In God we mostly trust: A Sermon on Luke 16

Grace Church, Great Barrington

Sunday September 21, 2013

“In God we mostly trust.” Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” 

I want to try something a little different here- I hope you’ll grant me this liberty as your preacher this morning, seeing as your very wise pastor has scheduled me here for what is generally considered the most confusing parable in the Gospels. I’m a guest, and this is an experiment, so just go along with me. I want you to pull out your wallet and find a dollar bill.  I know, no one caries cash. If you can, find a paper bill and take it out. If you can’t find a bill, grab a credit card or a coin. My work is to preach. Your work is to hold onto that bill for the entire sermon. That’s all. Now, what does that bill proclaim? I know you’re Episcopalians, but pretend you are Baptists and you can talk back to me in a sermon. In God we trust. May it be so.

Let us pray….

This is a sermon about money which will NOT include an ask for money. Seriously. We have a dangerously bad habit in church of only talking about money when we want some more of it. We know that Jesus talks a lot about wealth and poverty, taxes and titles, debts and debtors- but we mostly talk about money during the liturgical season known as Stewardship.  In the Gospel of Luke, the parables before this are the lost coin and the prodigal son.  The parable after this is Lazarus and the rich man. We are smack in the middle of an extended set of stories by Jesus about money and our relationship to it. (are you still holding onto that bill?)

And what can only be considered a work of genius by your pastor, I am here to explain to you a passage that just about everyone acknowledges is miserably complicated and universally dreaded in the 3 year rotation of scripture known as the Revised Common Lectionary. One commentator said that even Luke seems unsure what to do with this story. The theologian Rudolph Bultmann called this parable “a problem child.”  First, it’s not entirely clear what is going on: Why is the money manager fired? Are the charges against him true? When the manager goes to cut the debt of those who owe the rich man money, is this an act of wisdom, kindness or blazing self-interest?  Why are we to make friends with the use of dishonest wealth?  What if you gave that dollar bill in your hand to the person behind you- is that what Jesus wants?

We struggle to follow what’s going on in this parable, then we ask WHY Jesus is telling this story! It seems like the manager only reduces the bills of those who owe money so that the manager will have some people to stay with when he gets fired. Is Jesus praising this self-preservation? I don’t have the answers for much most of these questions, but let me add this: Don’t force this to be a perfect overlay faithfulness to God.  Parables don’t have to explain everything; They can teach us something without teaching us everything. And Luke in particular loves a good complex story where the social order is turned upside down. If the most this parable can teach us is that our relationship with money, God and God’s people is wicked complicated, than I think we are being faithful to the text and honest about how confusing this story is set in an economy and social context entirely different from our own.

The most familiar line comes at the end at verse 13  “13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Both demand allegiance. Money exerts power over us. When we have too little, we struggle to feel secure.  When we lose it, we feel adrift. When we have much, we think about it too. That dollar bill in your hand seems to exert power over us, to squeeze tighter, to pay attention. Money demands our focus; Money demands our attention; Money demands our time. We are told again and again, we can’t just let money sit there, squirreled away in a bank account, we have to manage it.  We all become money managers. Money has to be moved, invested, insured, split, taxed, counted, accounted, strategized, pre-paid, banked, borrowed, leveraged, loaned, most of all, increased.  We are like the money manager, moving money that is ultimately not ours, with the illusion of control. Money and the lack of money takes us space in our heads, in our calendars, in our hearts. You know the anxiety of not knowing if you’ll have enough to retire, or send your kid to college, or pay the rent or buy your medicine. You know the anxiety of wondering if you can afford to repair the church building. You know how much space in our minds money occupies. You know that as a nation we act like there is no such thing as enough.  As Americans, this is one of our particular spiritual ailments. Are you still holding onto that bill? Did you start making a list of the bills you still need to pay or the things you need to buy? And when we are thinking of money that demands such attention and commands such fidelity, we are not thinking of God.

