Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rev. Kirsten Graduation Sunday Sermon 6/10/17

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20
Psalm 8

or Canticle 13 (or Canticle 2)

I was praying about our graduates this week.  I got thinking about that summer feeling—that moment when I finished exams and was finally out for summer vacation.  There was an incredible relief—waking up and knowing that I could go back to bed because I didn’t have to run to class or finish a paper. 

When I was little, summer was time for swimming lessons at the beach, board games with the kids next door.  There were long walks and berry picking.  And there were lots of household chores.  It was different than school, but for my family there weren’t really vacations, there were just different routines.  As I got into middle school and high school, I had summer jobs.  I guess I used summer as a time to dream a little more—I imagined who I would be.  I worked hard in the summer but I was more self—motivated (or family motivated) and less driven by school rules and academic program. 

When I graduated from college, I said goodbye to college friends and found a new apartment.  I found my first “real” job and started to pay my own bills and define myself by what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be with.  I tried out living in a bunch of different places.  I switched jobs.  I made a new extended family of friends and redefined my relationship with my parents and siblings.

When I went through graduations as an adult, first from law school and then from divinity school, the graduations marked the beginning of a new career and I tried to figure out how to incorporate my new identities as a graduate into my old identities.  I had to decide what I was leaving behind when I graduated, I had to establish a new sense of myself, and I had to figure out what to do next. 

At the turning points of graduation, I think I felt new freedoms (being released from the restrictive courses and requirements of school), but I also had feelings of loss, feelings of uncertainty and a longing to establish new routines—whether that was a job or a new daily program—to help me know who I am and where I’m going.

If these are common feelings about graduation—feelings of loss, feelings of freedom, wonderings about new identity and new direction--I would say these complex feelings come at other times too—not just graduation.  They come when we leave a job, or change our family (have a child, lose a spouse, move to be near grandchildren).  Whenever there is a big transition, we might have these complicated questions. 

Today, I suggest that we bring this questions to God and listen for answers in Scripture.  What does our Scripture have to offer by way of guidance?  Today is known as Trinity Sunday.  We celebrate today our God who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lived and died as one of us, our God who is the Holy Spirit, the breath of life that moves in us, and the God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth.  How is God all these things, and why do we need such complexity?  One of the remarkable things about this mystery, “how is God a Trinity? “ is that our God is fundamentally about relationship.  Within the very essence of God is the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit.  Jesus Christ is the Word that existed from the beginning of Creation. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in his baptism.  Always the different aspects of God relate to one another. 

It strikes me that the relationships within God offer a spiritual richness that we need most when we are in transition.  In these moments of transition, like the moment of graduation we cannot simply carry on our work as disciples.  We are bound to shake things up, and our spiritual needs are complex.  The most difficult things about transitions require relationality—we can’t simply be the same person we were when we were in school.  We have to redefine ourselves, we have to start new relationships, we have to find new direction and new meaning.  But we’re not leaving everything behind—we are still the same person we were on some levels, we still have our same families, we might still have our same dreams.

But the way through the transition is not to simply carry on as we were.  The way through the transition is to make choices and consciously incorporate what we learned, who we’ve become into who we were before and who we dream ourselves to be.  We need God to help us make those choices.  And we need God to reassure us about the new person we have become and the new work we are called to do. 

Let’s break down some of the choices and look at how our Triune God might relate to us in this moment.  Let’s go back to that feeling of freedom—the start of summer vacation feeling.  Such a relief—I am no longer working on the program, doing just what school requires.  Now I am free to just be myself.  But who am I if I’m not a student? 

Our passage from Genesis, the story of creation, reminds us that we were created in God’s image.  We are connected, intimately connected to all of God’s creation—the sun and the moon, the earth, the seas, the sky.  We are related to the animals and the birds and the plants.  This is our planet, we are part of creation.  Although in the US we think of ourselves as free to be anyone we want to be, we are always part of God’s creation.  We are not independent—we are interdependent.  Our freedom, our fullness, our perfection—as God’s creature is that we are in relationship with every other part of creation.   This relationship that we have to every other part of God’s creation is not a confining, constraining relationship.  It is the very essence of our being. 

