Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, January 28, 2018: RIC Sunday / 4th Sunday after Epiphany

The following sermon was preached at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity (ELCA) in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, IL on Sunday, January 28, 2018 for the annual observance of Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Sunday.

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Texts: Deut. 18:15-20  +  Ps. 111  +  1 Cor. 8:1-13  +  Mk. 1:21-28

Good morning, beloved people of God; and thank you, Pastor Tom, for inviting me to join you for worship on this Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Sunday. You are a congregation that enjoys a strong reputation in our synod for your commitment to issues of justice and your care for one another and your neighbors, so when I got the invitation to preach among you this morning I didn’t really take any time to consider the invitation at all. I just said yes.

I also said yes because, up until relatively recently, I was a parish pastor as well — serving a very small church up in Logan Square, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, where I was preaching just about every Sunday (at least until we got an intern, which allowed me to sit with the congregation and be fed by someone else’s preaching from time to time). It’s so good to hear the gospel preached by a variety of voices, because we each bring a diversity of perspectives and unique histories to how we share the story of God’s total and unconditional love for each and every one of us. About six months ago, my call to St. Luke’s ended and I began a new call as Pastor to the Community and Director of Worship at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), which means that I now get to hear a great deal of other people’s preaching … and that I do a good deal less preaching myself. That felt like a vacation for the first two or three months, then I started to itch for the opportunity to preach in the local parish again — because you, dear ones, are the church, you are precious in God’s sight and the world needs you, now as always, to bear the good news of the gospel in a land filled with ancient hatreds, emboldened prejudices, and rising violence.

So let me wrap up all these warming up words with one more thing: a thank you on behalf of the seminary. For many years you have served as a site for field education, welcoming 2nd year seminarians and interns into your community so that they can learn the arts and rhythms of ministry. I’ve known some of the students that have passed through this community and you should not be surprised to hear that they speak about you with so much love and pride when they share the story of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity. You’ve been good for them and, I think, they’ve been good for you. In this, we see once again a small reminder of the greater truth that we are all in this together, each working in the corner of the world where our histories and our relationships give us the power to speak and act with authority to heal the world and its peoples and to liberate one another from all the powers that bind us.

We don’t really know each other, so you might be wondering why Pastor Tom invited me to worship with you on this morning when throughout the Lutheran church many congregations are focusing on the experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and other sexual or gender minorities (which I will from now on refer to, rather clumsily and incompletely, as LGBTQ people and communities) and the church’s painful history and on-going need to be reconciled with the LGBTQ people in our parishes and out in the world who have, for most of history and in most places, heard nothing that sounds like good news from the church. The reason why Pastor Tom likely thought I’d be a good person to speak to this history is that I have been involved in the movement for the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the ELCA for many years.

Like many of you, I was raised in the church. In fact, my father worked for the church as a parish musician for forty years, and I grew up spending two to three nights a week at church for one reason or another. It was my second home and my extended family. So, when I told my dad at the age of 14 that I thought that maybe God was calling me to ministry, he said what I would hope we tell all our children. He said, “Yes, Erik. I know God is calling you to ministry, because God is calling us all to ministry. That’s what it means to be baptized.”

He was right, of course. This is what we Lutherans means when we speak of the “priesthood of all believers.” We mean that, in our baptism, each and every one of us has been called and commissioned to be part of God’s movement for healing, justice, love and liberation in the world. Every single one of us. At a time when the church was focused on concentrating power into the hands and voices of just a few, the clergy, Luther taught that clergy were no more and no less essential to God’s mission than anyone else. We are all called to ministry, each of our ministries being necessary and essential to the world. We are called to be parents and children, teachers and bakers, artists and builders, lovers and friends, because the world needs all of these things, and more. And some of us are called to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments; to proclaim the news of God’s reconciling love, to welcome people at the font and feed them at the table, as a sign that God calls all of us to be reconciled, to welcome one another into the circle of community, and to share all that we have so that all might have enough. It’s just one calling among many. And it was the one I sensed God calling me to.