In God we may proclaim trust, but in our money we invest. Our money did not always proclaim our fidelity. Our national motto was almost something different entirely on that dollar bill you hold.  In the early 1860’s, in the midst of the religious turn during the Civil War, Americans started to write to the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. The first letter came from Rev. M. R. Watkins, a “Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, PA, ” asking for the words “God, Liberty, Law” to be placed on our currency, saying “This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.”   Secretary Chase had his director of the Mint in Philadelphia James Pollock respond. Pollock wrote, “Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.” And so we went about trying to craft a national motto.  Pollock proposed “OUR COUNTRY; OUR GOD or GOD, OUR TRUST.” We’ve always had this American impulse to claim Our God, Our Country. To stamp our name and ensure it is ours. And that we would do so on our money simply points to the endless complexity of our complex relationship with God and money. “In a time of immense national chaos, IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin. And in a time on immense national anxiety during the cold war and the state affirmed atheism of USSR, Eisenhower signed the  1956 joint resolution declaring “In God We trust” our national motto and printing it on our paper bills where it’s been ever since.  We may claim our trust in God with every dollar we spend in America, but  our actions as a country betray this trust. We now live with the income inequality between the rich and the poor at the widest point since 1928,The Economist reports that “The most unequal country in the rich world is thus becoming even more so.”  For all our proclamations on our currency, we seem way more interested in worshipping the almighty dollar instead.

After all the complex maneuvering by the money manager, we get the line in verse 8. “8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;” The master, or in Greek “Kurios” or Lord shows up again in the story and affirms the money manager lessening the debt of the people.  Yes, it may be self-serving, but the money manager is lessening the debts of the people. Scripture is pretty consistent; releasing people from debt is a good and holy thing. And for all of the complexity in understanding this parable, this much is clear: the money manager’s future depends upon the people ‘beneath’ him. Our future as “One nation under God” depends on the people ‘beneath’ us. This obscene gap in income inequality matters not just because we are now letting people in the richest nation in the world go hungry while the House of Representatives cuts food stamps, but because ultimately, our sustainability, our economy, and yes our salvation, depends upon those ‘beneath’ us. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Proclaim release to the captive, proclaim the year of jubilee. You cannot serve God and Wealth. Even as we grip those dollar bills in our hands tighter and tighter as our own anxiety grows and grows, the economy of God upends all of our of our presumptions.

gideon's gardenOn our best days, at our most holy, Church is the place where the screwed up simultaneous over and under-valuing of money in our world is set right. There have been times in the Church’s history, when units of measure were not standardized that the Church was the trusted authority to proclaim weights and measures. This is the place were we calculate true worth. God’s economy is different from ours. Grace is not cheap but abundant, simultaneously free and precious. But in very really and tangible ways, at our best Church aims to set right our relationships with money in ways that are healthy and holy. I see you doing this. You are growing precious food at Gideon’s Garden and giving it to people who could not afford locally sourced, sustainably grown, organic baby spinach greens. The first fruits of creation are being given to God’s hungry people. You should be so proud. This is an act of setting our relationship right with God and wealth. Monastic communities try this, where all things are held in common. Shoot, even Berkshire county tries this with the local currency the Berkshares! Church is where we try, try, try to taste the foretaste of that new economy. In the first reading today, you heard Jeremiah mourn “for the hurt of my poor people I am hurt” and wonder “is there no balm in Gilead?” In God’s economy, we declare “there is a balm in Gilead.” You are modeling so much of this different way of being in relation to money. I wonder what places in this church God is asking you to trust him more with your money, or his money or this money that you are borrowing.My hope is this: when you pull out that dollar bill, a credit card, your Paypal account, I want you to proclaim “In God, I trust. This money, I borrow.” Will you say it with me? “In God I trust, this money I borrow.” We cannot raise our arms in praise if we are clinging to the money in our hands. We cannot serve God and wealth. In God may we trust this day and in the days ahead. Amen.

More than “Boston Strong”

Trinitarian Congregational Church, Concord MA

Sunday April 28, 2013

Image

Chalk drawings on Mt. Auburn Ave, Watertown

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:31-35

 

After it was all done, with feet back on land, her body temperature slowly rising again, she said “It was one of those rare occasions in life when things turn out better than you ever imagined.” On August 7, 1987, a 30-year-old woman who learned how to swim just up the road in Manchester New Hampshire, began in Alaska and swam across the Bering Strait. For two hours and six minutes, in water that started at 43F and dropped to 38, Lynne Cox swam across the US-Soviet Border for the first time in 48 years. “Experts believe she succeeded because of a combination of determination and her own body fat which insulated her like a seal.“ tactfully opined the BBC.  Swimmers may be unlikely diplomats, but Lynne’s symbolic act cut through the silent glaring of the Cold War. At a signing of a nuclear weapons treaty later that year, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev praised Lynne, saying “She proved by her courage how closely to each other our people live.” Just 2.7 miles. Just that close.  Let us pray…

If you have been to church even once before today, chances are you’ve heard the gospel lesson from John. This is the new commandment, that you love one another. Except that there’s nothing terribly new about it. Love one another. Got it. Heard it in the Old Testament, Heard it in the New Testament.  Not throwing stones at neighbors. Letting those newcomers sit in the good seats in my pew on Christmas Eve, no less. Love one another. This is children’s sermon stuff. Love one another. Let’s sign up for coffee hour duty and call it a day here. We’ve got things to do.

