Tag Archive: Christ Lutheran Church


With Open Arms

This was yesterday’s sermon on the parable of the prodigal son, delivered at Christ Lutheran Church, Washington, DC.

Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 11b“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32
But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

The story we just heard this morning is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible.  And for good reason!  I mean who hasn’t identified at some point in their life as the younger son who goes out, makes a big mistake and needs forgiveness or redemption?  Or who hasn’t felt like the older son who is rightfully irritated that his father is throwing a party for his irresponsible brother while he’s been working hard?  Who hasn’t felt like the father who waits expectantly for his beloved son to return, and is so overjoyed that he can’t help but throw a party?  Yes, this is a classic story.  And I think the more we read it, ask questions of it and experience similar moments in our lives, the more we appreciate it.

But today, I want to focus specifically on the father.  I would say that of the three main characters we hear about in Jesus’ story, this is the hardest one to relate to.  When the younger son comes to his dad asking for his share of the property, it’s equivalent to wishing his father dead.  And yet the father gives him the inheritance money and allows him to go off to a distant country.  Then, to make matters worse, this kid goes off and wastes all his money, lands on hard times, and is forced to take a job working for a Gentile pig farmer.  All of this has got to reflect poorly on dear old dad.  After all, what will the neighbors say?

After a while of this rough life, the younger son realizes that he’s hungry and his dad’s hired hands have always had enough to eat.  “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”  What’s interesting is that we don’t know if he is actually remorseful, or if he’s just figuring out that being at home is better off than being among the pigs! So he heads home, hoping beyond hope that things will work out.

Then we have this really beautiful line that has jumped out at me in rereading this story: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”  The image of this father, running as fast as he can toward his son is so moving to me.  He’s been waiting, heart aching as he hears rumors about what his son has been up to.  He’s been sad knowing that his son has had to hire himself out to a Gentile in order to survive.  He’s been watching the horizon, day after day, praying that his beloved son would come walking back down that dirt road.  And then he sees him!  And all his aches and pains can’t stop him from setting off at a dead run to embrace the son who he thought he might never see again.

He doesn’t even listen to the son’s apology because he’s too busy shouting to the slaves: “’Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’”

This father is quite the character.  What are the neighbors going to say?  Is he going to be laughed at for his extravagant welcome of his wayward son?  They might say, “He’s a fool!  He’s a sucker!  He’s a sap!”  But what if God is, too?

And I think that’s Jesus point in telling this story.  Jesus is sitting there speaking and he’s got quite a crowd.  This isn’t a polite group listening to a theology lecture.  No, this crowd includes all the tax collectors who have been working for the Roman oppressors and squeezing the Jewish people for every dime they have.  There are also sinners in this group – people whose actions disrupt the fabric of society.  It’s a seedy and unpopular bunch, basically the prodigal sons and daughters of the day, and so, it’s no wonder that people are grumbling about how “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus is hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Listening to the song “Painted Red” by one of my favorite artists, JJ Heller, helped to put this into perspective for me.  She sings: “Hope means holding on to you…Grace means you’re holding me too.”  The younger son was ready to go back and beg his father for forgiveness, hoping that all would work out.  He hoped that he would indeed be forgiven or that, at the very least, he’d have food and shelter.

But what he actually receives is far greater.  Instead, there’s this incredible grace.  The father bolts from his waiting place and takes on shame and foolishness to embrace his sinful son, not even knowing the son’s true intentions.

When I think about God, I imagine open arms, like that of the father in the parable.  Arms that welcome and embrace us as we are.  Arms that welcome us to the waters of baptism and invite us to the table.  Arms outstretched in the epitome of love on the cross.  This God of grace and open arms is the opposite of the judgmental and condemnatory God we so often hear spoken about.  Instead of a finger pointing at us in condemnation, we receive the loving embrace of our Heavenly parent.

But in case we forget, there’s still the older son.  I imagine the older brother standing with his arms crossed, closed off to the possibilities, refusing to go to the welcome home party.  What do our arms look like? Are they extravagantly open to others? Or are they firmly crossed, refusing to show grace, compassion and love?

