Saturday, February 17, 2018

1 Lent Yr B Feb 18 2018

Lent is framed by Baptism. On Ash Wednesday, we retraced the cross that marked us as Christ’s own forever at baptism, and we remembered who and whose we are. And today, we continue with this story of Jesus' baptism. Lent ends with our recommitment to our own baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil. In between, we have quite a journey with Jesus. With this story Mark shows us the true identity of Jesus. Jesus is the beloved son of God. During this journey of Lent, we also get a glimpse of our own true identity. We are beloved children of God. Jesus is who God says he is, so also we are who God says we are. In Christ we are beloved sons and daughters of God. All the rest of the gospel of Mark shows what that means and what that looks like. 

You all know that I love to get you all wet when we reaffirm our baptismal promises. Encountering water has always been a very powerful experience. I have lived my life in and around water. When I was a little girl I would spend my summer days at the neighborhood pool, we swam and sunned and played. That’s where learned to swim, and eventually I taught others to swim there. I lifeguarded there and I coached swimming there. I swam on the synchronized swimming team in high school. Eventually I moved on to lifeguard at a Minneapolis lake, and I was waterfront director at a YMCA camp, where Rick and I met.

During our early married years, my dad had built a place on a beautiful lake in north central Minnesota. We would spend weekends there. By then my favorite water activity was to go out into the deep water and float, the quiet and calm of the water did much to renew my spirit. Tom and Willie learned to swim before they could walk. They would be by my side when I coached the swim team at the Y.

Water is powerful, it is intoxicating, and it can kill as well as thrill. Did you know that the human body is 60% water, and that too much water can kill you? The power of water can take away life as easily as it can give life. When we live here on this piece of land and we give thanks for every drop of water that falls from the sky, even if it is as snow. Did you know that water is a closed system. The rain drops that do fall on us are the very same rain drops that fell on Noah and his wife and children. The Power of Water is amazing. We spend the first nine months of our lives afloat, and the rest of our lives trying not to drown.

Water is this powerful symbol of baptism, the powerful symbol of life in Christ. This powerful symbol is capable of containing the meaning associated with life, death, and resurrection. That is why stories are told about water and it’s intoxicating influence.

In the story of Noah, water took away life, and in the story of Jesus’ baptism water gives life. It is quite appropriate that we begin our journey through Lent with Jesus in the water. The water washes us clean, and in the water we teeter on the brink of death, and in the water we hear with Jesus “with you I am well pleased.” At the beginning of our Lenten journey, we have an opportunity to look squarely at the power that is life and death, and choose to walk this road, equipped by our identity as baptized people, as people who have died with Christ and risen with Christ.

In the gospel of Mark, there is no time between Jesus' baptism and the time in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. No time to reflect on who he was or what he was doing. He didn't have time to figure out what a good person, a good teacher, a good friend, a good leader would say or do then try to say or do that. Maybe in the wilderness Jesus sought the living God and claimed his identity as the son of God. And then let his life, his words, his relationships and his love, even to giving of himself on the cross, flow from that identity as God’s beloved. Perhaps that’s what God is calling us to do this Lent; in this wilderness, to follow Jesus out of the water and into the desert to listen deeply for what God has to say to us through Baptism. 

As we begin this Lent together, in the waters that are of Jesus’ baptism, and as we complete this Lent renewing our own baptismal promises, we remember who we are. We are God’s beloved. We are people who are beautifully and wonderfully created by God. We are people who are blessed by God. We are people who have a tendency to turn away from God to worship idols, we tend to hurt ourselves and each other, we tend to build up our own wealth instead of working for peace and justice for all. We tend to build up our walls so that we don't have to be honest with one another. But we are people who God calls back into relationship, God loves us so much that God is willing to be one of us to show us the way.

On Ash Wednesday I asked you to be intentional this Lent. I asked you what is it you must lay down, or let go of, so that you may take this journey with Jesus? Do you want to fast from something? Do you want to unattach yourself from something that holds your attention too strongly? And today I ask you, what gets in the way of living fully the creation that God has made you to be. What causes you to forget who you are? What must you put aside, so that you may be fully and completely who you are created to be? What must you die to, so that you can be free to live?

