Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sowers, Seeds, and Soil

July 16, 2017 Cathedral Church of St. Paul The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Let us pray: O God help us to grow! Amen.

Today I want to talk about three very simple things: sowers, seeds, and soil. As was his custom, Jesus often looked around him and used whatever was in front of him to make his point, not only to his disciples, but also to the crowds who followed him. Pushing out into the sea of Galilee, using a boat as his pulpit, Jesus pointed to the people, the landscape in front of him, and to the farmer who was sowing some seeds. It would be like me today, pointing to you and to this Cathedral community, and then telling you a story.

In a book entitled Reclaiming the Great Commission, the bishop of Texas describes the characteristics of a parish, or a diocese, which is only maintaining itself, contrasted with ones that are on God’s mission. While God may love us just as we are, God also wants us to grow, even after our death.

People and parishes who don’t want to grow will not take risks. They will focus only on themselves rather than on God, on others, and what possibilities may lay before them. People on God’s mission will not discourage honest doubt, hard questions, and challenging conversations.They will not get hung up on the drama of a situation but will remain focussed on the situation itself. Change is recognized as a constant way of life. While issues can divide us; mission minded people can unite us. We recognize that sowing God’s seeds in good soil is hard work, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to it.

People and parishes that are on God’s mission want to grow in a variety of ways. They are God-centered, recognizing that God is the Creator of our Garden, that Jesus is the Master Gardener, and that the Spirit is the holy One who sows seeds of love every day. When we’re people on God’s mission, we want to offer good soil for God to plant those seeds into our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Willing to try new and different things, we know that we will make mistakes; and yet we are still willing to “try and try” again.
Paul and I lived in a farming town in Connecticut. The previous owners of our house were two professionals: a pediatrician and an elementary school music teacher. They were environmentalists who loved to create gardens and take care of them. Now, unlike them, Paul and I have a history of killing anything that grows around our house and even inside of it. When we lived in Maryland, we tried to kill the weeds on our patio and killed the azalea bushes at the same time. In Atlanta, we didn’t water the new grass seed enough and so it was scorched by the summer sun. Despite our history, when we moved into this house in Connecticut, Paul was excited to sustain the vegetable and flower gardens that had surrounded our home. I was not.

Initially, I didn’t want to become involved. I was starting a new job as the rector of a parish and had no interest in gardening, and I knew our history. When Paul asked me why I wouldn’t want to be engaged with God’s creation, I responded arrogantly, “I care for life in God’s garden all day long, and I’m too tired when I get home.” And yet, Paul responded to me gently, “But so do I,” he said.
And so, I agreed to help, albeit somewhat reluctantly, certainly not whole heartedly. Where the previous vegetable garden had once been, Paul began tilling the soil and preparing the ground. He chose young tomato, green pepper, and squash plants to start. The garden was enclosed by wire fencing, which was one of the products that Paul’s company manufactures. The young plants were supported by some of the garden products that his company makes as well. Paul was proud of his garden, the fencing, and the tomato towers that supported his vegetable plants.

I decided to start my own garden on a much smaller scale and closer to the house. I wanted the boundaries, the responsibilities, and the ownership of our gardens to be clear. I had no fence, but put my vegetables in a raised bed, on the sunny side of the house, and nearer to the water hose and the side door. I planted only green beans. Clearly, Paul and I had very different gardens.

We both made mistakes. The busyness of our jobs became the hard path on which our good seeds fell; and so nothing grew in certain spots in our gardens. While I was closer to my garden, and therefore thought I would be more attentive to watering it, I didn’t. The sun scorched my green beans. Paul found that too much shade prevented growth, and over-watering drowned the seeds.

Neither of us, in our haste, had prepared the soil well. There was too little soil in mine, and it was too old in his. Weeds, and pests, and thorny roots, not to mention New England rocks, often crowded out and strangled his new young plants. Unprotected by a fence, my green beans became a feast for rabbits and other creatures, while deer routinely crashed over Paul’s lightweight fence and destroyed his plants. I discovered that fences are important for many reasons. They not only make good neighbors, they also protect things that are precious.

Paul had tried to prepare his garden much more faithfully than I. For weed control, he had covered the soil with black plastic. He watered his plants religiously when he was home, visited the garden faithfully, and true to form over-medicated it with fertilizer. The tomatoes were abundant, but not particularly tasty. He grew a only a few squash, and almost no green peppers. After talking with more experienced gardeners, he learned that you shouldn’t fertilize pepper plants at all.

In passive aggressive resistance, I did nothing with my own garden. Sure I planted the seeds; but I didn’t water them, weed them, or protect them. I hoped to eat the fruits of Paul’s good labors, and even the fruits of my own, but I was unwilling to put in the hard work, or the daily care that it required. Truth be told, my heart wasn’t really in it, and so my actions betrayed my words.

