Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Crosses and the Other Side
Rob Gieselmann, Pent. 18C, Sept. 4, 2016

I remember a poem from years ago – Only I cannot
recall the poet or the actual words of the poem – Age
seems to have eroded my memory …But the poem left
me with an image.  It is winter, and a man is walking
through snowy woods late at night. He is walking
backwards, away from his cottage, staring at the light
shining through the front window of the cottage. As he
walks backwards the light disappears from his view. He  stops – then walks back towards the cottage, and the light reappears. He reverses course again, and the light disappears. And he realizes, now, that there exists an invisible line dividing his sight – a perimeter beyond
which the light is no longer perceivable. A circle within
which he can see.

*Jesus is traveling from his home in Galilee towards Jerusalem, through Samaria. Somewhere along the way,
he crosses some invisible perimeter – he becomes the
man in the poem – Only he has walked inside the circle, through the perimeter of truth. The truth about his
life. That truth, though, perversely dark, remains
evanescent. Now he can see now what he could not see
in Galilee. He is going to die. On the cross. How is it nobody can see his cross. That the people would turn against him. He must have wondered. Instead, the people crowd him
like crazed fans at a rock concert, or Big Orange Volunteers at the home-game opener. Pressing in on every side. No, they don’t see the cross like he does, but it is there. Jesus tells them as much – and he tells them about their own crosses, too. Cross and death loom like a red moon rising – for all of us.

*What do you think Jesus meant when he said you’d
have to carry your cross? Give away your possessions?
The disciples once claimed they’d given up everything to follow Jesus. But they hadn’t - not really - had they? Given up everything. They had families, and, to a person, each of them abandoned Jesus at the end, Peter included.  And if not these men, who then could take up their crosses?
In light of that - I don’t think I am a very good at following Jesus.

When I was young and impulsive – I promised Jesus I’d follow him wherever he would lead me. They say some people grow into faith, while others leap. I lept.
Leave it all, I had imagined, as a young man and follower of Jesus. I might just as well  have been the young man who promised to follow Jesus wherever he went, to whom Jesus retorted, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Abandon everything, only – I seem to give away my possessions – metaphorically – only to buy them back right away.

I’m older, now, and I, like Jesus, seem to have crossed some invisible perimeter into the field of the cottage light.
I will turn 58, soon, which places me on the back side of middle age. And these days it is as though I see things that were once outside my field of vision. In July, I attended my fortieth high school reunion. My old friends had aged – everybody that is, except for me – You’ve heard the old
line: I was young once, but I got over it. Reminds me of the the Simon and Garfunkel lyric - I’m older than I was,
but younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual. Just a few years ago, when I was in my forties – and even as late as 50 – people called me the “young Episcopal priest” – I would laugh at them - only in the Episcopal Church is a priest called young at 50. But I’m no longer 50, and soon I will be 60, entering my seventh decade. And I have seen what many of you already know – that there is an invisible perimeter - a dividing line separating those who see the cottage light from those who do not. Turns out – you are young only until you aren’t. And somewhere along the way, your own cross as a cottage light comes into view. And at that point, if you haven’t done so already, you face the choice:  What do I want my life to be about? Is it my possessions? Money? All that I own? The concept of ownership is actually an illusion – ephemeral. You cannot take it with you, after all. But there is something you will
take with you. And that is this: You will take with you the
very real substance of a life well-lived. Or not.
Which is why I must ask, what kind of life  do you lead? What values have you purchased along the way? Now, please do not misinterpret my melancholy – I believe
deeply in resurrection. I believe that Jesus at Easter
leads to life beyond the grave. Like I said Thursday at
Chalmers Wilson’s funeral, We are Easter people!
The nineteenth century religious philosopher James Martineau said, I don’t believe in resurrection because
I can prove it, I am forever trying to prove it because I believe it. People across the world –  not just Christians,
but people of all traditions – have this inalienable sense that life does not end at the termination of the physical body.
Meaning now – that how you choose to live this life now – makes a difference. Which is – what Paul is telling
Philemon – that he, too, has a choice – to do good in accepting Onesimus, his runaway slave, back as a
brother – Or not. Yes, how you choose to live, to forgive,
to be generous – or not –  Brings Jesus’ imperative
into view – your cross, your possessions, laying up treasurers.  These concepts are all about the soul – The quality of the soul. The care of the soul. Although they hint at the world to come, Jesus is certainly speaking about the life you live today. Whether you are young, or old. Whether your cross is yet in view, or not. And so – acquire possessions
if you must, but I’m wondering what you might purchase on your way, as you travel to Jerusalem?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Once More: Literal About Grace
Rob Gieselmann, Pent. 16C (Aug. 21, 2016)

Sometimes it is all about what you see –  and what
you don’t see.  The writer to the Hebrews speaks about t
wo worlds, two mountains, as though exist simultaneously.