But not too long after that conversation with my father, I began to sense something else. I began to sense that I wasn’t entirely like other boys my age, that I didn’t see what they saw when they looked at our female classmates. That I didn’t want what they wanted, not in the same way. But it was the 1980s, y’all. And I was in Iowa. So, about the only thing I was hearing about gay people was that they were all getting sick and dying. There were no gay teachers, or gay preachers, or gay politicians, or gay talk-show hosts — no one to show me a reflection of who I might be becoming. I had to figure that out for myself. I’ve sometimes said that it wasn’t so much that I was hiding my truth from the world in the closet, as much as the world was hiding my truth from me in the closet. I was looking for something I couldn’t quite even name, and all the adults who might have helped me out just watched as I stumbled through my childhood trying to name a thing no one wanted to talk about.

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Pastor Erik, far right (front), with classmates from Macalester College at the 1993 “March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Liberation” (lack of inclusion of trans people not my own).

It wasn’t until I got to college and met other young adults who were also LGBTQ that I began to realize that my experience wasn’t unique, that I belonged to a community that has been finding ways to flourish in the cracks between the spaces where other people live for centuries. We have been whispering our names, signaling to each other through our songs, sculpting our lives out of the scraps left behind when respectability leaves the table. It was exhilarating and it was terrifying, because it meant leaving so much behind — like my dream of being a pastor in the church. Because I quickly learned that God did not want me in the church. At least that’s what the church said.

But I knew differently, and this is purely a gift from God, that I have always known and never doubted that I belong to God, I was created by God, I am loved by God just as I am. It may the only thing I know for sure, but I know it and I always have. I knew it as a child and I’ve never forgotten it. The only thing time has done to this knowledge is to convince me that what is true for me is equally as true for every one and everything else in all of creation. So I know that you, each and every one of you, belong to God. You were created by God, and you are loved by God, just as you are. I know this for sure.

Meanwhile, I still needed a job, and I found a way to use the gifts God had given me in work that felt almost, but not quite, like what I’d imagined being a pastor might be like. I taught junior high for a year. I worked with homeless and street kids in Minneapolis. I was an advocate with children witnessing and experiencing violence in their homes and in their relationships. My kids were refugees from northern Africa, they were kids tossed out of their homes for being queer or trans, they were kids whose moms were staying in shelters, they were hustlers and they were awesome and I loved them. I loved my work and I loved the people I worked with. But I wasn’t happy, because I wasn’t doing the thing God had put in me to do.

So eventually, in 1999, ten years before the ELCA would change its policies and begin to make room for openly LGBTQ people to serve the church as pastors and deacons, I entered candidacy and went to seminary. My only rule with myself was “don’t lie and don’t hide.” I fully expected to get kicked out at some point, which I did, but I could no longer live with the pain and frustration of being the one to hold myself back from the life God wanted to live through me. If the church was going to reject me, so be it — but I was no longer going to do their dirty work for them by disqualifying myself before I’d even begun.

And this is where, finally, I come to the scriptures assigned for this day. Let’s go back to the Hebrew bible passage from the book of Deuteronomy. Here, Moses is giving the people of Israel instruction on how they will live together as a community in the promised land of freedom after he is gone. He tells them “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your people … into whose mouth I will put my words, and that person will tell (the people) all that I command. If any person will not listen to the words which my prophet speaks in my Name, I myself will call that person to answer for this. But if a prophet presumes to speak in my Name a message that I have not commanded to be spoken, or speaks in the name of other gods — that prophet will die.” (Deut. 18:15-20)

How does this passage relate to my story or to our lives? Who is the prophet sent by God following after Moses to share God’s Word with the people? To whom is this scripture referring? Is it Jesus? Or is it … me?

Whoa. I just went there. It’s such a ridiculous, audacious claim to make, but let’s just check it out for a minute. I’ll tell you why I’m led to wonder if I am a prophet sent by God: because people have straight up asked me. When I went through candidacy in the ELCA, a member of the committee said to me, “Surely you know this church’s policies, and yet here you are — clearly living your life in opposition to the teachings and the policies of this church. So, why would you think that the rules would change for you? What do you think you are? Some kind of prophet?”

You know, I’d never considered that question before. It had never even entered my mind to wonder what it meant that I could acknowledge the world as it is, and yet still imagine the world as it could be — even with so much scripture and tradition and policy and procedure standing in the way. I only knew the truth about me and about you, that we belong to God, that we were created by God, and that we are loved by God, just as we are. Those were the things that could not bend in me. Everything else seemed amendable.

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Pr. Erik at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, inviting voting members to ask him about his story.

