July 24, 2022
What if Tenderness is the Only Path to Mutual Transformation?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Mark 5: 1-20
Before I sent up to Chautauqua for few days,
I’d had an encounter with a man that had seared me.
was on our patio,
and was, clearly very unwell,
but he would not go to the safe place
Its not safe for you here, and its not safe for people
to be around you.
I tried to say it with both clarity and compassion, but
he left, pretty angry.
and I didn’t know where he was,
and I was wretched.
I went up to Chautauqua
to hear and see Fr. Gregory Boyle who founded Homeboy
Industries, who gives people jobs and hope
helping thousands of people
find a way out of gang life
and the cycle of incarceration
Fr. Boyle spoke of Meister Eckart,
a Dominican priest of the 13th century Germany
who countered the prevalent image of an angry
vindictive, violent God, saying:
any talk of God that doesn’t comfort you is a lie.
God is love, and we all receive the tender glance of God
Fr Greg spoke of Ignacious of Loyola, a Spanish Priest in the 1400s
and the word Ignacious used describe how God looks at us:
Accaciamento, to look with attention,
with “affectionate awe.”
We know that God looks at us this way,
because we meet Jesus in these stories
and nowhere more powerfully than this one
told by Mark and Luke,
Jesus has crossed over the sea of Galilee
This is not his home turf, these are not his homies.
The whole purpose of this trip,
seems to find this man who lives among the tombs,
and inflicts harm upon himself
They have tried chaining him,
locking him up, like we tend to do here,
but he gets out of those chains
and hurts himself even more.
“What have you do to with me, Jesus of Nazareth,
don’t torment me”
with your words of hope and love and peace,
there is no peace,
and you can’t possibly love me
and I know you can’t help me.
we are legion, there’s too much.
it’s all too much.
there are so many who feel this way,
whose pain and inner doubts, borne of trauma,
where no one soothed their pain,
and now they cannot do this for themselves
I spent a long time yesterday with a person,
borne into brokenness, who lashed out at me,
and my words of love and support,
seemed to him, taunting.
It took everything in me to stay the course,
it is scary to face the swirling struggle in someone.
in my own self, .
to transform my frustration at brokenness
into tenderness for the broken one.
Fr. Boyle brings members of his team with him,
Homeboys, or homies, they call one another,
and one time he brought Raul.
Saul had done 12 years in prison, he’d suffered a lot,
and was working in the bakery
and Fr. said, come on with me to Boston.
and he teared up, and blessed him
One afternoon, Father Boyle told us
Saul, had gone off to look around the city
and was taking a picture of himself by an historic courthouse,
and some feet from him there was a little bench, and two older, unhoused men,
were sitting there.
One guy says, Don’t take my picture,
who told you could take my picture.
and the other guy says,
Relax, he’s just taking a selfie,
but he continues to rant, .
And Fr. Boyle says that Saul,
rather than backing away from the hostility,
approaches it. and looks at these two men and says,.
Hi, my name is Saul, I’m from Los Angeles.
I don’t care where you are from, don’t take my picture,
and the other man says,
Don’t mind us, we’re crazy.
And Saul extends his hand to the one who was screaming
and says, That’s okay, I’m crazy, too.
and he finds out that the guy’s name is Louie,
and the other man is Bill,
and they talk for some time.
Finally, its time for Saul to leave.
and the one who was yelling, says, now
in a different tone and stillness.
He says, Saul, I’ve lived my whole life in Boston,
you need directions or something?
Saul had crossed the seas, had looked upon the broken man
with affectionate awe,
Louis felt seen and cherished, held and carried.
It was the comfort of the God of all comfort.
Jesus is standing
in the lowly place, says Ignacius of Loyola,
Not outside the area pointing to it, but in the lowly place
And Fr. Boyle elaborates:
he is serenely standing there with the poor, the powerless,
the voiceless, whose dignity has been denied,
with the easily despised and the readily left out,
he is standing with the demonized
so the demonizing will stop.
and with the disposable,
so the day will come
when we stop throwing people away.
He is there not so much
to comfort the poor in their powerlessness.
But a comfort that reminds them of their power,
a comfort that holds and carries us all.
No, you don’t come with me,
Jesus says to the man who was now well,
but go and tell the people in your own place
what the Lord has done for you,
what mercies God has shown you.
God looks at us with affectionate awe,
looks at you
looks at the person in your life who is struggling
in ways you can’t seem to fix,
with affectionate awe
knowing we all want to be well
To believe this, to practice this, changes us, too.
A homeboy named Raul told Father Boyle,
“What happened to me yesterday
never happened to me before.
The train was packed but he was able to get a seat
and there was an older guy, a homie, a little drunk,
and he sees the sweatshirt, and says,
You work at Homeboy, is it any good?
and Raul says, It helped me,
in fact, I don’t think I’m every going back to prison because of this place,
And Raul stands, and asks the guy his name,
and he pulls out. piece of paper and
writes down the address of Homeboy Industries.
and he looks him in the eye and says,
Come see us, we’ll help you.
and the man said gently, thank you.
and then gets off
Raul sits down.
