A New Earth

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Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter—the eighth day of the Easter Octave.  Alleluias resound as we remember ours is a God full of surprises.  A God who even brings life out of death.  Today we give thanks for new life rising from an empty tomb.

Today we at St. Michael’s are also celebrating Earth Day—a day recognized and celebrated all over the earth.  A day celebrated in places where the face of the earth is being renewed and a day celebrated in places where the face of the earth is being desecrated at ever more alarming rates.  Even as the alleluias resound we can’t help but hear cries of lament from the earth and the children who dwell therein.

Today, on this our Earth Day, I find myself remembering that first Earth Day forty-seven years ago.  Our country was a mess—the war in Vietnam still raging, protests all over the country, violence in our cities, lakes in which one would dare not swim (Lake Erie even caught on fire!), air which was hard to breathe, a toxic oil spill that killed fish and birds and sea mammals in it’s wide wide wake.  People in those days looked out at their world and lamented.  Hence–Earth Day.   A day launched—primarily but not entirely on college campuses, a call for renewal conveyed primarily but not entirely through speakers and teach-ins that focused in sometimes mind-numbing details on the many ways we humans were destroying the face of the earth.

And yet what I remember about that first Earth Day are not the facts or the personalities or the mechanisms of the day or of the movement but rather a most improbable scene that took place at the principal demonstration on my college campus.  It wasn’t the first day of spring and it surely wasn’t a warm day but still at least two thousand people crowded into the plaza in front of the student union.  There was a band, speakers chanting earnestly through bull horns, even a geodesic dome for on-lookers to wonder at.  But what caught my eye, in the midst of important speeches by important people decrying the condition of our planet was a sprite of a woman dancing joyfully at the edge of the crowd weaving a web of delight around that gaggle of protestors and on-lookers and the curious ones like me.  It seemed as if she’d made a connection the rest of us had missed.

We—you and I, the earth and all that dwells therein—are made for joy—the joy that moved that young woman to dance, the joy that reverberates through all of creation. How does Teilllhard de Chardin put it—“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”  I might couple joy with delight in God’s creation—both God’s joy and delight in the created order and all of creation’s joy and delight as well.  Remember God says to the people of Israel, the people returning from captivity in Babylon, “I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight….no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”

So also John of Patmos assured the people who listened to his revelation, people who faced persecution by the reigning empire of their day, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” and then repeated to them the promise of God to make his home among them and to wipe every tear from their eyes.

Like the people returning from captivity in Babylon, like the people to whom John of Patmos preached, like the disciples hiding behind doors locked from fear, we, too, know fear and despair.  We, too, sometimes feel at the mercy of destructive forces far beyond our control.  As we look out at a world in which forests are cleared and species die off and water ways dry up, it’s hard not to feel despair.  It’s hard not to worry about tomorrow.

But that is not where we are called to be.  We are an Easter people.  We are called to live in hope.  Joy and delight are woven into our DNA.  After all—we are people who live with the knowledge that death and destruction do not have the very last word.  God is always making the world new.  We know that in our bones.  After all—we are Easter people.

And yet we are not called to sit idly by.  Waiting for the rapture is not an option.

Perhaps the place to start is with (or maybe in) delight—delight in God’s creation—all of it.  Delight even in the face of fear and despair.   Delight even as the earth seems to spinning off it’s course.  I’m reminded of a story I once heard about a young London model during the blitz.  She got a fantastic modeling job in a fancy store.  All she had to do was walk around the store in a fabulous fur coat.  Then the sirens sounded.  The city was being bombed yet again.  Most people headed to the shelters but she dashed out into the empty street where she danced and danced and danced in that fabulous fur coat.  A dance of defiant delight in a very dark moment.

Taking delight in the dance is an important first step, but delight is not enough.  The psalmist reminds us that God has made us but little lower than the angels and given us mastery over the works of God’s hands.  How we live on this earth and what we do with and to it matter.

On this, the forty-seventh celebration of Earth Day, my mind turns back to that improbable dancer wending her way around the outskirts of that crowd, sometimes darting into the center, often touching people gently on their arm, turning her head up to theirs in a gesture of recognition and connection and then inviting them into the dance.

What do Easter people do when the Lord of the Dance extends her hand to us?

Of course, we join in.  Some of us with our two left feet tentatively swaying to the music and taking a small step forward or maybe just to the side when we feel confident.  Some of us leaping gracefully in step with the dancer.  All of us sustained in the dance with the memory of the many ways in the past the Lord of the Dance has cared for us and all creation; all of us moving to the beat of God’s consistent care for all she has created.

