Saturday, October 13, 2018

21 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr B Oct 14 2018

Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two thousand and fifteen years, this one was probably the first. This earnest young man wants to hear from Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Wouldn't you like to know that too? Wouldn't you like to sit down with Jesus and find out just exactly what you must do to have eternal life? No more guessing, no more praying that you do the right thing, no more "if I do this God I'd like you to do that," but a clear and concise list that you can check off. Absolute certainty about what it takes to have life after death.

Jesus' first response to this young man is to tell him to follow the law. And this earnest young man reminds Jesus that he is a good Jewish boy and has been following the law since his youth. At this point I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and gathering his spirit together. Jesus looks at him and loves him, and thinks this is not a bad guy, and Jesus says, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The truth is that each one of us gathered here today is that earnest young man. If we have a roof over our heads, if we have a car to drive no matter what shape it's in, if we have shoes for our feet, if we have food to eat for lunch, we are this young man.

And then Jesus goes on to describe the reality that the disciples live in, and the reality that you and I live in. The disciples ask, "who can be saved?" And Jesus answers, it isn't about you at all, it isn't about your wealth or even your poverty, it is not about what you look like, it's not about who you're related to, it's not even about how much you give to or help others. Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible."  What Jesus is saying is that rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, democrat or republican, we are all on this rock together, and none of us get out of this live alive. We can do absolutely nothing to earn, deserve, or in any way change the fact of God's amazing and abundant love. There is no checklist for salvation. Love wins. This is an invitation to not look for salvation in your stuff. So stop trying to win God's love, stop trying to earn God's love, it can't be done, it is impossible for us. But all things are possible for God. The invitation is to live as God's beloved.

So in scripture, when we hear "give all you have to the poor," when we hear "clothe the naked, feed the hungry," we realize that that is how we respond to God's amazing grace, we pour out our love for all those whom God loves. This is at the core of being a follower of Jesus, this is discipleship. And the promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, you will not be bereft, you will not be left with nothing. The promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, Love wins. When you give it all away, you are filled with that which only Jesus has. You will be soaked in God's love, you will be filled with the spirit, you will be re-membered in the body of christ, you will be transformed.

So what keeps us from giving it all away? What is it that is so important to us that we are willing to give up a life in relationship with Jesus, for a life in relationship with all of our stuff? One of the answers is that we are afraid. We are afraid to risk, we are afraid to live our lives fully alive in the love of Christ. We protect what we have, rather than live as a citizen of the kingdom.

So here's a story about a man who had to face his own fear, fear that caused him to work so hard and long it almost cost his marriage. Millard Fuller is the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that many of you know about. Millard Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29, and had experienced the "American Dream." He made it his life's work to pass that dream on, especially through his work with Habitat for Humanity International. This need to serve came upon him when he almost lost his family and his health to the rigors and pressures of the business world.

Fuller's wife abruptly left him at a time he was working too hard and too much. He followed his wife to New York and together they had many soul-searching conversations. The couple finally decided they would sell almost everything they owned. They returned home to Montgomery, Alabama to "sell their home and give away their possessions, donating the proceeds to mission projects worldwide and church-related organizations." Fuller also sold out his share of his business to his partner, and donated the proceeds of that sale to humanitarian causes.

Eventually, the Fullers decided to start a housing partnership plan which would build small houses on plots of land one half-acre each. The homes were to be sold to poor, rural families. Additionally, their faith dictated they follow the biblical edict in Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to any of my people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest." The money would come from Linda Fuller's business, as well as charitable donations, interest-free loans from donors, and later, small mortgage payments from the homeowners themselves.

Fuller later commented, "We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, politically, morally, and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness." They founded Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that was to raise money and recruit volunteers to build homes for those in need. Habitat homes are sold to families or individuals living in substandard housing who do not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels. Some people mistakenly believe that Habitat gives people free homes, but as a Habitat volunteer commented, "We give away nothing but a great opportunity." A small down-payment is required, as is a low monthly mortgage. The mortgage payments go into a fund that perpetuates the program. Additionally, all buyers invest a set number of labor hours in their own home. Fuller calls this "sweat equity" and points out that it builds a sense of pride and ownership in the individuals.