And so when we have that feeling of freedom that comes with summer, with graduation, or with another life transition, we can remember that God made us in relationship and so our new identity depends on these connections.  One way to think about this is to ask, what were the God-given gifts that I have nurtured and developed in my studies?  Maybe you have a gift for writing, or a gift of empathy, or a gift of perseverance?  These gifts helped you to succeed as a student.  Now you step out of school, you have a new identity and you don’t quite know what that will be—but you still have the same gifts.  How will these gifts serve you as you leave your student identity and take on a new identity as a worker, or as a caregiver. 

If you are graduating from elementary school, you might notice that summer means that you are now free to play more freely—you can choose whether to do art, or play with toys, or go outside and run around.  If you have these new choices do you still like best the things that you liked best in school?  Maybe you miss the recess bell of school, but you have the new pleasure of breakfast with mom and dad, or the new routine of summer camp or family vacation. 
Whatever identity you are leaving behind, you are still the same person who God made.  Whatever structures or routines or people you are leaving behind, you are still in relationship with God’s people and cannot separate yourself from the planet you exist in.

The disciples in this passage from Matthew might have had a similar question to the question for our graduates.  Who are we now that we’re not followers of Jesus of Nazareth?  Who am I?  When Jesus met the disciples in Galilee, they worshipped him, but some doubted.   Maybe they were both comforted that he was with them, but also uncomfortable because he was not going to be their teacher in the same way.  They had an intimate relationship with Jesus, they had been following him while he taught people, when we healed people, when he suffered and died.  Maybe the disciples thought there were defined by their teacher.  But now he’s gone and he comes to them to reassure them that even though he’s not their teacher any more, he’s still with them.  I am with you to the end of the age. The relationship that they had with their teacher is not over.  Even though Jesus Christ is no long with them, his teaching is still with them.  In this transition to new life after the crucifixion, the disciples need to hear that he is with them in a new way—with them forever.  Even in the face of their doubts,  his teachings continue.

Maybe there is a very direct lesson in this passage for our graduates.  What is your relationship with your teachers now that you are no longer in school?  If you never see those teachers again, aren’t the lessons that they taught you “with you until the end of the age”?  Even if you no longer identity as a student of this teacher, and you have doubts about who you are now—there is something that continues from the student teacher relationship into your new identity. 

Let’s ask another question of our Scripture.  First we asked who am I, now that I’m not a student?  Now let’s ask,  what am I leaving behind as I graduate?  Am I losing my school friends?  Am I losing the routines of classes and studying?  What will replace these losses? 

Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians picks up just as he leaves the community.  He says,  “Finally brothers and sisters, farewell.”  But his goodbye offers them comfort in the relationships that will continue after he leaves.  He reminds the people of Corinth to love one another.  This is how Paul’s love for them will continue and this is how the grace of Jesus Christ continues in the community.  It is in the new relationships, or the continuing relationships that the old friendship is expressed.  I know this experience because we have a transition every year when our visiting scholars leave us.  The visiting scholar who was so intimately connected to our family, this person who ate every meal with us and knew every movement of the household leaves and goes on to continue their studies, or work, they return to their home country or they go off to another educational program.  With each departure, our family incorporates the love that we had for this person into our love for one another.  We are made richer by these friendships.  We express what we learned from this year’s scholar in our ongoing relationships within our family and our extended circle of friends.  The grace of the scholar’s presence in our home, extends beyond their departure. 

And so it may be for you as you graduate.  Some of the friends you made you’ll see over the summer, you’ll meet again or reconnect at reunions.  But some you’ll hold in memory.  The best parts of those friendships will continue in the loving relationships you’ll have with new people.  I think about my college roommate Erika.  I learned so much from Erika—she expanded my world.  I am still in touch with her,  in fact I’ll see her next month for the first time in several years.  But there are fundamental things about our friendship—my first really deep friendship outside of the context of my family—that I have found in every important friendship I’ve had since.  The ways that she showed me a different kind of family, a different relationship to studying, a new kind of commitment to music—all of those threads of our friendship have continued in my life.  Never again will I wake up every morning and go to bed every evening with Erika, but she is still present in the fabric of the community that I have made here with all of you.

