Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Year Since I've Left Lincoln

It's a year exactly since I left Lincoln and ventured forth to move to Atlanta.  I remember quite vividly the deep feeling of uncertainty and loss I felt.  I went up to the top of the capital building and I gazed out over that city that I will always love and treasure.  It was where I went to college, where I came out and found myself.  And I stood up there and took it all in. Then I got in my car and drove away.  It was a very emotional day, and by the time I got to my parent's house I was drained. I wasn't sure if I really wanted to leave, I just knew where my grad school was and I knew what I wanted to be.  
Today, I'm kind of amazed at how far I've come in a year. So I've decided to be superbly sappy and go back over what's happened in my life since then.
Dad helped me move down to Atlanta, and when we came to move in, the apartment was a mess.  It got cleaned up, but it still wasn't where I wanted to live.  I put up with it.
I met my friend D during orientation and he took me to my first Episcopal Mass. The pew arobics were a bit complicated, but he started me on my adventures into crossing myself, singing Psalm tunes, and bowing at the right time.  I tried to come to every Wednesday evening Evensong at school.  I found that I really love saints and the Eucharist.  If you feed me spiritual food and tell me about those who have come before me in the faith, I find it hard to resist. 
This process of Episcopalization was aided by meeting Br. K.  I was actually at first nervous to talk to him because he was the guy in the funny robes, and I figured he was some super pious dude. Turned out we have similar amounts of piety, and I came to monk meetings. That's where I began to love Compline and started learning about Daily Offices. 
Then I found love at the monk house kitchen table.  Br. J was fascinating to me, and I fell for him while we were looking at a magazine of Catholic chatchkies. Go figure.  Then he invited me to go to a haunted house with him that weekend. We ended up going to two and it goes down in my personal history as the coolest first date ever.  After that I had to stop counting dates because we were together every single day.  It was kind of ridiculous, but it worked for us and still does. 
J came with me to Thanksgiving in Iowa, and the day before Thanksgiving I got my legal name change. J was with me at the courthouse as I got the documents signed by the judge.  There was much to be thankful about. 
I started talking to the bishop and looking at Episcopal churches, and I was recieved into the Episcopal Church on the second Sunday of Advent.  I had been a pill that day, and J and I had an argument right beforehand, but when I came up to be recieved, J made sure he was right by my side.
A little while later, he was right there as I took my first shot of T. 
The next semester I joined the Episcopal Studies program at school and got assigned to one of the best little churces ever.  I love all that I do there and Fr. B is absolutely amazing.
J and I also just moved into an apartment together.  It's beautiful and amazing.  I feel more grounded having a place to come home to that feels like home. I am finally settling in.  
I've also met probably some of the most incredible people and I feel extremely blessed. 
I am connected to my community in ways I never imagined.
I miss Lincoln, and I will always be connected to Lincoln.  It was where I found myself. But since coming to Atlanta, I've been able to be myself in ways I never imagined.  And that's great too.  I think I can call this place home for a while, maybe not forever, but for long enough. 
It's a good life. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Sermon on the Rich Fool 8/4/13

This is my sermon from 8/4/13.  It is on Luke 12:13-21 with mentions of Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 as well as Colossians 3:1-11. I hope you find something in this sermon that inspires you and makes you think.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I got very positive feedback on it.