You are already God's beloved, so this isn't about earning your way to heaven. Lay down your fear, and live your live, fully alive, fully immersed in God's love.  How do you respond to God’s love in your life? Many of you give of your time, you give of your talent. Many of you give to non-profits like Habitat, you give to public radio, or the salvation army, or to the GIFTS Men’s Shelter, and so many other fine place. I know Rick and I do. I want you to be giving to your church as well, your church, Trinity, needs to be one of the top three non-profits you give to. What ever it is, however much it can be, find ways to respond to God's abundant and amazing love with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. Give all that you are and all that you have to bear God's reconciling message, the Good News of God's love. For nothing is impossible in God. Amen.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

20 Pentecost Proper 22 Oct 7 2018

The gospel of Mark just keeps getting tougher. Here we have words that fall on our ears in all sorts of ways, depending on where we have been in life. But I want you to remember again; Mark is very concerned about what it means to follow Jesus. Mark is showing us what that looks like, and following Jesus is not necessarily easy.

Jesus announces the coming of God's kingdom, and Jesus brings to us the embodiment of the kingdom. So this passage from Mark tells us much more about God than it tells us about ourselves, and it tells us about our role as disciples. It tells us about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to God and to one another. Again Jesus is saying and doing something radical. Here Jesus shows us that relationship matters. Jesus is saying that relationships with God, and with others, matter. Indeed, not only do relationships matter, relationships can be where our brokenness may be made whole. 

So first, what does it show us about God. It shows us that God is wholeness, and in a world of brokenness, in a world of disintegration, it is God who makes us whole. The truth is that God as creator is the most powerful integrating force in nature.

This is how we experience God in the stories of creation; God calls order from chaos, God creates wholeness out of nothing. God’s Kingdom is about wholeness and health, God's kingdom is about compassion and mercy. God's kingdom is about being related to God and to one another. And relationships matter to God. 

So that is how Jesus responds to the questions of law that the Pharisees ask. The Pharisees are concerned with laws in these questions, they are not concerned with love. You and I approach marriage from the standpoint of love, and romance. The Pharisees approach marriage from a legal standpoint. But Jesus says, this is not about law, it is about love. There is a place for law, for protection of the most vulnerable in our society. A very important place. But that is not what this is about. In the 1st century, marriage is a contract by which the man takes possession of the woman from the woman's father. And Jesus responds to the Pharisees, not by upholding or disparaging the law, but by describing God's heart's desire for humanity to live in relationship, relationship that honors and respects the beloved. This kind of relationship is the way God relates to us, and this kind of relationship is God's desire for us in relationship to one another.

God yearns for humanity to be committed to one another, God wants for humanity to put the beloved before self, God wants for humanity to live together with dignity, respect, love. This is what the kingdom looks like. Jesus knows what happens when relationships are rent, and when relationships are torn asunder. That's what he describes in this passage. Humans are torn apart. Hearts are broken. Children are hurt.

We live in a world of contingency, which is all about the opposite of committed relationships. Contingency and casualness, is a message that is splayed all across our screens. The themes of some of many of our favorite television programs are that if you are not satisfied with the partner you have, you can leave them for another. And even deeper than that. The message that in order to be of value in this world you have to possess a big house, a nice car, a good wife, successful and beautiful children is pervasive, and do whatever it takes to get it.

In the world of 1st century Mediterranean culture the highest value was honor and status, not unlike our culture today. It is into all of this that God invokes relationship and community. In God's kingdom, here is the highest good is commitment to one another. Where promises are made about always being there for the other.

