Even When (Sermon)

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Track 2.

Today’s gospel lesson is all over the place. It begins with the confession of Peter. It’s one of the first moments in the gospel when we’re all able to say that yes, the disciples are getting it! Someone understands who Jesus is! “You are the Christ… the Messiah… the Holy One”

A plus, Peter. You passed that exam with flying colors.

But, what happens next is where things get tricky. Jesus starts talking about death and suffering, and Peter says wait. I think I studied for the wrong test. that’s definitely not how this works.

Imagine. Standing with Jesus and saying that yes, this is the Messiah. This is the one we’ve been waiting for. We got that answer right, we’re dusting off our Christian VIP pass. Then everything is wrong. Wait. Suffering? Death? That’s not how this is supposed to work! The Messiah is supposed to save us from the horrors of Rome, from the bondage of slavery. The Messiah is supposed to be King David incarnate, bringing Israel and God’s chosen people back to life. He’s not supposed… to die?

And here we are, hearing the story of Peter’s best moment, and his worst moment. You are the Christ. Yes! Get behind me Satan. No!

But isn’t it true that sometimes, these moments happen simultaneously? Isn’t it true that we can say the best thing, the most thoughtful idea we’ve ever had to precisely the wrong person? The person who doesn’t want to hear it, the person in our lives who won’t acknowledge the epiphany we just had. Or maybe we think it’s the best idea, and someone shoots it down, and you realize that hey, maybe they’re right.

Or maybe the day has been perfect. The meeting that you were nervous about? Well, that went so much better than you could have hoped. The sun is out. You just got a promotion you’d been hoping for. You had your favorite food for lunch. And then the phone call comes. A dear friend has died, and suddenly the day feels almost worthless. The wave of grief washes over you—it’s harder to notice the sun outside. It’s hard to breathe.

One of the questions that always comes up for me with this text is a question of why the heck did the church choose to honor Peter? From a story perspective, he’s the most flawed character in the gospels. Frankly, we hear more about Peter’s misdeeds and misunderstandings than we do about Judas’ betrayal of the Christ. Why did Christ choose to say that “on this rock I will build my church”. Peter? Really?

I’ve heard plenty of answers to this question, and I’m sure you have too. Well, Jesus calls us, regardless of who we are. Or, Peter redeems himself, that morning on the beach after the Resurrection. Or, Peter’s supposed to be like all of us flawed human beings. And while I think those answers are true, I’m not sure they really get at the heart of the question.

Why Peter—wrong one minute, right the next? Why us—wrong one minute, right the next?

I think the psalmist of 116 brings us closer to an answer. Today’s psalm is only half of Psalm 116, and the verses right after the lectionary ends say that

I have remained faithful, even when I said,

“I am suffering so badly!”

even when I said, out of fear,

“Everyone is a liar!”

The psalmist says that even when it hurts, even when the pain is so bad that you say the wrong thing, have faith. Even when you are depressed by the state of the world, even when it’s all lies and fake news and suffering, the Lord still hears my requests for mercy. The Lord is still compassionate. I can be at peace again, because the Lord has been good to me, to us.

What if the hope of the gospel is that Jesus is still Messiah, even if he’s not the Messiah we envision? Everyone is a liar. Humanity feels hopeless. My friends… family are homeless because of Hurricane Florence. My friend, my brother, my sister is dead.

We want Jesus to be the Messiah we envision. Jesus who raises our dead, diverts our storms, gives our world peace. But as Peter found out, salvation is a messy thing that doesn’t arrive exactly how we want it to. Sometimes Resurrection is taking up our cross, remaining faithful even when we’re suffering so badly that all we want to do is give up.

That’s the tension of the gospel, that the cross is the way to life, that suffering can lead to faith. May we all be wise enough to stand in that tension, saying like Peter that you are the Christ, even in the midst of suffering.

 

(Sermon recording, with some variation from this text, found at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, under 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 2018)

You’re hungrier than you think you are (Sermon)

Two years ago, I folded my belongings into a couple of suitcases and flew to Boston. As part of a gap year between undergrad and seminary, I had signed up to work at a monastery. This monastery’s mission to provide a place of retreat for anyone who wants to come for a few days of reflection and quiet.

Within a few days of my being there,  I realized that most of the work I’d be doing had to do with chopping vegetables and making beds rather than praying at all hours of the day and night. (We prayed a lot too. But there were a lot of vegetables and beds in the mix.)

Another intern asked about this, and one of the monks said this, that “when someone comes on retreat, we find that often what they need most immediately is a good meal and good night’s sleep. You see what, we don’t realize is that we’re often more tired than we think we are. We’re often hungrier than we think we are.”

