BISHOP CHANG: The word for today is "tension.” That's what I sensed as I moved through the corridors, a tension that has been brought about by a sense of some physical fatigue, sort of intellectual overload, but at the same time a high degree of energy, of people who have been energized by the experience of being here together and forming new networks and weaving together new fabric of relationships. And so this tension pulls us apart of, "Gee, I’ve really got to get upstairs and get some rest, but, gee, one more glass of wine, another coffee would really help me get to know this person better." A little feistiness among some of the members in the tracks I hear. Which someone said, "I'm glad we rebelled. We finally got going." But part of this is what I began on Thursday night, is a concern for your own wellness individually and as a community. So, you know, tensions can blow us apart, but tensions can also be that creative energy that enables us to move forward. We've learned a lot from Bob Kegan and Palmer Parker and they've helped us to look at some new there goes. And if we try to incorporate those things in our lives, it causes tension in how we do things. Robyn and Ruth Ann have talked about the expansion and the only expansion story I know is one that I use as an example of thinking outside of the box.
Many of you remembered the little chihuahua in the Taco Bell ad. And one of the great ads which is my favorite was the little dog had a box with a stick and a string and he said he was going to catch a lizard and he said, "Here, lizard, lizard, lizard. Here, lizard, lizard, lizard," and Godzilla showed up? And his response was, "Uh-oh, I need a bigger box."
We're all going to need bigger boxes and to expand our horizons as we continue through the process.
This third video brings forward the theme of community and surprise. A community is a place, a revelation, is part of our journey, and it enables us to expand our horizon and vision.
Vicky Garvey -- I first met Vicky some years ago when she was at Seabury and I was the chaplain at Seabury and our paths have not crossed again until this afternoon. Vicky comes to us to share her reflections in response to this third video of community and being surprised by God.
Thank you for inviting me to be among you, especially among the unholy
trio of your first keynoters who were, as you might have noted, Bob Kegan,
who's Jewish, Parker Palmer, who's Quakerish, and myself, who, for most of my
life, has been Papish. Still as that lovely
woman on the tape said, there's truth all around and it even can reside in
somebody who's Jewish, somebody who's Quakerish, and even a
Yesterday, Parker Palmer
referred several times to the gift of wild and crazy nurturers. And I hope with everything that's in me that
each of you has known at least one of these wild creatures in your life, these
whacked-out illimitable lovers. I have
been blessed to have known and been nurtured by a number of them and held, as
Bob Kegan says, held by a number of them.
Now don't get nervous with the next three -- four words -- when I was
born… When I was born, both my
parents worked. So every morning from
infancy until about the time that I was five they would bundle me up or put me
in my playsuit, depending on the time of year, and trundle me off to the home
of my maternal grandparents and then in the evening after work, we'd reverse
the whole process. So I had from the
beginning, from my most formative years two sets of whacked-out lovers
attending to me. It was in my
grandparents' presence that I walked my first steps and said my first coherent
syllables. Now my father used to say
that this happened the day I was born, but we don't believe him, and that I
haven't stopped talking since. And then
the three of us would wait with high glee and anticipation for my parents to
arrive so we could show off my latest acquired skill. My grandfather lived to be 100 years old and
he died sitting next to his best friend, whom he had married 78 years
before. My grandmother celebrated her
104th birthday last month, but she won't reach 105. She died last week at in the morning in
Now I bring all of this up not so that you get to know me better through my grandparents and my parents, but because since this event there have been differences in my life, and I trust all of you search your own memories and your own hearts to know these turning points in one's life, but also because the news of her death and the visceral response that I experienced when I heard it met with the inevitable memories that have engulfed me and continue to engulf me and will as I leave here and go and do her funeral. They have turned what I anticipated doing with you this afternoon a bit upside-down. It's a little different now than it was last week.
