Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, February 1, 2015, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright preaching. Today’s text: Mark 1:21-28. Audio improves after about 35 seconds. This sermon contains two video clips. Click the control in the lower-right corner of the screen to view full-screen. Press Escape when you’re done viewing to leave full-screen mode.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This morning, five of us gathered for Bible study, steering our cars carefully toward church to talk about Paul’s letter to the Romans … and Ferguson, Missouri. After last night’s grand jury decision and all that has come after, questions about violence, race and justice were on our hearts and minds.
Paul wrote to Christians in Rome, in part, hoping to heal deep divisions in the church. So we wondered, this morning, if we were to write a letter to heal the church, to heal the world, to speak to all the divisions and bring peace … what would we write? How would we begin?
P. wrote about listening to each other; finding a way to understand what’s really going on in the hearts and minds of people we disagree with. M. wrote about respect, and walking in the other person’s shoes. G. wrote that, no matter what divides us, we are united in God’s love. N. wrote: “We are all humans.”
St. Paul starts his letter to the Romans by introducing himself and his topic, by addressing his audience as beloved children of God who are called to be saints, and with these familiar words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, he starts his letter, and the first thing he does is give thanks. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8.)
Paul starts his letter giving thanks, not just for the church leaders, not just for the people who agreed with him and supported his ministry, but for all of the Christians in Rome. He could have written, “I thank God for those of you who agree with my theology and my ministry. The rest of you can get lost.” But he didn’t.
Last night, right after the news came out, I posted something kind of vague on facebook (beware late-night facebooking!) about feeling sad, and wanting to listen and pray. Two of my friends commented on the post, and were soon going back and forth in dispute. One friend was angry with the grand jury decision not to convict Darren Wilson. The other was angry with people not accepting the work and decision of the grand jury.
The interesting thing about these two particular friends of mine is that they’re both incredibly committed and devoted Christians: they walk the walk. E. is a lawyer who also mentors people recovering from alcohol addiction. K. is a social worker who also advocates for children with birth defects and their families. I’m not sure when either of them finds time to sleep. I have turned to them many times when I needed help, or when someone from this congregation needed help. I give thanks to God for them on a regular basis, for all the big and small ways they live out their faith in their daily lives.
We are divided, and those divisions are real. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be glossed over or ignored; turning a blind eye to the real differences between where E. and K. are coming from doesn’t help. But if the church has room for one of them and not the other … that’s not the church. St. Paul knew that, and you and I know it, too, though we need to be reminded of it often. If you look around and all you see are people who look and think exactly like you, that’s not the church.
Noticing the differences is one thing. Getting over our own defensiveness and really listening to those differences is another thing. Finding something to value in that difference, yet another thing. And going out of our way to break out of our comfortable sameness and seek out that difference and build a long-term, real relationship with someone of a different skin color, culture socioeconomic background, political affiliation, or faith … that’s something else altogether. And if it seems like a tall order, it is.
So, where do we start?
Appropriately enough for this week, we start like St. Paul started: giving thanks. You can imagine that, as he wrote it, he might have had some reservations in his mind. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you (except you … you know who you are … yes, you.)” Whether it was true or whether he was trying to convince himself it was true, it was still a good place to start. If you give thanks for all people, and do it often enough, it’ll become a habit, and it’ll become true.
As we wrapped up our Bible study this morning, we gave thanks for the conversation we’d had, and some regret that more people couldn’t have been part of it. What good is a conversation between five people in a church on a Tuesday morning? A lot of good, M. reminded us. Change starts with us, and with all the other people getting together and talking this morning and in the mornings to come. “We’re not the only ones having this conversation today,” she said. And if God was part of our conversation, surely God was part of other conversations, too … beyond even what we can imagine.
Let us pray: God, we know you are at work in the world in ways we may not be able to see. You are present and at work in Ferguson, Missouri, in Cleveland, Ohio, in our own community, and everywhere. Give us the courage to engage in difficult conversations with love. Give us the wisdom to listen, even when we feel defensive. Give us your vision to see the belovedness and value of all people. Amen.
Giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ for all of you,
Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, November 16, 2014, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright preaching. Today’s text: Matthew 25:14-30 .
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Jesus ends many of his parables with weeping and gnashing of teeth. So many, actually, end this way that I don’t usually pay any attention to it. If anything I roll my eyes at it and make a joke, because it’s just so dramatic, right?
Thrown into the outer darkness.
Weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I spent a lot of time in church when I was growing up, and when you’re a church kid, your references and vocabulary are bound to be shaped by what you hear. So “the outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” have always been phrases I use in everyday conversation, and I still do it …
Like, if my son, Walter, and my daughter, Sally, have a loud annoying toy, you know, the kind that don’t have an off switch and that start blaring loudly and lighting up in the middle of the night … you know the ones. Many of these toys have been banished to the outer darkness. And when my children go looking for these toys and cannot find them, I can tell you, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I joke about it because the words seem odd and theatrical to me, and, because, honestly, it makes me uncomfortable and I don’t know what else to do with it. So, I joke about it, or I ignore it, but not today.