A good garden is not created overnight. Indeed, one summer does not a garden grow. Our Cathedral, with all its diversity and variety, has many paths, and many places, upon which God’s seeds are constantly being planted. Yes, we have some hard ground, weeds, thorns, rocks, busy paths, scorching heat, flooding basements, and all sorts of challenges that threaten the life of the seeds that grow both inside as well as outside our Cathedral. And, as co-laborers in God’s garden, we are called to provide good soil, protect the fruit of our labors, and tend this garden on a daily basis.

All creatures great and small can destroy the seeds that God has planted. Fences are important to protect our property, our fruits, our vegetables, and our flowers, to protect our building, our bodies, ourselves, and our souls. Clear boundaries are important to a healthy garden and for good relationships.

We tend our gardens daily by listening to God and to each other. Together, as a community, we offer a variety of gifts but the same Spirit. We know that we have various levels of enthusiasm, energy, and commitment; and yet we know that we each have a part to play. Individually and together, as a Cathedral Church, with God’s help, we can yield more fruit - in one case a hundredfold, in another 60, and in another 30.

We are busy, rocky, thorny, and shallow people; and so God’s seeds don’t always land on the best of our soils. At various times, we’re all tired, hurting, struggling, and less than enthusiastic about our relationships with God and our neighbors.

And so, daily, we must look to the Sower of all good seeds, to the Creator of all creation, to the Master Gardener, and to the Spirit who make things grow miraculously. When life gets too hard, the sun gets too hot, the rain seems relentless, the creatures seem dangerous, and the weeds are overpowering, it’s time for us to turn back to God. Every day is a new beginning; and no matter what path we’re on, or in which small garden we live, God will always plant new seeds of faith, hope, and love to sustain us. And for that good news, we give God thanks and praise.

Genesis 24: 19-34
Psalm 119: 105-112
Romans 8: 1-11
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Generation

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

“But to what will I compare this generation?” Jesus asked. Good question, I thought. So I looked at the many places in the New Testament in which the words “this generation” appeared and discovered that Jesus often describes it as a faithless and corrupt one. “To what will I compare this generation today?” I wondered. Would Jesus call us a faithless and corrupt one as well?

Jesus was talking to the religious leaders of his time, which included the Pharisees, a group of Jews who kept strict adherence to the laws of God, to the Torah - the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and to the ten commandments.These leaders also included the scribes, who were the men who interpreted the laws, sometimes with great precision and detail.

Now, Jesus was claiming that they were a faithless and corrupt generation. He claimed that they did not obey God’s commandments, nor did they listen to the wisdom of the Torah or their prophets. Jesus called these leaders hypocrites, pointing to the inconsistencies in their words and actions. Relying upon the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, they laid heavy burdens upon their own people, who were already feeling burdened by the Roman government. In one exasperated response, Jesus said, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?”

My Dad, God bless him and may he continue to rest in peace, was an imperfect and yet faithful man. Sometimes I would hear him complain about a relationship, saying “I can’t win for losing.”

This is what Jesus was saying in today’s gospel. You people are like “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” John the Baptist called people to repent, and yet the religious leaders called him a demon. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, eating and drinking with others, and yet, they called him a glutton and a drunkard. As my father would say, neither John the Baptist, nor Jesus, could win for losing.

William Barclay states that “Jesus was saddened by the sheer perversity of human nature. To him (adults) were like children playing in the village square. One group said to the other; ‘Come on and let’s play at weddings,’ and others said, ‘We don’t feel like being happy today.’ Then the first group said, ‘All right; come on and let’s play at funerals,’ and the others said, ‘We don’t feel like being sad today.’ They were what the Scots called contrary.’ No matter what was suggested, they did not want to do it; and no matter what was offered, they found a fault in it.”

Are we like this in our own generation? Do you know people, regardless of their political affiliation or national status, who behave in the same way? Think about the on-going arguments we’re having around our world, and the various tensions we have in our own relationships. Barclay claims that “The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening to it. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticisms; they will criticize the same person, and the same institution, from quite opposite grounds.”

“Or, if people are determined to make no response they will remain stubbornly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made. Grown men and women can be like spoiled children who refuse to play no matter what the game is.” Contrary people don’t want to play; they just want to push their own agendas, or exert their own power.

