Saturday, August 19, 2017

11 Pentecost Proper 15 Yr A Aug 20 2017

It's been a hard year. It’s been a hard week. There is violence in our streets, there is fear of aggression by countries long seen as the enemy. People are behaving badly all over the place. We've been stretched to breaking with the demands on our patience and on compassion. We have experienced so very closely the broken world in which we live. There is also goodness all around us, in so many places and in so many people, but it is a broken world, and we have seen much of the brokenness in these days. 

And we have before us a hard lesson from Matthew and this continuing story in Genesis of Joseph and his brothers, brothers who sold him into slavery because they didn't like that he was a dreamer. What are we to make of it all? What are we to make of the readings and what are we to make of the reality? 

In the verses from Matthew we have before us today, Jesus really seems mad. He's been spending all of his time teaching the disciples and other followers, parable after parable, story after story, trying to impart everything he can about humanity's relationship with God, and God's relationship with God's people. Jesus experienced the tragic death of his relative, John. Jesus has fed thousands of people, and all he wants is to get away by himself for a little R and R. He's got to walk on the water out to the boat to save those hapless disciples, and after all that, the Pharisees come all the way from Jerusalem to entrap him. I imagine that the telling of this story has quite of bit of censoring and editing, I imagine Jesus' language may have been much more harsh than we hear today. 

Jesus says that what comes out of our mouths and from our hearts can be disastrous when we don't speak with love and truth. Jesus says, our words matter. Our words have the power to create a compassionate reality, and our words can challenge the darkness, our words can even be the light in the darkness. Our words and our actions even have the power to dispel the darkness. One of my favorite books by my favorite author is A Wrinkle in Time, it is a story that is all about using our gifts, following in the footsteps of the saints who came before us, about daring to be different, it's about foolishness, faith and free will, and the greatest call and commandment, loving one another. That story shows us, like scripture tells us today, what we say to one another matters, our words matter. 

The words that dispel the darkness are words that come from a heart that is filled with mercy and compassion, a heart filled with love for each and every gift of God's creation. Even in the midst of sadness, even in the midst of tragedy, we are called to speak words of mercy and compassion, words of God's love for all of God's creation. We are called to speak words of mercy and compassion into every darkness. If we don't do it, if we don't speak words of love, words of mercy and compassion, the darkness will not be dispelled. That is what Jesus is trying to show us in this gospel today, and that is the truth of what God in Jesus has done and continues to do. Darkness does not win. Love wins. Our words can create a compassionate reality. And we are desperate for a compassionate reality. 

The second half of the story from Matthew paints a picture of Jesus that may be even harder for us to understand. He is angry, and mean, and in this particular story, Jesus claims an exclusive mission. He says he is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. What is amazing in this story is that the Canaanite woman challenges Jesus, and her challenge creates a new compassionate reality. She challenges Jesus to include not just the lost sheep of Israel, but everyone in the known world. 

In this story, the Canaanite woman is absolutely and completely the other, the foreigner, she doesn't look like us or talk like us. But she's also a mother. Jesus is speaking to a mother whose daughter's life is at risk. Many of you know that when your child's life is at stake, you will do most anything, go to any lengths, you'll stay by their bedside, you'll take them to the hospital in the middle of the night, you'll pray and ask everyone you know to pray, you'll even bargain with God. This is that mother. She's not an insider, she's not an Israelite, she is a foreigner, she looks differently and she speaks differently than Jesus. And even Jesus, this Jesus who I have always believed includes everyone, initially says no. Maybe he's just too tired, maybe he's had a hard day, maybe he's fed so many people he's just spent. I've felt that way. 

But then, when you don't think you can do one more thing, help one more person, listen to one more story, something happens. Something shows forth the light, the love, the healing, the hope. Lord, help me she prays. And he does. Something breaks through. And the break through expands the love, she challenges Jesus, and the result is not just her baby being healed, but it is healing for everyone, for all of us. The light shows forth, mercy and compassion are possible. 

We are desperate for this compassionate reality. Our words matter. Love wins. What we do and what we say in the midst of violence is capable of healing. This is that day. Remember, what Jesus does on the cross is to take evil out of the world with him. He does not look for revenge, and surely he is the one who would have the right to. Instead he loves. Instead he forgives. Instead he heals.

