Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
The last month has been tough. Seeing the writing on the wall, I took to my bed the evening of November 8th and might still be there if the boys hadn’t finally insisted it was going to get ugly if I did not get up and see to them. My distress was not just about politics or about the fact that my candidate lost. That’s happened before without this deep sense of malaise. More than any other time in recent memory, we seem to be at a turning point. Change is coming, and I don’t just mean politically. As a people, our story is more than a political saga. It is a story of our countless generations, those who have passed to glory, those we journey with now, and those yet unborn. This is the story of a country and a people of every hue and persuasion who toiled and cried, celebrated and worshiped and in the process built a great nation.
My malaise is rooted in the realization that the national narrative once grounded in limitless possibility has changed, becoming one of fear and hopelessness, of a deep distrust of the other. It is a sense that the glass is not only half empty, but the odds of it ever being filled are seen as stacked against a broad spectrum of the population. In the face of all that, my next gambit was to declare that Christmas was cancelled. If Christmas never came, then neither would the new year and all the changes it would bring. Then I realized I’d be preaching during advent on Rose Sunday, what Pope Francis calls the Sunday of Joy.
Who can feel joyful when our nation has become an alien landscape in which language and action against those who are different is seemingly more acceptable? Though I have no illusions that matters of race, or gender, or orientation were issues of the past, the current social climate seems to have given license to speak what was once at least politically incorrect and publicly unspeakable. Then I remembered what Ghandi said:
“When I despair, I remember that throughout history the ways of truth and love have always won.”
I acknowledge the reality that I can’t stop time and really don’t want to. At a time like this, the upsurge of hope and joy that Advent heralds is as needful to me, to all of us, as breath.
In trying times, when all seems lost, we need to remember that God has not brought us this far to drop us on our heads. The theologian Henri Nouwen defined joy “…as the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death – can take that love away. Thus joy can be present in the midst of sadness. …” Instead of despair or that malaise I was feeling, we are called to rise up into that joy. As I read Isaiah, it was like a prayer and a promise offered for those of fearful heart to be strong and not dread.
Isaiah reminded a captive people that they were God’s chosen people, being given strength for the journey ahead. In Matthew, John wants to know if we have to wait longer or if Jesus is the one who will lift those who are bowed down. Jesus rephrases Isaiah, affirming that the wait is over. The eyes of the blind are being opened, the lame leap like dear, the ears of the deaf are unstopped, and sorrow and sighing flee away. Advent reminds us that we too are exiles who, living in hopes of God’s liberation, are called to rise with joy and lift our voices with strength, proclaiming the glad tidings – “Here is your God!” and He will save you.
In this season of expectation and preparedness, our lessons remind us that Advent isn’t about gift buying and gift giving – it’s about letting go of anxiety and fear. It’s about being cleansed and reborn, awakened to the saving grace of God. It’s about change and transformation, it’s about being refined, perfected and made ready to engage with God in the work of kingdom-building. As a people in community and a people of God, we are at a crossroads. What we say and do in the coming months and years will matter. Advent reminds us that we are on this journey together. We must also be awake and ready to let God work through us to transform the future we all share.
Perhaps my great grandfather said it best in a speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 “…Here our dead are buried. Here we are bound by the most sacred ties that ever touched or stirred or thrilled a human soul. …”
In the face of hate, God wills us to acknowledge that common bond and to love all of his children enough to make the uneven ground level and the rough places plain. This is the good that God desires us to do.
Like John the Baptist, we must move beyond this liturgy of worship to a liturgy of living. Though we may feel that we are crying out in the wilderness, we are the voices that must witness God’s grace in the world. As we await patiently for his coming, we are called to sing a new song, one of hope and redemption, like Andra Day’s Rise Up.
To paraphrase, “we must rise up in spite of the ache. Rise like the day, rise unafraid and together move mountains.”** Rise up and speak truth to power. Rise up to joy and give voice to the hope and promise of God’s love and care for all of his children and all of his creation. On this Sunday of Joy, let us rise up and embrace a liturgy of living. This is a liturgy which we will carry the anticipation, hope and promise of that child for whom we await – and the man that he will become into this needful world. Rise up to joy!