On Friday, I watched a Ted Talk video about a man named Jeremy Courtney.  Sitting in a café in Iraq in 2007, talking to his waiter, Jeremy became aware of a terrible problem: tons of kids were being born with fatal heart defects and there were no hospitals in the country to give the children the crucial heart surgeries they needed.  Hearing, this, Jeremy decided that he needed to do something and so he jumped in, trying to find out why so many kids had heart defects.

He found out that there were three reasons for the soaring rates of birth defects.  First, Saddam Hussein’s use of mustard gas against his own people.  Second, the US led sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that led to the healthcare services falling apart and, as a result, the malnourishment of many pregnant women.  Third, American soldiers also noted that they had children with birth defects and the cause was found to be due to the US and British forces’ use of depleted uranium munitions which vaporized upon contact with the ground.

Jeremy was beginning to come to a new understanding of violence – the understanding that “violence unmakes the world.”  But he also believed that there was something able to stand against this destructive violence.  He called this “preemptive love.”  As Jeremy explains,  “Now, unlike a preemptive strike where I seek to get you before you get me, preemptive love is where I jump forward to love you, before you love me.  I jump forward to trust you before perhaps you’ve trusted me, because we all know that violence unmakes the world.  But preemptive love unmakes violence.  Preemptive love remakes the world through healing.”

With this hope in his heart, he created the Preemptive Love Coalition with his wife and others in order to get kids the lifesaving heart surgeries they needed.  And one of the stories that Jeremy tells in his Ted Talk is about a young boy named Shad and his father.  Shad’s father was a Kurdish taxi driver from one of the northern cities of Iraq who was willing to do anything to help his son get the help he needed.  But when Jeremy suggested that they go to neighboring Turkey to get help from the doctors there, he was a little leery.  You see, there’s a long-standing conflict between the Kurds and the Turks and so the very idea was terrifying to Shad’s father – that he should take his dear son to the enemy to seek healing.  What would his family think? And what would the neighbors say? But this was the last resort and a Turkish doctor was the only one willing to put his reputation on the line to try to save this boy’s life.

And so they took Shad and his father to Istanbul, and after a lot of diagnostic tests to see if they could or should operate, late at night they received the news that they would get the surgery.  Shad’s father and Jeremy were ecstatic! Shad went through surgery and then, after a few days he was released back to his room.  But then, a blood clot went through his artery and after a third and fourth surgery, Shad died.  Jeremy got dressed and went into the hospital to be with Shad’s father who was mourning and wondering what to do – what to say to the family back home.

And then Jeremy started to think, “oh no, the inevitable blame game will set in because a Kurdish boy has died in the hands of the Turkish enemy.  Shad’s father is going to blame the Turks and this circle of violence will again unmake everything we’ve tried to do here.”  But instead, something amazing happened.  Instead of pointing a finger in blame, Shad’s father walked around to every doctor and nurse and looked them in the eye and said “thank you.  Thank you.  I know you’re sad.  I know you didn’t want my son to die.  You gave us a chance.  Thank you.”  Jeremy spoke about how incredibly healing it was for everyone.  He realized that little by little, they were all remaking the world through preemptive love and through healing.  And after that, 35 children were able to go to Istanbul to get the life-saving surgeries they needed.

In the stories of the prodigal son and Shad’s father, we hear about two fathers who would do anything for their sons – who would bear shame, become fools, and cross boundaries to help their children.  Two fathers, choose love and grace, forgiveness and compassion, and transform the world and set forth a different way of living.

That’s the kind of God we have.  A God who foolishly chooses to welcome people who continue to fall short.  A God, who would do anything, even become human and die on a cross, for the sake of God’s beloved children.  A God with arms flung wide open, who runs to meet us, embraces us and celebrates our return lavishly.  A God who is transforming and remaking the world, showing us that there is a different way of living in the world – a way that involves embracing others, lavishing love on those we encounter, and forgiving, even if it seems foolish.  A God who calls us open our arms and our hearts in order to transform the world by sharing the outrageous love and forgiveness we’ve received.  Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.
For those interested, here is the original TEDx Talk by Jeremy Courtney.

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When Words Collide…

This is the sermon I preached this morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.  The texts for the day were Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 4:21-30:

Jeremiah 1: 4-10
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’


Luke 4:21-30
21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

I preached sitting in a chair in the chancel and holding a binder (so it’d look a little like a storybook) with the title When Words Collide…  (© 2013. VicarBelle Publishing House)  😛  Enjoy!

