All that I am and all that I have is a gift from God.
You had me at Free to Question.
That’s what I told the search committee some 3 years ago in July of 2020 when we were walking together discerning our call. You had me at free to question because the very heart of our Episcopal faith is a conversation. Some of our cousins give ultimate power and authority to a pope, others scripture alone, still others doctrine without room for questions.
But don’t the best conversations include questions? The Episcopal tradition is a conversation that takes place around a table where questions happen. Tension. Controversy. Love. The heart of the Anglican tradition is a pragmatic set of simple practices: chief among them a table where souls are fed.
Questions happen in the course of a conversation and how we ask the questions, how we choose to respond to the questions, how we live with questions matters.
At the heart of today’s gospel is a question about authority and power. Those who feel threatened by Jesus coming into Jerusalem are trying to trip him up with a question. And Jesus? He won’t play their reindeer games. Instead, Jesus turns the table on them and asks them a question. There is real power in the questions we ask one another.
The question that today’s gospel invites us to ask is what holds authority & power in our lives? That’s a poignant question to ask because we live in a world where authority is being ripped apart. From history to the government, to churches, authority is not entirely trustworthy. From our political parties as we lurch closer to 2024 and the awful hoopla of the upcoming election, to the history we hold as a nation, everything feels untrustworthy these days. And our lack of trust in authority institutions and each other is deeply hurting us.
I recently read this most heartbreaking op ed in the Washington post written by a new dad who in the pandemic stopped going to church. He longs to find something to believe but he can’t find his way back. He doesn’t know what to believe.
You had me at free to question.
One of the most seminal books of my spiritual journey came from Rainier Rilke. In letters to a young poet, he writes,“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Live... into the answer.
You had me at free to question because I know I know this common prayer practice of ours and the way we hold power and questions together. SAVES LIVES.
And all of that brings us back to the flamingo! You knew that pink bird just had to land somewhere in this sermon on St Francis Sunday!
Many years ago, when I was a Christian Formation Director part of our confirmation process included having our teens learn about the spirituality of pilgrimage then plan and fundraise an experience of pilgrimage together. I had read about a church that purchased 100’s of cheap tacky pink flamingos. Their youth group then held a fundraiser where they invited members to flamingo people’s yards. For $2 a flamingo you could have David and Linda Francis’ yard filled with 100’s of tacky pink flamingos and a sign that read, “You’ve been Flamingoed by St John’s Episcopal Church Youth Group. And there was a whole process to get the flamingos out of the yard, and flamingo insurance etc. etc. and along the way, the youth ministry team had taught the teens about Flamingos: how they live in a flock and need each other just as we do.
We taught the teens that a flock of flamingos is called a Flamboyance.
One morning as Father Kirk and I finished Morning Prayer, Mary Alice was there at the church office waiting for us. She was a newer member and a single mom to Julia a member of our youth group. Her daughter’s best friend was Matthew. Matthew’s family was a religious Jewish one. Somehow the family had discovered that Matthew was gay and had thrown him out of their home. When Mary Alice tried to intervene, Matt’s dad told her, “He’s dead to me”.
I can’t let this boy be homeless she told us. But if I take him in, I’m going to need some help from this church, and I need to know that this young man is going to be safe and loved here. Father Kirk and I smiled and assured her that indeed Matthew would be safe. Our church had had numerous conversations about issues concerning human sexuality and we were indeed a safe place.
Matthew had so many questions.
Who is Jesus?
Would if Mary told Gabriel No? (some other time I will tell you about the funny conversation he and I had imagining a dejected Gabriel sitting in a cosmic bar drinking heavenly brew after asking hundreds of girls to take on the challenge of birthing Jesus—after all who would say yes to that?!)
But the question that most broke my heart was when Matthew asked me, Do you think God loves me even though... he couldn’t even finish his sentence...
You can imagine my answer to this beloved child of God.
Matthew chose to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, he flamingoed with us and went on pilgrimage. When the teens returned they gave a presentation to the church. Matthew who was becoming more authentic & confident—just had to talk. and I will just say Matt’s the kind of over-the-top fellow that sparkles wherever he goes.
I’ve always felt alone, he told us and I never thought I’d find people who would love me. Of all things, I never imagined that Jesus would love me. But I found my flock and it turns out they are a flamboyance! Just like me.
Glory to God that this is the power of the authority we have of being free to question. Glory to God that this is the Holy Spirit working in us, to have the conversation about how we engender authority in common prayer and dialog and practice.
You had me at free to question. Amen.