It is our job to bear Jesus' love, forgiveness and healing into the world, it is our job to speak words of compassion into the world. It is our job to stand up for those who would be torn down. This is our mission: To build bridges of love and compassion, to build bridges of healing and hope. Martin Niemoller, a German theologian and Lutheran Pastor, who was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1938 to 1945, said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We may not be any of these things, but we are followers of Jesus and we must stand for Love. Amen.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Transfiguration Yr A Aug 6 2017

The Transfiguration Yr A Aug 6 2017 Audio

When I read the story from Exodus, it’s hard to keep the image of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments out of my head. When I read the story from Luke of Jesus turning dazzling white with Elijah and Moses appearing at his sides speaking with him, it’s hard to keep the image from Star Wars out of my mind, when at the end Obi Wan Kenobi, the transformed Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, and Yoda all appear in some sort of dazzling array of wisdom. There is some dazzling display in this story called the transfiguration, but if that’s all there is, we miss the point. There is glory indeed, but there’s a whole lot more going on as well.

Peter, and James and John go up the mountain with Jesus, and witness a dazzling display that causes Peter to want to capture it in time, and erect some tents and keep it tamely on that mountaintop. Not a bad idea, but also not in the nature of who Jesus is. This story of transfiguration reveals the glory of the Lord, to Peter James and John, and to us. But if we leave this revelation on the mountaintop, if we try to tame it, we loose, or maybe never even gain, the ability to engage in life expecting to see God’s glory in dazzling ways and in ordinary ways. I think this is really a story about what we see, or don’t see, and what we expect to see, and how that changes us.

We can walk through life never seeing God’s glory revealed, or, we can walk through life expecting to see God’s glory revealed.

What happened on this mount of transfiguration is that God shows Godself in no uncertain terms in and through Jesus. If Peter, James and John, or you or me, had any doubts about who Jesus is, doubt no longer. Not only is Jesus’ visage changed, Jesus is also clearly accompanied by Moses and Elijah, the two pre-eminent Jewish prophets. This all calls to mind the other story we read today. Moses comes off the mountaintop and the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. The story of the transfiguration intentionally calls that story to mind, to show us that Jesus is in the line of these prophets, and to tell us that this is God’s son, we are to listen.

This story of transfiguration is bookended by Incarnation in the beginning of the gospel, and by the last supper, later in the gospel. These stories show us what God’s inbreaking kingdom looks like. Luke makes sure we know the glorious event of Jesus’ birth. The angels, and the shepherds announce Jesus’ arrival. The star in the sky even points the way for the wise people. Jesus, God’s son, is now present, pay attention. The transfiguration may be extraordinary, but shepherds, and barn animals, and a messy manger, are really just ordinary things.

And then, the disciples and all who were gathered on that last night before Jesus’ death, witnessed Jesus present in the bread and in the wine, the body and the blood. Truly, the kingdom of God is near. The transfiguration may be extraordinary, but bread and wine, broken and spilled, are really just ordinary things.

I think this is really a story about what we see, or don’t see, and what we expect to see, and how that changes us.

Remember, Peter. Peter wanted to put up the tents and keep Jesus, Elijah, and Moses on that mountaintop, and stay with them. Peter wanted to capture and tame this extraordinary event for all time, and I’m pretty sure Peter would like to have replicated it over and over again if he could. We’re really just like Peter. When we have a mountaintop experience, religious or otherwise, we want to stay with it, stay in it, repeat it. But the reality of life is that we can’t, and not being able to is disappointing. We grow nostalgic for that experience, and soon, everything we do is evaluated in comparison to that mountaintop experience, and everything else pales. And we begin to miss God’s presence in the ordinary, we begin to miss the sacred moments.

Some of you have been to Cursillo, for me it was TEC, Teens Encounter Christ. Remember what that felt like. You were flying so high nothing could bring you down. Until you went back to work or school on Monday morning. That let down was so astounding, that we even spent time at the last part of the retreat weekend talking about it, preparing for it, what it would be like to be with our friends who hadn’t had this experience. And we try to capture it even now. We say things like, remember Cursillo, that was the best of times. Even wonderful worship is that way. I love the services of Holy Week, they are deep and meaningful, and culminate in the Great Vigil. That week exhausts me, and when you come and participate in each of those services you are exhausted too. It’s a good kind of exhaustion, but we can’t do that all the time. We have to come down, and encounter Jesus in the everyday, the ordinary.

You see, if we stay there, and we yearn to be there, we miss God now. God reveals Godself in this transfiguration, and Jesus finds us in the ordinary. The ordinary stable, the ordinary bread, the ordinary wine. Pay attention, or you’ll miss it. Expect God in the ordinary, expect Jesus in the people you meet, expect Holy Spirit in the wind and the rain. Expect the still small voice. Each day we are transfigured. Change is a constant presence in our everyday life.