 

Come, gather ‘round, Christ Lutheran Church!
I’m going to leave my normal perch,
And sit up here and tell you a story,
So sit back, listen well and don’t you worry!

I read these texts and hear an emphasis on words,
Or maybe that’s just because I’m a language nerd,
But there are some important themes running through,
And so I chose a word-laden poem to bring them to you.

By definition, words are little carriers of meaning,
They can be straightforward or need some sense-gleaning,
For two holy prophets were words crucial tools,
Even though some may have thought them fools.

First we hear about a young Hebrew fella’
His call to be a prophet made him turn a little yellow,
Jeremiah said, “Ah! Lord! I’m just a boy”
And the Lord said, “sorry, kid, you’re now in my employ!”

“I’ve been with you since before you were born,
And I’ll be with you from the dawn of each morn.’”
So now I’m putting my words in your mouth,
So you can go speak to the kingdom in the south.”

The young prophet Jeremiah was none-too-thrilled,
I mean, can you blame him, he might have been killed!
God had charged him to go forth to all the nations,
To tell them about all of God’s frustrations.

He was given the job without pay or pension plan,
Only the promise that he was God’s appointed man.
God told him, “do not be afraid of what lies before
I will deliver you as I did your ancestors of yore.”

So out he went and performed his role,
And though at some times it took a toll,
Jeremiah knew he couldn’t do anything different,
He was called to be God’s wandering itinerant.

Fast forward to Nazareth’s local synagogue on Shabbat,
A young man who’s been coming since he was a tot,
Steps up to read and opens up the Isaiah scroll,
He’s reading well – you might even say he’s on a roll.

It’s a Torah portion about bringing amazing news –
For the poor, the oppressed and all singing the blues!
He tells the congregation that today it’s all fulfilled,
And, naturally, they’re all super thrilled!

They love the words they’ve just heard from his lips,
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” one of them quips,
All are astonished at the skill of this homegrown lad,
All are excited and couldn’t be more glad.

But then this young man named Jesus gets upset,
Saying things that make the people start to fret.
He says, “you’ll want me to do miracles like in Capernaum!”
And “no prophet is accepted where he comes from!”

It’s almost like he knows their attitude will change,
And that’s why he starts speaking so strange.
He brings up Elijah and Elisha from the past,
Who went to people who should have been outcasts.

In this it seems he’s saying the news he brings,
Is going to be a boundary-pushing, daring thing.
It’s going beyond where we’re comfortable going,
It’s going far past the love and mercy we like showing.

That’s when people really become filled with rage,
It’s so palpable in the gospel, it leaps off the page!
Over a cliff this hometown hero is nearly thrown,
But he escapes through the crowd to become better known.

You see, words have the power to move us to tears,
They can calm our doubts and assuage our fears.
They can stir up within us feelings of joy,
Or they can make us slap our foreheads and say, “oy!”

Those who wield words can hurt or heal,
They can cause scandals or make business deals.
Words can draw us closer to family and friends,
Or bring short or long-term relationships to an end.

Tyrannical leaders can stir up people to harm others,
Or lead people to oppress their sisters and brothers.
Silence can be crushing when you need an answer,
Or a word can break the heart when you hear, “its cancer.”

But words can call forth God’s vision for the world,
And urge others to work toward the kingdom unfurled.
Others’ words can give voice to our prayers,
Hearing a kind word shows that someone cares.

But there’s one word that shapes the others we use,
One word that embodies powerful good news,
One word that seeks out and transforms humankind,
And if you’ve guessed it, you’ve got a sharp mind!

It’s the Word of God, the Word enfleshed,
God on earth, in human form dressed.
Jesus, the Word, who came to love all people –
The one we worship under this steeple.

We’ve experienced the tremendous power of a word,
But what about the Word of God, our Lord?
How does this Word shape how we talk?
Does this Word shape our life-long walk?

So my question today for all of us,
Is therefore, hence, as follows, and thus:
How do we use our God-given voices
or speak up when there are so many choices?

What words do we choose among all the commotion?
How do we follow Christ in our speech with full devotion?
Sometimes it’s difficult to speak against opponents,
But it can be important to do so at the right moment.

Perhaps there’s something you’re called to say,
But you’re hesitant to toss your hat into the fray.
What injustices weigh on your heart and mind?
How can you advocate while being honest and kind?