people, Mummy and Punky, they've had an enormous impact on my life and it's not
simply the genes that are coursing through me even as I stand here; it's a way
of being that they've given me. My love
of language, for instance, and my love affair -- and it is a love affair with
words -- I really do trace directly to my grandfather who was an extraordinary
curator of the language, who loved it, who played with it, who tasted words in
his mouth before he rolled them out for the rest of us whose language, to
paraphrase E.E. Cummings -- everybody has quoted poetry, so the least I can do
is give you a piece -- to paraphrase E.E. Cummings, ‘his language sings like a
bird.’ And in his 80’s he decided to
learn a new language, Spanish, because when they retired -- and, of course,
they didn't retire until they were in their 80s -- they went to
My grandmother, on the other hand, who my grandfather thought was the funniest woman alive, actually my grandmother was one of those strong, independent women. She worked with my grandfather by his side -- they owned a series of businesses -- for her whole professional life, which extended 'til their 80’s. And she was a woman who knew what she thought and thought about what she knew and was never afraid to tell the truth and to tease the truth out of other people. And both of them, both of them, though they couldn't recite the baptismal formula if we put a gun to their heads and who, as a matter of fact, had no use for church -- but that's another story -- even though they wouldn't know our rites, they knew in the deepest sense of the depths of the meaning of that word in Hebrew, they knew about and honored the dignity of every human being. They didn't have to think about it. It was part of their being. They enfleshed it. And I am one of their living memorials, which is to say were they of faith -- and to the extent that faith at its best is about loving and nurturing and holding and honoring -- then faith, they were. Then I would be the living proof -- proof that our faith can, indeed, have not only children, but grandchildren.
But will our faith have children? If the kiddos in the videos that you've seen so far, parts 1 through 3, if those kiddos -- and by "kiddos,” I mean all of them, the ones -- that one -- I don't know how old he is. He -- he looks like he's about six, that little philosopher who in Video 1 talked about hope, and just a few moments ago wondered about the loneliness of God, and then that little girl who immediately preceded him in this last video who had her own little song, and told us, "That's my song," to the mother of the daughter who was incarcerated, but who knew that God loved her, to all the rest of them -- if those kiddos are any indication of the life of faith, then the answer is, well, duh, yes, of course our faith will have children! But the future also has to do with the preservation and relaying of the story in word in a variety of ways, in word as I speak it and word as she embodies it.
acculturated to my tribe and to my various sub-tribes as you were, largely by
stories. We human beings are storied by
nature. It's how we know who we are. To continue our line, to reconstitute
ourselves now and again along the way and in every age we've got to keep on
telling the story. Now I'm billed as the
person who's going to talk about the Bible and here we go. Buried, buried in a portion of this weighty
tome in the Book of Exodus in a part that for some reason that I certainly
can't fathom that nobody ever reads, it's that riveting section of Chapters 25
through 31 and 35 through the conclusion in 40, which is full of such
intriguing things as the specs and cubits and dimensions of the incense altar,
should you wish to make one when you're out in the middle of nowhere with no
carpentry skills at all -- but if you want to make a tabernacle for the living
God, well, then this is how you make it -- buried there is an interesting
thing. It's a little section on what the
well-dressed priest shall wear. Read
it! Chapter 28. Among the items in the high priest's wardrobe
is a breastplate, studded with 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of
One way to tell the story is sometimes by silent witness. In the middle of those very same building specs, between the first part, which is, "You shall build” and “You shall wear" and the soul they built, soul they wore, in the middle there is a three-chapter tension. Now back at the mountain -- they're still at the mountain -- but when the people first arrive at the mountain and God came thundering scaring them half to death, God asked them a series of questions and told a story and asked them if this met with their approval. And they said, "Amen," and "Amen," and they said it freely. And things go well for a while. But then Moses is up on that mountain for 40 days and 40 nights and they're nervous about that mountain which is making so much noise and so much smoke and is rockin' and rollin' in ways that no self-respecting mountain should ever do, so they get nervous and we have the story of the Golden Calf. Now near the end of that very tense narrative, what's God gonna do? Kill them, or not? Near the end of it we find the curious and very short story of Moses with a shining face.
This is the story on which Michelangelo's famous statue is based. This is a curious piece of arcana which may interest you. As you know, that very famous statue of Moses is horned, yes? And then the Christian community, unfortunately in a terrible time in our own history, decided that Jews, you know, were all horned and that's why they wear skullcaps. This is in the Middle Ages. Isn't that wonderful? (Laughter) Now the reason is because of a mistranslation in the fourth century of the Latin of the Hebrew text. The word is "karen" spelled like the girl's name, Karen, which means illumination, light, shining, but because these are very visual and concrete people and the language is very visual and concrete, they also thought of these as rays and rays look like horns and so, therefore, it means, in fact, both things in Hebrew. But the Latin translator, who may or may not be what's his face -- Jerome who had a big mouth and often told lies about himself, but that's another story -- got it wrong and said that when he came down off that hill, he had horns on his head. He was shining.