Except, that the weight of this passage is lost by taking it out of the full chapter. We separate ourselves from the strength of this passage. The Lectionary committee did what is so tempting to do, cutting and cropping and segmenting our lives. These five verses are placed right in the middle of denial and betrayal.  Look at Chapter 13. Before these verses in 13:21, Jesus says to his disciples, “One of you will betray me.”  After these verse, Jesus tells Simon Peter “Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”  This love Jesus names in verse 34 is spoken into betrayal and denial by those closest to him.  You who will deny me, you who will betray me: Love one another. It’s a love not contingent on the disciples’ good behavior, but on Christ’s Love. Love one another as I have loved you- without reservation, without condition, without consideration that you will return this love.

And again, the passage turns. In verse 35, Jesus says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The love is not just for the disciples, but for a public witness to the world. Jesus expects the community of his followers to behave in such a thoroughly different way that people will KNOW that “you are my disciples.” It’s public. It’s perceptible. This love is fierce, and it’s visible.

A friend of mine works in elder services on the South Shore of Massachusetts. She told me once of a man in his 80’s who had kept his loving relationship with another man, his ‘housemate’ a secret for years. When his companion died, there was no community to hold his grief. He drove around and around the South Shore looking for a church to visit, a sanctuary to sit, to pray, to sing, maybe to feel another human’s touch even if just in the passing of the peace. He looked for a church that might be friendly, a church that would not betray his love. He drove past church sign after church sign, none signaling a safe harbor. For love to be visible, it must be recognizable. For a grieving man driving alone in a 1984 Cutlass Ciera who had not walked into a church in half a century, the words “Open and Affirming” meant nothing. He was looking for a visible sign, perhaps a recognizable flag, that the love of God could be extended, even to him.

Jesus is pressing his followers for fierce, visible, explicit love, even in fractured community. My now deceased maternal grandmother had a habit of sending newspaper clippings through the mail, in repurposed envelopes. No note, no explanation. The message was implied. I think I was supposed to infer something like “I read this article and it made me think of you. Love Gran.” Jesus is asking the disciples to send those newspaper clippings and actually write out the implied message. The command is to make a gesture so identifiable that others immediately recognize the love that shortens the distance between us fractured humans- a swim across the Bering Strait to an enemy’s shore, a flag of inclusion, a handwritten note that actually says “love Gran.”  These gestures of visible love aren’t just for the benefit of a closed community, but to show what God is like to the world beyond the community.

Perhaps more than any other time in recent history, our state has been visible these past two weeks. We prepared for a Patriot’s Day weekend when the whole world would watch. Dean Jep Streit of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston (who ran the marathon many times) once remarked to a friend that he loved the Boston Marathon because it was a world-class athletic event that anyone, with some grit and preparation, could participate in. The Boston Marathon is high on excellence, broad on participation- which on our best days we aim for in Church too. And then, we became visible in ways entirely not chosen by us. In the midst of all the pain and anxiety of the past two weeks, we have seen fierce, visible signs of love for one another.

We have seen the same hospitals proving medical care for the victims and the perpetrators of violence.  When their churches were still a crime scene, Old South worshipping at Church of the Covenant, Trinity Copley at Temple Israel.  When a Palestinian Muslim woman was knocked down in Malden and young men who look “foreign” on the MBTA were stared at too long, many rabbis and pastors attending Friday prayers this week at the mosques in Roxbury and Cambridge. When he could see police with machine guns from his parsonage window, Fr. Arakel went across the street to St. James’ Armenian Orthodox Church in Watertown to let the police search the sanctuary, make them coffee and let the first responders charge their cell phones to text their own worried families. We have seen powerful signs of fierce love that rebuilds our fractured community.

