Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sermon - First Sunday after Epiphany [the Baptism of Our Lord]

[Written by Nina Boe, preached Sunday 11 January 2015 
at Most Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil]

O God, you come to us in water and fire, amidst darkness and light,
You come to us in the act of Creation, its birth, death, and resurrection…
Let us with gladness enter this season of birth and renewal,
Of new beginnings, however they may come,
and to step forth in the newborn hope renewed of God with us. Amen.


            I don’t know what it is, but the story of creation, the first words of Genesis, chapter 1…there is something so meaningful and profound to me about these words. Of all of the places and times in our complex and beautiful galaxy and beyond, out of all of the possible moments, there was one where God chose to breathe something new and different into existence. 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

            So…I have a thing about heights. And darkness. If there’s a choice in it, I prefer to see what’s going on. Depth and darkness can be intimidating. And yet…I can’t get over this curiosity, wondering what was it like when our very solar system was in its birth pangs. We think so often of the heavens as the clouds above us, and centuries of religious art has only solidified that imagery – but as technology advanced, we learned there was so much more beyond what we can see. What can we see in the dark? Precious little, and yet Genesis reminds us that even in the deep and the dark, the Spirit of God is present—and active. That so much can be created out of darkness.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

            I am reminded of Eucharistic Prayer C in our Book of Common Prayer:

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe…at your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.


            I’m a big fan of symbolism and metaphor—and I am sometimes struck not only by what is said, but by what is left unsaid. God saw that the light was good—but didn’t say the darkness was bad. God was present in the darkness.

As I read the readings for today, there was one word that kept sticking out to me: glory. The psalm in particular:

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters… 9 …in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

            To God be the glory, for many a reason…but today I find it fitting to focus on God the Creator. Here in Rio de Janeiro, it is easy to be amazed by the beauty of Creation. As I go back to my city, I find myself reflecting on things I have missed, including nature itself. I’m reminded of a story of our former priest, when our parish supported a refugee family from Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim region, who fled due to conflict in 1999. Rev. Peter took the father and his sons on a hike in the area, with a stunning view of Mt. Rainier, a beautiful dormant volcano of which we in Seattle often have amazing views. As Rev. Peter and his companions came to a viewpoint overlooking the mountain, the father of the family paused in reverence, only able to say one word in the presence of such beauty: Allah. God.  


To God the Creator be the glory…but it is not simply nature and the stars in their orbits that God has created…but us humans and our hearts, into which God has placed eternity. An infinite longing and mission in a very finite frame. It is no wonder that we ache and strive for things that many times seem beyond our grasp – justice. Peace. Love. Equality.

            As some of you may know, I am going back to a society that is once again being actively torn by injustice, systemic violence and racial inequalities – not that they ever disappeared as time passed, but like so many instances in the human experience, once again they rear their ugly heads, and once more we must rise and fight. There is a beautiful song by the popular American singer John Legend that was just released in light of a new film, Selma, about part of the U.S. civil rights struggles in the 1960s and 70s.

“One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours… one day, when the war is won, we will be sure…oh, glory…welcome to the story we call victory, the coming of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory…”

You see, one of the many things that God has created in us is our calling. The true and worthy desires and passions of our hearts. The things that make our very souls ache. I knew from a young age that I wanted to participate in what God was doing beyond the borders of my own country and community. I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood, my schools always reflecting a colorful mosaic of people from different religions, races, countries and cultures. I was always excited to learn more about what I didn’t know, excited to see things for myself and have new experiences. My first real international experience, a month in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina only solidified a passion that encompassed my entire undergraduate academic career, that motivated me to become near fluent in a language, to become part of new communities, and ignited a love that continues to this day. But that led to another interest…which led to another… and I realized that there was infinitely more to experience, learn and love.

            That said…it doesn’t mean the journey is easy, or that simply because it’s something we want to do, it is without any fear or apprehension. There is a prayer attributed to St. Brendan, and I find it rather fitting to remember when undertaking new and life-changing things...like going to spend a year in mission in Brazil. Or two. Or going home and seeking what’s next.