When Moses goes to commune with God on that mountain, the glory which is in Exodus, the symbol and, ah, the embodiment of the presence of God, that shows in the face of Moses. God is sort of like an infectious disease who Moses catches and it shows. His encounter changes him physically and he glows. Sometimes we tell the story of our encounter with God with our bodies, but the most familiar way to tell the old, old story of who we are and, as several people have said, whose we are is by doing just what we're doing and have been doing and you might think we're going to be doing forever these last few days, by talking, by wording in one form or another.
The two guiding texts with which the planning committee has
basically slept for the last year and more, come to us from two prophetic
texts, one from Jeremiah and the other from Isaiah. So let's have a little detour here to
consider these sometimes wordy, and they often are that, sometimes mute --
there is the strange story of Ezekiel who is called, it takes three chapters to
call the man, he keeps fainting, so God has to keep raising him up to hear the
rest of the message, and then is told once he says, "Okay, I'll do
it," "You gotta shut up for the next 14 years or so until I send you
a message." Well, this is what a --
what a way to have a prophet! And
sometimes it's done with their bodies.
They do mimetic prophecy. They
imitate something and by watching them, one is supposed to understand. Now half the time, of course, the people
don't, so we have to then have a worded proclamation. The prophets -- this is the short course,
okay? -- the prophets are not foretellers.
That was never their intention, not in
Now this is a footnote, and I want to use just two verses
from the opening of the Book of Jonah for two reasons, because it starts that
way and it's a very complete form, but the other thing is that, interpretation
is a tricky thing -- words, tricky things.
The standard translation has it this way. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah, the
son of Amitai” – Jonah, dove, Amitai, truth -- saying, “'Rise, go to
Back to the word of the Lord came to -- now here's another thing with the Hebrew of the text. That's how the "The word of the Lord came to," fill in the blank “'son of blank,'” et cetera is the way it's mostly translated. Now here's a surprise, although by this time you should be less and less surprised by the things I'm pulling out of the hat up here. In Hebrew, the word "to come" is highly attested. It's all over the text. I should have pulled up the number of times that, in fact, it does show up in its variations and incarnations of grammar. It's one of the first words you learn when you're in biblical Hebrew. You learn it about the third week of class that it's that highly attested. That's not the word that's in the text. It doesn't say, "The word of the Lord came to," thus and so, saying, thus and so. What it says is, "Divar adonai,” that word about which the PB spoke the other night. "Divar, divar adonai,” "the word of the Lord happened to them." That's what it really says, "happened to them." "The word of the Lord," is an event. The word breaks into their lives not like a thief in the night, but like a disrupter and a turner upside-down of their everyday existence. It was, and this is a guess, but I guess that it was an ordinary day when Moses was minding his own business and his father-in-law's sheep when a bush got talkative and downright bossy.
Another footnote, because I just think this is -- this is important, this is part of the story and I'll only touch on it later, so I might as well say it now. It was important before that word spoke from the bush -- it was important to get Moses' attention. If you read the text carefully, it tells us that he was out in the middle of nowhere minding his own business and his father-in-law's sheep when he saw this curious sight, a bush that was -- oh, the -- in Hebrew, okay, footnote. In Hebrew the word "bush" is the same word as the word "Sinai" and that's where it is. It's sinai at Sinai. So you're at a cocktail party and the conversation is at a lull, you can just whip this out. Before the bush says, "Moishe, moishe," "Moses, Moses, take off the sandals from upon your feet for the place where you're standing is holy ground," and they get into the chapter-and-a-half of arguments about whether they should do this or not. Before that happens, Moses has to turn his eye. The universe tilted on its axis when he turned his head.
And then I always wonder, because I'm perverse about these things, how many Moseses there were before Moses. How many people walked by and didn't say a thing? I also wonder about how many Marys? Was there a Bertha before the angel came to see Mary? I don't know. It was, I guess, an ordinary day when Jeremiah was doing -- I don't know what he was doing -- he was a kid, they tell us later in the text. He was a kid, so maybe he was hangin' around with his friends at what passed for the mall. Or cutting school or perhaps he was a good little boy and was helpin' out at home, or perhaps praying. Now, you know, some religious types always want them to be piously praying when God comes to call, but, you know, in the Bible that is not usually the case. God comes in in odd times and in odd places. When the word of God comes into Jeremiah's life, it comes thundering: "Jeremiah! I know you're only a kid, but, hey, I've got faith in you, have since you were only an embryo, have since you were only a gleam in my own eye, and have I got a job for you." "The word of the Lord happened to me," says Jeremiah and "My life's not been calm since that day."