I think claiming our identity as God’s beloved and taking seriously our baptismal promises is what Lent is all about, it is about walking in the way of Jesus. If you haven't already taken a rock with a cross on it from the basket, or haven’t found your rock in the bottom of your purse or in your pocket, make sure you take one today, and keep it with you all during Lent, so that you may be reminded, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” We begin this journey with Jesus, the journey that shows us who we are, the journey with Jesus that goes through pain and suffering, the journey that puts us at the foot of the cross. The journey that eventually shows us new life, but we can’t get there from here, without going through the wilderness. Thankfully, we do that together with Jesus.

So as I stand here today, with my heart saddened at the violence that is pervasive in our culture, saddened at the ease by which lives are ended and families torn apart, I come back to these baptismal promises and this journey we take with Jesus. Because if our baptism and our relationship with Jesus doesn’t cause us to make change in the world, why even bother with all of this? We cannot continue to let our children die. We must have courage, be brave, and do hard things, do the hard work of the gospel. These questions I ask you are serious questions. What ideas, perceptions, do we hold to so strongly that they get in the way of striving for justice and peace and dignity? What is the change we can be so that we can live in a more just world?


I needed to take this out of what I said, but it is valuable.
Listen to these words.

Holy Spirit, Holy One, Creator Spirit, God of all....I lay aside my key ring, a sign of my car and house, of my main possession. I lay aside my cell phone, my means of communication. I lay aside my credit card, my source of finance and money. I lay aside my pen, my way of writing down my thoughts and intentions. I lay aside my glasses, my perspectives, my frames for seeing the world. I lay aside my watch, my timetables and timeframes. I lay aside my comb, my way of looking at myself. I take off my shoes, my method of transporting myself, the way I walk in the world. Then, stripped in this way of most of my securities and techniques for coping and functioning in the world, I try to simply acknowledge the presence of the One who made all things, in whom we live and move and have our being. I am seeking to be alone with the only true God, the one true reality behind and within everything, and making that quiet space. Then I pick up my key ring, praying, “Use my car and house, my main possessions, for your purposes”. I pick up my cell phone, praying, “Use my means of communication, to share messages of your goodness and grace”. I pick up my credit card, praying, “May I spend and be spent in the ways of righteousness and justice”. I pick up my pen, praying, “Guide me to write your thoughts". I pick up my glasses, praying, “Help me see the world through your eyes”. I strap on my watch, praying, “May I live in your time.” I pocket my comb, praying, “May I see your beauty around me”. I put on my shoes, praying, “May I walk in your ways ”.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Here we are, taking all this time to remember mortality, to remember that none of us gets out of this life alive. In a world in which death looks like failure, in which death is the enemy, today we come and stare death in the face. You see, the worst thing in this life is not death, but it is loosing ourselves, it is dissolving into hate, or revenge, or even apathy.

This is our beginning. Remembering who we are, remembering whose we are, remembering we are dust, remembering we are God’s beloved, remembering we cannot get to resurrection without first going by the way of pain and suffering, remembering our brokenness, and that the greatest integrating force, is God.

Rick and I have loved exploring this most beautiful part of Wisconsin. On summer Saturdays we’ll go for a drive and see what we can see. Often we’ll say, if only we could fly as the crow, straight over the cornfields to our destination. And then we’ll comment, you can’t get there from here in a straight line. And if we could, we’d miss so much. We’d miss the milkweed on the side of the road that gives life to the monarch butterflies. We’d miss the wildflowers, the hyacinth, the asters and the daises. We’d miss the stink of the fields as they are planted with corn. No matter how wonderful the end of the journey is, or how fast we’d rather get there, we’ve got to make our way, and be present to the beauty and the suffering that surrounds us.

Our journey ends with resurrection, with new life. But we can’t get there from here, unless we follow this path. And it is a path we don’t much like. It is the path of forgiveness; it is the path of repentance. It is the path on which we must let go of whatever it is that holds us hostage. It is the path of dying and rising with Christ.