So I said to the person questioning me, “It’s not for me to say, whether I’m a prophet or not. Someday we’ll all be looking back, and if gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer people have found a new freedom and a new place in the church and in the world, then some people will say that this was a prophetic stand. And, if not, then I suppose I’ll be labelled a heretic, and I’ll be in good company. But only the future knows the difference between prophets and heretics.”

And, you know, I would tell you that I have no idea where those words came from, or the courage to say them in that moment, but that would be a lie. Because I knew, even as I was saying them, that those words were the Holy Spirit speaking in me. Because I was telling the truth about my life, not lying and not hiding. And that truth is what I think Jesus was referring to when he said to the people who followed him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32) Furthermore, I don’t think we’re supposed to run away from the word “prophet,” as if it were somehow thinking too highly of ourselves to imagine that each of us might have an important role to play in the revealing of God’s preferred future for this world, especially when the present is so painfully broken. After all, are we not Easter people? Do we not live our lives in light of the resurrection? Do we not remember Peter’s sermon that first Pentecost day, when he quoted the prophet Joel, saying,

“In those last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your [children] shall prophesy, your youth shall see visions, and your elders shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, people of all genders, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)

So, who was God talking about when God said to Moses that God would lift up prophets like him to lead the people into the future? Am I wrong to say that it’s me? No! No more wrong than for me to say that it is you — which I will now say:

You are the prophets anointed by God to lead God’s people into the future! When did this anointing take place? In your baptism! Don’t you remember, “Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Those are the words the church spoke over you as you were washed with water and anointed with oil. Who are the people God has called you to lead? All people, all of us together. Everyone in, no one left out.

On this RIC Sunday, as I stand in your pulpit — a called and ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — speaking to you, a congregation with a story of your own to tell about how God brings new life to people and places left for dead, I don’t need to tell you why it’s important to welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities into the church. You’ve already done that, and frankly we were always here. What I came here today to remind you of is this:

You are God’s own beloved. You were made by God, and you are loved by God. Just as you are. As is everybody else. Everything else is amendable. So, when you look out at the world as it is, lying to us all about who we are and how deeply we belong to each other, what needs to change?

And who will be the one to say it?

Will it be you?

By what authority?

Who do you think you are?

A community full of prophets?

To me, the answer is a clear as the waters in which you were baptized.

Yes, you are.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, June 8, 2014: Day of Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2:1-21  +  Ps. 104:24-34,35b  +  1 Cor. 12:3b-13  +  John 20:19-23

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3b-13).

I’ll admit that when I was young, this verse was confounding.  I wondered if it could be true, in a literal way. I wondered if there was magic in the words “Jesus is Lord” that summoned the Holy Spirit, or if maybe it was the other way around; that by hearing or reading those words, I was inviting the Holy Spirit inside me, where it would work to bring me to say the words as well, “Jesus is Lord.”

With time I’ve come to a different understanding, though not completely different. I now hear these words, “Jesus is Lord,” as an early creed, a Christian reimagining of the tradition handed down to us through the words of the Torah, the prayers recited in the morning and evening by our Jewish brothers and sisters, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (Deut. 6:4).

But it’s not a creed in the way that we sometimes experience the creeds in worship, like a fragment of memory preserved in amber and recited as a testament to the past.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is a creed in the way that creeds may first have been used, as a public declaration of independence from all the forces of this world that work so hard to enslave us. The forces of greed, of violence, of envy, of terror. The forces that masquerade as the basis for our life together, the marketplace and the military, a strong economy and the power to keep it that way. To say “Jesus is Lord” is an act of bravery and imagination, because it implies that there is another way to live than the way we are living now, another world than the one we know, and it commits the speaker to the work of bringing that world into existence.

You know what I am talking about, because you are dreamers.

In his speech to those gathered in Jerusalem from every nation of the known world, Peter foretold the moment we now inhabit. He said,

“In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,

in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

(Acts 2:17-18)

What have you been dreaming about lately?  Do you know?  Do you remember your dreams?  What is your soul trying to say to you about the deepest yearnings of your heart?