Jesus upheld God’s commandments, and still challenged the people in his own generation. He said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others...and to have people call them rabbi.” (Matt 23:1-8)

We lay burdens upon ourselves and upon others with regularity. Perhaps it’s a new or old law that unfairly restricts our freedom or prevents us from getting the help that we need, or the joy that we could share. Recently the governor of New Jersey was criticized for closing the state’s beaches to the public because lawmakers were unable to agree upon a budget, and then the governor was seen vacationing with his family and friends, on the beach, at a summer beach house, owned by the government.

Perhaps there is an on-going battle in your personal relationships; you just can’t seem to see “eye to eye” or understand the perspective of another person. Or maybe you’re having a battle within yourself. One voice will say to you, “Do this” while the other voice says, “Don’t you dare.”

St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome about these inconsistencies, saying that he is often guilty of doing things that he does not want, and even hates. We don’t always understand what we or others do or say. We are inconsistent  human beings. We are contrary people, faithless at times, even corrupt, and perverse. And while laws are good for us, for they help us to control our behaviors, they will not save us. Who will rescue us then from our very own selves? St. Paul responded, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Being faithful is both difficult and joyous; it means that there is room in our lives for both weeping and dancing, for obedience and challenge. It means that we must repeatedly repent of those things that we have done and left undone, knowing that in Christ we are forgiven and set free. It means that true personal freedom comes to us from God, no matter our circumstances or the power of others.

Jesus offered an invitation to the generation of his time as well as to ours. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Come to me,” Jesus said, “when your very own contrary selves start to get the best of you."

Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. A yoke was “a rabbinic metaphor for the difficult but joyous task of obedience to the Torah. When Jesus claims that his yoke is “easy” he is referring to the Greek word which means “well-fitting.” According to Barclay, “In Palestine, the yoke was carefully adjusted, so that it would fit well, and not gall the neck of the patient beast. The yoke was tailor-made to fit the ox.” Are not our burdens tailor made for us? And can we not find a yoke that fits us well?

“There is a legend that Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee, and that people from all over the country people came to him to buy them; (perhaps) the sign above the door of (Jesus) may have been ‘My yokes fit well.’”

Love makes even the heaviest burden light; and so Jesus gave us a new commandment, “to love ourselves and others as he loved us.” Barclay tells the story of how a man came upon a little boy, who was lame, and then carried him upon his back. ‘That’s a heavy burden for you to carry,’ said another man. ‘That’s no’ a burden,’ came the answer. ‘That’s my wee brother.’”

This generation was then, is now, and will be forever, in part a faithless, perverse, and corrupt generation. And yet we are also a faithful generation, a group of contrary people, who believe in the power of God to make all things right. “Come to me,”Jesus says. “Take my yoke.” For through Him, we shall find rest for our souls, and our burdens light. Dance then, wherever you may be, for he is the Lord of the dance, said He. And whether we are laughing or crying, playing at funerals or weddings, our hope for salvation continues to rest in the hands and the heart of God.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