And yet, we have more work to do.  You know this. Even with a suspect arrested, we are far from done attending to this experience. As Christians, we have an obligation to our common, public life to offer visible signs that acknowledge our pain, not merely mask it. Even if we want desperately to be “Boston Strong,” a win by Red Sox’s can’t save us from our grief.  “Boston  Strong” is not enough to will our way to wholeness. Resiliency is not something we can buy. Sam Adams Brewers have put in a trademark application for a “Boston Strong” Beer. Already 8 other companies have trademark applications in for “Boston Strong;” You can buy “Boston Strong” hats, tee-shirts, bumper-stickers, tattoos, coffee, beer. Almost immediately, “Boston Strong” became something to consume. Six months from now, when we lay awake wondering whether a police siren starts another manhunt, it will not be “Sweet Caroline” we sing to ourselves to calm frayed nerves.  We cannot just be critics of signs, but as Christians we are obliged to be creators.  What are the stories, songs, narratives of grief and redemption that we can offer? Even in our own grief, we have work to do. Scripture offers a vision of heaven like a city. God doesn’t vacuum up the righteous in the rapture, but instead God comes to dwell and redeem our communal living.

You heard it in the text we read from Revelation 21: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” The heavenly city is not a place of poverty or violence but restored relationships, bursting full and inhabited by that glorious global mix of people you catch a glimpse of on Commonwealth Ave. Maybe one reason that the Boston Marathon is so symbolically powerful is that people run towards a city, not flee from it.

For a part of the country notoriously slow to warm up to outsiders, many, many writers have said over the past few days that we were all made Bostonians by the events of the last two weeks. I feel it too. Those were my streets that were bombed. Those were my neighbors injured. That was my apartment under lockdown. How many of you are not originally from this area? You know how hard it can be to break in, to be a home here in New England where the ‘new church’ was built in the 1800’s and the ‘new family’ has been here for 3 generations. History weighs heavy here.  Places are made sacred by prayer or death, sometimes both. Maybe we have been made one city by acts of death. The challenge next is to be made one by acts of visible love.

It was just 2.7 miles across the Bering Straight between Alaska and the Soviet Republic. For comparison sake, it’s 2.7 miles as the crow flies from the door of this church to MCI (Massachusetts Correctional Institution) Concord. That’s how far. That’s how close. In this place it is entirely possible to live 2.7 miles from one another and keep up our New England stonewalls of silence between neighbors. In this place, it is entirely possible to live just 26.2 miles apart and have entirely different experiences of safety and security, education and opportunity, life and death. Jesus speaks, into the brokenness of community a new commandment of Love.  Look for the place this week where you can offer a visible sign of love. Fierce love. Love not for the lovable, but for those who would deny you or betray you. Offer some superfluous sign of love that rebuilds fractured community. That is just how simple and how hard the Gospel is.

Desire to Gather

Desire to Gather: A Sermon on Luke 13

First Parish Church, Weston Sunday Feb 24, 2013

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me,* “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when* you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’ ~ Luke 13:31-35

The name is misleading: Sempervivum. Sempervivum, “always living.” Except they die. These plants that we often know by the name “Hens & Chicks” really only live for three seasons. Eternal life that’s not quite. The main succulent plant, the “hen” sends off ‘chicks’ loosely attached to the mother plant. Do you have these in your yard? But after three seasons, the ‘hen’ plant sends up a center stalk that blooms, and the plant dies. It can’t be stopped. Blooms and dies. And the baby chick plant lives on: Sempervivum. “How I have desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood.” Let us pray….

Jerusalem is not very far from here. Each week we creep closer. The arch of Lent, from quiet darkness of Ash Wednesday to the glaring parade of Palm Sunday moves us closer. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city feels like almost every time it is in the news there is conflict and strife. But it’s magnetic. It’s contested. It’s a draw to pilgrims and prophets.  It’s the center of the universe for the writer of Luke and Acts. Luke’s Gospel begins in Jerusalem, with Zechariah at the temple praying for descendants.  The boy child Jesus returns to Jerusalem to preach in the temple.  Later in Acts, Stephen and James will be martyred in Jerusalem. “All told, Luke mentions Jerusalem 90 times in his Gospel, while all the other New Testament writers combined mention it only 49 times. “ Jerusalem, the start of Jesus’ prophetic ministry; Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets who have come before, and this one too… Back through the history of the Jewish people we learn in Deuteronomy 12:5, Jerusalem, after all, is “the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there” Jerusalem is thick with meaning, but fickle and unfaithful.  Attractive, magnetic, infuriating Jerusalem.

And there, in Jerusalem, before his time has come, Jesus is warned off by some of the Pharisees: Herod Antipas is gunning for you. But Jesus will have none of it. He knows his death is coming. He does not treat it as a separate event, but part and parcel of his ministry: today, tomorrow and the next day. He’s still got work to do, healing to accomplish.  He tells Herod the fox to buzz off.  Suddenly, Jesus’ defiant tone turns to mourning. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you are not willing.”