Dreams are powerful things, in part, because they create a space where the mind can conjure up impossible solutions to impassable problems.  I remember that as a boy I had a recurring nightmare that I was being chased by a mob of children down the street on which I lived.  Each time I had the dream I would run as fast as I could until the children would finally grab hold of me, pull me to the ground, and begin to beat me.

a71013ea374c84f9efb44b25ee607130_largeOne night, as I was fleeing, it occurred to me that I might escape them by climbing a tree. So I leapt up and grabbed the lowest branch, pulling myself up and resting as the children gathered around the base of the tree yelling at me.  Soon they began throwing sticks and rocks at me, so I jumped from one tree to the next, evading their attacks, until I came to the end of the street and there were no trees left. Then the children began to climb the tree so that they could drag me down again.

It went on like that for another year or so, the nightmare visiting me every so often as I slept, always ending with me in that last tree at the end of the street, until one night when it occurred to me that I didn’t need another tree to escape, because I could fly. As the children began swarming at the base of the tree, reaching for its lowest limbs, I climbed up to the highest branch and looked up into the sky. I remember there was a bird coasting on the wind, barely working at all to stay aloft, and I decided to fly. I didn’t even have to leap, I just spread out my arms and rode the wind away from that tree on that street with those children. I never had that nightmare again.

Dreams make the impossible possible, they give us a chance to practice imagining a world different than the one in which we spend our waking hours.  For a little boy, the daily anxiety of navigating rooms filled with children who could be carelessly cruel seemed inescapable. In my dreams however I discovered that I could rise above my fears and found the freedom to explore the wider world.

Do you remember any of your childhood dreams?  What were they trying to tell you?  What new possibilities, what new worlds, did you create with your prophetic imagination?

lead_brueggemannI’m borrowing that phrase, “prophetic imagination,” from Walter Brueggemann, a biblical scholar who was interviewed by Krista Tippett a few years ago for her radio program “On Being.”  In that interview he said,

“I think at the broadest level, it is hard to talk about the fact — I think it’s a fact — that our society has chosen a path of death in which we have reduced everything to a commodity. We believe that there are technical solutions to everything, so it doesn’t matter whether you talk about over-reliance on technology, the mad pursuit of commodity goods, our passion for violence now expressed as our war policies. All of those are interrelated to each other and none of us, very few of us, really want to have that exposed as an inadequate and dehumanizing way to live. I think, if one is grounded in the truth of the gospel as a Christian that’s what we have to talk about.”

What Brueggemann is describing is our calling as Christians to imagine a world other than the one in which we live.  He describes the commodification of creation as the primary obstacle to envisioning a new world, and I agree.  We see this most easily in the advertising that surrounds us, a kind of waking dream in which impossible ideas get expressed as though they were reality — cosmetics equal beauty, cars equal power, cereal equals health, cell phones equal friendship, new homes equal family. The waking world in which we live and move and have our being has adopted the symbolism of our dreams, offering us a kind of pseudo-escape from the very real problems that pursue us. Except that, when we spread our wings and try to fly away from the anxieties of our lives in our new car, or our new home, or our new vacation, or our new phone, we find that we have really only leapt from one tree to the next, and our problems are still waiting for us.

What Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem, what Paul confessed to the people of Corinth, was not just another illusion, another substitute for the deepest longings of their hearts. What they offered was a new vision for the world, a living dream that was breaking into reality, that was calling people to renounce their old allegiances to empire and exploitation, to fear and accommodation.  The alternative they proposed was like a word spoken in a dream at the beginning of time, planted deep in the mind of every dreamer.  The word was light in dark places. The word was truth in a culture of lies. The word was power to the powerless.  The word was hope for the despairing.  The word was food for the hungry.  The word was love for the lonely. The word was life, rising up from every grave and waking every dreamer from the long night. The word was loose, and could not be contained, could not be silenced, could not be bought.

The word has a name, it is Jesus, and he is LORD.

When we say that, it is like the moment that sometimes happens while you are dreaming when you realize that you are in a dream, and it dawns on you that you might shape the dream rather than just observe it. Lucid dreaming, it’s called. When we say, “Jesus is LORD,” we are making the choice to not simply observe the world around us, but to change the world around us. We are committing ourselves to God’s dream for the world, and we are working to birth it into reality.

Sisters and brothers, these are the last days, and God’s Spirit has been poured out on us. We are God’s dreamers, God’s visionaries, God’s prophets. We rise from our beds like Christ rose from the tomb, undefeated by the powers and principalities of this world. We rise from our beds like Christ rose from the earth, glorifying the God of creation for whom nothing is impossible. We rise from our beds with stories to tell about the dreams and visions God has placed within us all, dreams that point the way to God’s preferred future.

