Revolutionary Love

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Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
December 4, 2016
Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10
11:1 & Matthew 3:1-12

Listen to the Audio

 
First Coming
He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came 
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Madeleine L’Engle

(Christ) did not wait till the world was ready,
till (people) and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.

We come together today, here on this Sunday of Advent, this time of waiting, this time of preparation. We have lit the Advent Candle of Love and perhaps we feel like that’s exactly what we need, what we are longing for. For something beyond whatever the chaos we may feel in our own lives, in the world around us.

We reach for and long for that Love we talk about that overcomes fear, that Light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome. Maybe we long for what we might hope Advent can be, a peaceful time set apart, some twinkling candles, and re-lived childhood memories.

And then we get this passage. “Repent!” “Prepare the way!” “Make paths straight!”

We can read this and superimpose our own ideas of God and the Light and our own criteria for what it takes for it to come. “Prepare the way!” That must mean I need to have my house clean, all the gifts bought and wrapped, my finances in order, my inner-life in pristine condition. Probably in order for God to show up, I need to pray for long periods of time, every day, not make any questionable moral decisions, and never question or doubt. Probably if we were really doing good Advent preparation, we need to have everything in order, and have it all figured out—right?!

But no, this is not the Advent we find in the gospel, this is not the Advent we need today. The Advent we find comes into the middle of dark and messy, into a world that was engulfed in fear and chaos. Emmanuel, “God with us,” entered into a time in history when things where dark and grim, where fear and uncertainty ran rampant, and when people were crying out for another way.

John comes in from the wilderness and calls for repentance, calls to prepare a way for the Lord. This may seem counter to what we picture the preparation for Christ ought to be, but maybe John might be answering the question of “what are you waiting for?” more than he is trying to scare people into submission like a loud street preacher. At the very least, I think he’s showing us where our values are, and what it is that we actually need.

As my friend Alex pointed out, John shows up in the aftermath of Jesus’ birth, and the aftermath of Herod’s slaughter of hundreds of children. He shows up to people who are hurting and grieving that the empire had just murdered their babies. He shows up in the midst of the shrieking of Rachel and all the mothers whose children were taken from them.

But he also shows up right after the hope of the whole world has just been born. He shows up when God came into our world. And he comes out of the wilderness to talk about that hope. John came to proclaim a hope to people who were oppressed, proclaiming the kingdom of God over the kingdom of the empire. Offering the possibility that there is something more than capitalism, and that security in physical things won’t save us.

And Emanuel, God with us, comes to us in the middle of all the uncertainty and through Christ’s very presence—vulnerable in infant flesh—and opens up another way. With God with us, lions and sheep will lie down together. With God with us, and we’ll be able to sit across from that relative at the Christmas dinner table and find humanity beyond our differences. With God with us we will find that actually the kingdom of God—the love, the hope—is bigger and stronger and more pervasive and more immediately present than any of the chaos and fear. In fact, it is right here, God with us. Love with us.
God comes in the middle of dark and messy.

Jesus took bread and broke it, and the crumbs cascaded to the floor.

God comes in and amongst the mundane, the normal, the sacred.

God doesn’t wait until things are all cleaned up to come in. She doesn’t wait until we have everything in our lives perfectly in order to bring us some burst of joy, a flash of Light. No, God’s love and presence does not require an absence of the messy, it requires an openness to noticing and embracing the Love and Light. Prepare the way, repent, open up, clear out, turn, embrace the love.

My love, David, and I got engaged this past week, and we are so joyfully happy. This is something we have both been waiting for and praying for many many years—to find that partner to walk through life with. We had three days after our engagement in a total love bubble. I didn’t read the news, I didn’t worry about the church bank account, I didn’t look at the to-do lists. I only read the congratulatory comments on our announcement post on Facebook, and ignored all the political posts,

I even told people that we weren’t going to start trying to decide the wedding date until Monday because that scheduling felt stressful, and I wanted to bask in that deep and pure place of love and celebration.

