Saturday, December 9, 2017

2 Advent Yr B Dec 10 2017

Are you ready for Christmas? If that means do I have my Christmas tree up, my cookies baked, my presents purchased and wrapped, I am not. If that means dressing like John the baptizer in clothes made of camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey, again, I am not. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to show up for the nativity? Are you ready to be present for incarnation? Well, I'm getting there, but I'm not there yet. I still have some time.

In the church we tell time differently than the world tells time. In the church, the beginning of the new year is the first Sunday of Advent. One of my favorite stories to tell with children is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way the calendar tells time. The mystery of Incarnation is so broad, and wide, and deep, we need some time and some space to prepare for it. It's not something we can jump into right away.

When we tell time the church’s way and our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, our year begins in quiet waiting rather than loud revelry. Telling time the church’s way causes us to stay awake and to prepare for this amazing thing that God does in Jesus Christ. Telling time the church’s way helps us to take time to be present to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Telling time the church’s way helps us to live fully alive, fully engaged. 

In Isaiah we hear that all of creation is getting ready, even the wilderness prepares the way of the Lord, every valley is lifted up, every mountain and hill are made low, everything is being rearranged for the day when we raise our voices and shout, Here is your God! And in second Peter, we are presented with another experience of time, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day.

Advent not only marks the beginning of time, it also marks the beginning of the end of time. We begin the year again, we wait patiently for and prepare for birth, the coming of God into our world, and at the very same time, we wait patiently for and prepare for our Lord coming into our world again, the fulfillment of all things, as God promises. So our waiting and preparing and anticipating are for incarnation, for God with us, for Christmas, and all of that waiting and preparing and anticipating are also for all that God promises. And that, perhaps, is the key message of Advent. That in the stable at Bethlehem God is not only keeping promises God made to Israel but also making promises to us. That in Jesus, God hears our cries of fear and concern and doubt at our lowest points and responds. God hears our praises and thanksgivings and rejoices. And because of all of that, God is present right here and right now.

And, my goodness, but the headlines seem full of low points. Our elected representatives behaving badly, people we see on our screens behaving badly. Gun violence is epidemic in our country. And here at Trinity, we try to be part of the high points, we try to be part of the solution, by being active with GIFTS, by giving of ourselves and our time and talent and treasure.  

And to the cries for deliverance, God responds with promises of healing, peace, and justice in and through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What if God’s promises are not all something we wait patiently for until the end of time? Or, maybe more accurately, what if we are invited to participate here and now in the end of time promises of God by contributing to them in the present? What if part of how God keeps God’s promises is through our efforts to heal, comfort, help, and bring justice? I believe that is true. I believe that is true because of what God does in Jesus Christ. I believe that is true because of this inconceivable incarnation, this mystery of faith.

I think John the baptizer knows something of these things. John's call to prepare the way for the Lord; to make his paths straight, is a call to us to recognize the impediments that are in the way to realizing God's promise, God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. It is a call to turn around, to turn away from all that keeps us from love and mercy. It is a call for us to get on with the work that God calls us to do. 

I'm not sure what all of the impediments are that are in our way to God's promise of love and mercy, compassion and justice. But I think they may be big huge things like racism and bigotry and lack of concern for the environment and this planet we live on. But I think those impediments may be removed when we look into the eyes of the one who is across from us and we acknowledge their humanity. Those impediments are removed when we turn around, when we turn toward God. 

That brings us right back to the present. What kind of waiting do you want to do? How can you spend your time, energy, wealth, and lives making a difference right now? Because we are all called to cry out and prepare the way. It’s all of us. Right here, right now, waiting actively, if you will, by making a difference in the lives of the people God has put all around us. God is continuing the story of the good news of Jesus in and through our words and actions and each of us will have a hundred and one opportunities this very week to contribute to that sacred story, to make it come alive, to help God keep God’s promises here and now.

Not that can bring ultimate healing or comfort or peace or justice. That’s God’s job, and God will keep God’s promises to the fullest in the fullness of time. But we don’t have to wait for that passively but are invited to throw ourselves into that venture both trusting God’s promises and living them right here, right now. This is the kind of active, involved, participatory waiting Advent invites. "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

~ Howard Zinn

And why not get started now. There is no time like the present. Show the world that love indeed wins. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

1 Advent Yr B Dec 3 2017

The church year turns to another beginning, another new year. We look to new years with hope, expectation, anticipation of better relationships between people, and even countries, even when the reality of our lives may be much more bleak. But, Advent, the church’s new year, invites us to stay awake, don’t fall asleep or cover our eyes when the going gets tough. And. there is a Caribou coffee tag line - life is short, stay awake! I feel that way about Advent, Advent is short, stay awake, stay alert, or you'll miss it and all the Good News.