What happens to me next, he told Fr. Boyle
has never happened to me before,
Everyone on the train was staring at me,
was nodding at me,
Everyone on the train was smiling at me,
and for the first time in my life,
I was admired.
What if tenderness is the only way to mutual transformation….
The whole world is barricaded, says Fr. Boyle
What if the only thing that can scale that wall is tenderness.
I am so grateful to be there, with them,
and among this community where we are learning to practice that tenderness
that affectionate awe.
Some, I hope most of you have received a letter that informs you
that the church was the victim of a
sophisticated business email compromise
that resulted in loss of money.
We had a meeting with leaders on Wednesday,
and shared what happened,
and what we have done and are doing about it,
and the question came quickly:
How do we help other churches not experience this
and folks were gratified to hear that we are working on that.
The wound moved so quickly to compassion,
to tenderness for others,
and my gaze upon those gathered turned to affectionate awe.
And I hope that when our friend comes back to the patio,
that will be my gaze,
and I will remember that he wants to be well,
and that God is a God of comfort,
and infinite tenderness,
who, if we allow it,
will bring forth that goodness in us.
May it be so. Amen.
July 10, 2022
What if We Lived with a Calm and Hopeful Trust?
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Scripture: Luke 10: 38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I can’t literally remember an easy week,
Maybe not since Christmas have we been able to sing
“all is calm, all is bright.”
so I’m quite envious of Mary
having this time with Jesus.
I wonder what they were discussing
Maybe he had a question, something like:
How is it with you?
Maybe she had one that he answered,
There are plenty I would ask him, particularly:
Will things be alright
for all who suffer and struggle
for me, for those we love, all of us?
Perhaps she didn’t have to ask anything,
he would have just looked at her, and she knew
the answers to her questions.
Anyway, its really how Jesus must have made her feel
that I envy:
That at she is valued
that her questions are valid,
that her heartbreak is legit and shared by God.
Of course, were Jesus at my house,
I’d probably be busy cleaning.
There is always so much to do
it is constant, and endless
and there is no avoiding it.
Even though I can hear Jesus say,
consider the lilies
and the birds of the air
There is no end to work.
We hear that anxiety is prevalent into every age
And every nation,
Fear of both the present and the future.
Is, a poet said,
a small trickle
that meanders through the mind
until it cuts a channel into which all other
thoughts are drained."
Guess what is the most common phrase in the bible?
“Do not be afraid.”
Someone counted: its there 365 times!
one for every day of the year
I’m no numerologist, but I’m wondering
if that’s no coincidence.
I bet Jesus would say something like that if he were here…
And I am, we are, like Martha, distracted…
How close is your phone right now?
How quickly does attention disappear
with the ring of a call, the ding of a text?
And if we don’t charge our phone,
We get scolded, if silently:
why didn’t you look at your text,
listen to your message.
hear this news?
The internet that comes to us in all forms, brings an overload of
information, both important and not so,
so that any kind of central focus
is instantly eroded,
And we get accustomed to that,
maybe addicted to it.
Paul Tillich said:
"There are innumerable concerns in our lives
and human life generally,
which demand attention, devotion, passion.
But they do not demand
They are important, often very important,
for you and me and the whole of humankind.
But they are not ultimately important...."
It may seem unbearably simple,
And you don’t have to have Jesus at your table.
God comes to you, says Fr. Richard Rohr,
disguised as your life.
So, we have to do one thing: fully experience it.
There is, for each of us, at least most of us,
A great, secret hurt
that we carry,
that we may not even realize
or be able to name.
one which Jesus would see
that the Christ knows.
If God comes to us as our life,
shall we not honor and receive that grief
as well as that joyful fullness,
or that profound longing that we experience
in this life,
and allow ourselves to realize that
it is part of the sadness and fullness and longing
Jesus may not be coming to dinner,
but we can meet the incarnate one,
in the depths of our own selves,
in observing and honoring the depth of our own
experience as human beings,
created by God.
We can our offer lives,
offer our workload and worry and distractions
place our lives, full of gaps and holes,
at the center of our consciousness
and, as if Jesus is before us,
allow the love that radiates from him
to Mary and Martha
radiate now to you, as the Christ.
Catch your breath,
feel your hurt,
sense how you are falling
and that which is holding you
and helping you to endure.
Be in awe before the simple truth of your existence,
wonder at the depth and eternity of it
and an incomprehensible love
that can, release you from your busyness
and worry and distraction
if only for a moment.
To trust, as Fr. Rohr says,
that there is a river.
The river is flowing
And that you are in it,
That we are in it
And allow that trust, that calm and hopeful trust
to grow in you
that you can tend, and help others to find.
Since my father died,
the person who has been the one who leads
me into the presence of Christ
is a wonderful old priest –
I have taken nearly every confirmation class I ever led
to walk a prayer labyrinth with him
to feel that fully accepting love
radiating out of him,
as Mary felt in the presence of Jesus.