Jeremiah and Jesus also found it hard to speak up,
Neither of them wanted to drink from that cup.
But they did anyway knowing that God was with them,
And would stay with them even amidst opposition.

Or perhaps you’re being called to use words of love,
To forgive as you’ve been forgiven from above.
How does Christ’s love transform your reactions,
And build up ties rather than cause fractions?

Our words can help others glimpse our God,
The Word incarnate who dwelled among the flawed.
The Word of God who sets all people free,
who graciously forgives the sins of you and me.

So I suppose what I am trying to say,
Is “take this Word with you as you leave today.”
Carry the Word of God within your hearts,
And see what wisdom to your words it imparts.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

You Are My Beloved Child

This was the homily I preached yesterday at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC for the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord.

Two years ago, Jeff and I went on a trip with Gettysburg seminary and some local pastors to Turkey and Greece.  It was a fabulous trip and we had the opportunity to see many sites written about in Revelation, as well as to explore some of the places Paul visited and wrote about.  And two years ago, to the day, we visited Sardis in Turkey.  There we saw the ruins of the massive temple of Artemis with its towering columns that were made up of 22 rounds of marble a piece!

Temple of Artemis and Church Ruins in Sardis, Turkey

Temple of Artemis and Church Ruins in Sardis, Turkey (church ruins bottom left)

But in the back right corner of these ruins, there was a tiny 4th century church, made of simple brick.  There, we gathered together and heard the letter to the church in Sardis from Revelation, and one of the retired pastors offered anointing.  My journal entry from the day reads as follows: “It was amazing to stand in a 4th century church on the Baptism of Our Lord and be anointed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What a special experience.  The sweet smell of the oil, the gathered community and the simplicity of the ruins were so moving.  Thank you, Lord.  To stand gathered with all the saints in worship is a gift – remarkable and holy.”

In the ruins of a tiny church, nearly completely hidden by the enormity of the surrounding temple ruins, I was reminded that in baptism, I had been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  I was reminded that I was a part of a larger community of saints – saints who worshiped thousands of years ago in countries far away, and saints who worship together today from differing backgrounds.  And I was reminded that in my baptism, I was called to follow Christ throughout my life.

4th Century Christian Church in Sardis, Turkey

4th Century Christian Church in Sardis, Turkey

In baptism, God claims and affirms us.  God says to each of us “you are my beloved son” or “you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well-pleased.”  Baptism is God showing us who we are through water and words.  It’s God saying, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.”  It’s God showing us whose we are – people freed from our sins and dead to our old selves, raised to live new lives in Christ.  Baptism shapes our identities – we are God’s beloved children, forgiven through God’s grace, and made a part of the beautiful community of believers that stretches across time and space.

In baptism we are also gifted and blessed with the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit calls us to seek God, stirs up fire for justice and transformation in our hearts, and empowers us to serve in the world.  It is with this Spirit that both John and Jesus were filled – and we receive it, too! Folks, that’s powerful.  And as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

When I hear this Gospel reading for today, I think about John in all of his wildness – all of his unconventionality and how he served God as a prophet.  Here was a man yelling “you brood of vipers!” at the curious people who came to see him and listen to him.  He wasn’t one to hold punches or to withhold the truth from anyone.  And oddly enough, they ate it up!  They couldn’t get enough of it – they wanted him to baptize them with the baptism of repentance.  John’s fiery words convicted them of their wrongdoing and they wanted to straighten up and fly right.  But when they started to wonder if John was the long-awaited Messiah, this confident and feisty leader pointed away from himself.  That’s the image I have in my mind – John standing on the banks of the Jordan River, fired-up about calling people to repent, all the while pointing to God, trying to put the attention where he knows it should be.

We may not serve like John the Baptist – I mean, seriously, how many people can pull off calling others a “brood of vipers” and get away with it?  But all of us are called to serve and, in doing so, to point to Christ.  And it’s crucial to recognize that each of us has different skills and passions – tools we can use to serve God and to build up the kingdom.  Our ministries are not going to be identical, because we, as beloved children of God, are not identical.

