Saturday, May 19, 2018

Feast of Pentecost Yr B May 20 2018

Feast of Pentecost Yr B May 20 2018 Audio

Thomas Edison once said after a fire destroyed his laboratory, "There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew." Three weeks after the fire, Edison delivered his first phonograph. For us, Pentecost is that fire. Pentecost is that destroyer that is new life. I'm reminded of the controlled burns that often happened in the Black Hills, every once in a while one turned into a wildfire. A controlled burn is an illusion. After a burn, natural or human made, new life is springs up all over the place. The fire of Holy Spirit cannot be controlled. The fire of Holy Spirit cannot be predicted. The fire of Holy Spirit brings growth that cannot be imagined. 

And when the Holy Spirit shows us, nothing can be contained, not even the words that fall from the mouth. These readings before us today point us to Holy Spirit. They point us to the church, the people, not buildings and not institutions, but followers of Jesus. Followers of Jesus, who know that in their lives, Love wins. 

Indeed, today I think Pentecost is about breaking out of the framework, and being about God's reconciling mission in the world. Pentecost is about being a follower of Jesus and doing it together, with other people on the way. And for us, it is about doing it in this peculiar and particular way as Episcopalians at Trinity.

So we celebrate this Feast of the Pentecost as the birth of the church. And in the spirit of the amazing message our Presiding Bishop delivered yesterday at the royal wedding, “the day the fire came down,” I offer to you, my top ten list of the church. Here you are.

Number 1 Church is where there is always something to eat, and everyone gets fed. We know our risen lord in the breaking of the bread, we know our risen lord in the sharing of a meal, we know our risen lord in the hearts and the faces of those we feed as well as in the feeding. Something mystical and amazing happens when we are made Jesus' body through the sharing of a meal. We are made whole, we are put back together, we are joined with God and with one another.

Number 2 Our liturgy, what we do when we are gathered together, makes sense of our lives. Because many of us live hectic and full lives, we make room for silence. Because we need a language for worship of that which is not us, we pray with words and symbol, we pray with music and song, we pray in order and in chaos. Because when the pain gets too hard to bear, we have a place to put it here, in this place. And when the joy and gratitude bubble over, there are others to catch it and share it.

Number 3 No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you. That one is not really mine, it's from Robin Williams, who was an Episcopalian. We engage in the very important skill of theological reflection. We engage the world, and we consider it through the lens of scripture, tradition, and reason. We read scripture together, we learn about its context, we talk about it, we even argue about it, and we make up our own minds as to how we live its claim on our lives. You don't have to check your mind at the door. And no matter what, we gather around the table and eat together anyway.

Number 4 People love one another. That is an action, not necessarily a feeling. We treat each other, and all those who come looking for acceptance, with dignity and respect. And when we don't, we ask for forgiveness and are granted it. This is a vision of the kingdom. In God's kingdom, all are loved, all are cared for, all are forgiven. In the church, we fall short but we arc toward that vision.

Number 5 Children are always welcome, old people too, and gay people and straight people for that matter, and ordinary people, and extraordinary people. God loves everyone, no exceptions, and church, this church in particular, lives that out. Again, not perfectly, there are times when we forget who we are, we forget that our number one priority is to welcome all as Christ welcomes all. 

Number 6 There are some important times in people's lives that we pay attention to: birth and baptism, marriage, death, and even the times in between, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, times of sickness and suffering, times of joy and celebration, comings and goings. We pay attention to these times because it is often at these times the time and distance between us and God, us and the others in our lives, thins. It is these times when we lift our hearts and our voices to give God praise, to ask for strength and courage, to turn to one another for support, not because we have to, but because it is what our humanity calls us to. We talk to God and with one another in the words that come into our hearts and our minds, and when we cannot find the words to say what needs to be said, we turn to our Prayer Book. We turn to the words that have been said and prayed through the years, the decades, and the centuries. There we can place our joy and our sorrow, and know that we are held in the awesome presence of our Creator God, our Father and Mother God, our loving God. 