Indeed, our culture has already missed it. Christmas carols, Christmas trees, Christmas decorations. Christmas is all around us, and today I encourage you, at least in this sacred space, to make room for Advent.

In the cacophony of Christmas, make room for quiet. In the race to Christmas, make room for waiting, preparing, anticipating. Advent really isn't that foreign to us, it is where we live most of our lives, in the tension of what has been and what is to be. Advent calls us to live that tension intentionally. Rather than be lulled to sleep by the shiny balls and blinking lights, stay awake, stay alert, listen, and turn toward God.

Advent calls us to occupy the space between the inconceivability of incarnation and the mystery of resurrection, the messiness of birth and the hope of new life, the reality of brokenness and the joy of healing. Advent calls us to be fully present in each event and activity, and to be fully present with each person. Advent calls us not to walk through this time with indifference, but to shine the light of love and hope in all places and at all times. Advent calls us to sit with the other, to look into the eye of the other, and to listen, not to talk. Advent calls us to stand next to the one that you really cannot stand, the one you really disagree with, and look toward love and hope together.

This is the very darkest time of the year. We look for light, that's why we hang twinkly lights on everything, that's why we light candles. But here, in the church, we don't light them all, not yet, we light them one at a time, watching the light build, preparing for the light that is Jesus to be fully blazing.

And, on this first day of Advent this year, and next week as well, we have before us the gospel of Mark. This is a story of assurance. We know that God is love, and love drives out darkness and fear. And, some of these passages we read during Advent may seem to be pretty scary reading.

But Mark is not pointing us to end times. There is no mention in here of the end of the world, no indication of final judgment, no call to flee the day-to-day realities and obligations and responsibilities of life, only the promise that the Son of Man is near. Indeed, if we recognize that the key temporal markers of the parable that concludes this passage – evening, midnight, cockcrow, and dawn – as identical to the temporal markers of the passion story about to commence, then we realize that much if not all of what comes before – darkening of the sun, the powers being shaken, etc. – also correspond with key elements of the passion narrative. Mark, in other words, isn’t pointing us to a future apocalypse but rather a present one, as Christ’s death and resurrection change absolutely everything. Jesus suffers all that the world and empire and death have to throw at him…and is raised to new life!…and nothing will ever be the same again. Including our present lives and situations.

The church has long counseled keeping Advent as a season of active and vigilant preparation for, rather than constant celebration of, Christmas. And so it is the Good News, the Incarnation, that is spoken into any fearful time, as it is the Good News and the Incarnation that is spoken into the fear of our time. It is god-in-our-midst that is hope and promise. It is into all of this that Mark cries stay awake! Stay awake!

So maybe that is what staying awake during Advent can be all about. Maybe in the midst of the cacophony of Christmas, in the quiet we can hear the voice of Good News. When the herald of consumerism speaks more loudly than does the angel Gabriel we need to stay awake to hear the announcement that a child will be born and that the world is about to turn. When the blast of trumpets announcing sale after sale drowns out the voice singing “my soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait” we need to be quiet to hear the music.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the beat of our own heart, and the beat of God's heart within us, the beat that says there is nothing you can do that will make me turn my love from you.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the love of Jesus moving in our blood, giving nourishment to our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the movement of the Spirit, enlivening us with new birth, connecting us to one another, connecting us to the ones who have not yet said yes to the Good News of Jesus, connecting us to all those who are broken and hurting on this most amazing day, at the beginning of this, most amazing season.

Today we light the first candle of Advent. We watch its quiet light flicker in the darkness, anticipating the light and the love and the hope of Jesus.
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent, to hear the word of Love?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent, to share the Light of Jesus?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent, to speak love and hope into fear and darkness?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent to proclaim the love that wins?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

24 Pentecost Proper 28 Yr A Nov 19 2017

24 Pentecost Proper 28 Yr A Nov 19 2017 Audio

Here we have another terribly troubling parable from Matthew. This parable is the second of three in this section of Matthew, last week we heard the parable of the ten bridesmaids, and lastly is the parable of the sheep and goats. Usually, when placed like this, the stories have something to do with each other. The first parable taught us the importance of being ready, this one shows us what readiness looks like.