The Creation story might also offer us a lesson about leaving behind the routines of classes and studying, a certain kind of work.  In Genesis, God reflects on the work that God has done each day and finds that it was good. And then on the seventh day,

"God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation."

Maybe graduation is a time to reflect on all the work that you have done and know that it was good.  As God created heaven and earth,  you worked with your God-given gifts and you created good things.  You improved your own knowledge, but undoubtedly you also contributed something creative to the world.  When you wrote papers, or did projects or contributed to class discussion, you enriched all of the other students.  Maybe you worked with a professor on some research.  Maybe in elementary school, you created a new picture, participated in a school play.  Maybe in high school you contributed to your team, or helped out in some volunteer activity.  Each person has participated in God’s creative work in some way.  Now is the moment to reflect and know that what you have created is good.

And before you set off to do the next thing,  now is the time to take a rest.  This is your seventh day—bless this day and hallow it, because God rested and now you must rest from your labors. 

And finally let’s ask a last question—What am I going to do next? 
When the disciples ask this question of Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, he has a very direct answer:   “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.”  Jesus tells the disciples that the work they have been doing as his students, his followers now continues.  But it takes on a new form,  they are to do this work in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus commissions them with the task of bringing people into relationship with God who is relational.  Baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus tells his disciples that they are to extend to new people the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

What does that call to continue Jesus’ teaching and go out baptize people mean for you at this moment of transition?  This calling may be really clear to you, or it may be obscured by what feels like lots of choices, or obscured by lots of barriers.  If you are graduating from high school, you may already know where you are going next if you are going to college.  You’ll take what you’ve learned in high school and you’ll go and make new friends, build a new community.  By your witness as a Christian, by the way you live your life, you will bring God’s presence to other people.  You will meet in new people Jesus, and you will bring to them God’s love.

But what if your next step is unclear?  How does God’s call to you help you find an answer to what to do next?  This is a time of discernment.  It’s a time to go to the people who love you most, to the people who care about you in this church, and listen with them.  I invite you to come talk with me.  Whatever the transition in your life, this is time to reach out to Church and ask, what do you think I should be doing next?  Ask your brothers and sisters in Christ to listen with you for God’s calling.  There are some very wise people here who might have ideas about what you could do, what your special gifts might be.  There are some people who might not know you well, but if you give them a chance, they might be able to tell you about how they found their way when they faced a transition.  And that might be helpful.  This would be a good time to just drop me a note or send a text or speak to me at coffee hour.  I’d love to take a walk with you, or go out for a coffee and just talk about the next phase. 

This is the perfect moment to build up your relationships with Church.  Come this summer and join the choir.  Come volunteer in the office.  Consider becoming an usher, or a reader or a lay minister.  Jesus invites the disciples to go out and do the work of building up the community.  Maybe you don’t know what your next study or job will be, but this is a good time to build up the community by participating in a new way.  You belong here and if there’s something you’d like to try doing, this is a good place to try it.  Maybe you’d like to start a business, this might be a place to offer your services.  Maybe you’d like to try out teaching or caregiving, bookkeeping or gardening, singing or driving.  This community needs you and we’re open to having you find your next calling here. 

Today, I’m delighted that we are celebrating our graduates.  We are praying with you and for you in this transition.  We pray with you about your questions—who are you becoming?  What are you leaving behind?  What are you called to do next?  And we take comfort and guidance from our Trinitarian God,  hearing that God wants us to be in relationships with all of God’s creation, with one another in the Body of Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit giving us the strength and support to move from the work you have done as a student to whatever the next phase holds for you.