Number 7 We show up consistently, we listen, we tell the truth, and we try, hard as we might, to let go of the outcome. This one is the foundation of all ministry. We show up. That's a tough one these days. There is so much that demands our attention. There are many, many things we could be doing besides coming here to do this each Sunday morning. But we know that it's not about having the time to come, none of us really have any time, instead, it's about knowing that to be whole people, we need to stop for a few moments, stop and listen to God and to one another. We show up. 

We listen, we listen to God's word, to one another, sometimes you even listen to me, I try to listen to you. We listen in the silence of this space, we listen in the cacophony of the marketplace, we listen to the music of the spheres and the music we make together. We listen.

We tell the truth. How hard is that? The truth that God loves you no matter what. The truth that God came and comes into this created world to walk with us on the way. The truth that there is pain and suffering and sometimes life just sucks, but we are not alone. The truth that in Jesus' life and suffering and death on the cross, Love wins. The truth that nothing belongs to us anyway, the truth that we are stewards of God's creation, stewards of our children, stewards of this beautiful building, and we live in gratitude for all of it.  

We let go of the outcome. See number eight.

Number 8 We recognize that God is God and we are not. We are not the center of the universe, we are not the hub of the wheel, we are not the most important of God's creation. We are interdependent, we are one part of a mighty creation, we are not in control.  We let go of the outcome.

Number 9 We recognize that we are transformed by God's amazing and abundant love in Jesus Christ. The relationship that God has with us changes us, the relationship we have with others changes us. We begin to look more and more like people of mercy and compassion, we begin to look more and more like people who feed each other, who feed the hungry. We begin to look more and more like people who miss the mark, ask for forgiveness, and are loved regardless.

Number 10 We go out into the world as followers of Jesus, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the imprisoned, see number 9. We embody mercy and compassion, we listen to God's call in our lives, we seek to get on board with what God is already blessing. We recognize that God is the greatest healing and integrating force in an increasingly fragmented world. We understand that it is our call to be the peace makers, the light bearers, the agents of healing and reconciliation in the world.

Because in the end, church is not this building, or any building, Church is the fire that burns in our hearts, church is the love of Jesus that puts us together as a body. So, on this Feast of Pentecost, I ask some questions about the future of the church. How do we keep ever burning, ever reforming, ever emerging? How do we find a way to speak in a language people can understand? How do we stay nimble, that is, how do we respond to the global nature of the world in which we live, and how do we respond to the ever more instant communication that people have in their hands and at their disposal? How do we help people to see that true freedom is in relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit, and with others? 

Because in the beginning, and in the middle, and at the end, it is love after all. Amen. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

7 Easter Yr B May 13 2018

Jesus is not the “parent” of his followers but his love for them is at least as fervent as a mother for her children.  Thus as Jesus looks ahead to his own departure, realizing that he’d have to leave his friends to keep working in the midst of a highly challenging world, Jesus knows that among the things he must pray for them is protection from the evil one, from the destructive forces of life that seem calculated to knock the stuffing out of us more days than not.  Jesus knows, too, that the success of his mission depends precisely on the disciples’ not being transported out of this world nor cocooned away somewhere far away from society or from the people in this world who need to hear the Gospel message.

Jesus prays “protect them.” I pray for my children, that they are not dead in a ditch somewhere. Although that is my prayer, I’m not sure that’s what Jesus had in mind. What is the protection that Jesus prays for? I think when we think about God’s protection we may think about being spared from an untimely death. Sometimes we even live in a bit of a fantasy that includes immortality, invulnerability, and invincibility. Nothing Jesus does, nothing Jesus prays, takes away the reality of death. But Jesus assures his friends, Jesus prays to his father, protect them don’t lose them.