It was, I guess, an ordinary day when Isaiah -- this would be the second one whose quote we saw just a bit ago. When Isaiah heard, we don't know what he was doing, perhaps moping, given his period, over the destruction of the holy city and its central architectural symbol, and in the middle of nowhere and in a time of great chaos and despair, a voice cries and there is no doubt to whom that voice belongs. A voice cries, "Cry," and Isaiah says, "What shall I cry?" "It's all over. It's been a great illusion, but it's all over." But the word of God happened and the valleys were raised and the mountains made low and a highway was made for the people of God because the word of God does what its says. And each time that word intruded, each time God told the story, "I am the god of your ancestors, of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, of Yitzhak and Rifka" -- I want to say Rifka because of her story the other day -- "of Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Zilpa." When God brings out that concatenation of the family tree, God is also evoking rich stories of the patriarchal, matriarchal cycle with their astonishing, surprising complements of wonderful things, of ancients having babies and twins warring in the womb and younger kids teaching elders or "I am the God who led you up out of the house of bondage and the place of slavery," inviting everyone who hears to recollect the bad old days when nobody had a hope, when nobody had a life, almost nobody, except two midwives, had a memory and then God came forging in, creating a people out of no people. What a way to create a people, out of no people and giving them a name and an inheritance and a way of being that would have been absolutely revolutionary in the cultures that surrounded them.
A footnote -- in the Hebrew of the text of Exodus it always
says when speaking of the denizens, the natives of
The word of God never happens in a vacuum. It happens in history. God comes trailing credentials and the credentials are the unfolding stories of all right relationship God initiated, God sustained, but always, always partnered by willing people. The Jeremiah whose text was the lead in the first video and the Isaiah who led off twice, as a matter of fact, this afternoon, they historically form a kind of bread -- well, the bread of a kind of sandwich of which the exile in the sixth century is the meat. That event, the Babylonian captivity, was the single most devastating experience in the whole history of this storied people. Jeremiah was there at its opening and second Isaiah was there to pick up the pieces at its conclusion. Contemporary Jewish historians say that in all the history, in all history of the people of Israel there's only one other period in history, one other historical event which can match it in terms of utter chaos and disillusionment of the people and that was the '30s and '40s in Western Europe. Were there ever a time when the theme of our conference was a dreadful question, the sixth century was that time. All of the promises upon which their faith, their storied faith was based, all of them were crushed. To Abraham and Sarah about progeny and land and blessing and a name, all of the hope of the covenant at Sinai, the "My people, your God" business, the unbreakable relationship business, the witnessing to the rest of the world how it is to act as God would act in the world, that business, all of it's gone. The promises to David about dynasty, about kings and queens who would model the divine rule, gone. The promises about a lively life of worship and a place to hold in the sense that we've been talking about hold, to hold the communing of God with people, shattered. Looking back at that period, one might think that there was no future at all. The talkative God of the bush and of the Paul narratives of all the prophets has become strangely silent. As our little philosopher of Video 1 put it, "There's no hope without God." Would their faith have children? I am, I think, reading below the lines and sometimes right on the surface of the text of some of them. I and they are somewhat astonished that faith emerged from that chaos, that hell, that absolute nullity, and that it made sense and that it all seemed somehow holy. It is precisely in that period at its outset really that Jeremiah tells us the little story about Rachel.
Now I'm going to do a few
things with the text. There's no way
in the world we can do a good reading of it, but highlights. A voice is heard in Ramah -- Ramah, high place, visible from the countryside
where you can make your voice heard now. In
other parts of the text there's another female figure who stands on a mountain
and utters words and bids people come to her. This is a wrenching of the story of Dame Wisdom,
who also stands on mountains and bids people come. A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter
weeping, Rachel, Rachel is weeping for her children. Rachel back 1400 years ago is still weeping
for the children and then the text says, "She refuses to be nahamu."
I say that in Hebrew because we'll get back to it.
It's in Isaiah. She refuses
to be comforted because the English text says, "because they are no more." In Hebrew the word is "aim.” There's nothing quite so empty as that "aim.”
Grammatically it's called "the particle of non-existence.”
