Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Rector's Monday Message: February 27, 2012

Thinking About Our Future Selves

In last Saturday’s New York Times, reporter Alina Tugend wrote a fascinating piece about how some people see a disconnection between their present and future selves. [“Bad Habits? My Future Self Will Deal With That”, New York Times, February 25, 2012] As she says,

Now, I know this sounds kind of weird, but I’ve found some research showing that many of us don’t have the incentive to eat healthy or save money or add to our retirement accounts because we think of ourselves in the future as someone different altogether. In fact, a future self can seem to be this annoying other person who wants to prevent you from having fun in the present.

An inability to conceive of our future selves as continuous with our present selves explains why some people don’t exercise, eat healthily, or pursue higher education. As Tugend notes, “Those who have almost no ability to think of themselves in the future are much less likely to floss, say, or save for retirement . . . Those who have much more ‘future self continuity’ are much more likely to have more assets and own their own home.”

Why does this matter? It matters because “our connection to our future selves can have an impact on lots of important decisions we make right now about our lives.”

As I read this article, I thought of course about my own health, career, and financial choices made over time. I thought even more about the future of the church. Several people of late have asked why we’re introducing some modest changes to our liturgical life—printing out the entire liturgy at the Sunday 10 a.m. service, offering daily Morning Prayer Monday through Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in St. Paul’s Chapel, starting Lex Orandi, a Sunday night emergent church liturgy aimed at people under 40. Some have also questioned the need to move our outreach ministry away from grant making and toward hands-on collaboration with FocusHope and Glazer Elementary School in Detroit. The answer to all these questions is that I am trying to think not only about our present but also about our future church.

Congregational Development theorists call this strategy “parallel development”. What that means is that you plan for the future by trying to nourish both the present congregation and to build the structures for the future. Parallel development has long been used in changing neighborhoods, say where a dwindling Anglo congregation shares a building with a growing Latino community. The idea is to keep both things going so that the church of the present can be sustained and the church of the future can be prepared for.

There’s no nice way to say this, but research tells us that all of us are living in a changing neighborhood. Most people under 50 care very little about the things that those of us over 50 value in church—prayer books, traditional hymns, worship guilds, typical church activities like rummage sales and thrift shops to name a few. What younger people value more than the “Sunday morning experience” or “our warm Christian family” is spiritually serious worship and ministry. They’re not interested in putting on a taffy pull. They are interested in praying to, talking about, and serving God. When asked, seekers who do not go to church explain their lack of attendance this way: they see traditional churches as places obsessed with their own internal conflicts. They don’t see the churches as places where they can learn about God.

For me, as the leader of a faith community making the transition to serving future generations, the twofold task concerns nourishing the present congregation and planning for the next one. I’m 62 years old. I remember the old Prayer Book. I prefer traditional hymns to praise music. But I know that to lead a large, dynamic church I cannot serve my tastes alone. Given the demographic changes abroad in America right now—the Baby Boomers (my own generation) are the last majority white generation—it is clear that parishes like Christ Church Cranbrook will soon face a stark choice. If we want to remain a dynamic faith community, we will need to appeal to a more ethnically and racially diverse population. If we want to offer only a “traditionally” English church experience, we will need to readjust our attendance expectations radically downward.

In my work, prayer, and intellectual life, I have always rejected false choices. I don’t think we have to choose between present tastes and future needs. But I do think we will need to become the kind of faith community that values diversity and revels in multiplicity. By the time of the 2040 Census, there will be no one majority race or ethnicity in America. Our country and our Oakland County neighborhoods will be exciting mixtures of races, cultures, and religious tastes. If Christ Church Cranbrook can live into and embrace this future, our ministries in the 21st century will thrive. If we can’t, we will lose both numbers and relevance.

I do not believe we need to make that false choice. We can celebrate our present church self and build for the next one by seeing both as logical extensions of our deepest values. Anglicanism has never been about being English. It’s always been about the principle that we discover God in our common life. As the reformers said, Praying shapes believing.” “The law of prayer is the law of faith.” Lex orandi, lex credendi. That’s what “Lex Orandi” means.

Gary Hall

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Rector's Monday Message: February 20, 2012

February 20, 2012

Lent: A Time to Pay Attention

Lent is a season that does not exist for itself. It is a season that exists for Easter. The point of Lent is not to be a 40-day period of feeling bad about oneself. The point of Lent is to prepare oneself for the joys and glories of Easter.