We’re hungrier than we think we are.

Food. Rest. Shelter. These are the most basic needs we have as human beings. If we don’t have food, or adequate sleep, then we can’t function. If you haven’t eaten in the past 24 hours, you’d probably find it hard to listen to this sermon, or recall what the readings were about.

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Jesus knows this too. In the Gospel reading today, the crowd following Jesus has had quite a journey. They’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee, and followed Jesus up a mountain. Imagine hiking a mountain just to hear a sermon? These people are so fascinated by Jesus that they’ve been traveling for hours just to hear what he says.

Perhaps they’re so excited about finally catching up to him that they are able to ignore the emptiness of their stomachs. The kids who cry are told to hush—“shhh, that’s Jesus. We need to listen to him”.

You see, I think that’s the pedestal we sometimes put Jesus, and even the whole Bible on. Jesus, the teacher of morals, who speaks the beatitudes on repeat at tells us to love our neighbor. The Bible, Holy Scripture, full of rules for how we need to live our lives as Christians. “Shhh, it’s time for Jesus”.

Jesus isn’t really on board with that though. He doesn’t want to be on a pedestal. He doesn’t want to be on an earthly throne—the writer of John’s gospel tells us that later, Jesus leaves because he “realized they were about to come and take him by force to make him king”. Jesus doesn’t want to be king, but what he does want is the child who is crying in hunger.

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When the crowds draw near him, everyone saying to one another—“shhh, look, it’s Jesus!” Jesus says to Philip “hey, we got any bread? Know of any stores nearby?”. Imagine standing there in the front of the crowd, listening to Jesus ask where to buy bread for you. Suddenly, you feel all the adrenaline drain away, and you feel a dull ache in your belly. “Oh. I’m starving. I didn’t realize I was that hungry.”

We’re often hungrier than we think we are. Maybe we think we need wisdom or good advice, when we actually need food. Perhaps we think we need to study harder, or do better work, when actually, we need sleep. Maybe we think that our colleague needs motivation when she’s actually been sleeping in her car for two weeks. Perhaps we wonder why our friend is so different now when he’s actually been rationing what’s left of his pantry until the next paycheck comes.

As people who live in a first-world country, most of us don’t think about these basic needs very often. But I think in the process of focusing on other things, like work, school, relationships, and the digital world, we have a tendency to forget that our bodies need care and attention too. We’re not brains living outside of a body. As Jesus knew well, sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that we’re never going to be able to listen to his teachings, much less put them into practice, if we’re hungry.

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We’re hungrier than we think we are.

I read an article this week that was arguing that the Episcopal Church had become too obsessed with what it called “social justice”, and had forgotten that the true message of the Gospel is the salvation of souls. And while I believe that Jesus Christ came into this world to save us from our sins, our gospel lesson todays shows us that it’s hard to tell the good news to people who don’t even know where their next meal is coming from.

Jesus fed and healed people as he preached the kingdom of heaven, and our call is to do the same. We can share that Christ has come only when we’ve also shown the love of Christ by feeding, clothing, and giving shelter to those who need it.

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

Take care of yourself. Take care of other people.

We’re all hungrier than we think we are.

 

Preached on 7/29/18 at Ware Episcopal Church

Where to go in DC and Oxford? – Ask Me Anything

Well hello there – it’s been a while since I’ve blogged on this little corner of the internet, and I figured I’d pull out my virtual pen and paper and write something to all of you.

I’m currently attempting to finish up my junior year, and it’s the last three weeks of the semester, which means that I’m going insane with all that has to be accomplished. But writing is therapeutic, right? I think that’s why I currently prefer working on my thesis proposal to working on anything else right now, because at least with that, I am creating something that is entirely my own – not an assignment with a pre-written topic, not an exam I have to study for.

Let’s be honest, if I could go back and do this all over again, I’d go to Oxford, where I could just write papers in tutorials all day. All day. (And have the Bod to work from, so there’s that…)

Speaking of Oxford and travel, I have a few questions from friends and readers to answer in today’s post!

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Paige – What was your favourite part of Oxford? When I was in Cardiff me and my friend couldn’t decide on a daytrip to Bath or Oxford, so we went to Bath, but next time I’m back.. what in Oxford do you recommend??

Mary – I went to uni in DC and studied at Oxford! (now in London). What’s your absolute must see for DC and Oxford?