The woman weeps and God speaks with a word of hope, "Keep your
voice from weeping and your eyes from tears for there is a reward for your
work." Now since
Now one more footnote. Well, I can't promise, but for a moment, one more footnote. Whenever a biblical text reminds us of another biblical text, what the text is inviting us to do is look at them together. So, for instance, one that you know very well, "Now the angel Gabriel came to" -- well, if it's the six months, we're on this page. Otherwise, we're with Zachariah. It's the same format. "An angel comes,” two people, it's the same basic message, et cetera. "In the beginning,” how would you fill out "in the beginning"? Come on. Talk to me. (audience responds)
All right! Some of you saying, “Was the word, You did it.” And some of you were saying, "God created." Okay. We're supposed to read those together. They are speaking across the pages to one another and inviting us into the conversation. Now this long thing is about the fact that back in Exodus at the time when there was the tension around the golden calf when Moses was arguing for the very life of the people, Moses who in Chapters 3 and 4 had argued his way, in the end without success, five times. He tries to get out of the job. "No. Who are you?” “Who am I" -- I love that -- "Who am I, who are you?" Identity questions and then, "I don't have the power," and then, "Well, you know, I got a problem with speech." Don't you find that furious? He says he has a problem with speech and he's been arguing successfully with God for a chapter-and-a-half? When it looks as if God is about to destroy this whole people, and God even says to Moses, "Well, you know? I'm gonna destroy them, but you I like, so I'm going to make you a whole new people. What do you think of that?" And Moses says, "Bad idea." Five times in Chapters 32 through 34, Moses goes to bat, Moses has moved, Moses has grown into his vocation and now Moses lays his own life down on the line, "Kill me instead," he says. And then he says one last time, "Okay. Tell me again who you were? I know that business (Hebrew phrase) back at the bush,” which nobody can translate, “but I want to know now, now that we’re in a critical situation, who are you?" And God says, "I" -- one priest calls this the theo fanny, because of the turning backwards in rock, you know? All right. "The Lord, the Lord, merciful and compassionate," that speech, that speech which starts with all those mercy/compassion/grace notes and then moves into "But by no means will clear the inequity and judgment" -- so mercy, judgment? That speech is found in whole or in part and then changes. It changes as the circumstance changes 19 more times in the text of the Bible, 19 more times, and this is one of 'em. And as we get closer and closer to the latter period when everything is falling apart, all that judgment stuff, all that stuff about sin falls away. This is, as I have called it and actually in writing, this is the divine "I can't help it. You and I had an agreement. You broke the agreement," as the one woman in the -- I think it was yesterday's video, she says, "I walked away from God. God didn't walk away from me." God is -- the agreement was, "You walk away, then I get to -- all bets are off. I break the covenant." "Even though that was the deal," says God, "my womb wombed. I can not. I must forgive," says the Lord.
Now when that's all over, when the Babylonian exile comes to an end and a more humane and enlightened Persian government is in charge, Isaiah, the quote we just saw, speaks to a people dispirited and scattered. Things are so bad that they -- the predecessors couldn't hear the bad news. When there was -- in eighth century when there was a chicken in every pot and two cars in the garage and -- and gas-guzzling SUVs because we had no problem with oil -- in that period when prophets tried to say, "Look in the mirror," it may appear that everything's fine, but, in fact, there's rot internally. Nobody wanted to buy that. Now it's all gone to hell in a hand basket and nobody wants to lift their faces and believe the good news. Isaiah says, "Sing," and it's not -- there are various words for "sing" -- this is the one that means "with gusto, with rejoicing, with bubbles coming out of your head," that kind of sing, "Sing, oh, barren one," what a juxtaposition and how cruel to these people who are, in fact – aim, the children are not. Aim. "Sing, oh barren one, but" -- you hear the reverberation? Who else was barren? Hum. There was this guy and a gal in Genesis XII who were -- how old were they then? Seventy-five and sixty-five, respectively, and it took 'em a while, 25 years and several chapters 'til the kid is finally born, but we know barren people and in Genesis, of course, you can tell a matriarch off the bat if she's barren. "Burst into song and shout," it says, "remembering" -- it's storied again. Everybody in this congregation, though they don't want to hear the good news, when they hear acorah, "barren one" in the feminine and they hear the reverberations as it will come later in the text -- you didn't see it, but the word "remember,” whenever God in every case in the Hebrew Bible when it says, "Adonai Zahar" -- that's Zachariah's name, by the way -- when the Lord remembered and the direct object is a woman, in the next verse she conceived, yes, like that. "Sing, oh, barren woman who did not bear.” Burst into song and shout. You have not been in labor for the children of the desert, Rachel weeping for aim, and here, they're going to burst out and you'd better change the configuration of your tent. And even the words for tent and encampment are harkening back to the old period, to the wandering. So we started in Genesis with a barren one and now we're in Exodus, the first act of salvation when God was with His people. Tents. When you were in the wilderness, you're going to need to do it again. Okay.