And all of those experiences, the extraordinary and the ordinary, inspire us to respond to the needs of God’s beloved people with renewed energy, confidence, and determination. God’s glory, Jesus’ presence really begins to matter when we pay attention to the times and people where we can really make a difference. Instead of erecting tents on the mountaintop, we can carry that glory of Jesus into the neighborhood, and make a difference in ordinary lives, with ordinary things, food, water, shelter.

We have been changed, we are God’s beloved. Jesus’ cross and resurrection reveals just how much God loves us and that this Love wins. We are called, commissioned, and equipped to make a difference in the lives of those around us. Maybe even our church is transfigured by the love of God.

See the glory in the ordinary all around you. Expect to be changed, to be transformed. Be filled with Jesus’ very presence in this place, carry that glory into the world, doing the work that God has given you to do.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

8 Pentecost Proper 12 Yr A July 30 2017

What does the kingdom of heaven look like? This last set of parables from the writer Matthew shows us that the kingdom of heaven looks like a mustard seed, which is truly tiny and turns into a mighty tree. It looks like last week’s leaven that makes this week’s bread. These are things that show us, Jesus’ followers, that the kingdom of heaven is about growth, growth from the very small, the seed, the leaven, into something very amazing, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven also looks like letting go of everything, to make what is valuable available, it even looks like a change in direction. And in God’s kingdom, what is old has value, the new age that Jesus brings renews what has come before.

In the kingdom of heaven, the arc of God’s love bends toward growth, and transformation, and resurrection. In our world, on our screens and in our media, precious time is given over to images of opulence, visions of glamour, reflections of power, dreams of stardom. All this causes us to believe we want Hollywood, special effects, big productions, to be the way of our own lives. But this gospel, this good news, makes a claim on our whole lives, it calls us to be all in. These parables show us that money, fame, power, are not what garner joy, but instead, joy and love find us in the dirt, and in the messiness of seeds and dough, where growth can happen, treasure may be found, new life is possible.

When Rick and I moved here to southeastern Wisconsin, we were told that here is the best dirt in all the world. That is a mighty reputation. As we drive around southeastern Wisconsin, getting to know the lay of the land, getting to know the growing things, getting to know you delightful people, it becomes apparent to me, that indeed, it is in the dirt that small things grow into fullness, treasures may be found, and new life is possible.

Here is something I read this week from the gospel according to CS Lewis. “No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.” (Letters of CS Lewis in Readings for Meditation and Reflection, ed. Walter Hooper, 1992)

Muck and messiness, mud and manure, this is the very sign of God’s presence, and these are the things that give rise to new life. God’s promise in these stories is that growth will happen and treasure will be found and new life is possible. Rich dirt is comprised of all sorts of grimy gritty things, compost comprised of decayed organic matter. This is where God is present.

Not only do we desire after the special effects, the big production, but we also yearn for the perfect, the orderly, the antiseptic. Just as the over use of anti-bacterial sprays, wipes, and injections is creating populations resistant to bacteria, our wish for anti-septic lives prevents us from getting dirty. What about the floating bugs in the red juice at camp? Or the ash on the spatula that fell into the campfire while trying to turn the pancakes? Or the crunchies in the creamy peanut butter sandwiches eaten as a floating picnic in the canoe in the Boundary Waters? All affectionately lumped together as trail dust. How can God find us if we don’t play and dig in the dirt? How can God find us if we wrap ourselves in a hasmat suit and never come in contact with smelly, wiggly, compost? Because you see, it is the dirt that is the very sign of God’s presence.

And it is in the dirt that tiny seeds grow into great trees. It is in the dirt that treasures are found. In the dirt things happen. We get dirty, and we are broken.

Perfect is a very tenuous state, perfect is on the edge of broken. So much time, money, and attention is spent on perfect, spent on preventing broken, spent on sealing ourselves off from the muck and mess of living. In the striving for perfection, our veneer is so slick, Jesus has trouble finding us. Broken is not bad, broken is being human. And broken is where Jesus’ blood seeps into our very being, healing and bringing us to new life. The tiny seed must be broken apart in the ground, by all the wiggly things that are there with it, so that it may rise up as a mighty tree. If it remains a perfect seed, it always remains in that deep, dark ground, never to see daylight, never to feel the warmth, never to have new life, never to provide rest for the birds, never to offer mercy and compassion for all who come.