On Monday, we began to re-enter the regular world life, and work, and the full email boxes, and work needs, and trying to find a wedding date that worked for everyone, and looking at the news again and wondering at the darkness and chaos and hate, and on top of it all, sneezing and coughing from a cold.

And I felt the love bubble beginning to fade. It was so tempting to just slide all the way away from it and to go the lowest common denominator of stress and worry and fear. I could feel myself succumbing to the chaos and the darkness…

But then, that idea of revolutionary gratitude caught up with me from a few weeks ago and the phrase “revolutionary love” crossed my path and a new image was offered me. I don’t need to “come down” from my love bubble high, and wallow in the chaos and fear. I need to hold strong to that incredible love, because that is the stuff of life. I need to expand that love bubble out and over the pain and the lists and the questions and fear.

Because love, in all its forms, is the thing that heals, and transforms, and comforts, and propels us forward. It was love that John was preparing the way for; it’s love that came into the world, Emmanuel, God with us. It’s love that we each need to claim and live and be in and with, here today.

Love is actually our greatest protest against empire and chaos and fear. And sometimes our work is to focus in on the simple things. The day-to-day acts of love that we keep showing up to. My friend Sara is planting bulbs. Our dear friend and new mom Tania is posting baby pictures. I’m determined not to lose the joy of the engagement glow. These are not things separate from the world, we’re not living apart and oblivious to the world around us, no—we’re defiantly claiming the power of love, here with us.

Jesus came into a dark world. And he came in innocence. Simply. As a baby. Revolutionary love is in the simple things, the innocence, and the vulnerable. Revolutionary love keeps its eyes open, to those who are vulnerable. Love stands together. Revolutionary love stands with the water protectors at Standing Rock. Revolutionary love gently cares for a partner as they support an aging parent. Revolutionary love goes across the street and checks on a neighbor. Revolutionary love shows up. And digs in. And embraces the love.

My friend and colleague Diana Butler Bass shared this story on Facebook on Friday, and I asked her if I could share it with you to close this message today.

She writes:
“I’m in a hotel this morning in Florida where some sort of conservative conference is being held. At breakfast, four older white men were at the table next to me. One was a media activist-pundit (who I think I recognized). They were talking VERY loudly, bragging about how they have “total power,” and how they are going to destroy everything President Obama did, how easy it is to manipulate people to get them to vote for them, and how they planned on taking over every single county government in the state of Florida.

There was a young African-American woman waiting on them. She did her job with thoroughness and kindness. As I watched, they spoke of disgusting racist things in front of her—and seemed to think she was invisible. And the more they bellowed their retrograde views, her body actually recoiled as she tried to serve them.

I was VERY angry. VERY ANGRY.

When she came over to my table, I told her that those guys might be white and I might be white but I thought they were assholes and that I wasn’t on board with their plan, how sorry I am about what happened. I told her that I wanted to go over to their table and slap them upside the head. She laughed.

She said, “You know, one day all this hate will finally die out. It doesn’t bring life. It cannot survive the long term.” I said, “I kind of hoped it might die before I do.” She said, “Well, that’s probably a bit too soon! But I have hope. Hate has no life of its own. Another generation or two. It will die.”

And she went on, “And meanwhile, we work for our communities. We love our families, care for our neighbors, celebrate life. And them?” She gazed over to the table with a mixture of resignation and pain. “They are the last of a dying world.”

As she spoke to me, her back straightened, her eyes glowed, passion filled her voice. And finally she said, “It is really nice, however, that a white lady like you noticed how awful they are. Thank you. We all need to pay attention and do our part.”

Dear ones, we all need to pay attention and do our part. Advent is a time of preparation, and waiting yes, and it’s a time of paying attention. It’s a time of being vulnerable and then standing up to do our part. Care for each other. Love our loved ones. Stand with the vulnerable. Celebrate life. Love with revolutionary love.

