Swallows and sparrows are on the side of nurture,
making their nests by the side of God's altars.
And maybe, as our prayer book suggests, teaching begins with nurture:
nourishing God's people from the riches of God's grace.
In Christ | John 20: 1-8
Lauren Flowers Byrd+
They have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have laid him.
Every spring preachers bump their heads up against the Easter Tomb. Or, at least, I do.
As if I was trying to solve it. As if the stone were still in place and I needed to roll it away one more time. Easter, though, is not a problem. Not mine. Not yours. It’s a mystery. And mysteries in the Church are not only signs of life but ways of living.
I think it’s why this particular day finds people dressing up in bonnets and flowers or wearing a new tie as if you were (as indeed you are) a new creation in Christ. It’s like saying Easter is something you have to walk around in, something you need to wear, like a heart on your sleeve.
As a young mother, I used to lay out my children’s Easter clothes on Holy Saturday. I’d pull the dusty laces from my son’s Buster Brown shoes, and wash them. I'd iron their clothes and dress their empty baskets with ribbons, little knowing I was standing in a long line of Easter dressers.
The earliest Christians prepared white robes for the newly baptized to wear at Easter. They believed you put on Christ when you entered the waters of Baptism. They believed the glory of Christ was something you wore, like eternity on your skin. Like something you could trust forever, too, a promise that would never let you down or leave you alone. A promise that made you shine.
We wear today, and every day of our lives, the glory of Christ. We wear his resurrection. It is our uniform. We are united and formed as one in Christ. It’s why some people call Baptism a christening, like saying you're in Christ forever after. And Christ will never let you go, even in death. It’s why what you do matters. Because when people see you, they see a part of Jesus the Risen Lord, and people need to see Jesus eastering in you. They need to see you in Christ, and Christ in you.
Like Mary Magdalene, though, we can find ourselves worrying we’ve lost Jesus or misplaced him or that something or somebody stole him from us somewhere along the way. I’m guessing that's because we imagine Easter is only there for us in seasons of joy, and want to keep the Risen Lord in the joyful box, in the box where we store our Easter clothes.
But remember this: when Mary Magdalene said, They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where to find him, she was certain she’d lost her Lord -- she had every reason to feel that way -- and yet he was standing right in front of her, the one she was talking to. In her uncertainly and in her grief, Easter was right there beside her. This tells us Jesus cannot be contained or denied by us. Easter has broken the bonds of death. Easter has trampled down the world’s limitations and our own.
In every sorrowful turn, the Risen Lord is making a new creation. And in every joyful turn, the Risen Lord is also making a new creation. Every day of your life, Jesus is lifting you into the hope of glory.
And according to Emily Dickinson, Hope is the thing with feathers. In other words, hope comes with the force of wings and liberation.
When my son was in kindergarten, his teacher came up with the bright idea of giving every child in her classroom a little chick one year. His sister Grace got word of it and begged to have one too. And so not knowing anything about raising chicks, I asked the teacher if she had extras.
For all of Spring Break, we hosted two chicks in a cardboard box in our kitchen. My children loved them. Their friends loved them. Even I thought I might love them if they’d stay put. It didn’t take long, though, for me to feel those chicks didn’t belong in that box or in my house. What happened was this: they figured it out, too. They felt the same way. One morning I came into the kitchen to find the pair of them had jumped the box on the hunt for new life all over my house.
I share with you the memory of those chicks not because they are signs of spring or new life. They are. But I remember them because they jumped the box. You see, like us, they were made for green grass and sunshine, for life and freedom. They were made to want more than anyone could give them. And so are we.
Life in Christ has "feathers" -- has the hope of risen life. Until Jesus rose again from the dead, death contained life. But now he is risen, and the glory of life has jumped the ancient boundaries of death and despair. Now he is risen, and we are forever living in his new creation.
In words from Frederick Buechner, said today as an Easter benediction, Take heart, even at the unlikeliest moments. Fear not. Be alive. Be merciful. Be human. And most unlikely of all: Even when you can't believe, even if you don't believe at all, even if you shy away at the sound of his name, be Christ.