**Written by Cassandra Monique Batie, Jenifer Decilveo. Copyright Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Jeremiah 22:13-16; Galatians 6:14-18; Psalms 148:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30
Dr. Carol Franklin
Last Sunday, (Rev.) Rachel (Hackenberg) talked about her rough week and how challenging it was to find hope in the face of evil (especially the evil we do to each other). This week hasn’t been much better, but her powerful message grounded in the gospel of love and hope still resonates with me. For it is love and hope which shaped my reflections on the blessings of our companion animals. Today’s gospel talks of things hidden from the wise, but revealed to those who are spiritually open enough to receive it. What is hidden is the miracle of creation and the power of love. Today we stand with St. Francis to affirm and celebrate that all of creation is divine speech and that each of us, two-footed, four-footed (and maybe even no-footed if there are any snakes here) is an example of creation’s wonder and unconditional love.
Hope, love, gentleness, and humbleness of heart… These gifts of the spirit are easily found in our companion animals. Since I am dog crazy you know I’m gonna have to talk about “The Boys.” It has always been boys (cocker spaniel boys to be precise) and puppies until these two (who are rescues). I was known for raising these uniquely spirited creatures, loving and full of personality. This included my last puppy, The Jazzman, whose nickname was The Devil’s Minion. He got into a lot of trouble, and yet he was the cutest loving little thing smiling up at me amid the chaos only he could create.
When Maxx died just before we went to Israel, I wasn’t sure I had puppy stamina. A friend suggested I consider a rescue. I was a bit unsure as I would not be the molder of its personality while trauma may have been. But then she sent me a link to Petfinder and the picture of a face – the face of Rocket, who thankfully became Rock the House. Rocket was a 2-year-old purebred raised from puppyhood by his first mom, who surrendered him as she struggled with terminal cancer.
When I saw his face for the first time, it seemed full of despair and sadness at being separated from his mom, but it was also full of hope and promise that out of the darkness light and love would be found. What a lesson and gift she gave to him and me out of her selflessness, a gift of hope and love, of gentleness and humbleness of spirit. If you came to my front door, you would probably question the gentleness ‘cause he “rocks the house” with his barking. But if he met you on the street or you came in and stayed awhile, he’s timid and shies away from stranger and friend alike. Just ask Byrdie.
For two years, Jazz and Rock were the boys. When Jazz died in 2014, I wondered if Rock and I needed a companion beyond each other. The energy in the house was different, so the search was on as I applied three times more on Petfinder. The third time was the charm as my friend who led me to Rock went with me to Columbus to get Mopsey (now known as Motown), who was found wandering in West Virginia.
Blind in one eye and losing sight in the other, we believe Motown was either abandoned or was a runaway with an owner who couldn’t deal with a handicapped dog. The owners didn’t realize they were abandoning a bundle of joy and love. When I saw Mo’s face, I saw joy and openness despite limitations, I saw forgiveness and pardon for any injury or abandonment. Mo is this happy-go-lucky not-so-little boy whose tail literally wags the dog. His inquisitiveness and pure joy on our walks and his open loving personality which greets friends and strangers with excitement epitomizes his amazement with all of creation.
My Boys are two uniquely colored dogs with two vastly different personalities. They remind me that each of us and all of creation is a receptacle of divine breath. They are two blessings who exemplify love and hope, gentleness and humbleness of spirit. The want to love and be loved, to offer comfort and understanding even though they have no words. Whatever my mood or if I forget dinner time (although that’s hard to do with Rock the timekeeper), they return only love and acceptance. Our companion animals remind us that it’s not about wisdom or knowledge: It’s about love, about surrendering to the well of grace that is the love of God. In opening my heart and home, I became something new: A rescue mom totally owned by the manifestation of the spirit on four paws who daily questions, “Who rescued who?”
Luke 7:36 - 8.3
Dr. Carol Franklin
As some of you know, the last few months have been… I could be profane here, but I’ll opt for saying they have been trying at the very least. I’ve been in a weird place since my father died 33 years and three days short of the day in April that my mother died. This all amplifies thoughts about family relationships and commitments, about love and loss and the ties that bind us. It brings so much of my life full circle, and of course it’s set to a musical theme. As I reflected on the gospel lesson a thread of music, really what I thought was a lyric kept running through my head “what we do for love.” Of course the song really is “What We Won’t Do for Love,” but nonetheless, it gave me a focal point to reflect on my journey these last few months, and indeed most of my life.