The kingdom of God is like a man who was leaving on a journey. Upon leaving, he handed everything over to his servants according to their ability. After the man left, the servants did as they pleased with what they were given. The first two took what was given them, immediately went to work with it, and when the man returned, gave an accounting. Each of them had increased the original capital. The third man was a different sort of man. In contrast to the other two, he hid the money that had been entrusted to him. Now, this was a common way of hiding things. With no bank, no secure place to leave valuable things when going away, burying it was an accepted way to keep it secure. So the important thing for this man was that the money was safe and secure and that he could produce it when the time came. Keeping it in this way meant that there was no possibility of loss, but is also meant there was no possibility of gain.

Matthew makes a point to let us know that this master was a very rich man, and these amounts are huge, each talent may be worth about twenty years wages. And Matthew points us to a master who encourages his servants to use whatever they have been given for good, and to use it faithfully. The third servant was afraid, and did not use what he had been given for any purpose at all. The result of this fear was being consigned to the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So let's imagine today that in this parable the master is God who loves creation, who loves humanity. This  is God in our midst, God who loves creation so very much that God is willing and wanting and yearning to be in relationship with God's people. God whose love is so deep and so wide and so broad. God who walks through this life with us, each one of us and all of us. In this kingdom God is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He handed everything over to his servants according to their ability, and then he left on his journey. It sounds to me like this is a relationship of trust and of grace. The man entrusts all he has to his servants. No instructions, no lists of what to do and what not to do, nothing. And yet this abundance doesn't belong to the servants. This abundance was not assigned to the servants based on who deserved what and how much. This abundance is not even dependent on my ability today, tomorrow, or any other day to do exactly the right thing with it.

It seems to me that the kingdom of God is this way. God leaves us with and trusts us with the entirety of creation. So much more than we can even see and experience. God entrusts us with the sea and the sky, with the animals and the vegetables. God entrusts us with all that is valuable, and God entrusts us with one another. And God lets go of the outcome, God does not control what we do with any of it. We can do with it what we want. That is what is at the very center of this relationship. God creates us and all of what is seen and unseen, God declares it good, and God loves us. God trusts us, what are we to do? 

Imagine a God who loves us so very much that this God is willing to live and die as one of us to show us the way. Imagine a God who is the creator of all that is seen and unseen, and to whom each and every one of us matters. Imagine a God whose hearts desire is to be in relationship with us. Imagine a God to whom justice matters, the kind of justice that includes everyone having enough to eat, everyone staying warm when it is cold, everyone being able to feed their families. 

We are to respond to this abundant and amazing grace with all of our heart and our soul and our strength. It's not about our trustworthiness, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about our ability or inability to use the gift properly, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about what we deserve or don't deserve, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about our fearfulness, but it is about fearlessly being about God's business of love, and healing.

Our readiness in the kingdom is not about being safe and secure. It is to not be afraid. You see, when it comes to serving Christ, when it comes to following Jesus, we should be bold and not be afraid of risks. Not so much concerned about securing our own lives, but getting on with lives of self-abandon and witness, knowing that the grace of God in Jesus will more than compensate for any mistakes we may make.

We can choose in small ways and in large ways how God's amazing gift is made available by our lives and by our love. Choose love. Choose to be a steward of all of God's gift. Choose not only to care for creation and all you have been given, but do something great with it. Don't bury it out of fear, but share it knowing that is was never yours in the first place. Choose to be a part of relationships that do what Jesus asks us to do, feed those who are hungry, love your neighbor. Share your hearts and your lives and your treasure, not because of what you will get, but because of what you have been given. Love. Amen. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

23 Pentecost Proper 27 Yr A Nov 12 2017, Annual meeting

What Matthew presents to us today, as he has throughout his gospel, is terribly troubling. This is a nightmare parable about what happens if you don’t take this life seriously in being formed as a follower of Jesus. It is based on Matthew’s understanding that Jesus, through death, resurrection, and ascension, is always with us, therefore, be ready, Jesus will return when all things are fulfilled. And it is a story about what happens if you fritter your life away.

The problem is not that five fell asleep and five stayed awake, everybody falls asleep, that’s not the issue. And this parable is not about believing the wrong things. Remember, that Matthew has no patience, no empathy for people who don’t get this stuff the first time. This is a story about five people who are not ready because they are clueless, and five people who are ready because they get it. Maybe if we put a line on a picture to make a meme, it would say, “Don’t be clueless like these people, just be ready like these people.” And, this is a story about the end of all things, and the beginning of the new, with the coming of Christ. And it is about how we live in the world, the place God has given for human habitation.