Stumbling love | 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
28 January 2018 | Epiphany 4
Lauren Flowers Byrd+
Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Personal freedom is a gift we all enjoy. For instance, right now you are free to say what you feel. Free to do what you want. Free to get up and walk out. In Paul’s letter today, the Corinthians are also free: free to eat meat, even meat sacrificed to gods they don’t believe in, gods they know to be idols. They are free to eat that same meat in the midst of those who cannot or will not eat it. They are free to offend those people. Paul understands freedom and is at pains to name it.
It’s not the reach of freedom he challenges, though. What he challenges is the reach of love: our practice of it, whether it’s big enough to understand people who behave differently than we do, like people who think it’s wrong to eat meat sacrificed to gods because for them it carries hurtful force.
You could decide the meat-eating Corinthians were aiming to be free from puritanical know-it-alls, from the sort of people who are always policing the behavior of others: what they eat and drink, how they dress, what they watch, who they hang out with. But that’s not what Paul’s after. He’s not affirming their capacity to return the favor, nor lifting up their freedom to judge those who judge them. No, what he’s after is their love, whether it’s big enough to love people they don’t understand.
Absent compassion for people who are not like you at all: who look and dress, who talk and vote, who pray and practice, differently than you do; absent compassion, you’re a stumbling block to the love of Christ. And here’s the trouble: it’s not always easy to know whether you’re the one stumbling or the block that causes others to stumble.
When I was eleven, I lived behind a theatre on a little island in the south Pacific. Nobody had cable out there. Instead we had free movies, including free afternoon matinees every Saturday. Those matinees were always crowded with kids. No empty seats. And one Saturday as the movie began, a friend whispered in my ear, On my way to get popcorn, I saw your sister sitting with a boy.
My younger sister, I thought, sitting with a real live boy? What's the world coming to?
It wasn’t something I’d ever done before. It seemed out of order. So, right away, I got up and starting walking the aisles, down one and up another. And then I spied her sitting right next to a boy I didn’t know. She saw me, too, and suddenly dropped her head to her lap, like she was leaning over to tie a shoe. Or ducking down to avoid me.
Her duck told me something really was out of order. I ran out of the theater all the way home. My parents were surprised to see me enter the house all out of breath. What ‘s wrong? my mother asked, Are you okay?
No, I said. Christin’s sitting with a boy in the theater, and I think they're holding hands!
It took my parents a beat to understand what I was saying, but when they did, I remember how they looked at each other all funny and how my dad suddenly burst out laughing. I remember my certainty giving way to remorse. It felt like I was in the way of something I couldn't understand.
That day I missed the matinee. That day my sister and I seemed incomprehensible to each other. It was years before I held a boy’s hand in a movie.
The Christian challenge isn’t about perfect understanding much as it is learning to love when you don’t understand. Love, you see, is an alternative to things adding up how you want them to. My friend Tom says, Never be afraid to love things you cannot explain.
In my father's laughter, I heard the kind of love that never adds up. It told me he loved both of his daughters whether they understood each other or not. It told me love was bigger than knowing what you’re up to or what other people are up to.
As Paul so brilliantly puts it, Knowledge puffs up. But love builds up. Opinions and judgments make us feel safe, are a kind of righteousness without real risk. But love holds hands with another person. Love isn’t afraid of what it cannot explain.
My sister and I still quarrel, as sisters do. But we’ve learned through the years to stand down when we start judging each other. We’ve learned to accept the incomprehensibility of who we are, what you might also call the mystery of each other. Above all things, we’ve learned to look after the love between us.
That’s a high holy calling, and the good news is this: loving somebody is a whole lot easier than tending your differences. Makes you feel good, too.
No two people are ever alike. God made sure of that. In the words of the late great Guy Clark, One man's pride is another man's humble. One man's step is another man's stumble
Where would we be without difference? It’s the freedom of being human, found not only in matters of religion or politics or gender or race or sexuality. It’s written in our DNA, in the signature of God on every person. We’re all walking talking mysteries, incomprehensible and lovable: every person a child of God. And yes the teachings of God are needful. But so, too, is the compassion of God. So, too, is the love of Jesus overcoming our fear of difference.
If we’re going to grow in Christ, we’ll find ourselves embracing the odd mystery of other people, right next to us and outside these doors. In Christ, we’ll celebrate our differences and receive them as holy gifts from God.
Sometimes it really is for the birds.