Now we're going to go
through this quickly. Sometimes you tell
the old story to a new generation and you use language as you have to, to make
yourself known and understood in the new community, in that new time and
place. And the old story has the power
to bring to life again. It does it. It makes those old bones live. I want to tell you one story, however, about
this. This is very contemporary. I was at a church in
There is, ahm, in -- I don't know if you know this book, Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, if you don't go out and get it. It's an absolutely magnificent book. He talks about this little girl who has been put to bed one night and the parents are settled down and they hear her screaming. So they go to the bedroom and what's the problem? "Well, you know, there's monsters in here, and I can't go to sleep." So they calm her down and everything's fine and we pat down and she's almost sleeping and she says -- she knows they're leaving. She says, "Don't go. I'm afraid there’ll be monsters here." And the parents say, "Well, but God's here." "But I need a God with skin."
"My father," says a major, if unnamed character
back in one of the earliest credos in Israelite faith -- "My father was a
wandering Aramean," or perhaps we should read it as the Hebrew suggests it
should be read. "My father was a
dying Aramean who went down to
But when we cease to tell the story, it's as if it never happened. So my grandfather and now my grandmother stay -- stay sealed in their coffin, never to visit me again. So the rabbi's dad is kept locked, mute behind the doors of his disease. So the Israelite sits in the Promised Land not knowing or caring that the price of milk and honey is very steep, indeed. We humans tell stories not just to fill the time or to entertain ourselves, though we do it for those reasons, too, not even just to bring the newest members on board with us. We tell the stories to remember who we are, to remember whose we are. When we tell it right, Jesus springs back to life not just on the pages of these books, holy, though, they be. Jesus springs back to life in more vibrant and palpable ways. Jesus springs back to life in you and in me reconstituted, not from concentrate, reconstituted from the ancient living and very pulpy story which is ever-new and ever-renewed in us, in you and in me for all our winter weary world to see.
You know, when you say Nehemiah or making fishers or people or Samson or, Jonah or Ruth or the Samaritan woman or my favorite, the Phoenician who keeps on telling Jesus, "You got this wrong. Let me tell you how to do your ministry," yeah? We've evoked the great cloud of witnesses who are now present with us. The stories are alive in this room.
When I have taught preaching, this is one of the ways in which we help preachers prepare. It's one of the ways, to enter the text and then proclaim the text. You go in with a small group with Bibles in hand and, in turn, you tell the story or recite the psalm or do the legal text, or whatever it is you've chosen, but you do it from the text. And the job of the other people in the group, or the other person, your interlocutor, is to listen carefully to how you do it, because when we read, we're interpreting. How I land on a word, where I pause, where I skip, that is an interpretation of the text. It's the living story getting a different life because you're reading it. And then we close the book and you tell it. And you listen again and what happens is -- what did you omit? What did you add? Where'd you put the stress? It becomes a whole different story. And it lives. And then if you want to get further with it, you ask the question -- now this is where we get a little dangerous, but, you know, the Bible is a dangerous thing -- you ask yourself the question and if you're brave enough to say it out loud and tell some truth, you say to the group why you think it is that this text today claimed you. Because my suspicion -- well, it happens with me that the text that I choose today is not the text that I chose last week and it won't be the text that I choose tomorrow and I'm not choosin'. It's choosing me and it's reading me. And I need to pay attention to that.
Now let me tell you a little story. When I was teaching in the Steman program in
I have been teaching the history and theology of the psalms
for about 137 years. And one of the
hardest parts of it to teach is always lament literature, because it's about
anger and it's about voiced anger and people get very uncomfortable with doing
this stuff in church, which is why our blessed lectionary editors have
routinely chopped off all that nasty stuff.