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?
Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy…
Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land…
Shall I pour out my heart to You…
Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach,
a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?
Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?
O King of the Glorious Heaven,
shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

            Simply because we are called doesn’t mean that we won’t worry. That we won’t pass through the wilderness, the dark, or the wild waves…but as our very Creation story reminds us…God is with us, even then – in the darkness and depths, he is there. And there are those, who like John the Baptist, will appear in the wilderness, preaching the words our souls and hearts need to hear on our journeys.


And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul…arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them.

            This too is what God has placed in our hearts…the Holy Spirit. And as is always the case, there is nothing, no one, who can remain the same after encountering the Spirit. Saul became Paul. Disciples became empowered. And I, much to perhaps my own surprise, became a missionary. I’ve had the chance to preach during epiphany for the last three years now. You’d think I’d come up something new, but…I remember the first time I preached during Epiphany, just before I moved to São Paulo in January of 2013. I had come across a quote by Trappist monk Thomas Merton, and I first used it because it seemed like a good quote to use…and when I returned to Seattle in early 2014 for a couple months, I referenced it again because by then it was obvious that the quote was how I felt about Brazil and the Brazilian people. I share it here with you today to both affirm its truth, and try to communicate in some way the immense depth of feeling and meaning that being here amongst you all has been these past ten months: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs.”

            This is perhaps the summary of what God has done to me these past two years here in Brazil. From São Paulo to Recife, Rio de Janeiro to Rio Grande do Sul, Brasília, Goiás, Tocantins…the pull that led me to stay another year…and that which makes it so hard to leave now. And yet, as difficult as it is, I find it humbling to have even a glimpse in this of the love that God has for all of us, to have my finite heart be throbbing from the eternal within.

            Perhaps most fitting in closing as I now stand on the threshold, following the call as it beckons me onward, there is a prayer by Thomas Merton that I first heard during the beginning of my discernment journey that eventually led me to Brazil with this program of the Episcopal Church. I end with it now in the hopes that we all remember it on all of our journeys, and that our loving God the Creator, our dear Christ born to us again this Christmas season, and the Holy Spirit, are constantly with us—from the depths and the darkness to the joy and renewal, and on every step of the roads in between.



O God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Amen.


Friday, January 2, 2015

the hardest post to write: leaving.


When I decided to do another year in Brazil, it seemed like such an abstract date in the future that I didn't really give it much thought. Even when I came back for year two, leaving still seemed like some foreign idea. When I finally decided some months back that I felt it was time to head back to the States after round two and do something different (whatever that turns out to be), it still seemed like some distant thing.

...and now I am less than two weeks to go before I leave Brazil after almost two years straight (sans 2 rushed months back in Seattle in early 2014). As much as this really is the thing that I feel is what I should be doing, that it's time to go back...it's starting to really hit me now that I'm really leaving. Yes, I knew when I got here that this wouldn't really be home -- that I would inevitably at some point go back to Seattle and the U.S. But on the other hand...it did kind of become home. Between the two years, I've been in Brazil some 656 days, by my calculations. 

That's a long time. A lot has happened to me here, and I realize - after some serious introspection, as well as talking to family members, that I have also changed and grown a lot, too. Two years, and I've been to three different countries, multiple locations in Brazil, had some fascinating experiences, met innumerable amazing people, learned a new language, and challenged myself to step out in faith that this would be an amazing experience that would be worth the risk of leaving my home, my comfort zone, and everything I knew.





"...I say hey, I'll be gone today
but I'll be back around the way -
it seems like everywhere I go, 
the more I see the less I know
but I know one thing, that I love you.."

I've liked this song since I first heard it, and when I randomly looked it up on YouTube, was entertained to find that it was actually filmed in Rio de Janeiro! The text I've quoted from the refrain reminds me of a moment I had last October, on a plane flying back into São Paulo after a trip to Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul -- actually, the moment I realized I wanted to stay in Brazil for a longer period of time -- this realization that this time in Brazil had helped me fall in love with Latin America, and I didn't want to leave just quite yet. 

Or on another level, the realization by Trappist monk Thomas Merton (a quote that I've used a few times in previous sermons): “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs.” This is a sentiment that I realized has easily become how I feel about Brazil. This is a strong, overwhelming type of love -- something that has always been easy to me, in some ways, anywhere I travel. But this experience here in Brazil has been different...it wasn't just traveling, and inasmuch as this wasn't home, it became home. I felt at home. So many amazing people made me feel at home here. And yet as the months wore on, despite that I was in an amazing, beautiful city, with so many amazing, beautiful people, having so many amazing, beautiful experiences...I began to feel the tug that said, it's time to move on.