But it is in this world where humanity lives. You and me in all of our glory and in all of the messiness of life live here, in this place. God yearns for us to be together, to put the other first, and yet God knows how we fall short of that. God knows the pain of broken relationships. God knows the pain of love. Isn't that where we are going with Jesus, on this path of discipleship? Straight to the cross, that's the road we are on with Jesus. Right through that pain and suffering of brokenness. Being human is being broken. And as some might say, it ends badly with death on a cross. But you and I know different. We know it doesn't end there. We know that God loves us so absolutely and completely that something amazing happens, that Love wins. That a new thing happens, resurrection. That's the hope in God's relationship with us, and in our relationship with others. We fail. We hurt. We are broken. But because God shares God's very self with us, and because we share our lives with others, we share the very fiber of our being, we are forgiven. We have a second chance. We live through the pain we cause, we live through the pain others cause in our lives. And God's love seeps into our brokenness, God's love seeps into the fissures of our hearts and the fissures of the fibers of our skin and bones and muscles and organs, and somehow we are healed. Somehow we can live again. Somehow, Love wins.

As followers of Jesus, we live in God's kingdom. We live in the place where relationships matter, where relationships are sacred. Where every person has dignity, where every person belongs. The Gospel of Mark starts in the lonely places and Jesus will end up on the cross. But being alone is not what God wants for us. God says, "I am here, in my Son, to be in relationship with you. Nothing can separate us any longer." That's why we do what we do. That's why we ask for forgiveness every time we come to the table to eat. That's why we gather together and stand and kneel shoulder to shoulder to eat the bread and drink the wine. That's why we share our prayers and deposit them in this holy place, together. And that's why we go out into the world bearing God's yearning for relationship to all who we meet. We are Jesus' disciples, we live as kingdom people, and for us, Love wins.

In these times in which violence and disintegration seems to rule the day, sometimes the brokenness seems so vast, the chasm between us so huge, that we cannot even imagine God re-integrating, healing, calling us back together, calling us to wholeness, dying to set us free. But I believe with all my heart and my mind and my soul, that we can be healed. But I also believe we need to act on God's love, we need to be God's hands and God's feet and God's heart and insist that no one is left out. We need to be the change we want to see, wherever we find ourselves. We are the one’s we are waiting for. Find the ways to bring peace. Find the ways to build bridges. Find the ways we may be friends and neighbors again.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

19 Pentecost Proper 21 Yr B Sept 30 2018

We enter the gospel of Mark today in the middle of this hard teaching about what it means to follow Jesus. This is the bread and butter of the gospel, wrapped around the Transfiguration story. Mark doesn’t waste a single word as he shows us what this life of following Jesus looks like. What matters to Mark is not who is first or who is last. What matters to Mark is not who is casting out demons in anyone’s name. What matters to Mark is that you follow Jesus all the way to the cross and empty tomb, even though the disciples had a lot of trouble doing that themselves. What matters to Mark is that you follow Jesus all the way to the cross and through the resurrection, and that in the doing, Jesus’ love matters, your love matters.

Remember last week we heard the hard teaching about what it means to be great, and that greatness doesn’t look anything like what we think it looks like in our world, or in Jesus’ world. Mark continues to show us, through Jesus’ disciples, that following is hard. It seems like the disciples keep on stumbling. Jesus has to keep on showing them what following looks like. Jesus puts a child on his lap and tells them that following him looks like this. Mark shows us that those who seek out power are not followers, but those like this child and those who serve, are followers. But the disciples are not really getting what Jesus is saying, and as you and I overhear this conversation, we may wonder why Jesus can be so harsh. Jesus told them of the importance of welcoming the little ones; now he warns of what will happen if they act hostilely toward those same little ones. Jesus takes several runs at explaining the perils of acting scandalously. Jesus talks about the cost of harming people with lies and innuendo. Jesus says this over and over and it feels almost like we’re getting hammered just like those who were hearing Jesus for the first time. But the repetition serves to drive home Jesus’ warning vividly.

Jesus states three times that losing a scandalizing member is preferable to gaining a place in the eternal fire. Mark has warned previously that we must lose ourselves in order to find the fullness of our life in God’s love, and that metaphor in Mark becomes very concrete right here. Hands, feet, and eyes are lost so that one’s self is not.