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First off – Oxford. This is such a hard question because there are so many lovely places that you must check out while you’re there. If you’re there to study, then you must try to get access to the Bodleian Library (especially the Radcliffe Camera, which was my favorite place to study while there). However, since not everyone can access the Bod while visiting Oxford, my next recommendation would be to spend an early morning walking in Christchurch Meadows. These pictures are all from there – I roomed relatively close to them, so one of my favorite activities was to walk through them, all the way to High Street, get a cup of coffee or tea, and then wind my way back home or to the Bod through Oxford’s streets. I didn’t have data or a phone while I was over there, so I often got quite lost, but that resulted in my getting to really know the city, with all it’s nooks and crannies.

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DC is a hard one because there are so many lovely places to go. If you want to go to the Mall, then go to the National Gallery of Art, if wandering around art museums and getting lost in them is your thing. The other museums are great, but NGA is a bit less crowded, for the most part, and less overwhelming for those of us who come out of museums with heads spinning and glazed-over eyes. Plus, although pricy (typical DC), the food they serve is decent, and the museum shop is definitely worth going into, especially in cherry blossom season.

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However, if you’re not one for the Mall (trust me, I understand), and enjoy theatre, head into Penn Quarter, especially around 6th/7th and F Streets. The Lansburgh, one of Shakespeare Theatre’s two buildings, is there, as well as Woolly Mammoth right around the corner. There are a few great restaurants, but I normally head to Merzi for cheap, delicious Indian food (done Chipotle-style – SO GOOD). Then, I splurge a bit on Pitango Gelato (organic, really unique gelato flavors) for dessert! Some of my favorite trips into DC are in this section of the city, eating fantastic food and seeing shows in the Quarter.

Have a question for me about travel, DC or anything extremely nerdy/English-majory? Shoot me an email (amanda @ farmgirlwrites. com) or message on Facebook, and I’ll answer it on the blog!

20 Before 20 (Post-20 Reflection)

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Happy Christmas, friends! Since I’m in college, I never really get into the holidays until Finals are over. Luckily, they are over for me, which I’m ecstatic about. I’m working on a few projects over break, but luckily, my courses themselves are over (and I even maintained a decent GPA during my busiest semester yet, so hurrah!).

Today, I wanted to take a look at that 20 before 20 list that I’d created earlier this year. I’ve been 20 for over a month now, but it’s fun to reflect on what I’ve done this past year. Not to be mysterious and all that, but 20, so far, has been full of new adventures, and I’m extremely excited for the year ahead.

Let’s take a look at this list:

1. Head to Politics & Prose in DC. I am really lame. Still haven’t gone, and I want to!
2. Explore a city I’ve never been to. NYC in May.
3. Find an internship. Finished an 8 month internship at Washington Performing Arts in DC last month!
4. Touch up on/learn another language. I’ve taken two semesters in French this year. I’m still not fluent, but I love the language!
5. Break my nonfiction trend and experiment with creative fiction. I took creative writing in the spring, and did a creative nonfiction tutorial this fall!
6. Go to _____________. To be honest, I put this space here for going overseas, which didn’t happen. But I went so many other places and did so many different things that I’m not too upset about not specifically completing this one!
7. Publish something. Oui! In my school’s nonfiction journal.
8. Post more often on this blog. hahhhhaaaaa. I… tried?
9. Read & watch a performance of a Shakespeare play I haven’t read. I saw my first performances of The Winter’s Tale (have read) and As You Like It (haven’t read) this year, which was really exciting!
10. Do something incredibly spontaneous. Done. 
11. Meet another online friend in person. Done! Amelia came to visit me this summer!
12. Explore a few local hiking spots in DC. Didn’t get the chance to do this, alas. I like to imagine that I’ll have time to hike and exercise, but that’s really just a pipe dream.
13. Shoot a fashion portrait sessionNot specifically fashion, but I have a few portrait sessions that I’m really proud of!
14. Roadtrip somewhere with friendsDone, a few times, actually. NYC (if you count a train as road-tripping), and a few VA trips this fall. 
15. Do something brave. Maybe? I think I’ll dedicate a post or two to this.
16. Go internet-free for a weekend (or two). On at least one of said roadtrips. 
17. Visit the rest of the Smithsonian museums. Definitely not, because when I go to museums I always to the NGA, regardless of what I tell myself I should do. I love that place.
18. Write more letters. I wrote… papers with… letters? 
19. Binge-watch Sherlock or Elementary for a weekend. Obsessively. I’ve done that, for sure. At least once. Maybe more. 
20. Take an unnecessary class for fun. Atlantic World Slavery in the spring, which was fantastic! My French classes are also technically unnecessary, but they’re important for graduate school, etc, so I don’t label them as such. 

I’m still debating on whether I should do a 21 before 21 list – more to come on that later! In the meantime, I’ll be sitting over here, enjoying snuggling with puppies, reading, and relaxing from the semester.