On this, the 47th Earth Day and on this, the second Sunday of Easter we hear the words of the prologue of the Gospel of John.  “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”  The Chinese translate that to “In the beginning was the road and the road was with God and the road was God.” Perhaps we might say, “In the beginning was the dance and the dance was with God and the dance was God.  Shall we dance?

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Again this year

Christmas comes again this year as it always does, the poet’s voice assures.

Accompanied by carols and cards and gifts beneath the tree.

Christmas comes in its own most predictable way—tales of shepherds asleep in the fields, songs that angels sing, a star—a brilliant star—shattering clouds gathered in the cold night sky then leading the curious, the longing and the dubious as well to that place where love itself takes on our most unwieldy human shape.

We gather here before the cross, before the table on this cold and crusty winter morn.  Again we hear the words we know so well.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

In the beginning—that’s so very long ago.  Another time.  Another place.  Alien and unfamiliar.  Easy to hold at arm’s length.

But what if we hear these words a different way?  What if we hear them in a different tone?  A different tense?

In the beginning is the word and the word is with God and the word is God….

What is coming into being in him is life, and the life is the light of all people.

The light is shining in the darkness and the darkness is not overcoming it.

The Word is becoming flesh and is living among us, and we are seeing his glory….

Word, love itself, being made flesh—being enfleshed in us—in you and me

In the parts we proudly show like peacocks fluffing out our plumes of generosity and kindness and wisdom and keen insights too!

And in those parts we try to hide in the back corners of the closets that are a part of all our lives–those parts we know all too well.

The Word –Love itself– moving in right here in this very space that makes up our lives and the world in which we live.

Pitching a tent in our most human fields of failures and successes and loving kindness and callousness and cruelty too—a world where polar bears perch on the shore of  a sea without an iceberg and a world of war where children no longer have tears to shed.

Light shining through the darkness of all the muck and madness of our world and of our lives as well.

Light illuminating the way to that manger where Love takes on our most human shape.

A moment when we sing in heartfelt voices, “Joy to the World/The Lord has come/Let earth prepare Him room.”

Prepare him room.

The prophet Isaiah puts it this way: “Prepare a way in the wilderness.  Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.  Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley”

Preparing a way.

Smoothing out the rough places.

Clearing away the boulders.

Preparing room for the Word to move in and live and love and work with us.

In another—yet not so different—time and place, the poet and preacher Howard Thurman wrote,

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.

Again this year that’s the work of Christmas.  The work of the Word being enfleshed in us.

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A Class Reunion: Memories and Triggers of Memories

I came late to the reunion.  This time it wasn’t my fault.  I waited over an hour in the car rental line.  So I missed the school tour.  But I made it to the “Meet and Greet” where folks quickly filled me in on all the important changes.  Imagine filling in a swimming pool in order to have more space for a school cafeteria.  I’m still shaking my head at that.

I loved that swimming pool and, with an equal passion, hated that school cafeteria.  Not because of the aesthetics of it all or because of the quality of the food or the unimaginative menu but because of all the social challenges a high school cafeteria presents.  A nightmare that haunted me for these many years.  Imagine the comfort I felt when I learned that some of my classmates shared my loathing.

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That cafeteria, with its highly varnished floors and tables, its wire reinforced windows, its rancid smells and cheery, hair-netted workers was then and still is the antithesis of God’s welcome table.  As my classmates and I compared notes at our fiftieth class reunion, I remembered a sermon I once preached.  The trope was the high school cafeteria.  Here’s the sermon:

Do you remember your high school lunchroom—the smells, the sounds, the layout of the tables?  Do you remember the food they served—the squeaky beans, the watery spaghetti, the crusty Mac and Cheese?  What about the sounds—the clanking of the plates, the loud voices, the constant hum, the sound of the chairs scraping against the floor—Do you remember the sounds?  Do you remember who sat at what table?  How you felt when it came time for you to pick your seat?  Do you remember what informed your choice?

Even to this day—just two days short of forty-six years since I first walked into the lunchroom at Murray Junior-Senior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota—I remember the feel of that lunchroom  and how I felt as I looked for a place to sit down.

I think such memories are seared in our minds and our hearts because they cut to the core of the questions who’s in and who’s out.

I bet those questions of who is in and who is out have been present in human society since the beginning of time.  I know they were important questions in Jesus’ day—questions that had significant impact on peoples’ lives; questions that made a difference in how people lived; questions that had the power to hurt or to heal.  Life and death kind of questions.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  The Pharisees answered, “Jews who follow the purity codes are in.”  By that answer they excluded the lame, the blind, the infirm and all who could not afford the price of a sacrificial dove.