Lent began in the early days of Christianity as a period of preparation for Baptism at Easter. Originally, those converted to the faith were excluded from the full worship life of the church and were prepared, during the Lenten season, for their Baptism. The season took hold as part of the church's liturgical year, even after Christianity became Rome's official religion and Baptism moved from an adult to an infant rite. Over time, Lent became thought of as a penitential season, and its purpose moved from one of instruction to one of atonement.

One of the great byproducts of the liturgical scholarship that produced the 1979 Prayer Book was a renewed understanding of Lent in its earliest form and a desire to return to a more comprehensive understanding of the season. So "giving something up for Lent" was amplified by the idea that it was also possible to "take something on" during the season as well. Our Prayer Book describes the season as a time not only of prayer and fasting but also as one for renewed study and ministry. So for us Lent is a time both to abstain and to try on. For some of us that trying on will mean reading, studying, reflecting. For others it will mean serving others in ministry.

One of my favorite Psalm verses is also used as a Lenten antiphon by the Order of the Holy Cross, the monastic community of which I am an associate. It goes like this:

Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *

give me life in your ways. [Psalm 119.37]

I use this phrase as a kind of mantra during the Lenten season. It helps me remember that the point of Lent is not about feeling guilty. The point of Lent is to refocus my attention.

To say that I spend most of my time "watching what is worthless" is to say that a fundamental problem of being human concerns our tendency to be easily distracted. Most of our waking hours are spent thinking about things that seem important but do not ultimately matter. Having a regular prayer life is a way of structuring time in such a way that maybe 30 minutes of the day will be spent attending to what actually counts.

Even at this late date, I'm not exactly sure what form my own Lenten observance will take. Some years I give something up. Some years I immerse myself in study of a Bible book or theological project. Some years I volunteer in some kind of special ministry of service. I can't say I always do all three. But I can say that Psalm 119's mantra-turning my eyes from watching what is worthless-is always in my mind.

This little poem by Emily Dickinson has also become an important part of my Lenten observance:


Did life's penurious length
Italicize its sweetness,
The men that daily live
Would stand so deep in joy
That it would clog the cogs
Of that revolving reason
Whose esoteric belt
Protects our sanity.

What she means, I believe, is that life is short, and that its sweetness is so brief and intense that we defend ourselves from taking in life in all its beauty. If we were fully open to the radiance of life, we would "stand so deep in joy" that we wouldn't be able to get anything done. So we protect ourselves from life's transcendence by putting blinders on. Doing so allows us to go about our business. But it also keeps us from experiencing ourselves or the world as God intends.

As Lent approaches, I encourage you ask that God turn your eyes from watching what is worthless-to put down the laptop, the smartphone, the iPod and attend to God and God's world and your own inner life in all their radiance. As poet Jane Hirschfield says," You don't have to add anything to reality to feel awe, or to feel respect, or to see the radiance of existence. Radiance simply is."

Let your Lent be a time to experience radiance. Turn your eyes from watching what is worthless. Let God and life's sweetness in by giving up, taking on, or serving. And do it in the service of Easter and its implications for all of us and the world.

Gary Hall

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Homily: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany [February 19, 2012] Christ Church Cranbrook

I begin this sermon with a confession. Like many American men, I am in the grip of something bigger than I am. That’s right: I, too, am suffering from “Linsanity”, a condition defined as an obsessive interest in the play of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.

As those of you following this story know, Jeremy Lin was a virtually unknown bench player until two weeks ago when he was asked to substitute while the Knicks’ star player, Carmelo Anthony was sidelined. In the past two weeks Lin has racked up an enormous number of points and assists, and he has become a hero to every sentient basketball fan and to the Asian American community as well.

Of all the many interesting things about the Jeremy Lin phenomenon, perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the way he managed to elude notice for so long. He has gone from virtual unknown to media superstar in two short weeks.

If there’s a key element to the “Linsanity” phenomenon, it concerns the sudden transformation in the way we see somebody. Two weeks ago, Jeremy Lin was an earnest young third-string bench warmer. Today he is a super-star. Has he changed, or has our perception of him changed? Though he may be the same guy he was two weeks ago, we all respond to him entirely differently now than we would have then. What’s that all about?