So, for instance, everybody thinks Psalm 137, "By the rivers of
Today is the feast day of Thomas Bray, don't cha' know, he
the great educator, famous cheerleader for children and for the education of
clergy and lay leadership. What about
that? I don't suppose that's an
accident. These things seldom are. Here's the thing. The text makes a nest in all of us if we let
it. At the great vigil of Easter it is
no accident that we move from proclaiming and hearing the story of salvation
that long story, that campfire stuff around the flame. That's not an accident. We start with fire, we move on to the story,
and the very next thing is holy baptism when we add the newest members to the
tail end of the story. Their stories now
become part and parcel with the most ancient stories of our tradition and the
A little girl, four year-old, was being baptized at the great vigil of Easter and her parents, having read up on this thing and big into the history of these, the rites, decided they wanted none of this namby-pamby sprinkling or dolloping; they want full immersion, but this was one of those churches where the baptismal font was, you know, about the size of a salad plate. (Laughter) And the child was four years old. So the rector got this brilliant idea -- and I think this was in a sermon -- the rector decided, "I got it! I'll get a galvanized trashcan and decorate it. I'll disguise it." And he gets this big trashcan and puts greenery all over it and so nobody can tell what it is. But when it comes time for the baptism of this child, when she sees what they're about to do, she yells, "No!" She gets baptism and the risks of it in a certain visceral way more than we do sometimes, you know?
Most of us have Christmas pageants in our places, yes? And the Christmas pageants are always, always makes everybody happy and all the grandparents come and we have people standin' in the balconies hangin' off the ledges there because of the children who are so cute. Ah, two years at one of the places where I hang a professional hat, I decided that it might be a good idea, instead of doin' the same-old same-old, which seems to fly in the face of what I've just said about telling the story and we get tired of the story, but just bear with me a minute. I decided that maybe -- well, I decided I thought it was a good idea if the kids would write it themselves. So I asked them would they be interested in doing this. And they said yes. Now we're talking about three year-olds -- three year-olds, yes, through the about 11 or 12 year-olds. And so we -- I talked about this in October and we started -- their Advent was a little longer than the regular Advent because their Advent was entirely given to the story and trying to figure out how they would proclaim this ancient story to the adults who, you know, don't know the story very well. (Laughter) And they said to me -- very early on, the really little ones said to me, "What can we be?" And I said, "You can be anything that you want to be. The other thing -- is that I said to teachers, "Please don't tell them the story. They know the story. Your job is to listen to the story, receive it, and take notes for me," because I can't be in all these classrooms at the same time. So they did. So I went visiting and the little kids said to me, "What can we be?" And I said, "You can be anything you want to be. You know the story. What fits in the story? What seems apt to you know," although I probably didn't use the word "apt.” And so they -- they ended up being things like we had a cheetah, we has four ponies because this parish is in horse country, serious -- there are stud farms all around us, so we have lots of equestrians and they all -- they came in their riding clothes. We had four Marys and some adult said to me, "Well, how can you do that? There weren't four Marys." “Well, how do I know?” You know? “This is a huge story. This is the beginning of the story of our salvation, why not have four Marys for Heaven's sake?”
Anyway, there were lovely moments in it, but two in particular. And, again, this time it was the little kids. I said to them about the third week, "So what did you think of this baby," and they said, "We won't talk about the baby yet. We -- we'll tell you about the baby later, but we want to say something about the adults." "Okay. What do you want to say about the adults?" "They're rude." (Laughter) Now they're talking about the adults Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the magi in the story because they came barging into these animals' house without so much as a “by your leave.” And that's just not polite. (Laughter) So then we go back to the Baby Jesus and I said, "What do you make of the baby?" And they said, "He's a new kind of food."
I had never thought about it in quite that way. "He's a new kind of food." Well, of course, Vicky, you fool! You've only been studyin' the text for most
of your life. He's lying in a manger,
it's the place where they eat. Of
course, he's a new kind of food. So they
made the connection and did this absolutely uproarious, splendid pageant that
just, you know, set the parish back on its ears because it wasn't like any
they'd ever seen, but was it true? It
was as true as Matthew and Luke have ever written it. It was true to their experience. We did it again this year. I said, "We had such fun last year. Do you want to do it?" "Yes!" Well, the Rite 13 kids who normally, you
know, are above all this -- Rite 13, for those who don't know, it's the
program, the six, you know, J to A, the six years when they're 12 and 11, going
on for 17. But they heard that I was
doin' this again with the kids and they said, "Well, you're not leavin' us
out. We own part of this." Okay.
So this year they got into what it would be like if Jesus were born
today. Okay. So at one point -- this is the fourth grader,
so we're talking about ten year-olds.
The ten year-olds were really -- now, oh, I should back up and say
interesting side note: This is a very
affluent parish. They're all Republicans
except me. This is they're lovely
people, but they're all Republicans except me.
And the rector's not a Republican.