The Roman overlords and their minions answered, “The wealthy, the propertied, those who own land and can pay their taxes are in.”  By that answer  they excluded day laborers, slaves and those so poor they survived only by begging.

We, too, have answers to those questions—answers that include and answers that exclude.  Around the world today people are including some and excluding others—decisions that can have deadly consequences.  Shia and Sunni each have answers to the question, “Who’s in and who’s out? as do Israelites and Palestinians. In Sudan, the Janjaweed say they are in and black Africans and those who act to help them are out.  Deadly consequences.

But we don’t have to go so far from home to find folks answering questions that include and by their answer also exclude.  Lines are drawn every day for all sorts of reasons.  Who’s in?  Who’s out?  Some folks draw those lines on the basis of politics others on the basis of possessions.

We even find such lines drawn in our own Anglican Communion.  There are those who say the Episcopal Church is out because we have a gay bishop in our midst.

But Jesus has a different answer to that question of who is in and who is out.  Hear what he has to say:

“When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host….But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

What does Jesus see as that which distinguishes a person?  What does Jesus see as the way to exaltation?  It’s not one’s wealth or power; it’s where and with whom one stands or sits.

“…those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  The Greek word for humble means “low in height or status”.  Think of it, Jesus is asking those who follow him, to take their place with the humble ones, the lowly ones, the low in status.   Jesus is asking those who follow him to take their place with those others would cast out.

But I think there’s more to this Gospel call than just to stand in solidarity with the lowly.

I still clearly remember how I felt that day when I first walked into the lunchroom.  I remember standing with my tray in hand—immobilized really—longing for someone to call my name, longing for someone to invite me to their table.  I needed someone else to make that move, to take that initiative.  I needed someone else to invite me to the table.

Hear what else Jesus says that day at dinner.  “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors….But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”  Jesus is calling his disciples, Jesus is calling us to go out and invite into our midst those who have been excluded from the table.  Jesus is calling us to welcome all who are hungry to God’s great welcome table.

O God, thy table now is spread,

Thy cup with love doth overflow;

Be all thy children thither led,

And let them thy sweet mercies know.

 

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Things Done and Things Left Undone

Rev Julie, host of today’s Friday Five, asks about unfinished things–those things you start and then put aside.

Quilts and bowls and skirts left unhemmed,

My life is filled with unfinished things                          

A stack of magazines waiting for me, and a pile of letters yet to be written-Some dating back to 2010!

There’s filing and stacking and ironing too

Thousands–really–thousands of slides that must be sorted through;                                          

So they can be digitalized, though why I’m not sure!

 

Every so often I get the right prompt:

A deadline I’d be embarrassed to miss

Or maybe a question on Rev Gals’ Friday Five

A nudge that gets me to work

As Rev Julie’s nudge did today

It’s not even 1:00 and look what’s been done:

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French tarragon and garlic chives now planted in Guadalupe’s garden

She’ll have a mighty tasty feast long before her feast day rolls around.

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Apples dusted, glass balls clean and gleaming

The cardinal can take a rest.

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But I can’t yet rest

Those projects have stacked up for months

It’s time to start on a quilt

Or maybe start to finish the book on my bed

It hasn’t been opened since before Advent One!

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Resurrection Happens

We’ve all had them.  Both in our individual lives and in our shared life.  Moments of fear, confusion, doubt, deep sadness, frustration.  Times when we’ve been at sixes and sevens.  Times when we’ve not known what to do or even if we could do.  We’ve all been in that place, that space the disciples were living in following Jesus’ death.

Mary Magdalene in her deep sadness asking “What have you done with my Lord?”

The disciples—well ten of them—huddled behind doors locked by fear.

Thomas saying to himself and the others too, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Peter, at sixes and sevens, feeling cooped up, caged in, saying to the others, “I’m going fishing”

We’ve all had them—moments when we wonder “What will become of us?’  “Where is my place in all of this?”  “Where do I fit?”  Sometimes it feels like being stuck in a deep fog; at other times it feels like your flesh will pop out from your skin.  Moments when all you can do is shake your hands in the air.  Moments when you desperately want to wind back the clock.

Like those disciples of long ago, you and I—we, too—are living in just such a moment.  We, too—we as the part of the body of Christ known as Live at Five—are facing a loss; we, too, are staggering in the news that our life together as a Eucharistic community will soon end.

Like those disciples of long ago, we, too, wonder “What will become of us?”  “Where will we go?”  “Where do we fit in the community of St. Michael and All Angels?”  We are all asking these questions.  I bet everyone of us here has asked at least one of these questions.  I surely have.