This seems a little exaggerated, a bit like hyperbole, don’t you think? Really Jesus? Cutting off a limb, losing something as important as an eye, is better than losing my self? But the trouble is, it’s a short trip from deciding Jesus really doesn’t mean what he says and that what Jesus says is really to hard to do, to deciding that someone who speaks their truth is just making it up. Or just maybe overstating something that may have happened, possibly, but not really believable. We do it with our children; maybe that’s why Jesus is using a child to teach this to the disciples. We tell them not to exaggerate or we’ll stop believing them, we call that crying wolf. Hyperbole becomes the convenient excuse to stop listening, to stop believing, to question the veracity of the claims, claims that take an extraordinary amount of courage to utter.

Twisting, turning, tying up the truth, happens now as much as it happened with Jesus’ disciples, and this is the truth that Mark is trying to tell us. We don’t want to hear it, Peter never wanted to hear Jesus tell him the truth, every time Jesus told Peter that the son of man would be put to death, Peter said no, no, that could not happen. But this is what is right in front of us.

But there is also so much grace, so much good news in Mark’s gospel. The truth, the grace, is that following Jesus is about love that is brave, and courageous, and fierce. Jesus is brave, and courageous and fierce in Mark’s story. Jesus keeps at the disciples so that they may believe that it is in living in love, it is living in truth, honesty, integrity that matters. And, life is best lived when we fully and completely embrace the truth that love wins. You see, God in Christ came to be with us and for us, to take on our life and our lot that we might not simply persist, but flourish, not simply have life, but have it abundantly, that we might understand that the God who created and still sustains the vast cosmos not only knows that we exist, but cares. Cares about our ups and downs, cares about our hopes and disappointments, cares about our dreams and despair, cares about all the things we care about, promising to be with us, to walk alongside us, to never, ever let us go, and in time to bring us into the company of saints.

It is best, Jesus says, to love and to live fiercely, bravely, and courageously in the company of others who live and speak the truth. Jesus keeps telling the disciples and us, that it is in dying to selfishness, dying to greed, dying to arrogance and boastfulness, that we are raised to abundant life. A life that is connected, a life that is great, a life that is worth living. And that is exactly what Jesus tells the disciples. Live this life, live it fully and completely, and the gospel writer Mark shows us that it won’t be easy, this kind of love, this kind of truth, this kind of courage, comes at a cost, and the cost for Jesus is his life.

Jesus’ love matters, your love matters. And you do it all the time, you followers of Jesus, you disciples, you courageous ones. You take care of each other better than any group of people I’ve ever met. You show up and you stand up for each other. You are so generous with your money and with your love as you support our own families in need. Jesus’ love matters, your love matters, you courageous ones. You love and support one another when babies are born and when loved ones die. You have stood by each other when conversations have been difficult; you love each other even when it is easier to leave. You are rock stars.

And I want to challenge you to even more. I want you to help people who are not here yet, to find what you have found. I want you to courageously carry this love that wins into the difficult conversations that are happening in our families and our community. I want you to speak truth to power and be carriers of justice and mercy. I want you to change the world, or your little corner of it. I want you to follow Jesus into the difficult places, the difficult conversations, and the unfair and unjust systems. Not only do we remove stumbling blocks, but we create safe places, and opportunities for people to know that truth matters, and love wins. Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

18 Pentecost Proper 20 Yr B Sept 23 2018

What does it mean to follow Jesus, for those who were Jesus’ friends in this story, and for us today?

We are in the heart of Mark’s gospel; Jesus and the disciples are on a journey that will end in Jerusalem, the place where Jesus is killed. Jesus has told the disciples once already, this is the second time Jesus says to them that he will be killed, and the third time Jesus tells them is further along the path. Every time Jesus and those who were following him pass through Galilee, we are alerted that Jesus is trying to teach them something, and us as well. They are on a journey of discovery, and as they journey Jesus tries very hard to keep them away from the crowds who are beginning to amass, so that Jesus can care for them.