This doesn’t make it easy to figure out how to serve because our service might look very different than that of our neighbors.  But I think the key is appreciating that we were baptized into a community – into a group of people who may be very different but who are all united through Christ.  We can respect and support the ministries of our fellow believers as they respect and support ours.  Remember, God says “with you I am well-pleased” not “with you I would be well-pleased if you were only a bit more like so-and-so!”

Continuing to come back to baptism each day helps ground us.  We are God’s beloved children and God is well-pleased with us simply because God loves us, not because of anything we’ve done to earn God’s favor.  In baptism, we are forgiven and set free, gifted with the Holy Spirit to make a difference in this world for the sake of the kingdom of God.  Yes, we have been gifted with the Spirit to make a real difference, if only we could believe it!

And we’re not just called to serve within these four walls.  Throughout the week, the words we say and even the smallest things we do can all bear witness to Christ and how God is at work in our lives.  It may be as simple as letting someone merge in front of you on your commute home or by being a gracious host or hostess.  It may mean taking a stand against something you know is wrong at work or in school.  It may mean following that little nudge that you feel pushing you to do something that is out of your comfort zone.  Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, our lives, just like John the Baptist’s, are to point to Jesus, the one who has redeemed us through love.

Today we are installing the council members, both experienced and new.  Each of them has responded to the call and challenge to serve with a “yes.”  Throughout the coming year, they will be tasked with prayerfully beginning new discussions, considering requests, and making decisions.  And in all of these situations, they are being asked to serve in ways that mean they, and by extension our congregation, will point to Christ.  As they begin or continue their terms, let us pray for them that they might be filled with the Holy Spirit and be faithful in following Christ as they serve on council.  And as we all continue on our journeys, may we pray for one another and help each other figure out the ways in which God may be calling us to serve using our unique skills.  As we go out to serve this week, may you remember, you are God’s beloved child and with you God is well-pleased.  Thanks be to God for this incredible gift and the opportunity to make a difference! Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

One Language

So all has been going super awesome here, but things have been quite busy and, once again, I’m later than I’d like to be on my blogging.  But tonight, something caught my attention and I had to write about it to think about and to chew on it some more.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Holy Communion for the past couple months.  Before I left, we heard the Gospel of John’s readings on bread, so I think that got me thinking.  And I preached a couple of those weeks, so that also made me really ponder these texts about Jesus, bread, wine, and Communion.

But I’ve continued thinking about Communion since I’ve been here.  During the past (almost!) two months, I have been absolutely blessed to participate in many different types of services.  Thus far, I’ve been to:

  • two Lutheran services
  • two Catholic services (one more of an open meditation/prayer evening with music)
  • morning and evening devotions here at the Collegium Oecumenicum
  • a joint Thanksgiving service (Germans celebrate this holiday on the first Sunday of October – this year, on the 7th) between the Collegium and the Heilpädagogisches Centrum Augustinum (HPCA) with whom we share space (similar to a L’Arche community)
  • one ecumenical semester opening service at the Collegium
  • two ecumenical services in the style of the Chicago Folk Service at the Collegium

These have been truly rich experiences because they have given me a chance to see different styles and forms of worship, something that is harder to do when one is serving at one place.  However, I have missed Holy Communion.

In Germany, Communion is not practiced as regularly as it is in Lutheran churches back home.  Here, it often seems to take place once a month or so, and when you’re used to receiving Communion once a week or more (between seminary, internship, home visits, etc.), you notice not having it.  And at Catholic services, I do not receive Communion since it goes against their teachings about receiving the sacrament.  The Communion services here at the Collegium, done in the Chicago Folk Service style, have been the only two times I have received that little bit of bread and that sip of wine that have become so important to me.

Even this morning, I was already looking forward to tonight’s service because I knew we would not only sing, pray, and hear God’s word, but that we would also celebrate the Eucharist.  And then, during the service, the most beautiful thing happened.  The Words of Institution had been said (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) and we formed a half-circle in the tiny chapel.  Then, the pastor gave the bread to the organist and each person passed it on.  I was so excited because at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC those who help lead worship stand in a circle and give each other bread and wine every Sunday.  It’s such a wonderful reminder to me of how we give and receive, of how we need each other, and how we are to live in the body of Christ with one another.

So the pastor gave the wafer to the organist and spoke, naturally, in German: “Nimm hin und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  Well, to a non-native German speaker, to speak these foreign words to others could have been a daunting task.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words.  They are words of promise.  They are words of God’s action in our lives.  And no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises or acts to another person!