"...so I say hey, I'll be gone today
but I'll be back around the way -
it seems like everywhere I go, 
the more I see the less I know
but I know one thing, that I love you..."

Thomas Merton also penned a prayerful reflection that I recalled before I even left for Brazil -- we heard it in our discernment weekend as well as our training with the Young Adult Service Corps...and now I hold it close to my heart as I prepare to leave, and go on to the next thing.






 One of the recurring things I have been learning and re-learning time and again in various contexts is that life and learning are processes. There are few things that are so definite, concrete, and set in stone, including knowing where I am going, and knowing myself. I look forward to continuing this process, and I look forward to going back to Seattle and having the time and space to reflect on the last two years, the things I've learned, where I went, who I became...and I can only hope that we all have such experiences. 

And for you, my Brazil...remember: 


"...I say hey, I'll be gone today
but I'll be back around the way -
it seems like everywhere I go, 
the more I see the less I know
but I know one thing, that I love you..."


Rio de Janeiro as seen from Morro dos Irmaos in Zona Sul.

From A.A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh"

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New newsletter!

Hey all! Sorry for the delay...time flies! Speaking of...less than 7 weeks to go now until I am back in Seattle!

Here is a screencap of a glimpse of my newsletter...



...and you can access it here to fill you in on September, October and November!

Also, here is an article from Episcopal News Service about the conference I attended in Uruguay!

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls 2014


In the name of God, who loves us as Father and Mother, exceeding our understanding of even the most boundless of love –

In the name of the Son, the crucified and resurrected Christ, who empowers and teaches us that love, bringing us across the chasm from mortality to immortality,

And in the name of the Spirit, which both inspires and enables us to walk constantly in that love,

Amen.

            I will admit I had various thoughts about preaching on All Souls. At first I thought, I can do this – I can reflect on these topics. But as I began to delve a bit deeper, I realized there was more to today than I had originally thought. Traditionally, All Souls falls at the end of three days – the first is All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Saints – then All Saints itself, which we celebrated this morning – and then All Souls. Due to politics many years ago, church and governmental alike, the Anglican Church distanced itself some from remembering All Souls, for various reasons–coming back to it as the Anglican Church as it rediscovers its Catholicity. In many churches, the concept and content of All Souls is kind of blended with All Saints on the first Sunday of November. So, distinguishing between the two was kind of a bit of homework for me, which was good—though it did give me some pause at first. It wasn’t something with which I was as familiar.  And yet after reading more, especially reflecting on today’s readings, it became obvious to me that there was much to share on this special day.

            This is the day when we remember those who have gone before us—the day of the dead, all the faithful, all souls… I have lost count of how many caskets I have looked into, how many gravesides I have stood at, for many elderly – and also for those much closer to my own age. The psalm[1] today reminds us of those feelings we so often have at the time of death itself:

Out of the depths I cry to you…
2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

            Funerals can be difficult for us to deal with, and deaths can be tragic and sudden, yet it is also comforting to remember the dead and hold them in prayer. This day of All Souls is ultimately one of celebration, our reminder that the ones who have gone before us are not lost, and we should not forget them—and that though physically they are not with us, spiritually, they still are—and that is not something to be taken lightly. Not simply as something for us to have as a manner of coping with what has happened to others…but the other readings remind us that this is also something that will not only happen to us as well, and how important it is to the very essence of our Christian journey.


            Firstly, we are given the prophetic promise in Isaiah[2] that death does not have the final word.

7 …he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nationshe will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.

            What we come to later understand in the gospels, in Christ’s death and resurrection, is reflected here in God’s promise to abolish sin and death. To destroy the shroud and sheet that covers all nations—that is, death. No more will there be sorrow and sadness. This is often the message that we think of in our churches when we reflect on those who have died. And yet now I would ask that we shift our position slightly, so as to gain a different perspective on the matter. Death is not simply something inevitable for us, nor simply something that God will abolish…but it is something through which we must pass. Our reading from Corinthians[3] explains further the necessity of this death:

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 …the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

            I repeat again…death is not only inevitable, but necessary.