So lets take a look at a couple of important details in these few verses. First, Jesus is to be betrayed. The gospel writer Mark is rather harsh; we know that because we’ve been reading this story for some time now. Mark writes that Jesus will be betrayed into human hands, and that Jesus suffers at the hands of the Jewish elders, those who were powerful, and maybe even considered great. And secondly, further down the road, Jesus hears his friends bickering, and finds out they are arguing about who of them is the greatest. As way of illustration, Jesus picks up the child and teaches them about greatness, about welcoming, about what it means to be a follower. Now you all know that this sounds crazy. Children had no power, no greatness. Children were of no account. Oh, of course, their parents loved them, but they had no rights, no influence, no standing. They were utterly dependent, utterly vulnerable, utterly powerless. So how could caring for a child count as greatness? It’s crazy.

The trouble is that it seems we haven’t changed much in all these years. We’re still wondering about what constitutes greatness. Is greatness measured by power and wealth? Is greatness measured by the ability to control people? Is greatness about being first so that others may be last? We hear this definition of greatness pretty consistently by some leadership in government and business. Is greatness measured by where one sits at the table? Is greatness measured by winning and losing? Is greatness measured by fame? Is greatness a competition? Is the person who wins the game, the football game, the tennis game, the basketball game, great? Is the person who wins the bachelor’s heart, or the amazing race, or America’s got talent, great?

What if we stop defining greatness like all of that, and start measuring greatness like Jesus shows us? What if we imagined that greatness wasn’t about power and wealth and fame and all the rest, but instead we measured greatness by how much we share with others, how much we take care of others, how much we love others, how much we serve others. What kind of world would we live in? Can you imagine if people were regularly trying to out-do each other in their deeds of kindness and service? If there were nationally broadcast competitions to see who was willing to be last so that others could go first? If there were reality TV shows that followed people around as they tried to help as many people as possible? What kind of world would we live in? I don’t know about you, but I think it would be a pretty great world.

The definition of greatness Jesus offers seems crazy initially because it is so completely, utterly counter-cultural. Jesus calls us to imagine that true greatness lies in service by taking care of those who are most vulnerable – those with little influence or power, those the culture is most likely to ignore. And what if this is what it means to follow Jesus? True greatness, is vulnerability. True greatness, is foolishness. True greatness, looks to the world like loss. Jesus looks to the world like loss. Jesus says he will be betrayed, and killed, and rise again. And in doing that, Jesus transforms the world; Jesus transforms us. Jesus shows us that in God’s kingdom, letting go is freedom, and greatness is in service to the ones God loves. Jesus shows us that those whom society throws away, are brought to the center of God’s love and life.

Those who welcome a child, welcome me. Jesus does not say, those who welcome those in power, welcome me. Jesus does not say, those who welcome the wealthy, welcome me. Jesus does not say, those who welcome only those who look like me, welcome me. Jesus says, greatness is measured by welcoming the one who has no power, serving the one who is on the fringes, healing the one who is hurt.

What if this became the measure of greatness in not only our church lives, but also our social lives and our community lives? What if this became the measure of greatness in our government? What if we share the love that wins to change the rules, so that those on the margins are brought into the fullness of the community. What if we share the love that wins in service to the broken hearted. What if we share the love that wins in service to those who have been kicked out, not listened to, or shamed for their truth.

What if we took Jesus seriously? “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” What if we approached our neighbors with kindness and generosity, trusting that each and every life, each and every story is precious in God’s sight? I believe greatness is in vulnerability, greatness is in giving, greatness is in gratitude.

We’ve been talking about intentionality in practice. That following Jesus is about what we do each day, each hour, each moment. Three things I leave with you today a practice that comes from the wisdom of Ann LaMott. Three prayers, Help, Thanks, Wow.

Lord, help. In our time of desperation, in our time of need, help us to follow you, to see you, to hear you.
Lord, thank you, all that I am, all that I have is not mine, but yours.
Wow, this creation is amazing.

Help, thanks, wow. Amen.

21 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr B Oct 14 2018

21 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr B Oct 14 2018 Audio Mark 10:17-31 Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two tho...