But here’s where the beauty occurred.  The bread reached a man from Brazil and instead of speaking these words in German, he closed his eyes and spoke them in Portuguese.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in English and it was interesting to hear all of the slight variations of these words.  But even with the variations, you could tell that the words people chose and used were the words that meant something to them.  The same happened with the chalice: “Nimm hin und trink. Christi Blut, für dich vergossen.” “Take and drink.  Blood of Christ, poured out/shed for you.”  It was wonderful to hear these words that mean so much to me in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come.  It made me think about that feast, that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language: praise.

When we finished with Communion, we sang a song that brought the whole experience together for me: “Strahle brechen viele [aus einem Licht]” (“Rays break many [out of one light]”).  The last verse seemed particularly apt:

Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib.
Wir sind Glieder Christi.
Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib
und wir sind eins durch ihn.  (Lyrics found here)

In English: “Members, there are many, but only one body.  We are members of Christ.  Members, there are many, but only one body, and we are one though him.”  And the cool, and really nerdy, thing is that in German, the word for body (Leib) and the word for a loaf of bread (Laib) sound exactly the same when spoken aloud.  Body and bread, together in one sound.  People joined together through bread in the body of Christ through the one language of praise.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Abendmahl” by/von Brunhild Klein-Hennig

Here’s the sermon I preached last week at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

It’s Holy Trinity Sunday.  Now, I’ve been pondering for a couple of weeks now, wracking my brain about what to say about the Trinity.  If you want to tie your brain in knots, I recommend thinking about the Trinity.  It’s something we can take for granted because we use the language of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” all the time.  And we speak of God as being three persons, but I don’t know if we actually pause to think about what that means.  God is three-in-one, one-in-three.  As someone put it, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 What?!  I’m no mathematician, but that does not add up.  So, pondering the Trinity blows my mind a little bit.

In preparing for this sermon this week, I sat down to pray, asking for inspiration and guidance.  And I was surprised and delighted by how God answered my prayer.  As I sat silently, I was overcome by a sense of being invited to just be with God.  To simply experience God.  To stop thinking about God or the Trinity in abstract terms and to just sit with the triune God.

Now the best word I have to describe what I experienced is “invitation.”  And I think that’s what the Isaiah and Romans readings for today, and indeed the whole Bible do.  They invite us to get to know God – not as a doctrine, but to experience the living, active, mysterious God – three-in-one – in our own lives.  The ways in which the authors speak about God are vastly different, but I think this only serves to show the breadth, depth and mystery of God.  These texts invite us into life with the triune God in diverse ways, and they remind us that we can never quite figure God out completely.  They also remind us that our encounters with and our ways of speaking about the triune God might look or sound a bit different from one person to the next.  Overall, they invite us to experience God and to keep our hearts open on the journey.

When I was young, my mom, my brother Zack and I were walking along Carroll Creek in Frederick.  Now if you’re familiar with the creek, you know that there is a bridge there that is concrete, but painted beautifully to look like real stone.  The technique used on this bridge is called trompe l’oeil, which is French for “deceive the eye.”  There are several such paintings in Frederick including one of an old angel who is leaning out of a window, one of ducks flying through an open window, and one of a man who has his arms outstretched.

That day when we were walking along the Creek, the artist was painting the bridge.  We stopped to watch him, filled with awe and wonder at the amazing work he was doing.  Then, to our surprise, he asked my brother and I if we wanted to help him paint the gate he was working on.  We were all shocked!  My mom, naturally worried that her little children would not have the same skill as the artist, asked him if he was sure he wanted to let us paint!  He smiled and without hesitating said, “yes.”

Under the watchful eye and with the guiding hand of the artist, my brother and I each painted a few strokes of black on that portion of the gate.  And to this day, when I walk down Carroll Creek, I always make a point of looking at the gate, right at the spot where Zack and I were invited to be a part of a work of art.

In the Isaiah reading, in an incredible vision, the prophet finds himself standing before the Lord’s throne.  Seraphim fly around and call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The throne room shakes and is filled with smoke.  And Isaiah, knowing full well that he is a sinful human being in the presence of a completely holy God says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  It’s as if we hear Isaiah saying, “oh boy!  I really shouldn’t be here right now!!”