Today I want to talk about stewardship. It’s a big word; and it’s a word in the Church that is often associated with money. Now money is a great resource because it enables us to do many things. It’s a source of power. It’s a resource that funds our mission and our ministries. It’s a means by which we can provide for our basic human needs. And yet, today I want to talk about the stewardship of time.
Are you a good steward of the time that God has given to you? How do you use your time? And for what purpose? In the disciplined Christian life, we are invited to spend our time divided between worship, study, and action. This morning you have chosen to spend some of your time in worship, giving thanks to God, who created you, Jesus who saves you, and the Holy Spirit, who sustains you with God’s life-giving Spirit.
None of us knows how much time we have been given to inhabit this world. In reality, all that we have is today. All that we have, in fact, is this hour, or this minute, or even this breath.
Today’s lesson from Genesis states that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  Before I jump into how God created us, and whether this happened miraculously in only seven days, or no less miraculously over a long period of time, I want to focus on this very first sentence in this first chapter of Genesis.
Perhaps you are aware that there are two different stories about how God created the world. They are often conflated into one story with parts of each of them being told as one.
Now the second story, in the 2nd Chapter of the book of Genesis, is the well known story about Adam and Eve. This second story is a “bottom-up” story, if you will, of Adam being formed from the dust, receiving God’s Spirit through his nostrils, and then being planted in the garden of Eden for work. Eve was created much later out of Adam’s rib to help him with this work.
Today’s story is a “top down” view of creation, whereas God is transcendent and powerful, making everything come into existence from nothing, purely by speaking and saying “Let there be this or let there be that.” Humankind, male and female, were created at the end of this story, rather than at the beginning, as they were in Chapter two. And, humankind, male and female, were created together and at the same time.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This is the beginning of our time, unlike God’s time, which is eternal and everlasting. This is the beginning of our world, which has a beginning and therefore presumably an ending. And this is the story of God’s creating something out of nothing. In the beginning, there was no “there there.”
Creation is set up against chaos. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “Put things in order.” So God puts order into the primordial chaos that existed in this formless void. God brought light in general, and lights in particular, into the darkness that was covering the deep. There was a wind, presumably God’s Spirit, that swept over these waters, governing the forces below.
This particular creation story serves as (quote) “a preface not just to Genesis but to the entire Hebrew Bible, showing God masterfully orchestrating the events of creation” (end quote).God separates, differentiates, forms, and orders the chaos. Evil forces love chaos; and the people who lived at the time of Genesis and Jesus believed that evil forces lurked under the water. In this story of creation, unlike the second one, there is way too much water. And so God orders it. God creates good things to balance it, like the earth, and sky, and animals, and us.
According to the HarperCollins Study Bible, “The purpose of creation is for the good and for the benefit of all. (And) this goodness means that we are acceptable and viable as well as intrinsically good.” (end quote) That is to say, that in the face of the chaos and nothingness, God creates us to be living human beings. We are acceptable to God and to each other, and we are intrinsically good from the very beginning of our lives. Everything and everyone is good because we are created from God’s own goodness.
“So God created humankind in the image of God; male and female God created them.” This is the sixth day in the seven days of God’s creation. Now often we remember the second story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve was created from Adam’s rib.Today I want to focus only on this first story in Genesis.
We are created in God’s image. This divine image is one that is relational and personal and powerful and creative. It is an image that transcends genders and boundaries and definition. God spoke, and good things happened. We too have been given the power of speech, and we can use that power for good or for ill. We too are given the ability to create order out of chaos, and to create life out of formless voids. We too are moral human beings, who can reason with others for the common good. In the image of God we also have our work to do in how we use our time.
According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, sexuality is not attributed to God in the Hebrew Bible. Like our understanding of the Trinity, we are invited to participate in the great dance of love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. We are created into a loving relationship with God and all of creation - relationships that are intended to be life-giving, loving, and liberating.
The word “Adam” in this first creation story is generic. It does not mean a specific proper name for one man only, named Adam, with Eve being his female partner. In this first story, the word Adam represents all of humankind. “So God created humankind in God’s divine image; male and female God created them.” God’s image is beyond gender, or it includes both genders in a non-binary spectrum of diversity. In creation, God created the beautiful diversity of our humanity; and in that diversity, we take pride!
For those who say that women are subordinated to men, this first creation story says otherwise. For those who say that women’s work is created for certain purposes, this story says otherwise. Rather, all humankind is created in the image of God, which was blessed by God.
Now as much as we like to think that the high point of God’s creation is us, it is not. As much as we like to think that we are the center of the universe, we are not. For on the seventh day, God created the Sabbath, and God rested. The Sabbath day then, and not us, is the climax to this creation story. It is the crowning jewel of God’s creative work, the cherry that sits on top of that ice cream sundae.
To be good stewards of our time, we need to honor the Sabbath time; and yet, we often don’t fully understand what that time means. Yes, we all need to rest from our labors, from the six days that we’ve spent in creative work. We all need to inhale as well as exhale or else we shall die. We all need to pause for the rest note in the songs that we sing.
However, the seventh day wasn’t a day upon which our Creator stumbled, and then dropped to the floor exhausted, shouting “I can’t do this anymore!” Nor was it a time when God threw up God’s hands into the air and said, “Enough already!” Nor is Sabbath time when we fling ourselves into bed at night, after very long days, only to find our time is spent in sleepless nights, or medicated slumber. If God’s Spirit is so inexhaustible, and ever-present, then why are we so exhausted?
Rather God rested and reflected on the Sabbath day to breathe the air that God had created, to breathe in the Spirit that moved over those waters, and renews the face of the earth and us, That same Spirit keeps us viable because it lives and moves and sustains our beings, keeping the evil forces at bay. On this seventh day of creation, God reflected on the amazing six days of work that God had just completed. Perhaps patting God’s self on God’s back, God joyfully proclaimed “I sure do good work! Look at all this goodness!”
Into this Sabbath time God invites us. Take joy in the goodness of all creation. Take joy in the beauty and splendor of our world. Take joy in the gifts of time, talents, and treasure that God has given to you, and reflect upon them with wonder. Consider how you have used your gifts of time, talents, and treasure; and then bless God’s holy name on this Sabbath day.
Here is our Trinitarian God, well-ordered, well-balanced, moving, creative, and dynamic. So, “put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you,” wrote St. Paul.  “And remember,” Jesus said, “ I am with you always to the end of age.” Amen.