This journey is about we do out of love and thankfulness for God’s grace and His singular gift of peopling our lives with such extraordinary personalities. Though I won’t talk about them in this sermon, it includes my four footers. A child of divorce, I was raised among a company of women who gave me a unique perspective on self and service, on love and commitment, on struggle and self-worth, in essence those things that make a life of worth. Like the women in our gospel, they gave a full measure of themselves, their gifts and their talents, without counting the cost. They loved expansively; supported each other; served with grace; nurtured and gave direction to me and countless children and adults. They taught me and challenged me to understand that life is full of good and one must be open to seeing and accepting that goodness. They also taught me that walking by faith and in the spirit is more difficult than following an outward law. It’s about listening for the voice of God and then responding obediently to his call.
Many colleagues have said, “Carol you could have been a college president if only you had been willing to do this or do that.”
Nobody understood that the kind of ambition they mentioned is not what shaped the choices I made. Now don’t get me wrong – I am ambitious (or I was before I retired). I wanted to do a good job, be recognized for it and advance in my profession. But what mattered (and matters most to me still) is serving and relating to others – being present in their lives and in their need, helping them to grow and find their way. Whether on the job, in the classroom or among family and friends, I have always valued being among us, being among a company of folks striving and journeying together.
While most of the company of women I knew were not blood relations, they were family. In most cases, I was their only family. It was more important to me to be present in their lives than president of some college. I learned firsthand that caregiving is not an easy job. Nor is it easy as they near the end of their journey to affirm to them that they have been a good and faithful servant and it’s okay to let go. But that is why I needed to be present, not out of duty or obligation, but out of love – their love for me and our love for each other. It may not be an alabaster jar of ointment, but what is more priceless than the gift of self to others? It’s about modelling God’s extravagant love in the gift of His son to redeem our lives. It’s what we do for love that matters.
It’s about relationships, about caring for each other in the best and worst of times. Caring when it’s easy and when it’s damn hard. It’s about acknowledging that no matter how alike or different we are, we are shoots from the same tree abiding on the same bank, the bank along which the river of living water flows. Yes, there are the outward facets of the law – honor thy father and thy mother. But that is not why I travelled cross country to abide for a weekend with folks I barely know. For the adult Carol, it was not about what had been done or left undone to Carol, the child of divorced parents. It was about living into God’s love for me. Though I did not have a relationship with my father, I did and do have a relationship with God. Out of that relationship of love, acceptance and grace, I was called to honor my father, to acknowledge his place in my life, and to be open to the gift of life he helped to give me.
God knows what our lives can become. It’s not about the law or others’ judgements or expectations of us – it’s about what we do for love. God’s intention is to heal life and restore relationships. A life so restored is focused not on hedging our bets, but focusing on what we do out of love (not duty). The lesson of today’s gospel is that if Christ has taken up residence in our lives, we can’t have it both ways. God’s reign is about love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children. It’s about allowing God to do in and through us what only He can do – love extravagantly.
Luke 24:1 - 12
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
Dr. Carol Franklin is a retired higher education professional and is a member of Christ Church.
Tonight, we gather to hear the story God’s people as we stand in the shadow of the tomb. In the beginning was God, the father and mother of us all, the wisdom-giver and God the Son and Savior. On this night, the story of God’s people comes full circle as God’s divine power turns the world upside down. After the fear, disbelief and confusion over the crucifixion, the Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James (“the Marys”), discover an empty tomb at dawn the next morning. We, like the Marys, find an impossible, improbable and joyful truth – there is life in the face of death. Tonight, we join them to proclaim that the story did not end at the tomb. For as this night dawns into a new day, we proclaim:
“He is risen! Alleluia! He is risen!”
Is the proclamation that “Out of death there is life” simply a glorious end, or is it just the beginning of a new journey for God’s people?
I believe there is much more to the story and the journey beyond the empty tomb. As I look around, it seems as if the world is stuck in that tomb, buried in the darkness by fear and hopelessness. And the question is why… why do we continue to look for the Son of God in that tomb, among the dead?