We begin with these ashes on our foreheads. We begin by remembering who and whose we are. We begin by re-tracing this sign of the cross. You see, you already have this sign indelibly marked on your forehead. It was traced first at your baptism. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those are not just words, but a statement of truth. Our lives are witness to all of the deaths and resurrections. Baptism is not an event, but a journey that takes a lifetime. Forgiveness is not a single act, but a matter of constant practice. Turning away from all that distracts us from God and God’s love for us, takes constant practice also. We often fall off the shoulder of the road and into the ditch on this journey, and in that ditch life seems much more dark. But we have been marked as Christ’s own forever, we are not left there to fend for ourselves.

We come to this place of dust again and again. We come because this is the beginning and the end. We come because this is creation and this is love. We come because our memories are so short, aren’t they? We so quickly forget about the love that brings us to this day of dust. The love of God in creation, the love that gives up everything for us. The love that invites us to know who we really are. The love that looks nothing like a Hallmark Valentine’s card.

This journey we begin today shows us what true love looks like. It shows us that God’s heart’s desire is to be with us not only when times are rosy, but also and maybe especially when it seems like our brokenness and vulnerably will get the best of us. The love that creates us, and puts us back together when we have disintegrated back to the dust. When it seems like we will fall apart into the dust of which we are made, God is there to raise us up, and make us anew.

The ashes of this day, the dust of our lives, is where true love lives, it is where God lives. We present to the world our best put together selves, we strive so hard to make our lives seem perfect, but the only place we are perfect is in God’s love.

We begin with the dust, we begin in death with Jesus in the waters of baptism. We rise out of death with Jesus, to follow Jesus’ lead to outrageous faith. We search for truth, act with justice, strive for mercy. We seek forgiveness, we repent and return to the lord.

This journey is about the relationship Jesus has with you, with us. Lent is a time of intention. Intention that holds space for transformation, forgiveness, and repentance. I invite your intentions today. What is it you intend to do? What is it you must lay down, or let go of, so that you may take this journey with Jesus? Do you want to fast from something? Do you want to unattach yourself from something that holds your attention too strongly?

Write that down. Make that vow. Be intentional. And then put your paper in the brazier, and we will burn those and add them to the burnt palms, and together their dust will mark us.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Yr B Feb 11 2018

This is my son, with whom I am well pleased. This may sound familiar to us, we heard very similar words at Jesus' baptism. And these are the words we hear today at this showing, this epiphany. God shows up in each of these stories and claims Jesus as the son, the beloved, God has marked Jesus with love, and God instructs all those who are there to listen to Jesus. Time has come back around on itself. And yet, soon Jesus and the disciples will be off to Jerusalem, on the road of suffering, death, and resurrection.

I think these are stories that show forth the presence of God, they show us God's inbreaking kingdom. They are stories that give us glimpses of incarnation, glimpses of glory. And, these stories show us an interruption in life as we know it. Peter, James and John are witnesses to inbreaking, incarnation, interruption. And we, as we overhear these stories, and reread these stories, we too are witness to inbreaking, to incarnation, to interruption.

These are stories that show us that God has everything to do with us. God's glory, and God's kingdom, and God's love breaks into our lives, in surprising times and places, we get glimpses, and sometimes we recognize those times as God's presence, like Peter did. And like Peter, when that happens we want to make it permanent, we want to build a building to contain it, and we want to keep God in that place. But it doesn't seem like that is the way God would have it.

Peter, James and John have heard their entire lives the stories of Moses and of Elijah. We just heard part of the story of Elijah from the book of Kings. Moses and Elijah are the prophets, the heroes, the rock stars. Their stories live in the realm of legend, it’d be like coming face to face with Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, or Madeleine L’engle. Or Yoda, ObiWan, Anakin Skywalker? Who wouldn’t wish for them to stay, to bask in the glory of their greatness, their wisdom?

This is truly a glimpse of glory. A mountaintop experience. Peter, James and John are witnesses and participants in this amazing time out of time. You may have had an experience that you may describe similarly, a particularly meaningful experience of worship, with music and people who helped you to transcend time. But this story also says, Jesus came down the mountain.