Our Gospel for this morning tells us a similar story. Jesus goes up the mountain with his companions Peter, James, and John. There “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Two great heroes of Israelite prophetic faith, Moses and Elijah, appear with him. A voice comes from a cloud, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" [Mark 9: 2-9] This story is known as “The Transfiguration”, and it is always read on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. It says something to us about the way the manifestation of God’s glory—and Epiphany is a season about God’s glorgy--culminates in this mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus to his friends. It’s a story about seeing someone in a new way.

Prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus’s companions saw him as a particularly effective teacher and healer. After the Transfiguration, they will be asked to see him as the Messiah. Before the event he was just a specially qualified human being; after it he was understood to be the Son of God. Before the event he could look forward to a long and happy life. Afterward he was seen to be destined to go to Jerusalem and the cross. Something changed in this moment. Was it Jesus himself or his companions’ understanding of him?

I have to admit that when I was younger, I had a hard time preaching about this story. The Transfiguration seemed to me little more than a miraculous magic trick, and I had difficulty connecting it with life experience. But, as the Jeremy Lin story demonstrates, the longer one lives the more one is able to see people revealed in new and surprising ways. Jesus’s transfiguration on the mountaintop is emblematic not only of the way people and our understandings of them change. It is also an epitome of the transformational nature of Christian faith.

For almost exactly ten years now I have been an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, an Anglican monastic community with houses in New York, California, Canada, and South Africa. I’ve been connected to that order since my early days as a priest in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Over the years that connection deepened and, in 2002, I became an Associate. To be an Associate of a religious order, you have to adopt a rule of life and prayer consistent with the values of the monastery. As a Benedictine order, OHC values obedience, stability, and conversion of life above all Christian values. It is to this last that the Transfiguration story speaks. Christian life is an ongoing process, and its goal is that we become completely who we are as people made in God’s image. In the order’s “Rule for Associates”, this is how “conversion of life” is described:

As the monks seek conversion of life, so we will reflect on our own lives in regular self-examination, believing that what God wants of us, as of every human being, is growth toward the fullness of the Image in which we are made. We will strive to be open to the changes required by and for that growth. [“Rule for Associates”, p. 8]

Jesus knew that his life was more than about being a preacher, teacher, and healer. At some point it began to dawn on Jesus that something bigger and deeper was going on in his life than his success as a faith healer in Galilee. At some point he realized that for him to live out the deep logic of his life meant that he would need to make his way to Jerusalem and his confrontation with the forces that would bring him to the cross. It is only after this Transfiguration moment that Jesus can say, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” [Mark 9.31] As Mark’s Gospel presents him, Jesus has been on a transformational journey; and after the Transfiguration he can see himself as someone with a divine mission and destiny. He couldn’t have seen or said that before. Neither could those who gathered around him.

I said earlier that this story used to give me difficulty, that it seemed disconnected from the stuff of life. I don’t have that difficulty anymore. In fact, this story now strikes me as one of the truest ones in all of the New Testament. It’s a story about human transformation. It’s a story about ongoing conversion of life. It’s a story about what the Christian life really and finally means.

Our friend Jeremy Lin, the basketball player, is also a thoughtful and reflective Christian person. Last Friday, David Brooks wrote a column about Lin, his Christian faith, and the difficulty reconciling the competitive values of sport with the self-denying values of religious faith. In that column, Brooks quoted what Lin himself says about this tension:

“The right way to play is not for others and not for myself, but for God. I still don’t fully understand what that means; I struggle with these things every game, every day. I’m still learning to be selfless and submit myself to God and give up my game to Him.” [David Brooks, “The Jeremy Lin Problem”, NY Times 2/17/12]

Those are the words of someone who understands his life as a process, a journey of ongoing conversion of life. Those Christians who rely so heavily on the born-again experience tend to describe conversion as a static, once for all moment. “On such and such a date, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal saviour. And that’s that.” Those of us committed to ongoing transformation of life see conversion rather differently. God reveals us to ourselves over time. The life of faith is a life of progressive ongoing discovery, one of being continually called into new and deeper understandings of ourselves, each other, and the world.