Too frequently, we fear what we cannot see, touch, taste or understand. We believe we have been forgotten, marginalized and ignored while others have been lifted up. We see this fear manifested among our sisters and brothers whose religious traditions spring from the same root. We see it in the fear of “the other,” of those whom we believe live differently, love differently and are just not like us. Out of that fear, some set fires seeking to destroy our dwelling places and our peace of mind, while others talk of monitoring neighborhoods, building walls and closing doors.
We get stuck in belief that there is only so much space, time or resources to share. Focused on our own self-interests and needs, we are threatened rather than lifted up by Christ’s message of love. So we wait in darkness, longing for the light, afraid that love is not broad enough or deep enough to shelter us all. We have either forgotten or are just too afraid to believe that God has enough love, compassion and grace to encompass and save us all. Tonight, we learn something new, that we do not need to be afraid – because Jesus, the light of God, goes before us.
Tonight, we know that death is not the end. Christ’s resurrection has shattered the darkness and opens the way to new life. The belief that he lives uplifts me even in these challenging and anxious times. Although I don’t know what comes next, I do know that God is among us. How many of us have stories about those times, and how God’s love and grace put us back together again?
The miracle of this night comes in the midst of a family crisis; when we are lost in our own need; or feel we just cannot go on in that moment. In these moments, God sees us and fully knows us. He knows our gifts, failures and sins. He also knows our life’s promise. God knows and loves us still, carrying us into that new day. On this night, we learn that God will give all and will make us see, hear and know that we matter… and that we are loved.
Tonight, we are called to stand against the darkness, to affirm that God’s love is more powerful than fear, death or evil. The empty tomb is neither the end of the story nor simply a tale of fear or death; it is a story about love and life. The empty tomb is about the courage to believe in and witness the impossible through God’s love, that life is triumphant over death.
We have been called to tell others how to meet Jesus and how to experience the God who is always with us and supporting us. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a New York Times Article, the resurrection is about “…a church and world where there is room for everybody.”
If we follow that thinking, the church is a world in which we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, receive the stranger and care for the sick and dying. Easter Sunday special, because we learn that God is not through with any of us and truly loves us!! Like Christ, we must place all that we are into God’s hands so that we may reflect His light and love.
I will end this homily interweaving my own thanksgivings with some words spoken by my great-grandfather, the Rev. Dr. M.C.B. Mason, from more than 100 years ago. Let us pray:
“Father, we thank thee for…thy Son Jesus Christ…. He came to bring us peace, and deliverance and salvation and eternal life, and we have it; Thank God, we have it. Now help us with renewed energy and enthusiasm to …” meet our brothers and sisters stuck in the tomb and help them find their way into the light of this new day. We are thankful for the breath in our bodies. Let God’s people greet this new day with a resounding “Amen!”
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
Isaiah 62:1-5;Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Dr. Carol S. Franklin
Dr. Carol Franklin is a retired higher education professional and is a member of Christ Church.
As we celebrate the life and witness of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s easy to talk about “King the dreamer” or “King the drum major for peace and justice,” but there was another side to King. As Randall Kennedy wrote in a forum article in the Plain Dealer some years ago, King was a boat rocker with a “. . . discomforting willingness to challenge Americans’ accepted ways of life. …” Making them “…profoundly uncomfortable… “
As I read snippets from his speeches and other reflections on his life, I was struck by the fact (and more tellingly that more than 50 years since his death) that we are still a deeply divided nation and a world that needs to be challenged – that needs to be reminded about who we are and what we are called to do.
2016 is vastly different and yet so unchanged from the world Martin walked. Poverty, inequality, hatred and fear still stalk our streets and the death of all hope in the extinguished lives of children is a daily, if not hourly, occurrence. Like me, I think he would be at a loss to find God (or at least a God recognizable to him in what passes for legitimate sociopolitical debate). In all the noise, the one thing I hear clearly (and which I think would sadden and perhaps frighten him deeply) is this sense of a world still badly divided in which there is not enough:
It’s easy in such a world for some to believe they must get theirs first and leave the dregs for the rest and they willingly use their gifts and talents, power and politics to get t