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by Mandy Mizelle Norris, Associate Pastor
This past Sunday, we contemplated the story of the two travelers on their way to Emmaus that first Easter day. Two of Jesus’ followers who meet and walk with him, presumably for miles, listening to him recount scripture from Moses through all the prophets… and yet call him “Stranger.”
Maybe they were overcome by the events of the past few days, from the Passover celebration through the crucifixion and burial, their eyes cloaked — closed — in grief.
Maybe Jesus looked radically different in some way(s) after all of this. He was resurrected, not merely resuscitated, after all.* The point was never to be the same.
Whatever the case, they do not recognize him until they are at the table together, and Jesus blesses and breaks bread, and gives it to them. Then, John tells us, their eyes are opened and they recognize him. Later, they tell the others that “he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
He had been known to them in the breaking of the bread.
On Sunday, we broke and passed and took bread — thanks be to God and Guglhupf! — from where we were sitting (in my case, standing). For at least a few moments, we looked up from the roads along which we had been trudging, saw beyond the events that distract and overwhelm us, touched and smelled and tasted, paid attention to the One who draws near — and yet is strange(r), beyond our grasp.
In homiletics — a fancy word for the study and art of crafting and delivering sermons — I learned that you cannot fit everything you want into a sermon (unless you are Baptist and the sermon is 40 minutes). This academic theory is confirmed by your faces about 12 minutes into preaching.
So I always have at least two documents open when I am writing: my “real” sermon — the one I’ll actually preach; and the unedited version, with all the extra material that helps inspire and inform the process, but may not make it to the pulpit.
One of the outtakes this week was this gem from Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World:
“To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.”
It was not the long explanation, the careful interpretation of scripture that revealed to the travelers who Jesus was; it was the pleasure-filled, extra ordinary, any-bodily practice of breaking bread.
This strikes me as very Good News in a world that constantly whispers — sometimes shouts — that we need to know, to do, to be more. Very Good News for those of us who consider our lives and our selves, our occupations and our offerings (in the widest senses) too simple, not enough.
In this season of Easter, this perennial spell of resurrection, may the presence of God and spirit of Christ be made known to us in the bending and digging, the chopping and stirring, the reaching and receiving.
*Marcus Borg elaborates on this point in the eight chapter, “The Truth of Easter,” of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions — worth reading!
September is finally here, y’all! Our 90+ degree exile is almost over. Get behind us, Satanic forecasts!
Bring on fall and football! Bring on sweaters and Sunday school! Bring on NC PRIDE!
For those of us newer to Pilgrim, NC Pride is our state’s annual gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender festival and celebration. For the past several years, it has been conveniently (for us) held on Duke’s East Campus. This year it will be kicked off by Governor McCrory. (That last sentence isn’t true.)
For some, the celebration of “Pride” is confusing. Christian tradition has taught most of us to be wary of pride. We’ve come to understand pride as a sin, as against or apart from God’s intentions for us. And it is certainly true that putting ourselves above others is not a good way to love God and neighbor, or bring nearer the kindom of heaven.
Yet year after year, something called Pride remains a magnificent act of loving God and neighbor, a sacred and Spirit-filled event for many of us, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, that does indeed make nearer and known the kindom of heaven.
It is because capital “P” Pride isn’t about any single community, including the queer community, putting itself above others. It is about affirming and celebrating those who have been deemed less than our “straight” sisters and brothers and our cisgender siblings. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, it is about embracing the equally sacred worth of the LGBTQ community — having faith that we, too, are wonderfully, uniquely, and fully made in the image of God; that who we love and how we identify and express ourselves are gifts from the God we all brightly and beautifully reflect.
Since the faces and voices of Christianity have too often been a source of exclusion and shame for those with “different” sexualities and gender identities, it is a necessary act of justice, a holy act of lovingkindness for Christians to be joyful participants in Pride, standing, walking, singing, and sharing Communion as the whole body of Christ.
Just yesterday, before migrating south for the winter season of life, to a retirement community where she worked decades ago, Alice Myers reflected on how special Pilgrim has been over the years to her and her late husband, Dewitt: “We’re open — and affirming! Such wonderful words; they’re not throwaway words!”
Pilgrim has been Open and Affirming since 1999, meaning we welcome all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, into the full life of our church. We say the phrase so often — Open and Affirming, sometimes abbreviated to only three letters: ONA — it’s easy to take for granted the magnitude of their meaning and forget their significance. But Alice was right: they are wonder-full words not to be missed.
NC Pride is a bold reminder of who we all are as God’s beloved, and who Pilgrim is as an ONA congregation. Won’t you join us in sharing the good news?
If you would like to participate in Pride by volunteering at our festival table or decorating our truck for the parade, please see the sign up sheet on the table outside of the Fellowship Hall. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to come to our communion service at 11 in the gazebo and walk or ride in the parade at 1! Questions? Contact Lissa Tate: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another…” — John 13:34-35
The restroom sign pictured above is from a single stall restroom open to anyone of any gender identity or expression.