Jesus went up the mountain and was transfigured before his friends. In our language, we might say that he was transformed. His understanding of himself changed. His understanding of God’s vision for his life changed. He emerged with a new and deeper grasp of his life’s essence and purpose. In the same way, we could say that the life of faith is, for each and all of us, a Transfiguration journey. We are each and all on the way to becoming the people God made us to be, to becoming the completed selves made in the image of God. The life of faith is transfigural and transformative. The work that we do, the relationships we have, the things that happen to us—all of these events go into helping us grow nearer to the divine image, to become who we really are. Through all of life’s changes and chances, God is continually making and breaking and remaking us, all so that, in the words of today’s collect, “we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory.”

The Jeremy Lin story is not only about a great athlete; it’s about how we all can be caught up into something bigger than we are and changed by it. The gospel story about Jesus going up a mountain with his friends is not just a divine first-century magic trick. Nor is it a validation of Jesus against other religious teachers. It is instead our call to our own journey of ongoing conversion of life. God is continually making and breaking and transforming us out there and in here.

That is strong stuff, and it means going to church is not visiting a museum of our past, static religious experience. Peter wanted to build three booths, to preserve the moment as a Transfiguration museum, in effect to perma-plaque it. Going to church is not to visit the souvenirs of our past experience. It can and should be a transformational event. We may come here seeking comfort, but what we’re offered is Transfiguration.

Conversion of life seems scarier than nostalgia, but we have Jesus as the example of the joys of transfigured life. On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany—when we see what God’s glory really and finally looks like-- Jesus has been revealed to us as one who opened himself up to God transforming light, whose willingness to become who God made him has opened up joy and hope and blessing for all of us. May Lent be a time that we can open ourselves as he did, and be transformed and converted, too. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Rector's Monday Message: February 12, 2012

Holding Things Lightly

In the February issue of Poetry magazine, there is a collection of essays by contemporary poets on the connections between poetry and faith. One of the most interesting is a piece by Jane Hirschfield, a poet who is a longtime student of Zen Buddhism. Many things appealed to me about this essay, but I confess to a difficulty with its title: “Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.”

“Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.” As I stared at that sentence, I tried to make sense of it. What could she possibly mean? What is an “assailable” thought? What is the connection between “unassailable” thoughts and loneliness? And what does any of this have to do with poetry, let alone God?

When I was in high school, I regularly took part in speech and debate tournaments. One of the ways we train people to think is to ask them to develop an argument and then to support it with examples or evidence that will be convincing. The aim of rhetoric is to persuade people to your point of view. We do that by marshalling evidence that supports our argument, refuting examples that would go against it.

One of the interesting things about debating, though, is that when you are on a debate team you have to prepare both sides of an argument. If you do it right, you learn the strengths and weaknesses of each position. Usually you will side personally with one of the points of view. But you will also, in your secret heart, know that your position is “assailable”. It has weaknesses. It is open to correction.

In our culture we tend to admire people who know what they think and who hold tenaciously to a position. But Jane Hirschfield’s Zen insight suggests another way for us to be. We might hold on to our positions more lightly. We might admit to ourselves that the truth we hold to is our truth, that all truth is provisional.

The poet Robert Frost said that we tell ourselves stories as “momentary stays against confusion”. What he meant was that as people we try to make sense of reality by making up a working hypothesis of how things are. But the key to spiritual health seems to be an ability to revise the story as things change. In his essay, “Circles”, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that one must prefer truth to our “past apprehension of truth”. People, like institutions, become ossified in what they hold on to. They build fortresses and monuments around a living reality. In other words, their thoughts become unassailable. And life inside a fortress may feel safe, but it is very lonely.

By saying this I do not mean to imply that we should not have any firm convictions. (I still remember the topic of the first impromptu speech I gave in high school: “If you become too open minded, your brains will fall out.”) Every faith community and every person has certain core affirmations around which they organize their lives. But if I prefer truth, in Emerson’s words, to my past apprehension of truth, I will be willing to adjust my understanding of how those core affirmations manifest themselves over time. As James Russell Lowell said in the great Abolitionist hymn, “New occasions teach new duties.”

“Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.” The skills that we have all learned to articulate and support our arguments are the skills we use to help our point of view prevail. Even framing the practice that way suggests that life is some kind of contest, that what I want from our engagement with each other is victory rather than companionship. Living in community requires a different set of skills. As the philosopher Richard Rorty said, “Truth is made, not discovered.” Truth is something that emerges from our dialogue with and connection to each other. It is not a dead monument. It is a living stream.