First there is the fiery mountain, an image taken from Moses and the ancient Hebrews – The mountain was tempestuous, and portended judgment. Shuddering fear, for even touching the mountain would result in certain death. But there is this second Mountain, Mt. Zion, on which is located the City of God, holy and spiritual Jerusalem. Angels – myriads of them - live there, as does love, absolute love – and you. (Right now) On this mountain every person – you, me, all of us is a first-born child. Each person inherits absolutely everything.
My daughter Tilly likes to tell anybody who will listen, My Dad loves me the best. She especially likes to say this within ear-shot of her brother, Tate. In fact, I do love her best. But I love Tate best, also. If I had a third child, I’d love her best.

Because the nature of love is such that you can love 100 people at 100% each. So you see – you are to God, the first-born, the best-loved: you inherit everything. Problem is – most of us don’t see very well – we can’t see the holy mountain, for the mountain of judgment. *The synagogue official likewise could not see.  He was blind to what we around here have been calling the literal grace of God.
Why was this religious man so blind? Why are so many religious people – leaders and otherwise – portrayed in Scripture as blind?

Throughout history, blind. Men and women fail to
see love for shuddering fear of judgment. It is as though
they cannot see the holy Mountain for the Mountain of Judgment, fear. *Jesus – on this day - is teaching in the synagogue. The woman bent double walks in to listen to him. Jesus calls her over, touches her, and heals her. Violating it seems the very law of God, healing on the Sabbath. The devout synagogue official reproves not
Jesus, but the woman – Now – in a world in which the true meaning of Sabbath seems to have dissipated – This
man’s complaint seems irrelevant.

When was the last time you took a day to do nothing?
When was the last time your children complained of boredom – for want of something to do? Did you know that boredom is crucial to the development of a child’s creativity? Being bored forces a child to create – to find something fun to do – Adults, too – we need what I like to call porch time – that empty time of staring into space and dreaming – Sabbath has a deeper meaning – an important place in human life – but when was the last time we honored it as more than the day we go to church?

Religious rules – like Sabbath – are intended to facilitate
life, not – as in this case – inhibit it. This woman – a child
of Abraham – one of God’s first-born, has waited 18 long years to inherit grace. She shouldn’t have to wait until tomorrow – She shouldn’t have to wait one more second. For grace.

*In his novel, East of Eden, John Steinbeck tells a parable about the lives and deaths of three men. The first man happened to be the richest man in the century.
He became rich by clawing his way there, leaving the souls and bodies of many people in his wake. Once rich, he used his money benevolently – to buy back the love he had squandered to become rich. (I think this man must have
been a Kardashian.) When he died, people lauded him openly, but secretly they said to themselves, Thank God
that [SOB] is finally dead. The second man was similar.
He had this trait – of being beguiling. He could trap people
with his winning smile, yet he would take advantage
of their flaws through bribery and blackmail. This man rose to great power, enabling him to disguise his malevolence behind apparent virtue. Appearances are deceiving, so when this man died – there was no real sadness, none at all.
A big so-what? The third man was flawed. He made many mistakes in his life, but he dedicated his life to others, to make them brave and dignified. He encouraged people when they were at their worst, poor and frightened and afraid. And, of course, when this man died, the people cried out in great lament, and asked, how can we go on now? Whatever will we do? I don’t know why so many religious people – in Scripture and alive today – erect a fa├žade of a grace they don’t believe in? Don’t rely upon. They make
their homes on the mountain of judgment – I’ve seen these people, and you have, too – They are like the synagogue official - more ready to honor the Sabbath or maintain some hollow ritual or rule than they are to forgive, to heal to restore. I’m speaking of Christians, here – not just the religious unknown. Christians for whom church is more important than faith. For whom the Bible is more important than the people. For whom – and forgive me here – the sacrament is more important than the grace it conveys.

What is it we do here, anyway? If we can’t be literal about grace – shouldn’t we just go home? If we decline to forgive –
to heal – to love – Why bother? But I have a vision instead, and I think you do, too. In my vision, I see you – and me – walking perhaps hand in hand down golden paths of
charity on the holy mount – carrying grace in
our hearts, and encouragement on our lips? God’s
first-born and irrevocable love for all others.

For don’t you know? Now abideth three things:
faith, hope and charity. And the greatest of these is


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Urgent: Forgiveness
Rob Gieselmann, Pentecost 8C, June 26, 2016

I don’t always understand what it means to follow Jesus.
And I’m pretty sure I don’t do it very well. I’m all three of these - I’d bury my parents first, I’d say good-bye to my family, before following Jesus - into the Peace Corps,
or to Bolivia, or wherever. Truth be told, I probably
wouldn’t leave them in the first place, and if I did, I would
definitely buy a return ticket. At least for the holidays,
I’d come home for the holidays. *Home – they say home
is “where the heart is,” You’re loved at home
just because – not because you’ve done something important. You are special at home, just because you are special at home. Or, as the old saying goes, Home is where the great are small, and the small are great.

