All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago

Radical Incarnation

M. Jeanne Wirpsa

August 16, 2015
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

True confessions. I’ve haven’t been at All Saints much lately. In the late spring and summer months, my garden and the bike paths become my sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Stooping low to pull weeds, dripping sweat while mowing or digging holes to plant bushes, and savoring the sweet aroma of basil, thyme and arugula as I harvest the fruit of my labor—this is how I worship God. Pedaling hard and fast until my thighs burn, feeling the cool breeze caress my arms, reveling in the majestic calm of Lake Michigan, filling my ears with the breath of runners—this is how I worship God.

It is not merely being in nature that connects me so deeply with the holy. It is something more. It is something about the fleshiness, the embodiment, the engagement of all my senses that allows me to taste and see the holy so fully. It is the same experience I had as a martial artist, sinking into the earth in a low stance, breathing deep into my tanden and exhaling power with a loud shout, KIAI. It is the same experience I had when nursing my children, smelling their baby-ness, gazing upon their angelic, relaxed faces, feeling their warm flesh mashed up against mine almost dissolving the skin that created a boundary between us.

At first glance, both the writer of Ephesians and the Gospel of John seem to dismiss the importance of the flesh, of embodiment to our spiritual life. From Ephesians, “for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly seats.” And from John, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” Useless! Hmm. Pretty strong words. Such passages—influenced by Greek and Gnostic world views—became the foundation for the other-worldly, body-negating, spiritualized Christianity promoted at various stages of history and still embraced by some churches today.

Thank goodness this is not the only understanding of the relationship between the flesh and spirit found in scripture or held by communities of faith – or I might not be a Christian today. If we look more closely at both the Ephesians and John readings for today, we catch glimpses of that form of Christianity that values, embraces, and upholds the material, incarnate, fleshly world as the dwelling place of the divine.

Back to Ephesians. Now don’t get tripped up on the armor and war imagery, as I sometimes do. Look deeper. Notice how the writer names just about every part of the human body as a locus of the divine – our waists, breasts, feet, arms, and heads -- all are to be clothed with the divine. Around our waist we are to fasten the belt of truth, our chests don the breastplate of righteousness, our feet receive shoes of peace, our heads the helmet of salvation, and our arms the shield of faith. God’s Spirit couldn’t get much closer or all enveloping, now could it?

Well maybe it could. Take a look at the opening lines of our passage from John. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Now while we may read these words as purely symbolic or metaphoric, the fact is we participate in a ritual where we really do eat and drink. We ingest the body and blood of Jesus, of God. We taste the holy with our lips, our tongues, our taste buds. We chew the bread, feel it pass through our esophagus, and land in our stomach. The heat from the wine burns ever so slightly as we swallow. This is REAL. That which seems remote, inaccessible, spiritual is not really so far off after all. We eat and drink so that God abides in us, and us in God.

Sara Miles, in her spiritual memoir, Take This Bread, writes about her transformative experience of stumbling into an Episcopal church and eating bread in the form of communion. This experience converts her from an atheist chef to an activist Christian, feeding the hungry. “It was the materiality of Christianity that fascinated me, the compelling story of the incarnation in its grungiest details, the promise that words and flesh were deeply, deeply connected.” She goes on to make an extraordinary, graphic, connection between eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ with the bodily process of reproduction: “I grew inside my mother, the way Katie grew inside me. I came out of her and ate her, just as Katie ate my body, literally, to live. And it was the same with my father: He had helped make me. . . . Like Jesus, he had gone inside someone else’s body and then become part of me. The shape of my hands, the way I cleared my throat, the color of my eyes: My parents lived in me—body and soul, DNA and spirit. That was like the bread becoming God becoming me.”

Materiality. Physicality. Incarnation. Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Around your waist fasten the belt of truth. Take. Eat. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. How much closer can we get to the holy?

When many of his disciples heard it they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Why do so many Christians prefer the spiritualized, other-worldly version of faith? Because the flesh is messy and costly. It is painful and grungy and stinky and limited and it dies. It is not all gardens of abundance and smooth bike paths laced with beautiful sights and sounds.

Last week I visited a patient I’d known for over six years, ever since she was first diagnosed with leukemia. As the oncology chaplain, I was blessed to walk beside Carolyn during chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, and a year-long process of regaining strength and a purpose in serving others with cancer. I was blessed to be with her when she relapsed after 4 ½ years and had to “start the process all over again.” And, I was blessed to visit her when she returned hopeful and determined for her second transplant only to develop a major life-threatening infection.

