Sermon: Maundy Thursday 2018

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“Jesus: A Leader from the Servant Class”

Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

I hope somebody remembered to warm the water up a little this year. Last year it was cold!

 

We do this foot-washing service every year, the Thursday before Easter, in memory of Jesus doing the same thing for his disciples just before he died. Some of you feel funny about it, some of you like it, and some of you like it quite a bit—free foot massages from the bishop! So before anybody gets too worked up, I’m going to remind you: nobody HAS to do this, everybody is invited if you want it, and don’t worry about what your feet look like. If you’re feeling worried about that, just remember that Jesus’ feet were pretty damn filthy and beat up from walking through the desert in sandals all day. So yours are probably a lot better looking no matter what shape they’re in.

 

We do this every year to remember and to practice a little bit, in a hands on way, the way Jesus calls us to serve each other. You hear people call Jesus a servant-leader because of the way he showed leadership—by drawing in people who were suffering and left out, by taking care of sick people and hungry people, by remembering people in jail, by lifting up the importance of children and women in a society that didn’t value them. And it’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t do this as a high and mighty ruler. He did it as a poor person himself, from a little poor fishing town, where the government was pretty corrupt and not on the side of struggling people. So he was also a servant-leader because he was a leader who came from a class of folks who were considered servants rather than masters, workers rather than bosses, farmers and fishers instead of kings and generals. He was a leader from the bottom instead of a leader from the top, and he worked to make change and make the world more fair and more hopeful from the bottom up.

 

Most of you know we just started a farm: Harbor Roots Farm! It’s something a lot of us have been dreaming about for a long time now—a way to create a few decent jobs for local people that really gives back to this community instead of just using up the land and the people, taking all the money and the good stuff, and walking away. We’re growing fresh veggies to sell, so that we can pay our farmers, but we’re also looking to grow extra for local people who can’t afford to pay. And we’re working to make sure in all of this that we do everything in a way that really respects and cares for the land for the long haul. So no dumping a bunch of poison pesticides on our stuff, that makes the people, the land, the plants and the water all sick. The Jewish law, the tradition that Jesus came out of, teaches very clearly that when you farm you’ve got to do all these things: pay the workers a fair wage, leave aside a portion of your crop for people who are in need, and work the land in a way that doesn’t destroy it.

 

We’ve hired three farmers: Nita, James and Donny. Hannah’s going to be farming alongside them, too, in addition to figuring out stuff like fundraising and where to sell the crop. We’re going to do a special blessing over our farmers today in just a minute because these four, each in their own way, really demonstrate the kind of leadership Jesus was trying teach. They’ve done it in their own lives caring for their families, for their children, for people who are homeless, and working to make positive change right here in Grays Harbor County—even while going through hard times in their own lives. Now they’re taking that servant-leadership a step further by coming to work for us on this farm, growing food for hungry people in addition to earning their own wages. Each of these four farmers care about fairness, about respect and dignity for all people, and they’ll each be working their tails off to make that real—not just for themselves but for our whole community.

 

So let’s give thanks for these strong servant-leaders. Nita, Donny, James and Hannah—come on up here and let’s have the bishop, Rev. Sarah, and anyone else who wants to come lay hands on them for a blessing.

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Sermon: Third Sunday in Lent 2018

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Text: John 2:13-22

[Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Blaine WA, on March 4th, 2018]

“Scrappy Like Jesus”

My name is Aaron. I work at Chaplains on the Harbor. I’m grateful to Christ Church for inviting me all the way up here, to come preach and teach on our work.

Chaplains on the Harbor is a mission station of this diocese rooted stubbornly, intractably in Grays Harbor County. Grays Harbor County has twice the opioid overdose death rate as the rest of Washington State. Grays Harbor County incarcerates children for nonviolent noncriminal offenses (like truancy and running away from home) at a higher rate than any county in the nation. The Harbor has one of the highest rates of CPS child removal in the state, and one of the lowest rates of reunification. Our roughly 500-person base at Chaplains on the Harbor is mostly young—millennials are our biggest age demographic—and on average one of our members dies each month from preventable, poverty-related causes: from lack of health care, from police brutality, from exposure, from overdose.