We get glimpses of glory, but we also come down off the mountaintop and deal with life in our world of ordinariness. You may say as Peter says, let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. You may want as Peter wants to hold on to that experience, to be able to revisit it whenever you want, to come back to it whenever you need a shot in the arm, or even to escape to it when the world just seems too hard to handle. But the experience won’t be put into a box. And yet that doesn’t stop you from striving to replicate it, and measuring every subsequent religious experience by it. But that can’t be done, not only can’t it be done, it prevents us from experiencing God in the moment, God in the mundane, God in the ordinary, which is where each of us live most of the time.

The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is ultimate glory. It is wonderful, it is exquisite, and it is not where we live or where we are to stay. In the transfiguration we see that what we think about time and how God acts in time are different. Peter, James and John, and you and I as we look in, see time all at once, like God sees it. If we were to construct a time line, the story of Moses takes place somewhere around 1500 years before Christ, Elijah about 850 years before Christ. And yet, at this event they are all there together. God shows forth God’s glory, God shows that life with God is without limits. It is like the Eucharistic moment, it may be comfortable and calm, it may be nourishing and refreshing, it may be inspiring and illuminating. It is filled with the people we love and who love us. We really want to stay, but we can’t stay in it, and we can’t repeat the exact moment. But it will give us the ability to persevere, from it we are sent out into the world to do the work we are given to do. We are sent out into the world to live our lives and to bring peace and reconciliation and healing to a broken and fragmented world.

The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is a touchstone. We may return to it, but we can’t control it, and that can be rather disquieting, actually terrifying as reported in this story. We come to worship and sing God’s praises; we come to find stability in an unstable world. We come to hear the story of our faith that has not changed over time. And yet God’s word and our worship are not comfortable, they are not static. God’s word and our worship are growing and changing, becoming the creation that God has intended for it. The glory that is shone forth should cause us to be terrified, to go down the mountain and confront the comfortable and disrupt the status quo. The glory that is shone forth results in the casting out of demons, the reordering of social status and kinship, the arrest and torture of the one who bears the Good News, the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth with Jesus Christ God’s son.

The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration promises to accompany us into our mundane and ordinary lives. We carry that glory into our work and our school and our play. It becomes the spirit that inspires and creates us; it becomes the life that gives us life. It is that which is in the eyes and souls of those whose paths we cross, it is in the respect and dignity with which we treat everyone we meet. It is why we stand with those who have been discriminated against.

The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration pushes us out into the world so that we may get going with God’s mission in this world. God’s mission is of healing and reconciliation. God’s mission is about putting fractured souls back together in this broken and fragmented world. God’s mission is about loving and serving your neighbor, especially when we don’t feel like it, especially when it is uncomfortable, even when it seems impossible and down right scary.

Following Jesus is not about being on the mountaintop, but being in the mundane and ordinary, and looking and listening for God’s presence in all of the ordinary parts of our lives. This week, after we eat our pancakes, we come back on Wednesday to begin our journey of Lent. I encourage you to take the time out of your routine, to take the time out of your work and your play, to be present to God's movement in your life, to experience God's amazing love for you. Amen. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

5 Epiphany Yr B Feb 4 2018

My mother-in-law, Rick’s mom, is an amazing woman. She has enough love in her heart for the whole world. She’s worked hard her entire adult life, often working overnights in restaurants as a waitress or a manager. She has been a caterer, and has been known to bake Christmas cookies and cakes for the people in her building. Food has not only been her bread and butter, but food is also the means by which she shows her love and finds her worth. And we love her dearly. We never expect her to prepare a meal for us, but, well you know, she does anyway. She’s made garlic toast and roast beef hash, and a dish only a son could like, Cedric’s casserole. Butterfinger bars, pink squirrels, Russian teacakes…. You try to say, no, you know you really don’t have to, and it rings hollow, because really, she has to, it’s who she is. She is whole and complete; she is whom she truly was created to be when she is in her kitchen. 