(Christ) came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

God Pitched Her Tent Among Us

tent Sermon for Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church
San Francisco, California
December 29, 2013

Text: John 1:1-18

Audio:

Last weekend my siblings and I flew and drove in from all over the country, to gather on Guemes Island in Washington State, at our childhood home. We gathered to surround our mother as she said goodbye to her home of 30+ years, the home which my parents built, the gardens she’s worked, the field that housed various cows, pigs, and even a few goats over the years, the property where all seven of us, her children, were raised.

 “Momentous,” is the word a friend used to expressed this move. Momentous to be saying goodbye to the place and space that has held so much for my mother for so long and has been what she has known as stable, something to count on, the place to come home to for over 30 years.

I, on the other hand, have lived in six different states and 13 homes since I left this childhood homestead and my statistics are more in line with the transient population we find here in the Bay Area.  Many of us in this room can identify with the pause and faraway look when someone asks us, “Where’s home?” and we try to decide which way to answer that question today.  “Home” being a concept that can be a little shaky.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And God came and dwelt among us… God came and made a home among us.  What is this Word that makes itself at home? The Word, the Logos, is a Greek term that is a struggle to even begin to capture in the English language.  It can refer to any part of communication, or the total act of communication…the speaking, the proclaiming, or the connecting conversation between. We can read this as wisdom showing up to communicate and be present with us, God’s self-revelation to humanity. 

The Logos was God and God came and made His home among us. Or a translation that has caught my imagination, God came and pitched Her tent with us, beside us, among us.  In this poetic telling of the gospel story that starts off the Book of John, God established a residence that moves, that is transient, that accompanies, that’s every changing.  Invoking the way of God with the ancient mothers and fathers, who wandered in the wilderness, following signs and pillars of cloud and fire, setting up the Tabernacle wherever they made camp. God Incarnate followed in this ancient tradition and came and pitched a tent among us, born through a woman who was far from home, away from all she knew as stable and known. And this God, is audaciously indiscriminant about who She pitches her tent beside, who She loves, reminding us in the very location of Christ’s birth, in a shed, behind the inn, with the animals, visited by shepherds.

As the season of advent is still lingering in the smell of Christmas trees, and the twinkling lights, the audacious message of incarnation is fresh in our minds. God showing up on earth in fleshy, ordinary, extraordinary form, as a baby. An infant. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God came to this earth and slipped into the skin of baby Jesus. And this incarnate God did not come and built a palace, or a mansion, not even a humble cabin to spend all his days. Just as Incarnate God does not come to establish surety in a religious club, or create exclusive spaces where certain people can access Divinity. God came in the intimacy of a breath between a mother and infant, in the vulnerable nature of flesh and straw, in the immediate presence of Emmanuel, God with us.

Because that’s the thing about Incarnate Divinity: It’s not just in one sacred place, and it doesn’t just show up at Christmas as we call out, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Incarnate Divinity is in the flesh and bones of the world. Dwelling with us. Accompanying us. Moving with us. Incarnate Divinity in the Bread and Wine, in the compassionate acts in unexpected places, in the intimate safety between two who know each other’s hearts, in the ache of loss when we remember those we love and miss. Incarnate Divinity, is what accompanies us through each movement of our days and lives, it is this Audacious Love, the Word made flesh, the Wisdom-in-person.  The Gospel of John takes the Christmas story right down to its essence. God. Light. Love. Coming and being with us, among us, in the flesh and breath of the human story.

And this God who incarnated love through flesh of a baby boy two thousand years ago, is the God who pitches Her tent with us. Who walks through each day with us. The God who moves homes with us and promises that there is a world beyond the life we’ve come to know.

On Sunday afternoon we packed a few cars worth of boxes and headed over to the bright little apartment that my Mom will be moving into in a few weeks. We oohed and ahhed at the nice big windows, the cozy kitchen, and the wooded view out the back window. As we unloaded boxes we gave our suggestions as Mom mentally rearranged the furniture that was yet to be moved in.