But there is no home for Jesus – foxes have holes and
birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. No bed to, lay me down to sleep, no pillow for, the soul to keep. Just a rock and a tunic. And the kingdom of God. I really don’t think I follow Jesus all that well.  **Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the funeral
director, the one who was just a little bit too late in his proposal?  His best friend John had died. John was rich,
and he left behind a rich widow - Mary – and Mary had no children, no heirs. John was driving Mary home from the funeral, in one of his black funeral cars. On the way, he confessed his undying love to Mary –  I’ve always loved you,
he said, but because John was my best friend, I kept these feelings to myself. But now that John’s gone, well – if you ever think about getting married again, would you consider me? Mary smiled ever so sweetly and answered, Tom, I appreciate your lovely offer - I really do,

only you’re a little late – John’s doctor already asked me.

Sometimes you shouldn’t wait. Some matters require urgency. Jesus practically turns would-be disciples away
because they have more important things to do.                        
They don’t appreciate urgency.

Elijah tells Elisha, you must observe me as I leave – pay attention – otherwise, you’re on your own. This discipleship stuff is not easy. Now is the time, today is the day,
Scripture says.  But for you and me – these twenty centuries later – the urgency of discipleship seems obscured by the routine of daily living. Following God intensely is – well, too intense. *A young monk once confessed to one of the older monks his desire to follow God completely. I just want to give myself to God. He assumed the older monk would be fatherly and gentle, but he wasn’t. Instead, he shouted at
the younger monk,    Now.  He shouted it again, Now!             
Then he followed the young monk all over the monastery,
with club in hand,   Now. Now.  The old fellow still
chases the young monk.   Now. *Let the dead bury
their own dead. And I wonder, what is Jesus’ rush - now?
And for what?  **I became curious last year, following the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.
At Dylan Roof’s bail hearing, the families stood-up in court and said to the murderer, Dylan Roof - who was completely unrepentant, and not at all self-reflective - I forgive you.
They said it as a matter of faith, I forgive you.  Now, had they asked me, as a priest, I would have advised them otherwise.
I would have told them, it takes time to forgive. You have to work through your emotions, your grief – Plus, forgiveness – though it is a choice, it is also not a choice. You can choose
to forgive, yet the freedom of forgiveness often requires
years of hard work.

An open wound must first scab over, then heal – and even then, you’re left with an ugly scar. Two – three weeks –
not enough time. But the families didn’t ask me. It all started when Judge Gosnell – the unpredictable and irascible
South Carolina jurist - told the families that yes, their relatives had died in cold blood, but their grief was no different from that of Dylan Roof’s family. They are victims, too, he said. His words were scandalous, and there is no way to compare the grief of one with the plight of the other.
But the families ignored Judge Gosnell, and when Ethel Lance’s daughter, Nadine Collier, stood to speak – Ethel – by the way - liked perfume and Etta James, and listened to Porgy and Bess over and over again. Ethel and Nadine, mother and daughter – were best friends – they spoke and texted multiple times each day – Nadine grabbed the edges
of the podium, in front Judge Gosnell and all the world –
and she said to Dylan Roof,  “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to [my mom] ever again—but I forgive you, and [may God] have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.” Now remember, forgiveness is not reconciliation. It is not a waiver of justice. It is a spiritual matter, bound by psychology.
Which is why, as Christians, there is urgency to forgiveness.
You have to pay attention. And, Nadine didn’t ask me – thankfully - it is almost as if she heard the haunting curse
of the old monk, and listened to him,     Now.
Now. Raw emotion dripping from her soul, she forgave.  Without waiting for her psychology to catch-up.  In fact, I’m guessing Nadine to this day chooses every day to forgive Dylan Roof – waiting for her psychology to catch up
with her faith. But she did it.  And, I’m sure by now, you see where I am going – today is the day of salvation.
Now.  And I’m wondering, whose sins you hang onto too tightly? The disciples hung onto the sins of the Samaritans
too tightly – They wanted justice, fire from heaven. Jesus rebuked them. Against whom have youhoped for fire from heaven? Perhaps you’ve heard Madeline L’Engle’s
response to Jesus – Remember when Jesus said,
whosever’s sins you forgive are forgiven, whosever’s sins you retain, they are retained – Madeline L’Engle asked,
If you do retain [someone’s sins], whatever will you do with them? Forgive us our sins,as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Now.

So, no, I’m not a particularly good disciple – my bags
are not packed. I have a cozy bed and a comfortable pillow.
But I am aware – that there is an urgency to the soul –
with regard to forgiving of others. But thank God for Nadine
– if Nadine can choose to forgive, Now, well, then, so can I.

So Can I.