Maybe it’s anger. More likely it’s lament as Jesus sighs, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.” How I have desired to gather you, says our God.

From May to September 2012, two Boston Globe reporters Meghan E. Irons and Akilah Johnson lived on Mount Ida Street in the Bowdoin-Geneva section of Dorchester. With other reporters, photographers, videographers and data visualization specialists, they attempted to understand this 68 block neighborhood with a murder rate four times the city average. Nate and Trina Davis have already had their youngest, their 14 year old son Nicholas shot dead a block from their house, when their eldest son was arrested for gun possession. Big Nate is tall, large. He’s lived in Bowdoin-Geneva for 40 years. Little Nate is reduced to a voice on the end of the phone line calling from jail. Little Nate was bound for college.  Unseen by their child, Big Nate and Trina stand in their dining room talking to a cordless phone, Trina still in her pink hospital scrubs. They stand with their arms open. How I desire to gather you.

Sometimes the streets of Jerusalem run through Bowdoin-Geneva. Sometimes they run through Weston as we long to gather. The invitation of Lent is to return to God’s open arms, to allow the Holy Comforter to gather up the broken bits of our lives. Jesus grieves not his impending death but the broken relationship with Jerusalem. The Jesus who wearily opens his arms to Jerusalem is the same Jesus who knows our grief as we try to gather up the scattered parts of our lives- a child led astray, a loved one who drinks, an unfaithful spouse, a broken relationship, bodies that will not do as we command. Jesus knows our love for the ones we can’t protect. How I have desired to gather you, says our God.

This is the story of our lives as people guided by Scripture. The story of Scripture is the story of God’s opening arms to a scattered people who are unwilling to be gathered. It’s not just others, we too resist being gathered in. We have many good excuses for staying separated from our God and one another: Our American exceptionalism. Our Yankee independence. Our town lines. Our sports rivalries. Our class divide. Our perceived self-sufficiency. Our denominational particularity. Our very full schedules. How often God desires to gather us and we scatter like chickens. Jesus prays that his followers may all be one, and we’ve created thousands of denominations. We can tell the story of the Church as a story of scattering chickens. But Scripture gives us our story of God’s steady desire and our tendency, generation after generation, to scatter. Lent is the season to examine the scattered bits of our life and place them before God.

Amid his grief over temperamental Jerusalem, Jesus chooses as delicious image to express his love: a chicken, or more accurately a hen. I fear I can’t say anything especially wise about chickens. I live in the city. The closest experience I have to chickens is when one of the neighbors seemed to have some illegal roosters for cock-fighting that started crowing before the hum of the MBTA busses and my alarm. We need our farmers to lead us here. But, we do not need to know much of anything about chickens to notice Jesus’ odd choice for this analogy.  To Herod’s coercive power like a fox, Jesus counters with the gender-bending, open winged image of a hen.

There was in fact a woman named ‘Mother Hen;” not of a fairy tale but on the path to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.  Venerable Mother Henriette DeLille was born in 1813 in New Orleans to a French father Jean-Baptiste Lille Sarpy and her mother, Marie-Josèphe “Pouponne” Díaz, who would have been called at the time “a free quadroon” or a ‘Creole of color.’ Mother Henriette was the child of their common-law marriage or ‘left-handed marriage,’ typical between wealthy white men and Creole women. Henriette grew up well educated, speaking French, attending quadroon balls, being groomed for the same arrangement. Yet, her faith was stronger than the social & familial expectations. When there was no religious life possible for women from her background, she founded the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, inviting in free women of color. When the Church would not gather these women, Mother Henriette took on the open armed posture of Christ, the mother hen.

Today, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, there is a small church named “Dominus Flevit,” or translated from the Latin, “the Lord wept.” The 1950’s architect of the church shaped it like a teardrop. But beneath the contemporary church, the patch of earth where Jesus wept was also a Canaanite burial site and Byzantine monastery, and later on a 16th c mosque. Behind the contemporary altar, a window shows not some stained glass image of the New Jerusalem to come, but clear glass allows the worshippers to look upon that very same Jerusalem for whom Jesus wept.

In front of the altar stands a mosaic of a hen with wings outstretched. The words from Luke ring the top of the Mosaic, “How I desired to gather you….” And even tucked under the feet of the hen and her chicks remain the words “et noluistis” (“and you would not”) in the pool of red under the chicks. Even still, the wings of the outstretched hen embrace the promise to gather even those who would scatter. That is the promise of Lent. May it you receive the invitation this day from Our God to gather again. Amen.