And as we pictured how it could be, she began to relax and feel the possibilities that this could be home and that her children could gather here, and be family. That life and traditions, love and connection can carry on beyond space and time and be present in this new place.

She got teary as she said, “So you all will come here and visit and we can continue our family traditions here?” We all assured her yes and then one of my sisters in an inspired moment, recognized that the layout of the little apartment mimicked the circular track of our childhood home where we had spent hours running around with various games. She took off with a grin and quickly a stream of grown adults were running in a big circle, squealing and laughing like the toddlers and six and eight and ten year olds we used to be. 

After the crowd had piled down the stairs, my mother grabbed my hand and asked, “Will you pray?”  We prayed and blessed that home as a place where family gathers, where love and connection is felt, where traditions are enacted and new memories made. We named God’s presence, incarnate in that home as we stood at the top of the stairs. I felt the brush of the Spirit. I could almost hear the click of bamboo tent polls being assembled and feel the brush of a silk tarp on my cheek.  God moving in. Dwelling with us. Setting up Her tent.

2013-12-29 09.47.00

Vulnerability

photo“I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” –Brené Brown


The day before Thanksgiving the right side of my body and a sidewalk had an abrupt and violent encounter.
My shoulder burst into searing pain, I tried to stand, felt the world close in, sat down again on the sidewalk, and felt the vulnerability of pain.

A few weeks later I sit on the rug in my bedroom and feel the muscles around my upper arm and back twinge as I use careful motions as my pen moves across the page.

“It feels vulnerable” is how I described my shoulder when the doc and then the acupuncturist moved it around to access the damage. Painful, tender, and vulnerable.

Vulnerability is a word that has been present in my life of late. It’s vulnerable to move yet again to a new place, with new people, start from scratch building relationships and community. Vulnerable to be staring the end of graduate school in the face and knowing that student loans end in May, and salary, health insurance, housing, and all those other necessary things are not yet a known quantity on the other side. Vulnerability of yet again taking large life steps as a single person, with the freedom, and the deep loneliness of moving through these decisions on my own. Vulnerability around my family of origin as final steps of my parents recent divorce are approaching. And vulnerability that over the last few months I have said out loud in a variety of settings, “I am going to plant a church.” Without knowing exactly where, when, or how, I keep saying out loud this call and vision that God is growing within me and around me. Speaking something into being that I have yet to know is possible. It’s audacious. It’s vulnerable.

Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus comes into my meditation as I walk up the hill. Great with Child, traveling away from home, prepared to birth the Son of God, carrying the one who she knew was destined to turn the world upside down. And yet, here she was, in Bethlehem, far from her family and community, and without even a room at the in. I wonder if she wished that she were back home in her own bed, with her mother and sisters nearby. I wonder if she would have said she felt vulnerable.

I go home and pull up the Ted Talk on Vulnerability. Damn your deep, wise, hits-too-close-to-home, wisdom Brene Brown. She winds up her talk with with these words:

“Let ourselves be seen…deeply seen, vulnerability seen. To love with our whole hearts, knowing that there is no guarantee. Practicing gratitude and joy in the moments of terror… I’m so grateful—to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.”

To feel this vulnerable means I am alive. The crisp air at the top of the mountain had a similar effect.

As does Advent. Divinity incarnated through deep vulnerability. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God came to this earth and slipped into the skin of baby Jesus. Carried by a mother who as young and vulnerable herself. Traveling far from home, no place to lay her head, let alone give birth to the Son of God. And it is this tale of vulnerability that ushers in the Divine presence in human form. It is this Christ, this anointed one, who says “come and follow me.” The One who embodied vulnerability as the gateway to life.

It’s scary writing this blog post. I don’t like being vulnerable. Especially in public. And yet this is part of being alive. Being human. Being created by the Divine.

And so I write. And share. And remember. And pray. And I keep rubbing Arnica in my shoulder, honoring this world of flesh and divinity, strength in vulnerability.

A gift of physical pain can be the reminder of vulnerability. And a gift of vulnerability is being open to others and alive to life. May it be.