What we do most of the time is slow, quiet work: feeding people, making jail visits, hosting cold weather shelters, checking in on homeless encampments, teaching and preaching. Thanks to a generous young pig farmer, we’ve recently been granted the use of three acres of land along the Wynoochee River. We’re going to use this to launch a farming apprenticeship for our young members getting out of jail and off the streets, to sell food that generates income for them, as well as to create surplus food for local hungry people. This is, we hope, the opposite of the extraction economics that looted the resources and labor of Grays Harbor County, without thinking of the future or adequately providing for the loggers and fishers who built the wealth of those industries. This is, we hope, is the opposite of the Roman Empire’s temple tax system that looted Galilee.

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Sermon: First Sunday in Lent 2018

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Text: Mark 1:9-15

[Preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, February 18th 2018]

“Crisis Time, Kairos Time, Harvest Time”

Mark is my favorite Gospel. I love how punchy it is. No flowery words. No sifting through four paragraphs of I-AMs to try and figure out what the hell is going on. Jesus gets baptized by John, comes out of the water, and bam! Here comes the bird. Bam! He’s in the wilderness for 40 days. Bam! John gets arrested. Bam! “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.”

I love the rapid-fire, no-frills style of Mark because I connect with the urgency of it. More than any of the other gospels, I think Mark gives us a glimpse of what time itself might have felt like for the community that actually lived and breathed and labored alongside Jesus. Mark is the earliest written gospel—not right on the heels of the resurrection, but still in a red-hot period of community trauma and repression at the hands of the Roman Empire. Scholars guess it was written either during the first major rebellion of Judeans against the Roman Empire, or during the emperor Nero’s persecution of the Jesus movement in Rome. What this means, in either case, is that Mark’s gospel was written by people under the gun and navigating constant crisis.

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Scenes from a Redneck Street Funeral

Pitbulls
babies
and Skynyrd
in the sanctuary

Cigarette smoke
self-medicating mourners
and
one guy wrenching on a broke down van
in the church parking lot

Lipstick
flip flops
switchblades
the shakes
stuff lots more people would wear to a funeral
if they could get away with it

I never met you but I know your wife and your street family
so
I’m here too me and my kid

We picked up a friend with one leg on our way
he got out of the hospital three weeks ago
still bandaged up at the knee
he didn’t want to see anybody when we pulled up he said
“just drop me in the back
someplace not too public
I don’t want to talk to anybody
I don’t go to these things”
he used to collect on street debts
been hiding out some since the surgery

There’s other amputees here
one young-ish Native guy missing an arm
who talked about how you protected him
another, even younger (limbs intact), said he got in a fight once
at the fair when
suddenly
“I felt like I was superman– there I was flying through
the air
because he had picked me up outta there
by my belt!”
people cracked up
some said “me too
he did that with me too”

More tattoos here than I’ve seen in church before
even hipster church
and these tattoos
have seen
a lot
more
sun
a lot
more
prison
that’s where most of them
were dreamed and drawn

Many many
women here
told stories about you protecting them
from other men
some
mentioned your own temper
all are grieving
all of it’s true

We had to fundraise so your family could collect your ashes
we had to hit the florist up for a donated arrangement
your street kids already threw you one memorial
on the spot
where you died
on the day you died
because getting a church space
getting your remains back
getting food for the reception
getting flowers
getting your picture printed up on a card
it all costs money
costs so much money
costs too much money
there was no guarantee we could get it
but we got it
but in the meantime
it doesn’t cost money to build a wooden cross
out of stolen pallets
it doesn’t cost money to build a bonfire
if you know how to live off the land
it doesn’t cost much
to pour out a fifth
these streets
up and emptied all their pockets for you
every nickel
every scrap
every ounce of every kind of back alley comfort