Perhaps some of us will huddle behind locked doors—like the disciples who didn’t go to Galilee.  Saying to ourselves and to those who ask, “I’m just going wait and see where the Spirit calls.”  And that is a faithful response.  Listening to the voice of the Spirit ought not be sneezed at.

Maybe others will join Peter, saying to themselves and to those who might ask “I’m going fishing” as they return to the place and time they worshipped before they joined this little community gathered around the table.  “You can find me at 9:00 or 11:15 or even 7:30 or maybe Thursday morning.”  That, too, is a faithful response, for following Jesus is not a walk we do alone.

But remember what happens on that early morning by the Sea of Galilee.  After a night of fishing, a night of empty nets—just after daybreak–the disciples look up and see a man standing on the shore. About a football field away from them.  They hear him ask, “Have you no fish?”  “No” they reply.  And then he suggests they try the other side of the boat.

Imagine that.  Imagine fishermen with years of experience, with the kind of body knowledge that comes from long experience, casting their nets in a different way.  It couldn’t have easy for them.  Yet they did it.

They caught a net full of really big fish.  So many big fish that they couldn’t even haul them into the boat.  More than they could ask or imagine!

Like the bright light of a new day, it dawns on one of them that that’s Jesus standing on the shore.  The Risen Lord.  “It is the Lord,” he says to Peter.  “Of course,” the others say to themselves as Peter girds up his loins (and the rest of him too) and swims to shore.  “It is the Lord.”    Off they go.  To the shore.  Trolling a net filled with really big fish.  A net so full they worry if it will hold.

When they get to shore what do they find?  A fire, some fish grilling, and bread baking on the coals.  “Come and eat,” their Lord says to them.”  Resurrection at work.  Right before their very eyes.

Here’s the truth.  The truth about Resurrection.  A truth you and I know from our own lives.  The truth about resurrection at work in human lives.  We know from our own moments of despair and sorrow the sorrow Mary Magdalene felt as she approached the tomb that Easter morning; we know from our own moments of fear like the fear the disciples felt as they huddled behind locked doors; from our moments of doubt and our moments of confusion we know that resurrection happens.  Right before our very eyes.  In our very lives.  Resurrection turning us from sadness into joy.

Almost exactly eleven years ago, I got a rumbling sense in my gut that I had to get home.  I had to be with my mom.  Just ten days before, Tim and I had been there together.  But I needed to get back home.  She had lung cancer.  We’d just gotten her on hospice, but she needed meals brought in.  Amazingly, her neighbors, friends and church folks each took a day.  Thirty days of hot meals and someone checking on her.  When I told her what folks were doing, she said to me, “Really—they’re doing that for me?”

Jesus said, “My peace I give you.  My peace I leave with you.”  You could feel the peace descending on my Mom.  It enveloped her—and me as well.  Resurrection happening right before our very eyes.

The next day she died.  But that’s not the end of the story.  I flew home and returned to work the following Monday—two days before my birthday.  I have never been so sad in all my life.  After work that Monday, I found a package on our porch.  My Mom’s handwriting in the address.  “Happy Birthday!  Love, Mom” the card inside read.  Resurrection happening before my very eyes.

We know it.  Resurrection.  New life.  A brush with the living God.  It happens in your life, in my life and in our life together.  Resurrection happens.  Even now.  In this moment.

Live at Five is being transformed.  We’re on the cusp of something new.  God is at work in our midst turning our tears into laughter, our mourning into joy.  Resurrection happening in our very midst.  Morning breaking on a new day.

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Friday Five: Gladdening My Heart

Rev. Julie at Rev Gal Blog Pals writes, “On this, Friday before Holy Week – when our lives will get very busy (more busy…) what are the things which gladden your heart? Which give you strength and sustain you when the going gets tough?”  She goes on to include some things that gladden her heart–a book, a movie, a person, a song, a poem, .

A book that’s gladdening my heart right now–Desiree.  I read it as a teenager and still remember the description of the Stockholm she encountered when she moved to Stockholm with her husband Count Bernadotte.  I wonder if I’ll  see the same Stockholm when I go this summer?

It’s not exactly a heart-gladdening movie but one I really liked–Spotlight.  So glad it got best picture.

Well here’s a song for today.  A song to gladden hearts:    (And here’s a scene to match the words.  A New Mexico morning)IMG_0484

The person who gladdens my heart–the man who just walked through the door and said to me as I was talking to an old friend, “I’ll walk the dogs.”  I do so love my man Tim.

IMG_0875Today, as I look out on Holy Week, I’m finding myself turning back to Ash Wednesday–maybe because I am just finishing my lenten project–a fiber piece inspired by Walter Brueggemann’s poem “Marked by Ashes.”  Today that is my favorite poem.  Here it is:

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.