Especially on this graduation Sunday, let us hear the words of Paul to the people of Corinthon his farewell,

“Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

Pentecost Sermon 2017

Acts 2:1-21
or Numbers 11:24-30
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23
or John 7:37-39
Psalm 104:25-35, 37

We celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the Church.  One of our mothers at Nativity, Katie Mullowney told me about her experiences as a child in the Episcopal church, she said that there was always a birthday cake and candles and that’s how she always thought about Pentecost.  So I’d like to follow Katie’s direction today and ask what is it that we are really celebrating.  Why is this a “cake-worthy” day?  What happened to the first disciples that was such an important beginning that we still celebrate it every year, now two thousand years later?

As I contemplated this birthday of the Church, I got thinking about the way we celebrate birthdays.  People send us cards or messages.  Our parents tell the stories about when we were born.  We have party hats, we have balloons and streamers.  We have cake.  We sing songs and give gifts.    Our readings today touch on some of these same themes. 

We remember the story of Jesus breathing on the disciples and saying to them:  Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  This is the moment when the disciples are enlivened, empowered and sent out to do Jesus’ work in the world.  This is the day when they receive from Jesus the gifts of the Holy Spirit—the talents, skills, energy, temperments, courage, wisdom—everything they need is given to them for the purpose of doing God’s work in the world.    The disciples rejoice because Jesus is with them and they can see his wounds and touch his side.  But in this passage, the gift that Jesus brings is the Holy Spirit that moves through them.  Without the Holy Spirit, they were a group of disciples anxious and afraid locked in a room hiding from the Roman authorities.  But with the power of the Spirit everything is possible. 

In our passage from the letter to the Corinthians, we hear the gifts of the Spirit enumerated by Paul to all the immigrants who are gathered around him in Corinth:1.    To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom,
2.    and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
3.    to another faith by the same Spirit,
4.    to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
5.    to another the working of miracles,
6.    to another prophecy,
7.    to another the discernment of spirits,
8.    to another various kinds of tongues,
9.    to another the interpretation of tongues.

All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.   These gifts are given to each person without regard to their status.  The Spirit is given not by rank or special position.  The people of God are given everything they need for the common good.  Each person has a different gift.  It’s not just the priests, or the governors, not just the wealthy people or the teachers who have the gifts that the Church needs.  It’s every single person of God.  Each one is given a special gift by the Holy Spirit.  And all of these gifts are to be used for the common good.

What is the gift that the Holy Spirit has given to each of us as we come together to be God’s Church here?  We have some in our midst who are healers.  I see those of you who reach out to touch people who need pastoral care, who know what genuine support looks like if someone is in pain or needing some sort of care.  I know there are some who are teachers, some who by their words and example show the way to God.  There are some who are organizers, some who are empathizers, some who bring the gift of their music, some who bring their project management skills. 
I invite us today to take inventory of our gifts.  What gifts has God given me.  Am I using these gifts for the common good? 

Our passage from Acts reminds us that when the gifts of the Holy Spirit come upon the disciples who were living in Jerusalem it was not a gentle experience.  It was a violent wind,  they were bewildered and perplexed.  They were not amazed like when you see a magic trick,  they were amazed by something that they could not explain or understand.    The tongues of fire that the book of Joel mentions—these flames a sign of God’s work among the people.  But this violent experience leaves them with a new understanding.  After the Spirit came upon them, they could understand one another even though they spoke in many different languages. 

And so it may be with us.  When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, it may not be a gentle dove experience.  It may be an experience that rocks our world or leaves us bewildered.  What is it that happens when we suddenly feel that God has given us a particular gift to be used for the good of the community.  Have you felt that call?  How does it come to you—a realization that you were meant to be a companion to a teenager, or that you are called to be a support to people in a 12 step group.  Maybe you know that you are called to care for God’s natural creation as a gardener.  Maybe even though you always worked at home as a parent or a homemaker, you have a realization that God wants you to be an artist or a musician.

A calling that comes from the presence of the Spirit working in you might be a burning or yearning.  When you hear it, it might turn your world upside down, letting you know that you need to make a big change in your life.  Or it might leave you bewildered and unsure. 

