fact that St. Mark’s is a vital parish in this diocese and the community of Hood River.
Now it is time to share abundantly with our neighbors to the south…
We all have lots of questions about what this means...and some of the questions I have answers to...some we’re still working out. I invite you to stay for coffee hour and let’s talk. And let’s talk by email, phone, text message, stop by the office, invite me for a smoothie...we don’t have to figure it all out today. But I am here, your vestry is here, Bp Pat will be here to walk with you in this new part of abundant ministry.
And I hope you’ll join me in celebrating our time together throughout the month of August.
But for now, let’s take a moment to pause and breathe.
Let us pray. Everliving God, strengthen and sustain the ministries and people of this congregation, that they may faithfully follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ, proclaiming in word, deed and sacrament the good news of the kingdom; we lift our prayers to you, the holy, undivided Trinity, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.