If I pay attention the end of the parable, I end up with a lot of questions: What or where is the outer darkness? Is it Hell? Did the 3rd slave really deserve to be punished like that?
I think it’s important to start by being clear that this parable really only makes sense as an extended metaphor: Jesus is not giving investment advice. He’s not saying that people who are rich and who invest wisely and get richer are blessed and saved; while people who are poor and who don’t take risks with money are condemned to the outer darkness. That’s not what this is about.
So, what is it about?
When I was puzzling over this parable I found it helpful to focus just on one piece of it. The master entrusted each slave with one or more valuable coins, called talents. Why did the third slave bury the coin he was given?
I had to look back at the reading to figure it out. This is verse 24: “‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”
He was afraid.
He didn’t want to risk losing the little he’d been given. So, he buried it.
What do we do when we’re afraid? We hunker down, right?
We stockpile provisions. (What do you buy at the store when a storm’s coming?)
We clutch at the things that we’re afraid of losing. (How does a pickpocket know where you keep your valuables?)
We put another lock on the door or maybe a gun in the nightstand.
We try to shut the danger out as best we can and we try to hide. We try to hide ourselves and the things and the people that are precious to us.
I saw something on facebook this week making fun of luxury survival bunkers for millionaires. Might as well survive nuclear disaster in style, right? And that kind of thing does seem a little extreme.
Or maybe it feels familiar.
Do some of you remember running regular drills at school to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear attack? What did you do?
Did you hide under your desks?
Does that seem silly now? Did it seem silly then? Were you afraid?
The fear was real.
Kids today run drills, too, and go on lockdown, preparing for the possibility that a person with a gun might come into the school. They hide as best they can, too, knowing that, in a real emergency, all their preparations might not actually save them.
The fear is real.
As a parent, I wonder about those drills, because I know that, in an emergency, you can only do what you’ve practiced, what you know how to do instinctually. If you haven’t practiced, you will probably do something that increases your risk of danger.
On the other hand, I don’t want my children to live in fear. Do the drills and the lockdowns make the fear worse than it needs to be? Do they give a false sense of security? Do they actually help?
I don’t know … but I’m guessing some of you who are teachers have thoughts on this, based on your experience, and those of you who remember what it was like to hide under your desk as a child, maybe you have opinions on the good or the ill that did for you, too.
What I know for sure is this: the fear is real.
The urge to hide is real.
I never realized how much of being a parent is just being terrified. It’s sneaking into their room and making sure they’re still breathing when they’re babies. And, I’ve been told, “You just wait … at least you know where your kids are when they’re babies.” Because the terror of parenting is also sitting up late into the night until they come home when they’re teenagers.
Every day my husband Sean and I discover a million new reasons to be afraid. And if we were paying closer attention I think we’d be totally incapacitated by fear, because the fear is real, the danger is real, and it makes you want to take the little you’ve been given, the things or the people that are most precious to you in the world, and hide them, eliminate, or at least minimize the risk, try to keep them safe.
And that’s what it’s like to live in the outer darkness.
That’s where we weep, and we gnash our teeth, or, as the common English bible translation reads, “grind” our teeth.
I grind my teeth when I’m afraid, do you? Suddenly the image doesn’t seem so odd and funny and far-fetched.
I’ve been to the outer darkness, and I think you’ve been there, too.
Maybe you’re there right now.
The third slave didn’t need to be thrown into the outer darkness, and he didn’t do anything to deserve the punishment of being sent there.
He was there already.
He was living in fear, and his actions, his choices, were motivated by fear.
I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to avoid the outer darkness completely. Long nights of weeping and teeth-grinding are part of life, inevitable.
But I also don’t think we have to live in the outer darkness, either. We aren’t condemned to being consumed by fear.
And the reason we don’t live in the outer darkness is complicated, I think. Part of it is due to the resilience and essential optimism of human nature. God made us to function in spite of all the things in the world there are to be afraid of. If we weren’t made that way, none of us would be here because no one would ever have taken the risk of having children.
Beyond that basic resilience, though, being Christian offers an additional gift. Being Christian obviously doesn’t mean you never encounter danger, or never experience fear. It doesn’t mean that suddenly you’re going to have perfect trust in God, and never worry again. But it does make a difference, because at the heart of the Christian story is a very different kind of burial than the one in the parable of the talents.
The third slave was afraid, and buried a valuable coin, and when he hid it in the earth, nothing good came of it. When Jesus was buried, hidden in the tomb, something very good came out of it. Where there is death, there is always resurrection. Where there is fear, there is always hope. We are baptized into both Jesus’ death and resurrection, and every day our sin is buried and we’re given the gift of new life, of forgiveness, of love that brings us out of the outer darkness and into the light of Christ.
The fear is real.
The outer darkness is real.
But the hope, and the resurrection, that’s real, too.
Sermon for the All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2014, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright and the Rev. Gary Froseth, preaching. Today’s text: Matthew 5:1-12.
This sermon took the form of an interview between Pastor Gary and Pastor Annie. There’s no transcript available, but audio will be posted soon.