Genesis 1: 1-2, 4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Matthew 28: 16-20

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Forgiveness and Peace

Pentecost, June 4, 2017
The Cathedral Church of St. Paul
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

There are three major feast days in our liturgical year: Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus; Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection; and today, 50 days after Easter, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is called Pentecost. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised that he would not leave his disciples comfortless. He would not abandon them, but send an Advocate, a spirit of truth, a faithful companion to join them on their journeys. The Holy Spirit is always with us, reconciling us first to God, and then to others. And so, there you have it, the basic long arc of our New Testament story, as we celebrate this third high point in our Christian lives today.
But you and I know that life is not all high points. As much as we might like to try, we can’t stay on the mountaintop. There are plenty of low points, indeed, even bottoms in our journeys; and there is always the rising and falling in between. As we ride the roller coaster of life, we go up and feel good; we go down and feel bad. Often we just coast in the middle for long stretches of time, not really living, only just surviving, until something significant happens.
If we listen to the news, we know that there is plenty of bad “stuff” “out there.” Yesterday’s tragedy in London is a case in point. I think that sometimes we are drawn to the drama of such situations because it makes us feel less alone, or maybe not as bad about ourselves, or our own situations. It also increases our fear..
It was high drama in the lives of the disciples after their beloved leader, Jesus, was crucified. In fact, it was the evening of the Sunday after Jesus’s crucifixion, when the disciples locked themselves away in the room for fear that they too might be crucified. And then, in the middle of their fear, Jesus stepped into the room. Quite frankly, if I had just been betrayed, denied, and abandoned by my friends and followers, they wouldn’t be the first people that I visited after my resurrection. And the words “peace” and “forgiveness” wouldn’t be the first words that came out of my mouth. But then, I’m not Jesus.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you” and then He showed them his hands and his side. Why, I wondered? Was this because the disciples didn’t recognize him at first. Was his resurrected body that much different from the previous one? Or was Jesus showing them that his wounds were real, and that yes, he had actually died? Maybe he needed to acknowledge that He had been harmed; and yet he was still willing to forgive.
I imagine that everyone in this room struggles with forgiveness. It’s only natural; in fact, it’s human. We have trouble forgiving people who have harmed us, and believing that we’ve been forgiven ourselves. We all have inner wounds that are spiritual, mental, and emotional. Unlike the wounds that Jesus had on his hands and side, our wounds aren’t always visible. Perhaps we’ve hidden them behind locked doors, in rooms of fear and pain, out of self-protection. Or maybe we’ve been harmed and so we feel justified, even self-righteous, when we verbally and physically lash out at others. We convince ourselves that we can’t help it, that the devil made us do it, or that others deserve our punishment.
Conflict is ever present in our human relationships. It’s only natural; in fact, it’s human. In the very first book of the Bible, we are told a story about jealousy, how Cain killed his brother Abel. This is sibling rivalry at its worst! Last week in the reading from 1 Peter, we were warned to “be sober, be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
Conflict often begins at home, before we take it out of our doors and onto the streets. Without first pausing to reflect within ourselves, we engage people as if we are armed for battle. Fearful, we forget to put on the armor of God, as St. Paul suggested in his letter to the Ephesians: We need to put “shoes on our feet to make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Stepping out of our locked rooms, we can “take the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Individually, and together, we can pray for peace.
Our journey of healing begins with forgiveness.
An often repeated story is the one about two wolves. (Quote) “An old Indian grandfather said to his grandson who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice. ‘Let me tell you a story,’ the grandfather said. ‘I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.”
“He continued, ‘It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all those around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. He saves all his energy for the right fight.”
“But the other wolf, ahhh! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live - with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, ‘Which one wins, Grandfather?’ The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “‘The one I feed’.” (End quote)
First, we must forgive ourselves, knowing that we are forgiven by God. If we do not believe that we have been forgiven, we cannot forgive others in that same Spirit. And we must forgive others, for our own sakes, if not for God’s sake. “Just forgive”, Jesus said to his disciples from the cross. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others who have trespassed against us. Some of us need to repeat that prayer every day of our lives; indeed sometimes every minute if necessary.
Forgiveness: ask for it, then just do it. Pray for it, until you know it. Receive the Spirit and feel the peace and power of that adrenaline rush. Today feed the good wolf!
Jesus was wounded every day of his life; in fact, He died from the wounds inflicted upon him. No longer the leader of his people, he died as an innocent man. And yet, God vindicated him, and raised him from the dead. By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed. God’s mission of reconciling all people to God and to one another was accomplished through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through Him, we are a people forgiven and set free! That is our story!
In Greek, “to forgive” means to be “set free.” We are free for a purpose - to share the life-giving, liberating, forgiving love of Jesus. And through the Holy Spirit, we can say ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Stepping into the room, where the disciples had locked themselves away in fear, Jesus brought the Spirit with him. Peacefully, and personally, he breathed his Spirit on to all of them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “You are forgiven; now go, and forgive others, just as I have forgiven you.”
“Receive the Spirit,” Jesus said. Breathe it in now. Drink from the One Spirit of God, so that we, who follow Him, can become agents of peace. Together, we have a variety of gifts, but it is the same Spirit in all of us that empowers us for good. Come Holy Spirit, and help us to renew the face of the earth.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter Day, April 16, 2017