Good bad and ugly
you gave this crowd
all of yourself
you gave this crowd
the shirt off your back
the tarp over your head
the very mixed blessing of your fists depending on the terms
the hyper-vigilance and non-judgment of your protectiveness in a heroin town
the skills you knew for surviving the winter outside
I have seen these same hard hollow young men
many times before
in many bad situations that haunted me afterwards
I have never seen them weep until now
I have never seen them give a woman flowers until today
bouquets plucked from someone else’s yard, delicately arranged in used plastic bottles
presented on bended knee
to your wife
who looks both ravaged
and radiant
her hair done
a new color

My son is ten months old
he loves the whole event
(except for the smaller yipping dogs)
he loves the big dogs
he loves the big emotions
he loves the big music
he loves the light coming through the church glass
he loves to curl his head shy into my shoulder while smiling at the young widows
and the mothers whose own children have been taken away
and the guys who never get a chance to be soft and silly with another human except
once in a blue moon
someone else’s baby

I went to get my friend with the one leg when I was leaving the reception
in the church basement
he was sitting eating with a few people
he was laughing
he said “I’d like to hang out here for a while
I’ll ask the pastor
for a ride back to my motel
I want to stay”

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Sermon: Easter Vigil 2017

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*Delivered at Chaplains on the Harbor, Westport WA on April 15, 2017*

“Haunt Rome Until It Falls”

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Happy Easter! Jesus lives! What a guy!
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The same Jesus who was just arrested on Thursday, beaten by the police, and executed by his government on Friday in the same way they killed rebellious slaves– he’s not dead anymore. The most powerful, brutal empire in world history couldn’t keep him in the grave. He was poor, he was homeless, people called him names, he was a nobody to the rich and powerful– until he started shaking things up, telling them to go sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor. That’s when they decided they had to make him a nobody– permanently. They tried. They failed! He got up out of the ground, praise God!
_
He leaves the tomb empty, and where’s the first place he goes? Does anyone remember, from the story we just heard? Yes– he goes to meet two of his closest friends, Mary and Mary. The ones who stuck with him to the bitter end, who saw him killed, who must have been terrified but (unlike all the men disciples) refused to run away.  He comes back to them, and what does he tell them? “Don’t be afraid. Tell my brothers the same.” He wants them to keep going, to not quit. They still have a job to do, even though he’s gone– to keep up the work he started with them of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, binding up the brokenhearted.
_

This part is really important. That holy work doesn’t begin and end with Jesus. Maybe it begins with Jesus, but then he hands it off to the Marys, who hand it on down to someone else and each generation picks it up until it gets to us. Meanwhile, we keep losing a lot of incredible children of God in each generation– we keep losing wonderful people to the same cruelty that killed Jesus. But when we say Jesus lives, and Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and dead, we also mean that every beautiful life stolen away from us by poverty, war, and state violence will also come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