Maybe what Jesus imagines when he prays, protect them, is protection from the ways and the wills of the world. You see, following Jesus, then or now, is not about withdrawing from the world, actually, that might be easier. Finding a solitary cave somewhere so no one can bother you, or disagree with you, or offend you, some days looks to me like a sweet deal. Protect them, while they live in the world. Protect them while they love you and love their neighbors. Protect them while they stand up for my love. Protect them when they stand up for those who are hungry, and tired. Protect them when their words and actions disrupt the accepted order of things.

You see, Jesus knows what trouble you can get into when you work to change systems that keep people in poverty, at the least you get called names, some have been thrown into jail, some have been killed for it. Jesus knows what trouble you can get into when you insist that all God’s children should have affordable health care, or education.

God’s protection doesn’t keep us alive, or even safe, it doesn’t even keep us from worrying. Although we hear over and over, do not be afraid, worry will get you nowhere. God’s protection surrounds us in the power of the Spirit, that we may be assured of the love and the grace that comes only from the one who rises from the dead and ascends into heaven.

So the evening before Jesus is betrayed, beaten, and executed, Jesus stops, and prays for those he loves and leaves behind. Jesus prays for assurance and protection. This is some amazing love. This is love that is all about a relationship. This prayer in John’s gospel is near the end of Jesus’ farewell to his followers. In the other gospels, Jesus’ prayer is the one we know as the Lord’s Prayer. But in this gospel, this is Jesus’ prayer.

We hear Jesus recall for us another story; the shepherd who looks for the one sheep who is lost, the story of the shepherd who calls the sheep by name, the shepherd who brings the sheep into the sheepfold; the shepherd who protects the sheep.

Sometimes this world can be a rough and dangerous place. School is not always a safe place. Work can be brutal. That is not to say that we don’t have glimpses of hope and holiness, indeed we do. We do when we are participants in God’s grace and protection. When we offer love to the unloved we become the agents of God’s protection. When we offer mercy when others jump to judgment, we become the bearers God’s love. When we act on our convictions to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God we become bearers of the gospel, bearers of the good news.

And that is what Jesus prays for his followers, for us. Protect them when they bear your love into the world.

As a mother, I want desperately to protect my children. When they were young I spent a lot of time and energy protecting their innocence, I really didn’t want them to have to encounter the meanness, the harshness, the world could dish out sometimes. I never even imagined when my children were little, what kind of risk there would be in just going to school. But at the very least I know that my job as parent was and is to equip them with resiliency, to cover them in love, and to show them that no matter what, even when my love is imperfect, God’s love is not. But I cannot save them from pain, from destruction, from death. Even God does not.

You see, even God’s protection does not save us from the reality of this life, but instead, goes with us into the brambles, the pits, and the grave, accompanies us and assures us of the something more that is resurrection and ascension. That’s actually what we hear right at the end of this prayer. Jesus says, sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. You see, used in this way, sanctify is synonymous with protect. Jesus again asks for protection for us. We do live in the reality of resurrection, of new life, and that is what empowers us to do the work that we are called to do. We are protected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and accompanied by the risen Christ, and imbued with the love of God, to live the life that has been promised; the life of justice and kindness, not of ease and absence of pain.

It is our job to be agents of justice. It is our job to be bearers of kindness. In every time and place, no matter what, with God’s protection and grace we who are followers of Jesus go out into the world to love and serve our God. Amen.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

6 Easter Yr B May 6 2018

6 Easter Yr B May 6 2018 Audio

Last week we heard the beginning of this gospel story of the grapes and the vine and the branches. What we hear today is the remainder of that story. The section before us today focuses on love, and that abiding in the vine is the same as abiding in love. This is a story about God loving the world so much, that God decides to dwell as Jesus, in the world. This is a story about Jesus revealing God’s abundant love, and showing us what that abundant love looks like. This is a story that shows us that God chooses us.

