Go Ahead and Weep

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By Pete Ashton, flickr, cc

Preached by Denise Griebler to St. Peters Episcopal Church Detroit via zoom.

John 11:32-54

I haven’t said or written much since we have begun sheltering in place.  I’m a little nervous to do so now.   I am humbled by the pandemic.  I am awed by it.

I believe that God is with us and that we are with each other – the profound truth that we are in this together.

There is a story about the Chinese Master, Lau-tzu and his disciples:

The disciples were absorbed in the teaching:

Those who know do not say;
Those who say do not know.

When the Master entered, they asked him what the words meant.

The Master asked them: “Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?”

Of course, all of them knew.

Then he said, “Put it into words.”

All were silent.

I am grateful for the rawness of the gospel.  A man has died.  A brother.  A friend.  There’s mourning and crying.  Jesus is late, put he does show up.  The one who heals others couldn’t be there in time for his friend. He’s too late.

And it’s not like he rushed to get there.  There’s a back story.  Lazarus (who has died) along with his the sisters, Mary and Martha – were his good friends.  They regularly helped and supported and sheltered Jesus.  They were part of his trusted inner circle.   Mary and Martha – had sent for Jesus when Lazarus fell gravely ill.  But we’re told that Jesus lingered for days where he was sheltering-in-place, hiding out from the religious authorities who wanted Jesus dead.  Finally he decides to risk going to Bethany to see his friend, but he’s too late.  Lazarus has already died.

I’m grateful for the rawness.

And even Mary’s accusing question:  where were you?  You could have saved him.

I’m grateful that he doesn’t make excuses.  He’s silent.  He weeps. I’m grateful for his tears.

And for Martha recoiling from the stench of death – from her brother’s dead body.  I’m grateful for Mary and Martha’s anger and impatience with Jesus. And for Jesus’ anger.  And his second round of tears at the tomb.  I’m grateful for the kerchief-covered face.  And for the exposure of the betrayal of the ones who are plotting to keep their privilege and power, who are ready to make easy tradeoffs – one life for many.

I’m grateful for the rawness.  Because honestly, I have been feeling pretty numb.  And the rawness helps to break me open.   I’m glad for all of the weeping in this text.  I haven’t yet found my way to tears.  How is that possible?

Maybe I’ve been caught up in denial and fear. I hear it in myself as I worry for the “most vulnerable” in a way that serves to distance myself from suffering ever actually touching me in my own body.  I am vulnerable.  We’re all vulnerable.

And I’ve been caught up in trying to keep myself and my family safe.  And trying to do my part – our part – to keep others safe.  All of which seem so small and pathetic.  Especially when I think of people who need my help. Even as I know this is precisely the best thing  most of us can do to take care of each other.  Maybe I am too ashamed to weep.  But that would be a mistake.

What if grief is our calling right now?  Our vocation.  Grief is how we can stay human in the face of all of the suffering that has been happening at a distance and is now here and washing over us in Detroit.

I heard about a meme that was circulating on FaceBook.  Jesus is in his room, sheltering in place.  Someone asks: “Where should I tell them you are?”  Jesus replies:  “Tell them I’m working in mysterious ways.”

But there actually is a mystery that he stakes is own life and death upon.  I think some of the tears he cries are for himself.  He knows that death is closing in on him and there is not much more time to be with his friends or his mother, or to be under the beauty of the sky, or out on the Lake, or around the table, to see or smell the lilies, or see the little sparrows or hear the dove hovering or to feel the Wind.  Down to the bone he believes anyway: death does not and will not have the last word.

Maybe he’s weeping at the excruciating mystery of that.

I hope I come around to my deepest self and finally weep.  I hope you do. I hope we mortals become more human.  And that we come to know more deeply our place in the web of all life.

It’s hard to feel like we are doing nothing – especially if you are someone who thrives on the front lines.  There’s plenty to do from the place where we are sheltering in place if you are longing for that.  People have been busy advocating for the water to be turned back on.  And to be turned back on safely.   And now, not in 3 months from now.   And then to be made affordable for the long haul.  The work that we have done for years is having an effect.  Thank goodness.

People are restoring other connections as well.  Reaching out to family and friends with whom we’ve been out of touch for too long.  And there will be neighbors and organizations that will need financial help – be generous.  And water deliveries to be made – if you and others in your household are healthy and not among the vulnerable, you could help with that. There will be more opportunities.

But mostly we just need to stay put.  And wait.  And try to live as well as you can – with as much kindness and joy as you can – in your own household – whether that’s with family, or roommates or alone.  And keep ourselves and others safe as best we are able. And let life keep insisting in us.  Cindy Tobias reminds us that this is front-line work at this time.

But we can also open ourselves to the suffering and weep when we feel like weeping. Be angry at the ineptitude that could have prevented some of it.