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. And the first thing she does is to get up and serve them. This is a story that has always made me mad. No rest, no recovery, no getting back at things slowly, the fever left her, and she began to serve them. On the surface it seems like the perpetuation of stereotypes. And then I am reminded of my mother-in-law, and I remember that what they share is that their wholeness, their health, their being fully who they are, is tied directly to their love of serving. When my mother in law is sick and cannot putz around her kitchen baking this and that, she is not herself. What Jesus did here was more than just heal her, if that isn’t enough, he put things right, he restores the order of things, he makes whole what is broken, he brings her to herself, he gives her a new life. The radical nature of this story is not necessarily that Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, and not necessarily that she served, the radical nature of this story is Jesus’ capacity to restore her wholeness, to restore her value and worth, to actually give her new life. 

That’s what casting out demons and healing is about with Jesus. Jesus heals a leper, Jesus heals a paralytic, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Jesus heals a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, and a child who has died. It is not just removing disease, as if that isn’t enough, but these are stories about Jesus’ power to bring people into a new relationship, to bring people into right relationship with himself and with others. These are stories about making whole what is broken, these are stories about bringing healing into a fragmented world, these are stories about this absolutely new thing that God is up to. These are stories about making the dead alive.

The Good News is that in a broken and fragmented world, you can live a life that is whole. That is not to say that the life you live will be perfect, whole and perfect are nothing alike. Perfect is what we see set before us as a standard by those who can sell us something to make us seem perfect. Perfect is what we will be if we buy the right skin lotion, perfect is what we will be if we buy the right house, perfect is what we will be if we marry the right person, or play the right game or have the right bank account or life insurance or whatever. The harder we work for perfect, the more frustrated, depressed, angry, and resentful we become.

The Good News is that in a broken and fragmented world, you can live a life that is whole. When Rick and I were married, we were given the chalice that was used for Holy Communion that day. On our 10th anniversary, we brought the chalice to church with us to use at communion in celebration of our anniversary. As I was getting out of the car that day, I dropped the chalice. We picked up the pieces, and I set about putting the cup back together. It is whole, but surely not perfect. It is now filled with 33 years of growth, of pain, of happiness, of heartache, of joy and of sorrow. We have lived together through pain and suffering, death and resurrection. We are not perfect, but in Jesus’ love we are whole. 

It is this Good News that we must proclaim to the world. Perfect people have no time for church, broken and hurting people, you and I, come to be made whole, come to be restored to fullness of life, come to be made new in the waters of baptism, come to be nourished by the bread and wine of communion, come to see Jesus in one another, come to be made wholly who we are created to be. 

Jesus is a good Jew, he goes to synagogue on the Sabbath, but then he goes and breaks the law by healing on the Sabbath. What Mark is trying to show us is that the Word of God, God in the flesh, is active and growing. Jesus knows that there is a danger in people knowing that he is the Word of God, God in the flesh. Jesus knows that it is also dangerous for him to neglect his own relationship with the one who gives him life, so he goes to pray. Wholeness involves prayer, into our brokenness comes the Word, alive and active, quiet and contemplative. 

Jesus was fully who he was created to be as he went about healing, casting out demons, turning over tables in the temple, eating with sinners, welcoming the children. It was all in a days work for him, albeit hard work. And he too needed to regain his balance, find his center, kneel before his creator, and pray. 

I don’t think the 1st century world in which Jesus lived is much different than the world in which we live. People are broken, disheartened, there is greed and there is idolatry. Through Jesus, God offers us healing and wholeness, through Jesus, God offers us the opportunity to be ourselves. Putting ourselves, like Jesus did, in the posture of prayer brings us to a place where we can hear the call to be ourselves, to be whole. Prayer is a place in which we find our relationship with God, prayer is a place in which we find ourselves. 

Come and be healed, come and be who you are called to be, come, and find yourself. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

4 Epiphany Yr B Jan 28 2018

Remember last week I described the gospel of Mark like a roller coaster ride, and we just keep going. No time to process any of this. This healing and casting our unclean spirits is the first thing Jesus does in this gospel. The first thing Jesus does is free this man from the hold of his unclean spirit and restore him to himself, his loved ones, and his community. The very first thing.