Tell me, you prophets and seers, about your dreams. Tell one another. Can you see the new world coming? Come, let’s build it.

Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, October 6, 2013: Feast Day of St. Francis (transferred)

Texts: Genesis 2:18-25  +  Psalm 148  +  Revelation 5:11-14  +  Matthew 6:25-29

The life of Francesco di Bernardone, the man history remembers as St. Francis of Assisi, is a life of stories. Stories surround the memory of this man who, legends say, calmed a marauding wolf, humbled the rich, and addressed all of creation — from the sun in the sky to the earth beneath his feet — as if each was a brother and sister in his family.

Francis is remembered as a man simultaneously filled with joy and haunted by pain — the pain of the world, which took on shape in his own body as he renounced his wealth in order to rebuild the church and care for the needs of the poor around him.

One of my favorite stories from the life of Francis recounts the day he confronted his father and renounced his wealth. His father, Pietro, was a wealthy textile merchant who’d hoped Francis would follow in his footsteps and inherit the family business.  Instead, Francis used his father’s wealth to rebuild a crumbling church and to feed the poor. Filled with the Spirit of God, Francis entered the city of Assisi to preach the good news of God’s infinite love, by turns dancing and weeping as he preached. Incensed by his son’s unauthorized expenses, and embarrassed by the ridicule of his friends and neighbors, Pietro drug his son before the bishop of Assisi to demand a verdict on his behavior.

"Saint Francis," by Nikos Kazantzakis

“Saint Francis,” by Nikos Kazantzakis

In his fictionalized account of the life of Francis, Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis sets the scene like this:

“Lord Bishop,” old Bernardone answered in a hoarse, exasperated voice, “this son of mine is no longer in his right mind. He has insane dreams, hears voices in the air, takes gold from my coffers and squanders it. He’s ruining me! Until recently he spent it in having a good time, and I said to myself that he was young and would get over it. But now I’ve finally lost all hope. He goes around with ragamuffins, sleeps in caves, weeps and laughs without rhyme or reason, and lately has been seized with a mania to rebuild ruined churches. But tonight this disease simply went too far. He came to Assisi and began to sing and dance in the middle of the square while everyone laughed … He is a disgrace to my blood. I no longer want him!”

“And so…?” asked the bishop, seeing Bernadone hesitate.

“And so,” said old Bernadone, holding his arm over his son’s head, “and so, before God and man I disown him, disinherit him. He is no longer my son.”

There was muffled whispering among the notables and people, but the bishop restored silence with a wave of his hand. He turned to Francis, who had been listening with bowed head.

“What do you have to say in your defense, Francis, son of Christ?”

Francis raised his head.

“Nothing,” he answered. “Only this —”

And, before any of us could prevent him, with a sudden movement he threw off the velvet clothes he was wearing, rolled them up into a bundle, and calmly, without uttering a word, stooped and placed them at [his father’s] feet.

Then, naked as the day his mother brought him into the world, he went and stood before the bishop’s throne.

“Bishop,” he said, “even these clothes belonged to him. I am returning them. He no longer has a son; I no longer have a father. Our accounts are settled.”

We all stood with gaping mouths; many eyes had filled with tears. Bernadone bent down, seized the bundle, and placed it beneath his arm.

The bishop descended from his throne. His eyes were wet. Removing his cloak, he wrapped it around Francis, covering his nakedness.

“Why did you do it, my child?” he asked in a melancholy reproachful voice. “Weren’t you ashamed before these people?”

“No, Bishop, only before God,” Francis replied humbly. “I am only ashamed before God. Forgive me, Bishop.”

The bishop of Assisi protects Francis from his disowned father’s violent wrath, provides him with a simple gardener’s robe to cover his nakedness, and escorts him to the courtyard of the church. Kazantzakis continues,

Bending over, he said to him in a hushed voice, “Careful, Francis. You’re overdoing it.”

“That’s how one finds God, Bishop,” Francis answered.

The bishop shook his head. “Even virtue needs moderation; otherwise it can become arrogance.”

“Man stands within the bounds of moderation; God stands outside them. I am heading for God, Bishop,” said Francis, and he proceeded hastily toward the street door. He had no time to lose.