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Two weeks ago, I had retreated from the city of Boston to Emery House in West Newburyport, in order to meet with my spiritual companion, Brother Curtis, who is a monk with the Society of St. John the Evangelist. When I first arrived, I ran into Brother Geoffrey in the kitchen. “Congratulations, Nancy, on your appointment as Acting Dean of the Cathedral.” he said. “It’s a big job.” Looking him straight in the face, and with my eyes widening, I replied, “Yes, the job is huge,” and then we both started laughing. “Well,” he said, “the Lord has called you to it, and He will provide what you need.” Pouring myself a cup of herbal tea, I laughed again, and said, “That’s why I’m here.”
I wear a collar around my neck because I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. My collar is sometimes visible, and represents the vows that I’ve made to proclaim the good news of God’s Love, which is an unbroken circle of birth, life, death, and resurrection. But let me be clear, the first call is ours together, and those of us who have been baptized into the life of Christ. We are all part of a great community of faith that St. Paul calls the priesthood of all believers. God has planted the seed of resurrection into our souls, and has put a new song on our lips. As the psalmist sings, “The Lord is my strength and my song.”
My husband Paul and I love to watch movies, although sometimes we disagree about which ones to watch. Let’s just say that I like romantic comedies, and he likes dramatic war stories. Recently, we went to see the Shack, a movie based upon a book that came out many years ago. And then just two weeks ago, we sat down to watch Patriot’s Day, a movie about a real life event, the violence that occurred on Marathon Monday four years ago. Easter, The Shack, and Patriot’s Day all have three things in common: they are stories about murder, love, and new life.
Bishop Jim Curry, a retired bishop suffragan in the diocese of Connecticut, often visited the Anglican church in Africa. After one trip to Mozambique, Bishop Curry came back with a tableau, showing peasants bringing their guns to a table, where they had been transformed into tools for farming. Around his neck, he wore a pectoral cross that had been created from gun metal. He also had received an iron sculpture of a trombone player, which had been crafted from the same materials.
One time Bishop Curry visited Mozambique during Holy Week. On Good Friday, he joined thousands of people who had gathered for worship, where a casket had been placed in front of the altar. The preacher invited everyone to come forward and look into the tomb where Jesus had been laid.
When it was his turn to go to the altar, Bishop Curry walked down the aisle with fear and trembling. When he arrived at the casket and looked in, he didn’t see Jesus. Rather, he saw the face of a living man. He saw the face of himself; for a mirror had been placed at the bottom of the casket. “You have been raised with Christ,” said the author of the letter to the Colossians. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is (now) hidden with Christ in God.”
This past Good Friday, Jim Woodworth, the facilities manager at our Cathedral, was telling me about his favorite pond in Canton, where he goes for peace and quiet. In the 1960’s the Environmental Protection Agency passed legislation prohibiting the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals in our water. Jim tells me that 15 years later he saw a great blue heron and other wildlife return to the pond. One day he expects to see a bald eagle. We get hope here at our Cathedral.
In the burial office for the dead, we proclaim that “the liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy; for it finds all its meaning in the resurrection.” As St. Paul proclaimed, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too shall we be raised. This burial liturgy therefore is characterized by joy, in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Therefore, like the psalmist, we too can sing a song of joy, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
The Shack is a movie about a family torn apart by the murder of their 5 year old child. Feeling burdened by grief, by sorrow, and even by guilt, each family member struggled to recover from their devastating loss. When the father returned to the Shack, the place of his daughter’s violent death, he met God; and then he returned home, a free man.
The essence of Easter is that Jesus is the victor over evil and death. He is the man or woman who has lost a leg, and still returns to run on Marathon Monday. He is the man or woman, who has recently lost a loved one, and can still sing a song of Easter joy. The good news of today is that life beyond death is not just a human hope, or a lovely metaphor for Spring flowers, but it is a godly promise.
The resurrection from the dead is not just an old biblical story, nor a new evangelical movie. Karl Barth asserts that “when we deny the resurrection, alter it, or minimize it, we make it into something human, rather than an eternal, ever-living, and ever loving act of God.” God’s resurrection Love transcends all time, all people, all places, and all of creation.God’s resurrection Love is here. And it is our hope right now and for the future.
Robert Raines tells the story of an anthropologist named Loren Eiseley. (Quote) “One day he leaned against a stump at the edge of a small glade and fell asleep.” He recalls, “When I awoke, I became dimly aware of some commotion in the clearing. The light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lighted like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a squirming (baby) nestling in its beak.”
“The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling’s parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch and sat still. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade, fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.”
“No one dared to attack the raven. But they cried (together) in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the un-bereaved; and then suddenly the crying ceased. It was (then) that I saw judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never again see it so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of their protest, they forgot the violence.”
“There in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, and the song passed from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil  thing were slowly being forgotten. Until suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats, joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight is beautiful. They (even) sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth, they had forgotten the raven, for they were singers of life, and not death.” (End quote) (pp 173-175)
“Mary,” Jesus said, and she heard the voice of the one she loved, and the One who loved her. She heard the voice of the one who had been crucified, and whose death no one had protested. She heard the voice of her Teacher. “Go tell my brothers and sisters that you have seen me,” said Jesus. At first she was a single sparrow; then Mary shared her song with Peter, and John, and all the other disciples. Suddenly they “all took heart and sang from many throats. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight is beautiful.” They sang because Jesus was raised from the dead.
Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. So run your race with perseverance, and do not give up. You can find hope here at our Cathedral. Rejoice always, I say rejoice, for on this day the Lord has acted, and we are glad indeed. Full throated, we songbirds can sing with joy; for Christ has killed the Raven, and the victory is ours, now and forever.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Wilderness Wanderings