But the presence of the Spirit in each of us can be both our motivation, our courage, our perseverance and also our comfort.

In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus’ disciples locked in a room.  They are afraid because Jesus has been crucified. Jesus comes to them and promises them peace.  “Peace be with you,”  he says.  What a comforting way to begin his conversation with his followers.  Then he identifies himself by his wounds, and his disciples rejoice.  Again he reiterates his promise of peace.  Then he commissions them—as my Father sent me, so I send you.  And he breathes on them, and they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Christ grants the disciples peace when they are feeling afraid and under attack.  He shows them that he is their teacher, the Son of God, identifying himself to them.  Then he reminds them that he was sent by the father, he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and he sends them out to do the work of forgiving and reconciling, bringing the people everywhere into the community of God.   

Our celebration must be about all of these things—the moment when our anxieties are answered with the promise of peace, the moment when we see and know that Jesus Christ is in their midst, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes through Jesus’ breath and the commissioning to go and do God’s work in the world. 

We say this same thing when we greet one another after the Prayers of the People.  I say,  “The Peace of God be always with you” and you all respond,  “And also with you.”  In that exchange we acknowledge that our prayers are answered (in the present).  We pray to God about our anxieties—we pray for people who are suffering, we pray for seasonable weather, an end to violence, for good leaders, for people who serve our country, for an end to poverty and for reconciliation among alienated groups in our society and around the world.  As we pray, we articulate our hopes.  But God is not going to respond because we prayed.  This is not a situation of I’ll offer myself to God and THEN (after I offer myself) God will grant my wishes.  That would be a very limited God who would work that way—and that is not the God we love.  The God we love is the creator everything.
 Our psalmist speaks to the wonder that we feel when we acknowledge God the maker of everything.

“the earth is full of your creatures.
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea with its living things too many to number, * creatures both small and great.27 There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, * which you have made for the sport of it.28 All of them look to you * to give them their food in due season”

We know our God as both the original Creator and the ongoing Creator.  We are from God.  We are God’s gift.  Everything is in God’s hands.  And so when we offer one another Peace of God, we are acknowledging that God is present, working--working and reconciling, healing and creating with us.  The problems of the world are not something that God has forgotten, or something that God has done to punish us.  God is working in the world with love and goodness and in spite of the problems that exist, God is bringing peace everywhere.  Our prayers bring our attention to God’s work.  Our supplications invite God to show us the creative work that God is doing in us and in the world.  Help us to see with God’s eyes, help us to know the suffering that Jesus suffered.  Show us the wounds in people’s sides, the marks on their hands and help us to know that new life is possible.  Grant us your peace—the peace that comes from relying on God who is the beginning and the end, the almighty, the eternal.

Maybe this is part of the birthday of the Church.  All creation born of God.  We celebrate an annual acknowledgement of this creative beginning.  Just like humans acknowledge the day they were born of their mothers, we as a community celebrate God giving form to the universe.  Jesus bringing us new life through our resurrection with Him in our Baptisms by water and the Holy Spirit. 

When Jesus Christ breathes on the disciples he says,  “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Let’s collectively take in a deep breath.  Feel that breath coming through your nose and mouth, into your lungs.  This breath brings you the oxygen that is necessary to your life.  Breathe again and feel the Spirit coming into you.  This Spirit is the essence of your life.  Our creator God made us to live fully as a perfect part of creation.  When we breathe, we breathe because we are beautifully made to take oxygen and circulate it throughout our bodies in our blood.  Our human existence depends on this breath.  But could we be human with breath and no Spirit?  It is this gift of the Spirit that connects us to the divine.  It is Jesus’ breath that brings us each our unique gifts.

In a moment we will renew our Baptismal Vows.  As we make our promises, we remember that we were baptized with water and the Holy Spirit.  We have been given unique gifts for the common good.  We pray to our Creator God who gave us life itself, to Jesus Christ who gave us new life and to the Spirit who moves within us, sustaining us and motivating us with every gift that we need as a community of God’s people—the body of Christ in the world.