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Spencer Williams, a homeless Native elder living on the streets of Aberdeen who was killed after being hit by a car– with no news coverage or investigation into his death– will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
_
Sarah Palmer, a 35 year old disabled woman living in an adult group home who was tazed to death by the Hoquiam police, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
_
Zach Vester, 24 years old, who died of pneumonia after being turned away from Aberdeen and Chehalis hospitals because they profiled him as drug user, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
_
Brooke Sandback, 35, chased into the Hoquiam River by police and drowned, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
_
Betty Murray and Pa Bailey, both evicted from the Harvard apartments in Aberdeen while they were dying of cancer, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
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Every kid dead from an overdose because it’s easier to get heroin than it is to get housing or a job or decent health care in Grays Harbor County will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
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Every poor person killed by rich people’s wars will come again to judge the living and the dead.
_
They will come again because we will carry them with us. Just as we carry Jesus with us. They will come to us in the times we are afraid, the times we feel like we can’t go on, the times we feel ashamed and humiliated– just like Jesus came again to Mary and Mary.
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We will raise them from the dead every single time we see a cop beating on a homeless person and we say NO.
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We will raise them from the dead every time we see somebody being treated wrong or discriminated against simply because they’ve used drugs.
_
We stand shoulder to shoulder with the souls of all our beloved dead, especially the ones gone too soon, every time we stand up against this system that makes the rich so very rich and keeps the poor hungry, sick and dying. We’ll raise them up every time we insist that it doesn’t have to be this way, and every time we do our own part to make it different.
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Easter means: as long as we’re here together and still doing the work of God, still demanding some good news for poor people, the empire hasn’t won yet. As long as we’re choosing to pick up the work left to us by Jesus, Mary, Mary, Spencer, Sarah, Zach, Brooke, Betty, Pa and so many others– the resurrection is a flesh and blood truth. It’s hard work. You all know this. I know you know it, because we’ve done it together. It’s hard to stand up for the rights of homeless people when everybody is calling you names, threatening you, even assaulting you. It’s hard to work together as a community when we don’t agree with each other and when we all make mistakes. But I see you, and I see how you keep doing it here. It’s the very same work Jesus did. So I know he lives. I know the resurrection is real. And I know we’re going to keep working and together, with Jesus and all our beloved dead pushing us forward, we’re gonna haunt the hell out of this system until the day when nobody’s poor. When nobody’s homeless. When nobody’s suffering from violence. When everybody, the world over, has what they need to live a good life.
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Sermon: Maundy Thursday 2017

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“Christ of Maryknoll,” Robert Lentz

*Delivered at Chaplains on the Harbor, Westport WA on April 13, 2017*

“Jesus the Felon”

Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

It gets a little lost in all the talk about washing feet, but what’s also happening in the Gospel reading today is that Jesus is having dinner with his friends. For the last time ever. This is the story we call the last supper. Does anybody remember what happens after this? That’s right, he’s killed. And what happens before that? He’s arrested. He’s arrested and he goes to jail. Has anybody here ever been to jail, or have loved ones who’ve been to jail? That’s a lot of us. What are the kinds of words you hear others use when they talk about people in jail? “Criminal.” “Junkie.” “Predator,” “super predator.” These are not kind words.
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Jesus was also called names like this. People who didn’t like him called him a drunk, and a glutton (which is kind of an old-fashioned way of calling somebody a freeloader). He was accused, especially by the powerful and the respectable people in his society, of rubbing elbows with all the wrong people– tax collectors, sex workers, sinners. If he were around today, walking the streets of Grays Harbor County, he’d probably get called a tweaker and a junkie and be accused of hanging out with all the worst people. And to top it all off, almost as if to prove all his haters right, then Jesus goes and gets himself arrested. You can almost hear them gossip: “We knew it! We knew he was trouble, we knew he was a low life.”
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A lot of people, a lot of Christians, get nervous about this part of Jesus’ life: Jesus the prisoner, Jesus the felon. A lot of people try to dress it up. They say “Well he wasn’t really like all the other cons,” that somehow he was different, or better, or more special. But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus is just one of them. He’s a leader, he’s a healer, he’s a teacher– and he’s a jailbird through and through. His good qualities aren’t what set him apart; many prisoners have good qualities. What sets him apart is that he’s the Son of God– he’s God’s proof that when God comes to earth, God takes sides. God takes sides with the poor. God takes sides with the prisoners. Back in Jesus’ time, like today, prisons were full of poor people. People who couldn’t pay their debts. Slaves who stood up for themselves. Like today, in Jesus’ time rich people were very rich and there weren’t that many of them. Meanwhile, just about everybody was poor. It was a lot easier to end up on the wrong side of the law than it was to get out of poverty. And Jesus, who was working not just to get himself but everybody he met out of poverty, ended up way out on the wrong side of the law.
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We tend to talk about Jesus like he came down from on high to fix the outcasts. That’s not what the Bible shows us. His whole life, he was an outcast himself. He was born in a barn because nobody would take in his homeless family. Then, when he was a baby, his family became refugees as they fled across the border to Egypt running from King Herod. He was a disruptive, mouthy kid who ran off from his parents, made a lot of noise in the synagogue, and created a street family for himself that was just as important to him as his blood family. A street family he loved and cared for, even as the police and the powerful were hunting him down.
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Something I like about today’s Gospel story, weird as the foot-washing stuff can seem to us all these years later, is the way Jesus shows us how to be a “servant leader.” I don’t mean he was putting on a show about how humble he was, either. I mean he was a leader from a class of people who worked as servants, or even slaves– he was a leader who came from poor people. I think that’s important because we don’t look at poor people as leaders often enough. Everybody’s always looking for somebody rich and powerful to come down and fix our communities. They’re not coming. They’re never coming. All we have is us. All we have is each other. And what Jesus’ life shows us is: that’s actually everything we need. If we can work together, if we can come together across the divisions that keep poor people hating on each other and instead start taking care of each other, start organizing together to make the changes we need– we could be unstoppable.
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We do real well at taking care of each other here, in this community. I think we’re onto something. The foot-washing, yes, it’s a little weird and awkward but it’s a symbol for the real, concrete ways we take care of one another. We feed each other. We shelter each other. This winter, our young homeless folks spent their food stamps to buy baby formula for a mother and child who were sleeping here. Over the holidays, our overnight guests pooled their turkeys  from the food bank to throw an incredible feast for this whole community. And we all– this group here– have extended that love and care into the local jails– where Jesus the prisoner can still be found today, in the kindness the prisoners there show each other under really bad conditions.
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I’m gonna finish with a story, a jail story, about us. Last year we were doing the School of Hard Knocks on Friday afternoons. Each month we’d get together and just have conversation about hard topics that are real in our community. The first month, we were talking about jail. And at the very first class, this group decided it was important that we send a letter of love and support to all the people Rev. Sarah visits. It was a simple letter: we said we’re thinking of them, praying for them, they’re always welcome at our place when they get out, that we wish we could give them a better world– one where it’s easier to get a decent job and a good education than it is to land in jail. Sarah mailed that letter out. One young guy named Zach Vester got a copy. He was in lockdown at the Grays Harbor County jail then. We found out later: in the middle of the night when the guards couldn’t hear, Zach was shouting the words of that letter through the metal toilet drain in his cell, so that it would echo into the cells of everybody else in lockdown. He was shouting your prayers, your words of encouragement, your love so that everybody could hear it. When I think of servant leaders, of Jesus the prisoner’s style of leadership, I think about Zach. And I think about all the folks here who wrote him that letter.
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Zach died this fall. He was twenty-four. Two hospitals turned him away before he landed at St. Pete’s in Olympia, where he died of pneumonia. They turned him away because they said he was a “drug seeker.” They didn’t know he was a leader. They didn’t know he was brave, or funny, or smart, or honest. But you all did. When you sent in that letter, you knew there were people locked up in there who deserved better. Who deserved love, prayers, a future. You knew they deserved that because they’re children of God, the same as Jesus. Keep trusting that. Trust him. Trust Jesus the prisoner.
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Sermon: Third Sunday after the Epiphany 2017

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*Delivered at Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle WA, on January 22, 2017*

“The God of Secrecy”

Text: Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter;
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head
above my enemies round about me….

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

 

“He shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling.” Listen to that. Hide me. What does it mean to be hidden away by God?

Where does the God of shelter, hiddenness, and secrecy fit into this moment? There is so much noise. There is so much blaring. There is the wholly understandable inclination many of us are feeling, myself included, to declare to the world: THIS IS WHO I AM, THIS IS WHAT I BELIEVE, THIS IS WHERE I STAND, THIS IS WHAT I WILL DEFEND.

Our clarity on all these points is vital. We are living in dangerous times. We must remain clear. We must constantly remind ourselves and one another of what we know to be real, true, and good.

And now we must do this while also honoring the God of secrecy. The God who hides the oppressed and vulnerable in their day of trouble. Now is the time for us to start praying and discerning seriously our role, collectively, in providing sanctuary for those who need it.

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