Monday, March 21, 2011

Second Sunday in Lent: Born Again

Sunny but cold again. March. My cell rings. It’s Hope. She’s a half block from the church. With Norma. I stop at Barney Greengrass. Ask Gary if today is Purim, the feast of Esther, the Jewish version of Carnival. He laughs and says yes. I tell him he needs a mask or at least a three cornered hat. He says “Moe had one,” referring to his father who was not only a restauranter but a magician as well.  Gary wishes me a hag purim and I’m on my way. 
Andre is waiting for me. Then Hope and Norma. It is good to see Norma , to have her with us after Kelly’s death. By eleven, almost everyone is there. They’ve taken my Lenten  challenge to get there on time. And today we will ordain and install elders and deacons.  During announcements, Hope talks of having  joined the picket line with the Saigon Grill workers and encourages us to join in the big rally scheduled for next Saturday, when several of us will have to be  at a Presbytery meeting. 
As usual, much to talk about.  Look, Gaddhafi’s slaughtering of his own  people was despicable. But now we’re bombing Tripoli? Hugo looks despondent and says, “This foreign policy, no different than Bush. Or Clinton neoliberalism.” And he reminds me of the  cynical western rehabilitation of Gaddhafi’s image in recent years. And now we’re jumping in. What happens to the legitimate people’s movement? 
And of course continued anguish in Japan?  
I start my sermon with a challenge.  What does it mean to be born again?  I tell them that  back in the day, when  I had weekly sermon titles, just  to be provocative, I put Born Again out on the sign board. Almost immediately I began getting phone calls from members. Their comments ranged from being  careful that   no one get the wrong idea to we don’t do that here, we’re Presbyterian. I’ve touched on being born again before but today I want to go deeper. 
So we begin with the father of all born again stories, Abraham. (Genesis 12: 1-4a.)Common parent of Muslim, Christian and Jew.  In order to receive what is new, he must give up all that is old, familiar, known.  He must let go. Be emptied.  A friend in my lectionary study  brought up Japan.  The moment to begin again. And Libya. But, as I pointed out,  those radical changes were imposed, not voluntarily taken on. It’s different. Though it is true that you can still grow from wheat you do not volunteer for, for what you never wanted or expected. Like in  Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, it’s not the experience itself but how you experience it. How you choose to experience it. The meaning you give to it. It’s about leaving identity, kinship groups. About taking a leap of faith. 

The Abraham story is a  good passage for leaving. But wait a minute. We’re coming back.We’ve been called to beginning again in the same place, well, it’s not the same, but...let’s just say we’re  beginning again in place.  

And now the ultimate born again passage.  John 3: 1-17. Jesus and Nicodemus.Where  this  language cones from.And our new translations show the confusion. The phrase γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν can mean born from above, or born anew, or born again?  No wonder Nicodemus is confused. 
The wind blows where it chooses...these words are always helpful to me. They follow up the Genesis story we spoke of last week. They speak to God’s radical freedom. God’s spirit will do what God would do...( And as of this morning there are only 16 more Presbyteries to go to approve finally open the doors to inclusion...after all these years..)  The wind blows where it chooses. 

Andre speaks up, “so was that what Bob Dylan was talking about? Blowin’ in the wind?” That’s it, Andre, exactly, the  Holy Spirit, the ruach, the pneuma..The wind blows where it chooses....And no one can resist...well, we try, we try. 

Working on this last night, these words came to me from an old Judy Collins’ album. (Showing my age here...) from Hello, Hooray on the Who Knows Where the Time Goes album...

Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin
I’m ready
Hello! Hooray! Let the lights grow dim
We’ve been ready
Ready as the rain to fall, just to fall again
Ready as a man to be born, only to be born again, and again and again and again

(Which may also be the only Judy Collins song ever covered by Alice Cooper)
It’s about parting oneself from one’s it even possible? It raises some hard questions...
.What if our system had to stat over? It’s broken, not broke. As Michael Moore said in Wisconsin, the US is not broke. WIsconsin is not broke. New York City is not broke. It’s where the money is and who controls it. And that those who came close to destroying the world’s economy continue to want us to pay for it.
. What if the PC(USA)had to start over? Stop the annual cutbacks,trying to make a broken system work and just start over? 
. Or New York City Presbytery? 
. Or..take a breath...West-Park Church? (And I hear Andre’s voice  say, I thought that’s what we’re doing? And I smile.) It means being open to new realities, new people, new ways of doing things. It can’t just be bricks and mortar. 
. And you? We have to do it all the time. Some of our moments, our turning moments  more dramatic than others...Others are more subtle. But sometimes decisions change lives.
I shared with them the story of Captain John Riley and the San Patricio batallion. Most had never heard it before. 
I talked about the concert I heard last night at Symphony Space. A klezmer clarinetist squeezing out despair and joy,the sparkling dancing sounds of an armenian zither, an oud player celebrating el andaluz where spanish, arab and jewish culture all came together in a golden age....that’s what I want church to be like...
So this is our time. A season for intentional spiritual exploration. Leaps of faith. Risk taking.  Born again.
I remind them that those who would be ordained and installed today do so not as a board of directors but so people who have been called by God to leadership. To lead the people . To lead the people with creativity, imagination, but most of all, love.
Following the offering, they come forward. Stand in front of the table. Answer the questions. And then all who have preceded them come forward for the laying on of hands. And the connection of hands goes on back through the 100 years of West-Park. And before. All the way to the beginning. We sing Here I am, Lord. We hold hands in a circle for the benediction. Sing Amen. And then share Ana’s cafe con leche. 

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