And, you know, we disagree. It's
amazing that we get on as well as we do.
They really like me for some unknown reason, but -- but I just disagree
with 'em right down the line on virtually everything. So this is where these children are growing
up, but these ten year-olds said, "We're considering
The other part was, they had heard -- and they
wanted to check this out with me -- they had heard that
All right. Finally, my final thing, and this is about adults -- since the children have done so splendidly with this and the adults have loved it, I thought, “Aha!” So in Lent last year I said to the adult congregation, as I had said to the children. I issued an invitation if they want to do it, fine, if not, we won't do it. "Look at what they did. I'll bet you can do this, too.” Let's during Lent for one of the things that we do, I will give you from the beginning of Lent the entire text of Matthew's proclamation of the passion in big print, clear type, and you just live with it for all of Lent. And what I'm going to ask you to do, I'm going to teach you an ancient form of meditation, composition of time and place in which you enter the text on its terms, you enter it as one of the characters, and the character will suggest itself to you. It can be an obvious person like Judas," although most people, of course, want no parts of Judas, or Peter. And lots of people like him because he's so funny. You know, he's such a clod. He never gets it. Nobody, of course, wants to be Jesus. Woo-hoo. But I also said, "But don't stop there. There's that rooster, for instance, or the wood or what about sign above his head? What does the sign see and hear and smell and taste and touch?" And the adults, it was -- in the end it was wonderful, but along the way they wanted more instruction. "How do we do this, write it down?" And one lady just kept saying, "But we may not get the whole story done. I mean don't we have to start at the beginning and get through to the end? How do we know who goes in what place? Are you going to assign that ahead of time?" "No. This is called prayer and we don't do it that way." And I said to them, "When you gather in your tribe at Christmas, at a wedding, at a funeral, what is the one thing that we all do? We tell the stories. And when we tell the stories, we don't start with, 'It was a dark and stormy night when my mother and father were cold, so they got in bed and…" you know. "We don't do it that way!" We start in the middle and somehow it all gets done. The whole story is told. That's how we're going to do this thing." And I said, "Okay. We'll do adult forums. I'll model it for you if you want." "No." They're just in high anxiety. So I had no idea how this thing was going to turn out, but, you know, I keep preaching with Leonard Bernstein, “You can't chain up the word of the Lord. You cannot. It will out.”
So comes the morning, we had two Marys who had -- this is the service, you know, the service and a lot of people of blue hairs, you know, they're bored with everything. They only want Rite One. I had to stop them, I had to stop them because we were dripping into the service. We had two Marys, one of whom clearly knows her Bible very well and she remembered Luke 2, even though, of course, it's a different gospel. And, you know, Mary treasured all these things in her heart. So Mary's been treasuring for 30 years now and, so she gets it at this moment and it's very sad, but this is why He was sent. Another Mary, who happened to be a man, and I asked them to do it in the first person. "Well, I'm Mary and I'm pissed," is what he said. "I don't understand this. I'm angry at God. How could you do this?" And then we had Pilate's wife in the balcony and Pilate's wife said, "You know, I've hesitated to speak. But he's only four months from retirement." And one of my personal favorites was the husband of one of the assisting priests who said to me, "I think this is a great idea and I can't wait to see, but I'm not going to participate. I'm just not going to do it." So, okay. It's the service. From way back on the right side, I hear this voice, "Mommy!" And it's he. "Mommy!" He was a foal of the ass.
This is what happens when you let the story out, when you trust it. At some point when we were teaching a team, taught the program for the doctorate in preaching. The students would get -- I mean, you know, these are people who are out there preaching for years. You'd think they'd be comfortable. "Oh, geez, you want us to rewrite scripture?" "Yes." Scripture's big enough to hold all of us. It's held for centuries and millennia.
And remember it's the community. One of those questions that was from yesterday, "But how do I know that the thing that comes to me is right?" Because the community will help us. It's in the community that we tell story and the community will rectify the story, if necessary. But if it's really of God, as Gamaliel said back in Acts, if it's really of God, it will stand, it will last. This is what happens when you tell the story, when you live the story, when you enflesh the story. And when we invite it to read us where we are, how we are, when we invite others, whether they're shorter than we are or older than we are or come from different subcontinents than we are or speak different languages than we are, or on the other side of the orange alert from us, this is what happens when we invite other people to have the text read them and then share it with us. Will our faith have children? I think so. Pass it on.
Stay together. There's strength in the community! Yes? Okay!