But just as Isaiah is overcome with panic and feelings of being unclean and not worthy to be in the presence of the Holy One, the unthinkable happens.  One of the Seraphs uses a hot coal to touch Isaiah’s unclean lips, telling him, “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  In the throne room, filled with God’s overwhelming holiness, Isaiah is forgiven and made clean.  As if that isn’t amazing enough, God issues an invitation: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Sins blotted out and guilt washed away, Isaiah is able to say “Here I am; send me!”  God invites Isaiah, a man of previously unclean lips, to be a messenger of God, speaking God’s word to Israel.  From sinner to God’s spokesperson – that’s pretty good.  Just as a talented artist invited relatively unskilled little kids to participate in his work of art, God invites Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, to participate in God’s salvation-oriented work of art.

In a completely different way, Paul continues this idea of invitation into relationship to God in his letter to the Roman community.  Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to know and trust God.  The Spirit leads us and through Christ, makes it possible for us to be called the children of God.  It is through this movement of the Holy Spirit that God adopts us as God’s own daughters and sons.  And for Paul, this means that we are freed from all that holds us captive or keeps us bound.  As he says, “for you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”  Through this holy adoption, we are invited into a life of forgiveness and freedom, rather than one of fear.  And when we cry out, whether in joy or sorrow, to God as our Father in heaven, it is the Holy Spirit bearing witness that we are indeed children of God.

But Paul doesn’t stop at saying we’re children of God.  He goes one step further.  “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”  If we’re the adopted children of God, we’re brothers and sisters with Jesus, the Son of God.  And even more than that, we are heirs with him!  With Jesus, we inherit or receive all of what God has to give.  That’s crazy!  Since this is possible through Christ, just as Jesus suffered on the cross and is glorified, we also encounter suffering, all the while awaiting the glory the Father has to give.  Just as Christ died and has experienced resurrection life, we, too, die to ourselves and experience resurrection life and hope through our baptisms into Christ.  In others words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together for the redemption of all of creation.

In both of these readings, the triune God – God three-in-one, and one-in-three – reaches out and draws humanity into the life and work of God.  In Isaiah, just when Isaiah was overcome with knowledge of his own sinfulness, impurities and imperfections, God forgave him and sent him out to serve in the world.  When we feel bogged down by our sin or feelings of unworthiness and wonder if God could possibly work through us, God reminds us that God prepares us for service and empowers us to say “Here I am; send me!”

Paul describes powerfully how the triune God has freed us from all that keeps us bound.  We have received a Spirit that liberates and empowers, rather than one that keeps us trapped with fear.  We live in a broken and fallen world and so we continue to suffer with illness, relationship struggles, grief, lack of self-confidence, guilt, and shame.  However, we have tremendous hope because we have been adopted as daughters and sons of God and we are heirs of the resurrection life of Christ.  The Holy Spirit reminds us of this when we forget, bearing witness that we are the children of God.  The Spirit reminds us that we can always cry out, “Abba! Father!” in our deepest need and that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

God continually invites us into relationship with Godself.  And as I was thinking about the Trinity and invitation, the image of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity kept coming to mind.  Nadia Bolz-Weber, the pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado describes this icon beautifully:

“The three figures in the icon are depicted as angels seated at an altar table. They have identical faces but their postures and clothing differ as though we are looking at the same figure shown in three different ways.  But it is the way in which the figures relate to one another which is so compelling.  The father looks to the son gesturing toward this Word made flesh, Christ gazes back at the Father but points to the Spirit, and the Spirit opens up the circle to receive the viewer.  Between the Spirit and the Father in the Trinity icon is an open space at the table in which the viewer is brought to sit in communion with the Godhead.  Here we see an image of God’s relational circle into which we are welcomed.  The Father sends the Son the son sends the Spirit and the Spirit welcomes us to the table.”

God longs to welcome us into an experience of the Trinity – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And because of this deep longing of God, God never stops inviting us to experience Godself.   God draws us through the Holy Spirit, forgives us through the Son, adopts us as beloved children, and empowers us to serve in the world.  We are invited into the experience of a God who lives and acts in relationship as three-in-one, one-in-three.  We are invited into loving relationship with the God whose very being is loving relationship.  Thanks be to God for such an incredible invitation!  AMEN!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity

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