So what does being ready for living in the world God has given us look like? What does being ready for the fulfillment of time look like? It has everything to do with what we do today, in the present moment. And it has everything to do with the long haul of our lives. It is about staying focused on what is important today, tomorrow, and for the future.

Around here, at Trinity, we have a vision for being ready. We Love God, Love others, and we Show it. These aren’t just words, this is a way to be ready. Being ready is taking seriously our baptismal promises, those promises we reaffirmed last week on the Feast of All Saints. We will continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. We will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as yourself. We will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

The world needs the church today. Not the institution of church, but the body of Christ. The people who take seriously these promises, and are ready with mercy, and compassion, justice and love.

The sadness I have about empty pews is not grief about the death of a church. It is the sadness for people not knowing God’s love, I am sad because so many people do not know about forgiveness, in the midst of brokenness, that people do not know or care about how good life can be when lived in the fullness of God’s embrace, and the embrace of people who are ready to celebrate the feast.

The church needs you today, you who are here, and those who are not yet here. I pray, each time before we gather on Sunday morning, that God continues to prepare the hearts of those who will come here to worship, and that God continues to prepare us to welcome all who are sent and called. The world needs the church, the witness to Christ in each other. And the witness to brokenness that so desperately looks for healing, healing that only happens when the fragments of our lives get put back together in the mystery of the bread and wine, the body and blood.

And the church needs world to keep us from being full of ourselves and our rightness.

I love you, and I love this church, and I am filled with hope, because that is what being ready is for me. Hope, that today all that I am, and all that I was, and all that I will be is acceptable, not just acceptable, but cherished in God’s sight. I am filled with hope, the loving God, loving others, our neighbor, will change the world. Amen.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

All Saints, transferred, Nov 5 2017

Struggling, striving, to be one too. I love this day. Why do I feel All Saints so deeply? I don’t think it’s because of sainthood, or perfection. I think it’s because I want to be among those who follow Jesus, I want to be among those who stand up for love, and compassion, and mercy, and I know I cannot do that alone. I listen to these names, names of the long dead and names of the recently dead, and I wonder, do I measure up? Do I act justly when the time comes, am I merciful in judgment, can I be compassionate when I vehemently disagree with another?

This cloud of witnesses helps me along, holds me up, keeps me accountable, makes me want to do better. Each one of these in this cloud of witnesses changed their particular piece of the world, not necessarily by doing fabulous, extravagant things, but by stepping into the space when called. By stepping up to love. By using their voice and being brave. Not heroic, but faithful.

Do you have saints in your life? Not perfect people, people perfectly loved. I posted a piece on Facebook on All Saints Day, that some of you saw. “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. ‘Be still’ they say. ‘Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.’” Linda Hogan....indigenous writer, who is currently the Chickasaw Nation's Writer in Residence.

That empowers me, emboldens me to put one foot in front of the other, each day, and speak love into dark and lonely spaces. It feels like my voice joins all the voices before me, and together we sing a song of the saints of God. Because being a saint is not about being superhuman. It may be about having a super power though. The super power of love, the super power of the love of all those who have gone before us to show us the way, and those who will come after us to carry on.

I wonder about the saints we named today, and so many others whom we did not name. I wonder if they knew they were a saint, or if all they knew was God’s love for them and for others. I think they didn’t know they were saints. I think they were just like you and me. I think they took seriously the call to love God, and to love one another. I think they woke up in the morning, just like you and me, and asked God to help them carry Jesus’ light into all the dark places of their lives.

Who are the saints you know, and have known? Not perfect people. But people putting one foot in front of the other and stepping into the space of love, and bringing the light of Jesus with them. I think a lot about my mom who died nearly three years ago now. My mom wasn’t perfect, she was as ornery as an Irish woman comes. There was always room at my mother’s table. Even if she didn’t like you, you got fed. She prepared meals at church, and put on quite a spread for funeral luncheons. And for years she was in charge of the Loaves and Fishes meal once a month. Mom would never consider herself any more than a person that said yes to pitching in and helping. She never thought of herself as brave or courageous, or particularly compassionate. But she stepped up when she heard the call, often it was the call on the telephone… we need you to….bring a hotdish, we need you to… be in be president of the women’s club…we need you.

I think what’s really true is that the phone call, or these days the email, is much louder than God’s still, small voice. And stepping into the space of love and compassion, responding to God’s call, is much more like providing a meal than it is about saving the world.