Brokenness is a place Jesus finds us. In the dirt, Jesus finds us. In our society, being broken seems to be a bad thing. But in the kingdom of heaven, there is no value judgment on brokenness. I have friends and family, you have friends and family who are broken, who have been broken. Mental illness, physical illness, addiction, these are things that just are. Not bad, not good. Fragmented relationships, priorities out of alignment, lives that need healing. Into these deep, dark places, Jesus seeps, bringing the nourishment, the compost, that heals our hearts. And all of that leaves scars. Because even healing isn’t perfect.

Healing shows the signs of the brokenness that opens us up to the treasure God has for us. The treasure that is found in the dirt, the treasure that is new life, and hope. The pearl that proves our lives are worth dying for.

Even Jesus, even Jesus is broken, broken for us. And we wear the scars of that brokenness. The scars of mercy, of compassion, of justice. We can offer mercy, compassion, justice, to others, because Jesus offers us mercy, compassion, and justice. All of us, no exceptions.

In the kingdom of heaven, the arc of God’s love bends toward growth, and transformation, and resurrection. Resurrection and transformation, now, and not yet. The promise of the kingdom of heaven is the mustard seed that grows into a great tree. The leaven that grows the flour into bread. The treasure that is uncovered in a field. The new kingdom that Jesus begins. We are to live today as if the kingdom has already begun.

This is the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

7 Pentecost Proper 11 Yr A July 23 2017

(Photo credit - Vaudeth Oberlander)

7 Pentecost Proper 11 Yr A July 23 2017 Audio

The two biggest Minnesota Viking fans of all time, Sven and Ole were up to no good again. They went to Wisconsin to try to sabotage the Packer’s locker room, so the Packer’s would get trapped in there and wouldn’t be able to make it to the big game on Sunday. Well, as it turned out, Sven and Ole’s plan failed, and they were both suffocated to death themselves, while trying to crawl through the ductwork.

Sven and Ole went up to the pearly gates where St. Peter was waiting for them. St. Peter just looked at them and said, “Don’t even think about it. I’ve been hearing about your shenanigans for years now, and quite frankly, I’ve been waiting for this moment.” Sven and Ole were puzzled by St. Peter’s outburst, but they soon found themselves in a very unpleasant place called hell. The devil approached them and told them to shovel 15 tons of coal into the blast furnace in 8 hours, or they would be in big trouble. They did it, 8 hours later Sven and Ole were relaxing on the pile of coal, and the devil came back. The devil asked, “How do you two like hell?” And Sven said, “Vell, it vasn’t too tougha job. The temperature isa bout right. It feels like Minnesota in June, don’t ya know.”

This made the devil very angry, so he turned up the furnace and gave them another 8 hours to shovel 20 tons of coal. The devil came back and there were Sven and Ole relaxing on the coal pile again. The devil asked, “How do you like hell now, does the heat bother you yet?” Ole answered, “Vell, it feels like Minnesota in July, or maybe even August fer sure.”

The devil became so outraged that he turned off the furnaces completely, and opened a cavern that led straight to the North Pole. The devil told them they had 8 hours to shovel the 40 tons of snow that came blowing in. The temperature soon fell to 60 below zero. Time passed and the devil came back. Sven and Ole were reclining in their homemade igloo. The devil could not believe this at all. He asked Sven and Ole how they like hell now. Sven and Ole said that it felt yust like January in Minnesota.

Then they asked the devil what the score of the game was. The devil was bewildered and said, “Why do you ask?” “Vell,” said Sven, “Da Vikings must’ve surely won dat dare Super Bowl, seein’ as how dis here place is frozen over.”

I tell you this Sven and Ole joke, partly because it illustrates so well the plight of a Vikings fan, and partly because it illustrates something important about common speech. Much of our conversation and our written words are in a kind of form. I just told you a joke; most of us recognize the form of a joke. And, I just told you a particular kind of joke, as soon as I said “Sven and Ole” you knew what to expect. It would be stupid, it may make fun of Minnesotans, the details may change from joke to joke, but the form and the characters stay the same. We are familiar with other forms of speech and story telling. When I say, “Once upon a time….” You know I will follow with a fairy tale. If I start with, “A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walked into a bar” you know that another kind of joke is to follow. If I began with something like, “My grandfather always told me…” you may recognize that as an object lesson or a teaching story. If I begin with, “Be it resolved that on this day, the twentieth of July, two thousand eight…” we may be hearing some sort of legal document. Well, you get the picture.

