It isn’t often that I choose not to preach on the Gospel. But given that the text is the beheading of John the Baptist, while the other readings talk of David dancing before the Ark (2 Samuel) and all of creation belonging to God (Ps 24), and being blessed and chosen by God (Ephesians), I just couldn’t go down a path of trying to understand evil in the world around us. Plus, lately, I’ve seen and been a part of too many experiences of God’s blessing to ignore this opportunity.
While on vacation, I got to spend a lot of time being quiet. Being quiet is hard for me, but it’s something I need to do. So immediately Matt and I took off for the nearby Zen Buddhist Abbey. The land there was so lush and green. The bells and wind-chimes made beautiful, tranquil music. The alpacas were friendly and would eat out of our hands. At night, the frogs chirped their mating songs. I needed to be there because even though I’m daily surrounded by the beauty of God, I had forgotten. Being at the Abbey, in a different place with different sounds and sights, reawakened my awareness that I am in the midst of God’s blessings. Then we went off to Lost Lake. There we watched the chipmunks play, hiked, and enjoyed the stars; again I was reminded that all things in heaven and on earth are blessed. I was in a very comfortable, well nourished, spiritual space. I had been healed and renewed.
But then I went off to General Convention in Indianapolis, where the hottest day was 107, and the coolest day was 98. In that kind of heat, surely God’s blessings couldn’t be there. And with that many Episcopalians in one place, quiet reflection on the beauty of God’s holiness would be non-existent. But strange things happen when God is at work.
Among the business of convention, important resolutions were passed. The church agreed to a trial use of a same-sex blessing. The church agreed to allow transgendered people to be ordained. There was much discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the church’s response to it. There was much work and discussion around issues of economic justice, immigration reform, and health care. There were worship services celebrating the diversity of our church—Spanish language services, Native and Indigenous language services, the Integrity Eucharist celebrating the LGBT community and its allies. And it is within these conversations and worship services that I experienced God’s love.
We are not a perfect church with perfect people in a perfect world. We do not all agree. But we are all chosen by God, blessed by God, marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. We are a people of baptism and Eucharist. We are a people who have been given the great gift of God’s love which is excessive, tender and abundant.
One of the best parts of convention and the Episcopal Church Women’s conference was watching mothers interact with their children…especially their infant children. I have to admit to a bit of “baby lust” when I watch these interactions. But those of you who are parents or grandparents might understand that warm fuzzy feeling that you get when a baby smiles or sleeps, instinctively knowing that they are warm, safe, and loved. Or when a mother breast feeds her infant child, that sense of calm and shared tenderness. I think that’s part of why I’m so often drawn to icons of Mary and Jesus…they are tender towards one another; a reflection of the relationship between us and God, and ultimately a model for relationship with one another.
So often this text from Ephesians has been used to divide people…those who are “chosen” and those who are not. But I believe a careful reading of the text in light of our baptismal covenant (which calls us to be disciples and to respect the dignity of every human being), and with the many blessings of God which surround us daily, we are reminded that when all things in heaven and earth are gathered up in Christ, then none can be hopeless, helpless or left out.
So now that I’m back, I’m going to give you a little homework assignment. How do you recognize God’s excessive, tender and abundant love in the world around you, and how do you share that love with others?
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.