1 Lent, March 5, 2017
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Cathedral Church of St. Paul

The season of Lent is often called a wilderness because of today’s gospel passage from Matthew. If you’ve ever been to Israel, and seen the desert outside of Jerusalem, you know what an awesome sight it is. There are stretches upon stretches of sand, with perhaps a desolate road here and there. Like Jesus, and maybe like you, I’ve had many wilderness experiences. While they were all different, the one constant thing, the one thing that I could always count on, was that the wilderness was a time of temptation. Whether it was the devil herself or a crafty serpent, the voice of temptation was always speaking to me. And I always listened.
The gospel of Matthew says that while Jesus was in the wilderness, he fasted for forty days and forty nights. Naturally, he was famished, which I imagine made him pretty weak, and also very vulnerable. I’m sure he heard voices in his head as well; for we all have them, especially when we’re alone, hungry or thirsty, and there is silence. At times like these, the volume of these voices in our heads is turned up high. Or at least they are in my head. And our temptations will surely test us.
Yes, Jesus was tempted and yes, Jesus was tested. Just like us. And yes, Jesus listened to many voices, just like us.
My most recent wilderness experience was when Paul and I moved to Cambridge. I willingly made the choice to leave parish ministry and explore a broader and more diverse mission field. I never imagined that this decision would be as difficult as it was. Listening to the voices of others, I wondered if I had been listening to the Devil or to the Spirit. Often second-guessing myself, I questioned my decision continually. Was I a fool or a fool for Christ? Was this desolate road leading to a new garden or just to my spiritual wilderness and physical death?
During my wilderness time, it seemed to me that everyone around me had support structures, a purpose to their lives, and loving relationships. Every day, while family, friends, and strangers went off to their gardens, I entered into my own wilderness. Often aimlessly, I walked the city streets just to kill time. Food was a comfort. I showed up everywhere and for everything hoping to feel connected and to hear a voice that would lead me into something new and something good. The voices in my head were crafty like the serpent. They were devilish. And they were persistent. I felt useless, unloved, and alone; and so I prayed a lot.
Now, to be sure, I have many, many privileges, and nothing to complain about. I have been blessed beyond measure; and while my wilderness experience is nothing compared to people who live on the streets, it felt like a wilderness to me. Yes, I had physical blessings; and yet my emotional and mental life was in the desert. I had to constantly remind myself how blessed I am, even for the gift of one more breath. I made gratitude lists daily, often thanking God for the gift of each new day. My city walks became prayer walks. When family was absent, my friends stepped in. When my friends were absent, my community of faith was near. And when no one else was around, I found God. My loneliness forced me not only to reach out to others but also to find time alone with God, as a source  of strength.
Before Jep left, he gave me a book called Becoming Human by Jean Vanier. In it, the author claims that every human being faces loneliness, which is a taste of death. Our (quote) “sense of loneliness can be covered up by the things that we do, so we’re seen by others as valuable, that make us feel good about ourselves, and give us a sense of being alive.” (end quote) He claims that at the core of our humanity, at the core of each and every one of us, is this fundamental loneliness and a fear of rejection. We all have a deep-seated desire to be included and to belong, to know that we are all equally and uniquely made in the image of God.
I was a Latin major in college for two years before I decided to switch to English. “Obedire” is  the Latin word that means to listen. When we are obedient, it means we are listening. But to whom do we listen? And for what are we listening? Is it garbage in and garbage out?  Is this the voice of the Spirit or the temptation of the devil? Is this crafty serpent talk, or the wisdom of God? Is this a voice that reminds us of our belovedness and our belonging? Or is it one that rejects us, leaving us feeling alone and lost in the wilderness? And how do we know when we’re right or wrong? When it’s us or them?
Times of transition, like the one here at our Cathedral, are similar to the time when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. It’s easy at times like these to lose our bearings. I imagine Jesus here today, among us, on the pinnacle of this temple, up there with the nautilus, and being invited by the devil to throw himself down. I imagine Jesus on this very high mountain, on this Beacon Hill of a city, and the devil showing Jesus all the kingdoms of this world: the State House, our Diocesan House, and Newbury street. Such splendor and honor and glory is his to have, if he would just fall down and worship the earthly powers of this world.