The afternoon before Carolyn was transferred to the intensive care unit, I found this very faithful Christian woman alone in her room, feverish, her whole body achy beyond belief. When I asked about her spirits, she told me she was terrified. She told me she’d shared this with her husband of 30 some years, and he was so overwhelmed that he had just walked away, not even giving her a hug. My heart nearly broke. I paused for the briefest of moments then gestured for Carolyn to move over. Without further hesitation, I climbed into her hospital bed and gently took her in my arms, holding her while she sobbed. I had nothing to offer her by way of real reassurance that she would be well, beat the infection. She wound up on a ventilator in the ICU later that night. What I had to offer was me—my body, my flesh. Take, eat, this is my body given for you.

A radically material and incarnational Christian faith is messy and costly. The flesh is painful and grungy and stinky and limited and it dies. A radically material and incarnational Christian faith is not all gardens of abundance and smooth bike paths laced with beautiful sights and sounds. An otherworldly, disengaged, spiritualized Christianity would indeed be easier as Sara Miles admits:

“I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born-again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula—“accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior, “—that kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others.

Before this glorious summer ends, I invite you to open all your senses to experience the holy in your body, in your flesh. (You don’t have to skip church on Sunday mornings to do that either!). Where and when do YOU experience the holy mostly fully? How do you experience holiness in your flesh? How do you experience God in the complicated flesh of others?

 

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Weekly Message for December 17

Weekly Message for December 17

Dear Friends,    

Tomorrow is our long awaited and much anticipated #HamiltonMeetsJesus Christmas pageant. As I write this note, I remember Fonzi and the writers’ of that beloved 70s TV show, Happy Days, and conclude that this year’s pageant may truly have "jumped the shark." That said, our young people have spent an inordinate amount of time working on this year’s production. Tomorrow you will see that the camel and sheep legislators are busy amending the celestial republic’s founding documents, the shepherds are trying to figure out their new tax bills, the innkeeper offers Joseph some sage advice, “Smile more, talk less,” Mary is adjusting to a new donkey, the archangels have an opening rap that really puts some flesh on the notion of the virgin birth, and King Herod is quite sure that the immigrant Wise Men will be back. All of which is to say, it’s pretty much business as usual for the All Saints’ Christmas Pageant which will be premiering at the 9 and 11 o’clock worship services. 

In the midst of the Hamilton hoopla one truth I hope to offer to all of us is that God, in the infant Jesus, came into this world to show each of us the unending power of love. While Alexander Hamilton and the founding parents of our republic took a step toward liberty and justice, I invite you to remember and hold dear that the real revolution, the true up-ending of our world, comes not through government policy, but through our ability to live our lives in such a way that the love of God is made real in all we do. Please let that revolution begin.

To avoid donkeys, camels, and chaos, attend the 8:00 service and then return for the absolutely amazing Advent and Christmas Lessons and Carols that our choir will be offering at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon. To end a long day at 5:30 we’ll all journey to the back room of O’Shaughnessy’s Pub for Beer and Caroling! At noon—we’ll be serving a light lunch and transforming our sanctuary from Advent austerity to Christmas greenery. Please come and join in any or all the activities that may feed your soul in this season of expectation and birth. 

All my very best to you on this my MOST FAVORITE WEEKEND of the year,

Bonnie

Working Against the Virus of Racism

Working Against the Virus of Racism

kellybdWe are very excited that the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas will be spending a weekend with us this fall, September 23 and 24. Kelly was formerly the Canon Theologian at our National Cathedral. In the fall she will become the first Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, now located at Union Theological Seminary. We've invited Kelly to spend the weekend with us so that we might again return to our work on confronting racism. Kelly is an amazing preacher and theologian and we are beyond honored that she is making time in her incredibly busy schedule to be with us. Look for more details in the next few weeks on the spirituality and theology that we will be exploring together. 

In the event that you find yourself looking for some interesting summer reading, here are some books she has suggested we investigate: HomecomingThe Color of Law, and one by Kelly called Stand Your Ground. She also suggested that watching 13th on Netflix would be helpful.

Racism is an issue that we are called to confront and challenge and end. It is not something that will just die a gentle death. Our hope is that with our time with Kelly and one another, we may again return to this important work. 

All Saints' Book Club

All Saints' Book Club

midnightFall Reading List Selected

The All Saints Book Club has defined its reading list through the fall. The meetings start at 7:30 PM usually at the home of a member. The locations and further details are on our Facebook page. Here is the schedule for the next several months:

  • August 10 - "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt
  • September 14 - "Operation Breadbasket" by Martin Deppe (meet in the Reading Room at the church)
  • October 12 - "Saints and Villains" by Denise Giardina
  • November 9 - "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
  • December 14 - Pick your own poetry book and share favorite poem(s)

For additional information, contact Mike Burke (mebcat@gmail.com)

Bags for RCS

Bags for RCS

We're running low on paper and reusable bags for our Tuesday night pantry. Please bring us your extras! 
 