Scripture is full of literature forms, the lists of who begot whom is a form, the beginning of the gospel of Luke, we often call the prologue is a form, its purpose is to set up the status of the one the story is about. The Beatitudes are a form; they set up a list of virtues, and then a list of vices.

The parables are a form. Any Jew of Jesus’ time, as soon as they heard “The Kingdom of God is like….” or in Matthew, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” would know that a parable would follow, and would know that the parable is left up to the interpretation of the hearer.

The use of irony, idiom, metaphor, is all dependent on context and even delivery. No wonder we have such a difficult time with parables.

Another thing about parables is that Jesus told them to effect a response in his disciples, and in you and me, who are also disciples. That response may be surprise, it may even be shock. If you aren’t shocked by a parable, you need to take a closer look.

Let’s take a closer look at this morning’s parable. The farm hands of the householder have discovered that someone has come out in the dark of night, and sowed weeds in the wheat, and they are beginning to grow alongside the wheat. The farm hands want to pull the weeds, but the householder tells them not to because pulling the weeds would destroy the wheat as well. The householder tells them to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time collect the weeds first and burn them, and then gather the wheat. Not too much shocking there, but that’s because we are not insiders, we don’t get the irony, we don’t know the idiom, we have to learn some things and then take a closer look.

The wheat and the weeds grow up together. To remove the weeds is to kill the wheat. These are a particular kind of weed. The weed, or tare, in our gospel parable is a specific plant—darnel—a grass that grows in the same zones where wheat is produced. Darnel looks very much like wheat when it is immature; its roots intertwine with those of the wheat and its toxic grains are loosely attached to the stem. The problem of what to do with an infested field does not have a simple solution—pull up the shoots and you pull up the wheat; wait until the harvest and you poison the grain and contaminate next year’s crop with failing seeds.

Parables elicit many interpretations, today I would propose two. The first one has to do with judgment and mercy, the second with death and resurrection.

It is reported that the one who is responsible for the weeds is an enemy. But instead of attacking the enemy who put the weeds there, the householder let the weeds and the wheat live together until harvest. If the householder is like God, the field hands are disciples like you and me, the weeds are those who we may consider bad, or evildoers, or even merely those with whom we disagree, and the wheat is those who we may consider good, right thinking, or merely those with whom we agree. At this time in Jewish practice, two different things were never to touch each other, that resulted in impurity, and purity along with holiness were the two most important concepts in Jewish life. But Jesus brings this new thing into the world, new life, new love. I think the point is that Jesus’ disciples, you and me are to let the wheat and the weeds grow side by side and leave judgment to God.

Now, that is shocking. Judgment is up to God. Not up to you or me. God’s judgment, God’s righteousness, God’s perfection is perfect love and mercy. Blessings of sun and rain fall upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.

What has happened here is that Jesus has removed the burden of judgment from our shoulders. Jesus went to the cross and absorbed and contained the evil of the world, the evil of his tormenters. Jesus has freed us to give in to love. Don’t be afraid of those weeds, don’t give in to fear. We are not called to serve as judge, judging will only make us more anxious as we try to maintain constant vigilance, always eyeing our neighbor to try to pick out the enemy.

Our vocation is to love, as God first loved us. Jesus is the merciful judge; we don’t have to worry about how to do his job. Jesus is the merciful judge, and so we have access to an unshakable hope, the blessed assurance that we will be judged with the same infinite mercy, as will our enemies.
The wheat and the tare are intertwined; to pull the weeds is to kill the plant. It’s a desperate situation. But we know from this side of the story that Jesus is in a desperate situation. We know that his life leads him to suffering and death on the cross, and we also know that ultimately God inaugurates the new creation in Jesus’ resurrection, but not without the suffering that precedes it. Another way to experience this parable of the wheat and the tare is to let it teach us about death and resurrection. Maybe the householder is wise in letting the wheat and the tare grow up together because the householder knows something about suffering and death. The wheat will die because the tare kills it off. Maybe this parable is about dying to that which is killing us so that we may rise again to the new life that God has in store for us. What is it that is killing us? What is it that we need to die to so that we may have the new life that God promises? What is it that we need to die to so that the clutter is cleared and we may hear God’s call to us?

What is it that our church needs to die to, so that we may hear God’s call to us? Maybe this parable is about dying to that which is killing us so that we may rise again to the new life that God has in store for us.

Maybe this parable is about justice and mercy, maybe this parable is about dying and rising again, maybe this time, this parable is about you. Maybe, this parable is about us.