If we are indeed the result of the love of thousands, which I believe we are, then what is the task we bear today? It’s not about heroics, but definitely super powers, love and compassion. We are the saints of God, we are the ones who give rise to the thousands who come after us. Our task today is to follow Jesus. Our call is to Love God, love others, show it. Getting up every morning, giving thanks for the day, putting one foot in front of the other, and shining the Christ light into all of the dark places, makes a difference. We are joined together, we are joined with the cloud of witnesses, and our witness matters, our actions matter. They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still; the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

21 Pentecost Proper 25 Yr A Oct 29 2017

Which commandment in the law is the greatest? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, this is the greatest and first commandment, and the second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The Pharisees, who had heard that Jesus had bested the Saducees, continued to try to entrap him. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is straight out of the Hebrew scripture, not a book like we know it today, but stories told around tables, and campfires. Jesus knows those scriptures well; he had them on his heart, and in his soul. Those scriptures are part of the very fiber of his being, so much so that they are his flesh and blood. Those scriptures were what each Hebrew boy and girl heard and recited every day of their lives. And they also knew the story of creation, they knew the story of Noah, of Moses, of Exodus and Exile, of David, the Prophets, they knew the story about the angel passing over their homes when they put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts; they knew the stories of their ancestors.

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was not a recitation of the law, the law that he knew well. Jesus’ answer was love, Jesus’ answer was to show forth a pattern of love, the activity of love.  Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was relationship. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor.

Remember last week when I said that maybe what Jesus might be doing is inviting us to declare our allegiance. I suggested that perhaps the key question isn’t whose image is on the coin, but rather whose image is on us. We indeed are made in God's image and marked as God's own forever. It’s hard for us to know that, it’s hard for us to believe that, it’s hard for us to follow Jesus if we don’t know the story of love.

Knowing our story, knowing our bible, is knowing where we came from, knowing to whom we belong. Knowing this story helps us to identify our value and worth. Our story teaches us, shows us, tells us that we are created in God's image. And this story is ultimately important because being created in God’s image is where love is located. We see God’s love for us in the pattern of action that is our sacred story.

And that story is about creation and blessing, it is of being separated from God, and it is of repentance, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this story, God who is the creator of the universe, comes to be one of us, Jesus, and lives, loves, suffers and dies, and is raised from the dead. It is the story that calls us to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is about God’s relationship with us, God’s beloved.

But from our point of view it's hard to see the wholeness of the story. We see only pieces, we catch glimpses. When we are engulfed in darkness it's very hard to trust that there is light. It’s hard to see anything at all. And it’s hard to love ourselves, much less our neighbor. But it is when we come out of suffering and sadness with hope and joy that we really can experience the love and the light, and the new life that God has for us. And we remember, we remember God's love for us and for all of creation. Sometimes, when we listen carefully, we can actually hear God’s love for us in the voices of the people whom we encounter, especially at times of deepest sorrow or quiet joy.

And yet, love in the bible really has very little to do with how we feel. Love in the first-century Mediterranean world was not a vague warm feeling toward someone, but a pattern of action - attachment to a person backed up with behavior, attachment to this man Jesus, who is willing to stand up to the power brokers of his day. The two commandments Jesus gives demand nothing less than heart, soul, and mind -- in other words, every part of a person capable of valuing something – and that those capacities be devoted to God and to every neighbor.

And there is no one exempt from the category of neighbor, the Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that. So what we read today is a continuation of what we read last week. Last week we heard that everything comes from and belongs to God. Everything. This continuation of that reading demands nothing less than everything, heart, soul and mind. Jesus' call will compel each one of his followers to take the fullest extent of God's love to the furthest reach of that love, to every person whom God made. As God has first loved us, we will love others.

As God has first loved us, we will love others. So then, why is there so much hate in our world? Why do people rise up against those whose ancestry, or skin color is different from their own? Why do we hurt one another? Why? I wonder if it is because we are filled with the fear of loss. People are afraid of losing themselves, or their history, or their tradition. People are afraid of losing their power, or their possessions. Even people who claim to be Christian, hate, and are afraid.

We forget, they forget, in whose image we are made. It is God’s image on that coin, it is God image on our hearts. We are made for love, we are made for relationship. We are made to love our neighbor.

And this is Jesus’ call to us. Everything comes from God and belongs to God, and that demands a pattern of action, love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor; remembering that love is not how we feel, but a decision we make, a pattern of action. Love is a pattern of action. This is how we are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, the outcasts and the sinners, you and me. Following Jesus, begin a Christian, is about a pattern of love, and no one is excluded from that love. That love, that relationship with God through Jesus is transforming love. And that love sends us out into the world to serve God, and serve one another.

The original question the Pharisees ask Jesus is, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus answers not with law, but with the pattern of action that is love. You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does indeed win.