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” — Luke 3:21-22
This Sunday, Lance, with the help of our gospel text, called us to reflect on Jesus’ baptism and to remember our own. Pondering those stories, I recalled my time in India with seminary friends a few years ago, and the many instances of holy water we encountered there:
Walking through the garden of Humayun’s Tomb, we learned that the four water channels we crossed represented the Islamic belief around the four rivers of Paradise. Passing the cremation site of Gandhi, we were reminded that Hindus spread the ashes of those who have died in the Ganges River as a sign of liberation of soul and rebirth. At Jama Masjid, the largest — and most breathtaking — mosque in India, we witnessed hand and foot washing from its central pool before Friday prayers. At Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, a Sikh house of worship, we washed our own feet before entering as many people gathered around its outdoor pond for spiritual cleansing.
The multiple invocations of water apparent in the practices and holy spaces of other faith traditions contrasts our singular — in occurrence and importance — water event in Protestant Christianity. They flow forth from the idea of sacred manyness, a belief particularly evident in Hinduism. This prevalence echoes how much of our bodies, and the body of Earth, is constituted by water. Each of these acts in and around water is, like baptism, a marker of restoration and rebirth leading to new life and signifying physical and/or spiritual distinction.
My time in India asked rather bluntly what is life-giving and life-renewing for me — a question echoing these post-Epiphany, beginning again days. It affirmed and made clearer some sources, questioned or challenged others, and revealed previously unknown or unrecognized restorative founts.
What is life-giving, life-renewing for you these days?
Thinking about life-bearing waters in a place known to many travelers for its “bad” water — water we are quick to avoid, spit out, shake or dry off — is ironic. It made, and still makes, me wonder if we have rejected some baptismal waters, our biases keeping us on comfortable shores when we have been called to wade in. It makes me wonder about the ways we, like Jesus, can immerse ourselves more deeply, better lovers of the One who opens the horizons and calls all of us Beloved.
Pilgrim members and friends,
Due to current road conditions in many of our neighbors, and our skating rink of a parking lot, we are canceling our Sunday morning activities and worship. Please stay safe and warm, and check on your elderly neighbors. We hope to see you next week (if not before)!
Searching Sacred Shadows by Mandy Mizelle
What are your earliest memories of darkness?
Some of mine are the “current” (or as everyone outside of eastern North Carolina calls it, “electricity”) going out, and the subsequent thrill of running through the house to find candles and flashlights, the pure adventure of carefully doing the most ordinary things — playing Scrabble, brushing teeth — by tiny, flickering glow.
How do you experience darkness now? What has it grown to mean to you throughout the years?
When I consider darkness now, I can’t help but think of my four-year-old’s nightly fears, how he asks for everything that might cast a shadow to be taken out of his room — an impossible ritual reminiscent of that great line from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated: “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without also protecting yourself from happiness.”
I think of my favorite starry night seasons, fall and winter. I think of friends living with mental illness for whom long nights are more awful than awe-full, friends who no longer leave home after certain hours.
I think of the problems with our good versus evil dichotomies of light and dark, how darkness gets dismissed as if it’s not a gift for what we need as much as want: for rest, healing, privacy, intimacy, time to develop… for the optical illusion of looking more attractive than we actually are, thanks be to God!
What darkness surrounds you these shortened days? What can you imagine sensing — not necessarily seeing — differently this shadowy season?
These are the questions Advent asks us. As those of you who were paying attention to the children’s message on Sunday know, Advent means “coming.” It is the first season of the church year, lasting the four weeks leading up to Christmas — the coming of Christ. It is a season marked by darkness and anticipation, expectation and waiting.
It is a sacred time we join in the ancient longing for a Messiah, the Promised One sent to save, heal, liberate us — to show us the way of hope and joy, of just peace, of love greater than death — beginning in the most peculiar of places. We await and remain awake to Jesus’ re-birth, God’s reincarnation to us this year — whoever and wherever we are in all our particularities, all our longing. Each year, we read, retell, and become part of this enduring story. We become part of the mysterious journey towards the light. Even if we cannot see it yet, we hope, together, for the light to come — for the tiny, flickering glow we can only perceive because of the darkness that holds it.
As we scan a horizon we cannot make out, may we open ourselves to this time of searching the shadows, of not yet, of embracing mystery and the awe and imagination it invites, of sensing what we cannot yet see…
See, I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving Yahweh, your God, by obeying God’s voice, and by holding fast to Yahweh; for that means life to you and length of days… — Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a
One of my favorite biblical passages is Deuteronomy 30, God’s urging the people of Israel to choose life. On the edge of the promised land, Moses reminds the gathered community of their long journey to this place, calling them to renew their covenant with Yahweh, to choose again the way of life while they are on the threshold of possibility. I don’t imagine Moses speaking these words to the people of Israel like protesters have been known to shout them at women painfully navigating the difficult and vulnerable terrain of unintended pregnancy.
When we originally began planning the Women’s Retreat around Native spirituality, we were specifically thinking about Native American spiritual practices. In the months leading up to the retreat, Ginger and I reached out to several Native American tribes, organizations, and spiritual elders as we sought women to lead our time together at the beach. We were connected to many wonderful people and places across the state and even the country, but one by one they did not work out.
For the first 17 years of my life, I lived in the same one-level brick house. (Impressively, we managed to change addresses, anyway: when I was about 10, our “Route” finally got a real street name. A few years later, we got a real Wal-Mart.)
Over the next 13 years, I moved 13 times.