Be awed by the terrible mystery of it and our own vulnerability.

Call on the accompaniment and wisdom of the ancestors – they are helping us.

Weep and rage and rest in God.   Amen.

Sermon: St. Peter’s is Not for Sale

IMG_1878Sermon by Denise Griebler,
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, November 17, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25
Malachi 4:1-2a
Luke 21:5-19

May we see like God sees and hope like God hopes.  And may we not be afraid to live by that sight and that love in the meantime. Amen.

These scripture passages each get us thinking about the end. Nothing like beginning with the end.  But since we are dealing with these readings so rooted in apocalypse, maybe we are on the right track.

Imagine this community, this city, this country, this world that is going to pieces in so many places – whether by poverty or war or climate reckoning – and hear the words of Isaiah again: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the holy city as a joy and a place where I will rejoice in my people the way they take care of each other – no more inconsolable weeping, no body in distress, babies get to live and old people get to  live our their days.  People enjoy the fruits of their labor, have homes to live in, food to eat.  Predators will cease terrorizing of the vulnerable and they will eat side by side. Healing and peace will come to the whole community. Continue reading

Sermon: Gathered Body

footprintsBy Rev. Denise Griebler at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
January 27, 2019

Epiphany 3C    Annual Meeting Sunday

Luke 4:13-21, 1 Corinthians 12-20

Get comfortable in your body – best you can – as we begin – feet grounded – sit on  your bottom and let your back be straight but relaxed and just breathe – sometimes that’s enough! – you don’t have to do or think anything right now – just be here – relax your shoulders – relax your jaw – relax your cheeks and your eyebrows – and just keep breathing – enjoy being in your body as it is  – and staying relaxed and present, notice the people who are around you. Breathing.  Here. Continue reading

Sermon for First Week of Advent

Advent 1

First week of Advent. Bio-regional wreath by Sarah Holst

By Rev. Denise Griebler
St. Peter’s Episcopal
Dec. 2, 2018
Advent 1C & Homecoming

An earthquake in Alaska, fires in California, hurricanes, flooding, draught, the wars – especially the war in Yemen – refugees at the border, people living under constant threat of deportation or eviction or water shut-off or exorbitant rent increases and more auto plants being shut down. The Rev. Karen Kerrigan (who was just ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest here at St. Peter’s) observed that we don’t even need to read the gospel this week – we could just read the newspaper! Continue reading

Sermon: As One Who Was There

25299574_10214858114229862_8841640536640516071_o.jpgBy Rev. Denise Griebler
1st UCC Richmond, Michigan
January 28, 2018

Mark 1:21-28
Psalm 111

Well, I will tell you this: I went to worship that evening with the usual expectations – which is to say, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual.  It was just after sunset – which is when we worship. By our way of thinking, sundown is the beginning of the new day – a time to rest in God’s presence – a time to rest in the company of family and friends and neighbors. Continue reading

Strange Liberators

DeniseDay 12 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954—in 1945 rather—after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.
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By Rev. Denise Griebler (photo above), the pastor of First United Church of Christ in Richmond, Michigan

We do not tell the truth about ourselves.   No wonder we and others are confused. Perhaps we have refused the long look in the mirror for so long that we simply do not know. But I think it is also true that we do not want to know.

Listen. Begin with the genocide. Indigenous people, communities and cultures crushed by colonial greed and settler-culture that took whatever it wanted with the twisted and absurd notion that this was all preordained, a manifest destiny set forth by a false-god in their image. Listen.   You can hear the sounds of an economy built on enslaving human beings and extracting their labor with the blessing of this false-god. Listen, as the ever-expanding economy gobbles up land and with it the gifts below the surface of land, waters, species, human life and labor and leaves in its aftermath spoiled land, air and water. They say a sound goes on forever. Listen. The cries of the indigenous and enslaved people and of the earth, our Mother, can be heard. Continue reading

Sermon 4th Sunday Advent: Joseph’s Yes

joseph.jpg Written and preached by Denise Griebler

Matthew 1:18-25
Isaiah 7:10-17

So Mary and Joseph are engaged.

To get to an engagement – there’s been, well, engagement. Mary and Joseph have been engaging with one another. They’ve been engaging each other’s families. There have been a long series of yeses.

But it’s not a straight line. It rarely is.

Matthew is so sparse in his description of events that it’s difficult for brain and heart not to search out Luke’s account and collapse the two. It’s not good exegetical form to do this. But I’m afraid my heart cannot resist the temptation. In the passage that comes just before this one we get a long list of fathers and sons (with a few interesting mothers thrown in the mix – Tamar the prostitute, Rahab the spy, Ruth the immigrant – outsiders, upstarts, all outrageous and unexpected) – and then at this long list of sons begat by fathers, comes the promise of a child, who will be God with us, God’s own and Mary’s. Continue reading