Upon reading this passage, though, I began to wonder about something else. Many other readings remind us that we as people of faith are called to bring about the Kingdom of God – and there are those who would interpret this as an apocalyptic call to hearken the end of days, but if, as we were reminded in the gospel in last week, the two greatest commandments that Christ leaves us are rooted in love – then the Kingdom of God simply, logically, cannot be founded upon something so violent. We are called to bring about the essence of the Kingdom of God on earth – that is, all of the beautiful, wonderful, amazing things that are possible with the love of God and the crucified and resurrected Christ in Him.

But…to inherit the Kingdom is something else completely. If God our Father would have us inherit His Kingdom…when someone passes away, who generally inherits something? One’s family – one’s children. To inherit the Kingdom of Heaven implies that we would be finally, truly, completely living into our calling as children of God, that goal towards which we constantly strive in our spiritual journey on life—and after death.

If we proclaim that death has neither sting nor victory, that we believe in the promise in the resurrection of Christ, then we are boldly proclaiming that we believe in something further beyond death. It is not simply a free pass avoiding death—as we have said, it is necessary—in death we are going beyond the veil that limits our view in this beautiful, messy, imperfect life. If we know that we are prey to sin and death in this life, then in the hope of the resurrected Christ, death itself becomes merely a threshold across which we pass – towards life in abundance. Becoming closer still to that complete and perfect reunion with God, and to truly inherit the Kingdom.

            And who are those who would inherit that kingdom? Our gospel reading[4] for today explains further:

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 …a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

            Jesus has the authority to judge and has passed that judgment – as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus makes a point to talk about how we would treat those whom society often places on the margin and periphery—we will be judged based on our actions towards those in need. And I ask – do we help people simply because it is ‘what we should do’, or do we truly challenge ourselves to look at them through the lens which Christ views us all – with love and compassion. The root of the word ‘compassion’ means ‘to suffer with’ – do we simply give a handout, as though Jesus offers us redemption and the promise and hope of the resurrection merely as some social assistance because we are poor and pitiful creatures that God could barely look us in the eye were He to pass us on the street? No. Christ meets us where we are at and reaches out to us not in pity because we are lesser than Him – but in love.

[Banksy]
            This is one of those many facets of Christian thought that is easy to arrive at mentally, but in practice, can be rather hard to truly do in the manner in which we ought to. Those who have gone before us, all the saints, and all the souls, have hopefully helped us learn things, have taught us ways to constantly strive towards improving – to continue in the process of achieving perfect communion with God. When I was told that part of today would also entail a memorial for Alcy, part of me was hesitant at first – I am somewhat new to your congregation, still; this community knew her far longer than I did. And yet it is that newcomer’s eye that is perhaps most telling at times – though I had little time with her, it is plain to see the impact that she had on everyone here. How deeply she touched people, how her life interwove with yours in love and compassion, a presence in this community. How her actions and love showed and taught that compassion.

            This is but one example of one person and her impact. Who are the others who have left these tangible marks on your own souls? Whose bodies are no longer among us? Their deaths do not mean anything more than they are no longer with us physically. Death does not limit God’s care and love—nothing can separate us from the love of God. Rather, it is through death that we necessarily pass on the road to community, healing, and grace. God seeks our wholeness, and that reconciliatory process continues beyond the grave. This is why we plead the eternal sacrifice on the dying and risen Christ on behalf of all the faithful departed, and continue the journey that leads us also towards death and beyond—it does not end the human adventure.

And so our prayers radiate beyond this life, bringing greater light to the post-mortem journey of our loved ones. We remember that God is with them as He is with us. We do not forget them, their imperfections and virtues alike. That their prayers as well do not end at death—we, all of us, are growing in grace. That is the amazingness of an infinite God—there is simply no end to all of His qualities—His grace, mercy and love have no bounds, and He is always with us—in life, in death, and beyond. The one who gave us life in His death never leaves us, and so all the saints and all the souls join us in unending praise.

Amen.


[Lisa Kristine]
[1] Psalm 130
[2] Isaiah 25:6-9
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
[4] John 5:24-27