Vinny is one of the priests whom the new bishop
so I will not have him
to physically go to, anymore.
But, he would remind me,
as Jesus reminds Martha,
to remember that our lives are lived
in the presence of eternal love.
As the carol says,
Love has come, a light in the darkness,
love has come and never will leave us
let us remember that,
let us find a calm and hopeful trust
and be not afraid.
Rev. Patricia A. Wagner
July 3, 2022
What if Christ is in All Of Us
Rev. Patricia Wagner
Galatians 3: 26-29
Its good to sing a Christmas hymn in July
halfway between Christmases
We may be fretting about the price of everything
and the downturn in the stock market,
but Christmas brings stories of a poor savior
born in a stable,
and Bob Cratchits’ family rejoicing
in each other and their modest feast,
and the Grinch realizing what matters.
What matters, we all realize at Christmas
is the most important truth that we will ever know:
God poured Godself into one like us,
and we understand
ourselves and God
and the universe
and who we can be, through him.
Just as in Jesus’ time and in his life,
there is adversity and discouragement
and doubt and death,
But there is a light that has been made known to us
that nothing can erase.
That the light that was in the beginning with God
came into the world in Jesus,
and remains in the world, in us, in Christ.
That’s the message at Christmas,
then why is it so hard to believe in July?
Just like how Christmas decorations seem quaint
and faintly ridiculous when left up too long,
that profound optimism,
that sense of the profound goodness of creation
can feel like a fairytale, or worse
a mocking those who suffer in the present.
We put up the title of our summer series:
“What if everything is going somewhere good,”
on the sign outside.
The idea, as you know is
to encourage an openness to a reality
beyond us, and around us,
and in us,
even in devastating times
that is leading us toward the good.
But on a week with seismic shifts
for environmental regulation, abortion,
rights of privacy,
church and state rules,
shooting death of police officers
and the migrants dying in the heat
and the bombing of Odessa,
a woman called,
left me a personal, blistering voice message
that she was so stunned by the words on our sign,
that she had to pull her car over
to get her breath,
So angry was she at our obvious obliviousness
to climate change among other things,
how dare we say
“ everything is going somewhere good.”?
when everything is going to hell.
She had even gone back, taken a picture of the sign,
and posted it to Twitter, to shared outrage.
I could hear the tremendous pain,
and it made me terribly sad.
Know that I am very sad whenever I cause you pain,
by my action or inaction.
I called her back and I thanked her for telling me,
told her I was sorry for the hurt I’d caused her,
and tried to explain our intention,
to find a greater hope
it wasn’t something she could hear,
I let her know I would change the sign
since grief and anger was not what I had hoped to instill.
It’s not just this year that optimism is hard to hear;
humans, including Americans
have always had reason to despair.
In the heat of the American war in Vietnam
and the brutal Civil Rights struggle
with Dr. Martin Luther King, jr
told us that the arc of the moral universe
but it bends toward justice.
Maybe a bit overly hopeful, some thought
then, some may think now.
There is a utopian ideal in Judeo-Christianity
Wolves shall lie down with the lambs
They shall study war no more on all my holy mountain
Blessed are those who meek
for they shall inherit the earth.
and our lesson today: Paul’s letter to the Galatians
that the old law which codified our ranks is obsolete
there is no language or culture
or status or gender,
there is neither Greek nor Jew
slave nor free
male or female
but all are one in Christ Jesus.
All these visions
are of a deeper , broader,
we see only now through a glass darkly
Divine love has poured out into creation from the beginning
and particularly in Jesus,
divine love, that word made flesh,
who did not abide by these distinctions,
who cared for men and women
gentile and Jew
and every status.
because, beyond his encounter with the Syrophenecian woman
those distinctions have no meaning to him
not in Jesus
Everything that is, as Richard Rohr says,
everything that is visible to us
is the divine outpouring of God’s own self
God’s being which is love:
everything, including you and I,
The Christ, in the beginning with God,
was poured out into the form of Jesus
who becomes the light of the world,
who teaches us that we are the light of the world
It’s a struggle for us to accept that
our life, is divine light and love outpoured
Jesus saw it in us,
even Paul saw it in us.
there is not religion or ethnicity or nationality
or gender that can bypass or surpass this truth,
The divine love that made us
claims all of us,
We are in Christ.
and Christ is in us, all.
including that woman who called me
She is right, to feel so, that is divine hurt in her,
for we have forgotten the holiness of the earth
assuming we have the some god-given right
to destroy people and the earth
if it meets our purpose.
So, not comprehending that the planet is in essence,
love outpoured, that humanity and creatures of the earth
is the great sin – falsely separating ourselves
from the one who has poured out Godself
into all of us.
So, there is work to do,
our work as Christ followers, of building hope,
and faith, and love,
proclaiming , practicing
that the earth is love made visible
and that this radiant, expansive
glorious reality of divine love
That Christ is within us and around us
and that the Creator of all that is
is with us, binding us together,
sharing our joys and our sorrows
guiding us toward a better way
and all that is good news
at Christmas and in July
and every season.