All the texts assigned for this Feast Day of St. Francis find their home somewhere in this story.  Francis enters the town of Assisi filled with the vision of the heavenly chorus in the reading from Revelation, his sermon an extension of the ecstatic praise of the angels, and elders and all God’s creatures singing “to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13)

Then, as his father disowns him and he is stripped of his family name and inheritance, Francis stands defiantly naked before church and society, refusing to be shamed for his joy in the gospel. Beneath his wealth, beneath even his family associations, Francis knew that the deepest, truest fact of his existence was that he was one of God’s own beloved creations. In his testimony we hear echoes of Genesis, “and the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:25)

Francis was immodest in his witness, immoderate in his living.  He stood in the line of the prophets of Israel whom we studied this past summer, willing to use his own life to make dramatic sign acts that testified to an extraordinary confidence in the providence of God. Even as the bishop of Assisi, his recent protector, covers his nakedness, guides him safely to the gates, and urges caution, Francis throws caution to the wind with words that sound like Jesus’ own from Matthew’s gospel, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25)

Last week I began a 12-week class with the junior high and high school youth in our congregation.  We’re meeting the hour before worship on Sunday mornings to study the bible, skimming the entire book from beginning to end by focusing on its major themes. So, last week we began with creation, noticing that when God looked at what God had created, God declared that it was good.

One of the exercises we were invited to try out over the course of this past week was to either put sticky notes on our bathroom mirror, or to write with washable markers, characteristics we believe are true about God. So, if you were doing this exercise with us, your bathroom mirror might have framed the reflection of your face with words like, “creative,” “powerful,” “forgiving,” “loving,” “steadfast” and so on.

I loved this suggestion, because — at least the way I remember those years — junior high and high school can be so tough on our self-esteem.  We are so painfully conscious of all the ways we stick out. We want nothing more than to fit in. We can barely imagine making the kind of scene St. Francis did, the equivalent of marching into the cafeteria and making a huge, embarrassing spectacle of himself that ended with him standing naked in front of everyone he knew and disowned by his family.

The cast of Glee

The cast of Glee

Then I think about the TV show Glee, and how it’s not just young people who watch that show, but so many of us, Gleeks one and all. There’s something powerful about that show, the way that it invites us all, teens and adults, to dream about a different kind of reality. A world where all life’s daily humiliations are overcome with a song and a dance and a community of friends who will not let you go. A world where a Jewish Korean girl is elected prom queen; where the head cheerleader trades in her pom poms for the love of a nerdy, wheelchair bound boy; and a combined chorus of rival schools set aside their competitions to serenade two young men as they commit to a life of marriage to one another. It is a ludicrous comedy about the way we wish the world actually worked.

I wonder if the legends that follow St. Francis aren’t a bit like that.  In a time before television and Netflix, when we still gathered around campfires and came to church, we still hungered for stories of people who’d figured out how to learn from the life of Jesus and to make his story their own.

So we get Francis, who sang and danced his way through life, surrounded by the brothers minor and the poor clares, the brothers and sisters Francis and his friend and co-worker Clare gathered around them. We get scenes and stories from their lives, like episodes of a necessary dream, that keep hope alive that there is a place on this earth for all who feel too poor, too sick, too different, too far gone to ever belong to anything real, anything important.

But best of all, we get the church. Like the walls of San Damiano, the church that St. Francis restored and where St. Clare built her community of sisters, we have a building in need of restoration, but already filled with the songs and dances and arts of a hundred saints. Saints like you, who God sees through the eyes of love and calls good every day.

You see, the world’s necessary dream is not confined to an hour-long episode once a week, and it is not confined to the stories of brothers and sisters who lived and died eight hundred years ago.  The dream this world needs, God’s dream for the world, is enacted each time we gather here. It is the songs that surround the stories we tell week after week that counter the tales of terror that drench our morning news.  It is the warm sharing of peace with our neighbors in a world marked by too much hostility and suspicion.  It is the food shared at a table where all are fed in a neighborhood where food prices keep rising.  It is the daily witness and ministry of life that each of you is carrying out in your homes, on the streets, in classrooms and boardrooms. It is the life of the baptized, God’s glee club, singing God’s song dressed in nothing but the waters that gave them new life.

Your life, the life of St. Luke’s, the life of the church, the life of Christ, is a life full of stories. Stories of a people and a creation that God looks at with love and calls good, very good. Let love make you immodest in your witness, immoderate in your enthusiasm. Come, let us sing to the Lord!

Amen.

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