And Mark doesn't mince words. We want Jesus to teach with words, the other gospels are full of words. They try to explain the parables, the healings, the miracles. But not Mark. Mark shows us who Jesus is through healings, through presence, through action. In Mark, Jesus teaches by what he does.

We know that Mark's gospel begins with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It then goes on to show us what this Son of God looks like. The Son of God is baptized in the Jordan, and a voice came from heaven and says, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The Son of God is cast out into the wilderness and battles Satan. The Son of God calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, who left everything to follow him. The Son of God was in the habit of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was also in the habit of breaking many of the rules of the Sabbath. The Son of God taught with authority. All of this is what the Son of God looks like, but Jesus’ authority is before us today.

Robert Browning, the English poet, once said, “If the most powerful people in the world came into this room, the King, the President, we would stand up. But if Jesus came in, we would kneel down, and that’s the difference.” We could add to Robert Browning’s list of powerful people, the kind of people today that are lifted up as powerful sports stars, movie, television or music stars. Maybe even today’s billionaires would make this list, people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Well, today’s gospel is about is what the Son of God looks like, and the Son of God has authority, and that authority looks nothing like those who think they have authority today. And in our collective lives very recently, we have spoken much about kneeling and standing and what that all means.

The authority that Jesus, the Son of God is, is authority that brings us to our knees.

In this gospel story, Jesus’ authority creates something that no one had ever experienced before Jesus. Jesus’ authority creates healing. Today I think we experience authority as power, power to buy and consume and have. Power to tell others what to do, what to believe. The scribes, who were the educated and literate people, had never before experienced the kind of authority that is shown to us in this lesson; we only encounter this kind of authority when we encounter Jesus.
What kind of authority is this? What does this authority look like? Authority is who Jesus is, it is not something that Jesus possesses, or something that Jesus owns, not even what Jesus says. True authority, authentic authority, is not derived from power but from trust and respect and relationship. True authority does not control, it authors. Authority comes from the same word as author. It is a word that indicates something or someone that creates, something or someone that causes an increase, something or someone that causes growth.

This authority is quite different from power. Power, in the Mediterranean world, as well as in our own world, is understood as a limited quantity. If one person has more power, then the other has less. In the Mediterranean world, honor was also a limited quantity. The honoring of one resulted in the shaming of another. Power and honor are linked in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ time, as they are linked in our culture as well.

What the scribes noticed immediately in this story is that Jesus speaks with an as-yet-unheard-of level of authority. Suddenly the years of compounded knowledge, confined logic and entrenched tradition offered by the scribes begins to pale in comparison to the message that Jesus brings, Love wins. When Jesus was around, something was created, something was increased, growth was happening, the story was being rewritten. Scribes were “because it has always been that way” theologians, that is to say the kind of theology that is built on its past and nothing new really comes about. But things were definitely not the same any more.

It is in this new reality that people began to see that this must be God’s work, because it is only God who can author this new story. There is only one God, one Lord, and neither you nor I are it, or anyone who has earthly power. What this passage says to us is that this new thing that Jesus does, as God in our midst, is to signal that Jesus has come to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God, and that is all of us, from the abundant life God desires for all of us. And that message matters because it is still the case: God wants the most for us from this life and stands in opposition to anything that robs us of the joy and community and purpose for which we were created.

And what is the purpose for which we are created? To love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbor. This is the abundant life that God promises. The release of this unclean spirit by Jesus’ authority shows us that. And as the first thing Jesus does in Mark’s telling of this story, it shows us that God’s love for us, through Jesus’ authority, releases us from the bondage of power, and creates in us love for neighbor, love for the unlovable, love for the least of these.

I believe that as followers of Jesus, it is part of our work, our ministry, to step into the places God calls us and be the bearer of healing, be the bearer of God’s good news of love, be the bearer of the light of Jesus. Because, as you all well know, love wins.

1 Lent Yr B Feb 18 2018

1 Lent Yr B Feb 18 Audio Lent is framed by Baptism. On Ash Wednesday, we retraced the cross that marked us as Christ’s o...