This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.

This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.

This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home

halfway back to committees and memos,

halfway back to calls and appointments,

halfway on to next Sunday,

halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,

half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,

but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —

we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:

of failed hope and broken promises,

of forgotten children and frightened women,

we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;

we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with

some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes

anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —

you Easter parade of newness.

Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,

Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;

Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.

Come here and Easter our Wednesday with

mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

 

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

 

Taken from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp. 27-28.

 

 

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A Habit of Newness

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The prophet Isaiah says to the people of Israel exiled in Babylon,

“Thus says the Lord…Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing….”

I wonder how the people of Israel uprooted from their homes and homeland, taken captive, and carried off to a foreign land where people worshiped different gods heard those words.

I wonder if they even heard those words at all living as they did in the land of their conquerors. How could they not remember their homeland left in ruins, their loved ones lying dead, their temple destroyed. I imagine that the distant past—the past before the siege and fall of Jerusalem—was one place where they could find peace. I suspect they often found themselves considering the things of old—the good old days.

You and I—we are kin with the people of the exile, the people to whom Isaiah spoke the words of God.

Who among us has not found themselves in exile—cut off from that which we know, that which we love, that which gives us comfort?

Who among us has not found themselves stumbling in a wilderness of the unfamiliar and therefore threatening?

Who among us has not stood in the place of the people of the exile, the Israelites hauled off to Babylon?

Who among us has not, at one time or another in their life, shared their despair and turned back to the glory days of home for comfort and for peace?

I imagine that each of us in this room can look back and remember a time in our lives when we did not believe that God would ever create something new—a time when we saw no way out of the darkness of our days. Maybe a long stretch of unemployment or a hurtful divorce or the loss of a loved one or the aftermath a feared diagnosis delivered.

I suspect that most of us gathered around the altar this evening have a fair acquaintance with that crippling darkness.—either in our own life or in the lives of communities in which we have lived.

I know that here at St. Michael’s there have been more than a few such moments in our shared life—a fire that destroyed the old sacristy and what was then the parish hall; the day we learned that the then Bishop had denied our loan even as this very building was going up. Closer to our shared home—the moment we as a worshipping community learned that Father Daniel—the founder of Live at Five—was leaving St. Michael’s. I can still remember over-hearing a person leaving worship that night saying, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”   I won’t soon forget the feeling of that blanket of despair that draped itself on this community.

And yet….

And yet we know from our own lives, the lives of those we love and the lives of communities in which we have lived, that there is always something new at work far beneath the topsoil of our lives.

Today, on this fifth and last Sunday of Lent,

Today, still reeling from the ugliness and meanness and only lightly-veiled tilt                towards violence that seem to be a part of our current round of elections,

Today, perhaps remembering the sadness that marks the life of someone we love,

we hear the prophet known as Isaiah say to the people of Israel, the people of the exile, the people who sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept, people who despaired of ever regaining their bearings–“Behold, I am doing a new thing, Even now it is springing to light. Do you not perceive it?”

We hear the psalmist sing the promises of God:

Those who sowed with tears/will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed/

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

We hear those words and we wonder, “Can they be true? Dare we hope?”

That’s the thing about God’s newness at work in a human life—often you don’t see it until you look in your rearview mirror.

And yet the newness is there, “being born in us, just when we least believe in it.”1

When I look in my own rearview mirror, I sometimes catch a glimpse of moments of newness of life just when I thought things had fallen apart for good—disasters that seemed to lead to light and new life. I suspect such moments are a part of every life.

I know that St. Michael’s has had such moments— the way the community came together in the aftermath of that fire, the amazing vitality springing up from the necessity of bringing in the money to pay for this house of worship,   and surely not least, the way this community of Live at Five has lived into its ministry of bringing St. Michael’s out into the larger community and bringing the larger community into the worshipping core of St. Michael’s. Who would have thunk it in the dark moments of our life together.

But God has a habit of doing a new thing. The Bible is full of God’s startling acts of newness—it’s bookended by acts of newness—starting with creation and ending with the new Jerusalem. Why would we not expect to find God’s acts of newness in our own lives, in our common life, and in the world in which we live. God is about a new thing.

Like the green blade of grass rising from the wintry soil, God is always at work Eastering our ashen world and our ashen lives . The light of the open tomb overcoming the darkness of the cross.

“Behold,” God says to God’s people, “I am doing a new thing, even now it is springing to light.”

It’s our job to greet that Eastering newness with hopeful hearts and arms wide open to receive God’s next new thing.

1 “Behold, I am Doing a New Thing,” Paul Tillich, from The Shaking of the Foundations, 1955.

 

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