As Lent approaches, I’m beginning to think about how I will organize my approach to it, and this year I’m thinking about how I learn to hold things more lightly. What I want is truth and community, not unassailable loneliness. To have the former, I’ll have to admit to much of what I affirm is a momentary stay against confusion, a provisional formation of how things look to me now. Seeing things this way I may win fewer arguments, but I hope I’ll have more companions along the way.

Gary Hall

Homily: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany [february 12, 2012] Christ Church Cranbrook

No matter how many times I read Mark’s Gospel, I always find it full of surprises. Last week’s passage told how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Today’s shows Jesus healing a leper. Last Sunday, when I was leading a retreat at Camp Stevens in Julian, California, we discussed the first healing story as part of the closing Eucharist, and once again Mark’s Gospel told me something about Jesus I hadn’t known before. After hearing this passage read, one of our members noted that in these early Mark stories Jesus is suddenly coming to terms with his ability to heal people. It’s as if he hadn’t known he could heal people before. He goes to Simon’s house, touches his mother-in-law, and she recovers. In today’s Gospel, Mark underlines the newness of Jesus’s healing power when the leper has to remind Jesus that he has the power to make people well. He says to Jesus, "If you choose, you can make me clean,” meaning, if my friend is right, that news has spread of Jesus’s healing power but Jesus hasn’t entirely taken it in yet himself.

But Jesus is a fast learner. "I do choose. Be made clean!" He touches the man and heals him. And then he asks him to do something: "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." What interests me in today’s Gospel is how the recovered man disobeys Jesus on both counts. Jesus has done him an enormous service. He has healed him physically, and he has healed him socially. To say that he is “clean” means that he is both bodily clean and ritually clean. He is now free from physical and social suffering. You think he’d be grateful, and that he’d show his gratitude by doing what Jesus asked. Instead, he runs out and tells everybody how the new rabbi healed him. And there’s no record that he ever went to the priest to offer thanks.

So our Gospel reading for today pictures Jesus with a newfound healing power using it to cleanse a leper who, once he is healed, disregards everything that Jesus asked him to do. So much for gratitude. This reading is paired with an Old Testament story that tells us of another cleansing from leprosy, this one of the Assyrian General Naaman by the prophet Elisha. Part of the point of this first story revolves around Naaman’s and Assyria’s military power in relation to Elisha’s and Israel’s political weakness. When the Israelite king hears that Naaman is coming to town for healing, he panics. Will they hold it against him if the great man is not healed? And Naaman’s attitude doesn’t help things. When he is told he can be cleansed simply by bathing in the Jordan River, he complains to Elisha that this advice wasn’t worth the trip--they have much bigger, more impressive rivers back home where he comes from. It is only when a servant says to him, "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean'?" that Naaman relents and does what the prophet had asked. And as the passage tells us, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.”

These two stories are overtly linked by their subject: healings from leprosy. But they are covertly connected, too. Not only does each passage relate a miraculous healing. Each story also tells us how someone with authority tells a person to do something simple. In each story, that person refuses. There is something in us that balks at good advice, that wants to assert itself in a contrary way, that thinks it always knows best. Naaman and the unnamed man in the Gospel story share that characteristic. So do you and I.

There is a great scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall that illustrates this shared tendency. Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, has just been stopped by a Los Angeles police officer and is told to get out of the car and hand over his driver’s license. Alvy is so nervous that he drops the license and it falls to the ground. He starts explaining himself to the cop, who says,


Don't give me your life story

(Looking at the piece of paper

on the ground)

-just pick up the license.


Pick up the license. You have to ask

nicely 'cause I've had an extremely

rough day. You know, my girl friend-



Just give me the license, please.


Since you put it that way.

(He laughs)

It's hard for me to refuse.

(He leans over, picks up the

license, then proceeds to rip

it up. He lets the pieces go;

they float to the ground)

... have a, I have a terrific problem

with authority, you know. I'm... it's

not your fault. Don't take it personal.