Temptations abound in this place and at this time. We are hungry people at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul. We gather often to meet and greet and eat. And yet food will not satisfy that deepest need in all of us. A need to be accepted, just as we are. A need to be loved, just as we are. A need to belong to God, and to a community of faith, and know that each and every one of us is a unique and special creation in this world. Everyone! No matter our life circumstances! No matter our privileges!
In the wilderness, Life, as we know it, loses its familiar structure, trusted people, and support systems. Without them, we can easily forget that we are the beloved children of God, that we are fundamentally good, even when we do nothing. In the busyness and distractions of the voices in our heads, we can forget that our purpose is to love God with all our heart, soul, body, mind, and strength. We can forget to love ourselves the way God loves us, and to extend that love to others. But all others. Not just the “people we know and love” others. Not just the “people who are like us and agree with us” others. All others! Even that crafty serpent; even that devilish enemy!
During my wilderness wanderings, I realized that my busyness had distracted me from seeing my own nakedness, my own vulnerability, and my own weakness. I forgot that I am both powerless and precious, just as I am, even when I don’t belong to any one group, even when I don’t have a special title like “acting dean.”
In the book Becoming Human, in a chapter entitled “Forgiveness”, I learned that the Greek word “asphesis” means “to liberate” or to “release from bondage.” Wilderness times are times not only of temptation and testing but also times of strengthening and liberation. Perhaps that’s why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, knowing that he would be strengthened and liberated, because he fundamentally trusted God for everything, even death, even life after death. Perhaps Jesus knew that God is the only one who can truly set us free.
Jesus chose to feast on God’s Word, even when he was physically famished. He chose not to dare God to rescue him for dramatic show. He knew that the power of God comes not from human beings that dazzle, or from food that comforts us only for a moment, but with spiritual things that glitter even in the darkness. Jesus knew to listen to the voice of God. He knew that the Spirit would guide him along right pathways, even if it was on a desolate road in the desert, or through the valley of the shadow of death.
Wilderness times, when we launch off into the desert on our own, or lose our way on the city streets, are times when we face our own death. Like Adam and Eve, we can remember that one day we too shall surely die; we remember that we too are dust and to dust we shall return. Like Adam and Eve, we’re given choices. We can listen to God, or to the crafty serpent. We can be guided by the Spirit or by the devil. We can learn to distinguish the difference between feeling lonely and being alone with God. We can learn the importance of belonging to a loving faith community.
Certainly, we will always face temptations and we will always be tested. People will challenge us, claim another truth, and lead us down dark alley ways. Every day we will face personal choices. Who is speaking to me? And what are they saying? Shall I stand firm in my faith, or slide back into the darkness? Is this the voice of God, or is it someone or something else?
I have come to believe in God, who says to me and you “You are my beloved children, in whom I am well pleased.” I have come to believe in “listening to what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” I have come to believe that death is not our final end, even if our journey to it is long and painful and difficult. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, we have been given a free gift by God in the person of Jesus, who though tempted like us, did not sin.
How then shall we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us today? How shall we be faithful followers of Jesus at this time in our Cathedral? Jesus said, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” What if we put down our forks and picked up the Bible? What if we silenced those negative voices in our head, and replaced them with a loving thought from God. What if we stopped doing anything, just for 5 minutes every morning, and five minutes every night, and just listened to the voice of God in silence?

Like Viola Davis, in the movie The Help, perhaps, we can ask God for help, and then hear that voice of God, saying to us repeatedly, “You is smart. You is beautiful. You is loved.”  Amen.