A large crowd has gathered around Jesus. He admonishes them to not fear those who kill the body, for they can kill nothing more.  He tells them that when people are brought before the authorities because of their belief in him, they should not worry about their defense, because the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say. This is important business.
Then a voice in the crowd pops up, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” I can imagine that Jesus would have been a little shocked about that outburst.  That had nothing to do with what he was saying.  So he replies, “Friend, who set me to be a judge and arbitrator over you?” In other words, “Do I look like your lawyer?” Then he turns to the crowd and addresses them all saying, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
I can imagine this man standing in the crowd, barely paying attention to Jesus because he is so consumed with this problem of inheritance. His mind is so focused on possessions and wealth, he can’t listen to what Jesus is saying.  There is a pause in Jesus’ teaching and this man bursts forth with his question of inheritance.
He wasn’t wrong to ask Jesus about this.  Rabbis and religious officials were often consulted on legal matters.  They were the ones who knew the law of Moses and were able to interpret it.  I imagine the man came to Jesus specifically because he had heard that Jesus was one of the best rabbis, and wanted to consult him. He was however so consumed with the matter, with his possessions, that he wasn’t able to stop and simply listen.  He was so consumed with the injustice occurring in this inheritance battle that he carried it on his shoulders, and he couldn’t drop the weight. So there it festered until he asked Jesus.  And Jesus never answered his question, he never gave him legal counsel. Rather, Jesus told him a story.
It’s a story of a dream come true.  A rich man’s land has just produced an abundant amount of grain.  So much so that the barns could not possibly hold it all.  So the rich man asks himself, “What am I going to do with all this grain? There’s no way I can store all of this.” He thinks hard and says, “I know exactly what I’ll do.  I’ll tear down my existing barns and build huge ones.  Then I will be able to store everything! And I will say to my soul, my innermost being, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.”  This man thinks that he will be able to kick back for the rest of his life.  He’s got it made. All his toil and labor has finally paid off.  He’s going into retirement.
But then God shows up and God’s not too happy.  God says, “You fool! You’re going to die tonight, and all these things that you prepared, where will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
This rich man is in the same bind as the first man.  He’s become consumed with possessions to the point that he really can’t focus on much else.  He works and labors to ensure that his wealth will be properly stored and maintained. He is consumed with it. He carries it on his shoulders with him. Worst of all, he thinks that his soul can relax because of his monetary gain.  He doesn’t have to work on anything anymore, including his relationship with God. But in the end, all that he has accomplished is vanity, and a chasing after the wind.
How often do we carry monetary problems and gains around with us? How often do we work and labor to maintain what we have or to gain more? How often has it become a consuming force? Something you can’t let go of?
In our world, money is important, and it’s important to be responsible with it, but we shouldn’t be defined by it.  Too often we are.  Occupations and pay grades often define how we are treated in society.  This past week Br. Jamie met a man at the Church of the Common Ground Bible study.  He had been arrested for loitering, which is essentially an arrest for sleeping in the wrong place downtown.  When he was arrested the police took his bag, which contained all his possessions, and they threw it away.  It contained his driver’s license and other important documents. But nobody took care with the possessions of a homeless man.  He was defined by his lack of housing.  His poverty made everything he had worthless in the eyes of the arresting officers.  Had he been arrested for anything else but homelessness, his possessions would have been stored and returned to him after he was released from jail, but they weren’t.  His monetary problems, his lack of housing made him subhuman. He was defined by his lack. The officers arresting him treated him differently than they would have treated a person who had a place to stay.  And that’s a problem with having a possession focused mindset.  Lack of possession tends to be equated with lack of human value.  And he was a man who was searching for a deeper relationship with God and was looking for resources to help him out of his current situation.  Even if he hadn’t of been though, he should have been treated with the respect that any other person would have been given.  He is still a human, a child of God.  But in a possession obsessed world, he was a homeless person, and that was what defined him.
Money is a fleeting thing, something that is given in abundance, often by chance, to some while others have to toil and labor for their share. The passage from Ecclesiastes today makes that clear.  The Teacher bemoans that while he has toiled and labored to gain earthly wealth, he will eventually die and someone else will reap the benefits of his labor. Those who receive inheritance from him are not necessarily wise, nor did they work to earn their profits, yet they will inherit all that he has earned. So, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?” In the end, it is all vanity, a futile endeavor.
So why are we tied up with futility to the point that we shut out what Jesus is calling us to? Why is it so easy for us to treat others with less money and possessions with less respect, as if their lack of wealth meant they were less human? Money is important, jobs are necessary, but the ultimate definer of a person should not be how much they earn or what job they hold.  Those things all pass away and get passed on to others. They are all ultimately futile.
What does not die are the things that are of above.  Your relationship with God does not die.  All the time you have put into becoming a better disciple of Christ will not have been spent in vain.  As the writer of our passage from Colossians says, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
 It is our relationship with Christ, the Creator, and the Holy Spirit, the holy unity and trinity of the divine that ultimately defines us and will stay with us long after we have passed from this earth.  These are the things that should we should be consumed with, not our possessions or material gain.  Too often our material focus makes it hard to see the spiritual in this world, it can cloud and consume us.  But when we step back, when we open up to the possibilities that God is speaking into our lives, we are investing in something that lasts.  
So when possessions pressure you to turn inward, when money becomes scarce or abundant, when your world seems defined by occupation or lack of it, Take care! For one’s life does not consist in the abundance or lack of possessions.  One’s life consists truly in the arms of their Creator.