We will be taking donations on Tuesday evenings, M-F 9am-4pm, and on Sundays during church services. Look for the bins by the doors. Thanks for your help!

Evening Prayer at The Breakers

Evening Prayer at The Breakers

 Sundays at 2pm

breakersbibleWe are very excited to announce that every Sunday at 2:00 pm, All Saints' offers something new at the Breakers - An Evening Prayer Service! Our first event was Sunday, December 4th, and went marvelously well - we had 13 attendees! Folks are very pleased that there's a Protestant service being offered in addition to the current choices (which are Catholic and Moody Bible.) The Prayer Service itself is printed in large print and in bulletin style with scripture taken each week from the Common Lectionary.

The weekly service starts at 2:00 pm, upstairs on the second floor Meditation Room, and lasts about 15 minutes. Please contact Paul Mallatt if you have questions, or comments at 773-860-4649. When you can, stop by the Breakers (5333 N Sheridan Rd) where the parking is free (for 2 hours), the coffee is hot, and the folks are friendly!

 

Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

Community Kitchen Volunteers Needed

Tuesdays 6:15-8:00pm 

RCS is looking for help serving and cleaning up after dinner on Tuesdays from 6:15-8:00pm.

If you're able to volunteer, contact Emily or Operations Manager Parker Callahan, or call 773-769-0282.

New Opportunity: Hospitality Ministry

New Opportunity: Hospitality Ministry

helloDo you feel called to create an open, welcoming, hospitable environment at All Saints? Do you like meeting and connecting with people? Join the new Hospitality Ministry! Members of the Hospitality Ministry will help the clergy and vestry create a welcoming culture by greeting new members, engaging new faces at coffee hour, and helping connect new members of All Saints with our various programs.

Interested? Contact Diane Doran or Michelle Mayes. Include "Hospitality Ministry" in the subject line.

Join Our Member Directory!

Join Our Member Directory!

Our new Associate Rector, Emily Williams Guffey, is enjoying getting to know everyone in our congregation. Help her put names and faces together by adding yourself to our online directory!

If you are a member of All Saints' and haven't already registered for the directory, please contact our resident web guru Jim Crandall at website@allsaintschicago.org and he will send a user name, password, and instructions.

Love on a Plate

Love on a Plate

Join the All Saints' Care Ministry! 

casseroleThe Care Ministry at All Saints' is a quiet one, simply providing meals after a new baby arrives, after surgery, during an illness. Because when life gets complicated, dinner is often the last thing on our minds--but sometimes a meal and visit from a friend is exactly what we need!

If you can provide a meal, give someone a ride, or run an errand once in awhile, please email care@allsaintschicago.org. You'll be contacted when a need arises and you can sign up to help at your convenience.

 

Donate to The 1883 Project

Donate to The 1883 Project

Please consider supporting the restoration project of our historic building. To make a donation, click here

1883 Construction web 

This OLD Church

This OLD Church

This week’s stories of the bell tower: The beams and posts in the bell tower are being filled with epoxy and fungicide to prevent future insect damage and to restore their strength and integrity. Here are some photos of the work currently taking place. Everywhere you see white is where the post or beam is being rebuilt, restored and protected.
 
The blue hue in the photo is from the tarp surrounding the bell tower enabling Ron Young and his crew to continue working in the dropping temperatures.
 
 
Fixing This Old Church

Fixing This Old Church

Here is a collection of photos of the progress of our 1883 Project. Here is a collection of bell tower photos. Check back often for updates.

Sunday Service Times

8:00 am Inclusive Language Eucharist
9:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir
10:00 am Children's Church School
10:00 am Coffee Hour
11:00 am Holy Eucharist with Choir

 

Contact Us

4550 N. Hermitage in Chicago, IL 60640 (Directions)

Phone (773) 561-0111

Email info@allsaintschicago.org 

Information about pastoral care.

 

 


Bonnie on Huffington Post

Occasionally Bonnie's sermons are published on the Huffington Post. Here are some links.

Pain. Change. Hope.

November 15, 2015

What Does St. Francis of Assisi Have to Say to Us Today?

October 4, 2015

Wake Up Calls

September 6, 2015

Christmas Reminds Us That We, Like God, Are Human, Too

December 24, 2014

The Deep Sleep of Racial Oblivion: One Pastor's Sin of Omission

November 30, 2014

Pulpit Swap

The Pulpit Swap between St Thomas and All Saints is part of our ongoing effort to bring our parishes closer together as we engage in a conversation about systemic racism and how we can work together to forge new possibilities and outcomes.

Going Home—Changed

Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on October 16, 2016.  

When Prayers Go Unanswered

Pulpit Swap Sermon By The Rev Dr Fulton L Porter celebrating at All Saints Episcopal Church on Oct16 2016.