[Woody Allen, Annie Hall]

I don’t know about you, but I recognize something of myself in Alvy Singer’s tearing up his driver’s license, just as I do in Naaman the Assyrian’s grumpy complaint about Israel’s two-bit river and the leper’s disregard of Jesus’s small demands. In all three examples the request is simple: go bathe in a river, keep quiet and go offer thanks, hand over your driver’s license. And in all three examples the response is an almost inexplicable refusal to cooperate. Three people told not to do something stupid, and then there they go doing something stupid. I think I know those people. I think I am those people. I think they’re a lot like me.

There is a willful, selfish, stubborn part of me at my core that wants what it wants despite all good advice to the contrary. No matter what your credentials to advise me, I think I know best. One of the revelations in today’s healing stories concerns that solidarity you and I share with the two cleansed lepers. At some level, each of us needs healing. At some deeper level, each of us resists it. Part of us would rather stay isolated in our sickness than be restored to wholeness in God’s health. The good news of the Epiphany season is that God will not let us stop there. God wills that we be made whole. And one of the ways God makes us whole is by allowing us to see fully into ourselves.

One of the great spiritual landmarks in our tradition is The Confessions of St. Augustine, probably the first real autobiography in Western literature. In The Confessions Augustine talks directly to God, telling his life story, looking for signs of God’s activity in his life. As he goes over the facts of his life—his early years in North Africa as a pagan, then his religious seeking in other traditions, his years as a successful teacher of rhetoric and of his time living with a concubine in Rome, finally his conversion to Christianity and his return to North Africa—as he recounts these he becomes aware, late in the book, of just how little he knew himself at the time of these events he recounted. The real story of Augustine’s Confessions becomes the way God progressively reveals Augustine to himself. He realizes that his ability to take in the fullness and depth of his selfishness and sin increases as he grows in an appreciation of the fullness and depth of God’s grace. Augustine couldn’t have taken the knowledge of his own iniquity earlier in his life. It is only as he ages and matures and becomes more secure in God’s love that God allows him to see himself exactly as he is.

Sometimes God loves us by showing us things. Sometimes God loves us by hiding them from us until we are ready to accept them. If you’ve ever been in therapy, you’ll know that you’re not ready to understand your problem until you’re ready. The therapist could probably tell you your diagnosis at the end of the first session. But even if she did, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. Something in us not only resists. Something in us hides from the knowledge that we resist. Part of God’s mercy and grace to us is that God shows us ourselves only as we are able to accept ourselves. In this sense, God is like a therapist, and the life of prayer is like a relationship with a trusted guide whom you come to know enough to open you up to God’s healing, revealing light.

We’re nearing the end of the season of Epiphany, a word that literally means “manifestation”. In this season we talk of the ways in which God’s glory has been made manifest in Jesus, in the people who gather around him, in God’s world, and in us. Today our scriptures point us to another side of Epiphany, to one of the more subtle ways God is at work in the world. God wants to heal you. And God wants to heal you by showing you to yourself in all your fullness. God loves and blesses all of you—not just the public face you show to yourself and the world. God loves and blesses you in your shadow places, in the parts of yourself you certainly don’t love, probably don’t accept, and may not even acknowledge or know about. The journey of faith is a journey of progressive self-discovery. God shows you to yourself only as you are ready to take that knowledge in. But once you can acknowledge the fullness of who you are, the blessings extended are deep.

In our culture, we seem to think that being Christian is somehow about being “nice” or “warm” or “good”. Those are cultural values, but they’re not the deepest Gospel values. Jesus did not gather a group of nice, warm, good people around him. Instead, he gathered a group of broken, complicated, conflicted people around him whom he then loved into being authentic, compassionate, and whole. In a sense, those of us who gather around Jesus then and now are like the two lepers in today’s readings: broken people who need healing. The offer is not perfection (or goodness or niceness or warmth) but wholeness (and authenticity and health). And they’re offered to us even when we push back stubbornly against them.

Like Naaman and his Gospel counterpart, you and I have been given the opportunity to wash, be cleansed, and give thanks. The hope is that we, unlike them, will be able to live into our healing and its implications. God really does love you as you are. God really does call you into being who you are in all its complicated fullness. And God’s greatest mercy to you is God’s persistence in loving you into seeing and loving yourself as God sees and loves you. And if you can see and love yourself as God does, then you’re well on your way to seeing, loving, and healing others too. Amen.