I want you to remember back to Holy Week. On the Thursday night of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, we celebrate Holy Communion and we wash one another’s feet. We do those things because during Holy Week we are walking a journey with Jesus, and in the story of Jesus’ last days, these are some of the things Jesus does. Remember that story, remember that night. Jesus is at table with his friends for the very last time, they all know this. Jesus gets up from the table, ties a towel around himself, kneels down in front of his friends, and washes their feet. In this church, many of you, mama’s and children, brothers and sisters, friends, sat in this spot, and washed each other’s feet. Grimy, dirty, feet. Jesus shows us this is what love looks like. Today we hear, love one another as I have loved you. This is what love looks like, wash one another’s feet.

This is a story about Jesus revealing God’s abundant love, and showing us what that abundant love looks like. Keeping God’s commandments is to love.

Because Jesus loves his friends and us, Jesus is setting up a framework for relying on each other in his absence. Jesus says, you are my friends; I choose you. Jesus showed his disciples, his friends, everything he could imagine about this life of love they would lead without him. Those disciples needed to hear Jesus’ commitment to them, his reassurance that the relationship is firm and sound. We hear this as well. You are my friends, I chose you, and I appoint you to go and bear fruit.

This story is part of the last things Jesus says and does before he dies. It is so important for Jesus to reassure his disciples that he would not leave them, us, alone. We are Jesus friends, and Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus leaves us with each other, and the Holy Spirit, and we will bear fruit. We are connected to the vine, and we will have life.

I imagine Jesus’ friends being so very frightened at the thought of losing him. This man who has taught them so much about themselves, so much about life and love. They wanted him there with them. They wanted to be reassured that he would always be there. Isn’t that true for you and the ones you love? We cannot even begin to face the reality that our mothers, or our fathers, our brothers or sisters, our friends, might die. We wonder how life can even begin to be joyful without them.

Or what about the reality of the cross? Sometimes it can be so confusing. So what if the cross is the natural if painful extension of God’s willingness to enter into our confusion and chaos and violence and heartache? Then, maybe, the cross is simply testimony to just how much God loves us – that God will not shy away even from the worst of humanity’s instincts – and the resurrection that follows is the promise and sign that when we’ve done our very worst, been our very worst, fallen so tragically short of God’s hopes for us, yet God’s love embodied and enfleshed in Jesus endures, remains, and is victorious.

So into this reality Jesus speaks these words about vines and branches, abiding in love; these words of interconnectedness; these words of friendship and joy. You see, Jesus knows he cannot take away these pains of life, Jesus cannot take away the reality of death, but Jesus assures them, Jesus assures us, that together we can bear the pain, and through that pain, even when we cannot see it yet, joy will grow. Not only does joy grow, but there is something new, abundant life, as well.

What an amazing image the gospel writer John sets before us; vines that grow, and weave in and through each other. Vines that attached to the root bear much fruit. Jesus knew his friends well, Jesus knows us so very well. Because isn’t it true that we really prefer to make a go of it on our own? How many of us have heard our own children, our own grandchildren say in a very determined way, “do it myself!” We forget about the barn raisings of our ancestors, we rarely bring hotdish to our neighbors at the birth of a child, or the death of a parent anymore. How many in our community and our country accept without question the individualism that separates us. How many times do we hear, if only they would get a job and work harder they wouldn’t need help, without understanding that we never get anywhere by ourselves, our success is built on the success of others, and sometimes our success is built on the adversity of others.

How do we imagine new ways of being, new ways of being connected that bring life to the vine, and produce grapes worthy of the wine that is poured out for us? For this is the joy that Jesus describes. We don’t pursue joy, joy is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus, our relationships with one another. Joy is the fruit of our connection to the vine.

One way the gospel writer John imagines this new way of being in Jesus is by washing one another’s feet. In the first century Mediterranean world washing feet is the consummate act of servant hood. So this story turns the tables of well-defined roles, servant sits in the chair of the master, and master kneels at the feet of the servant. This is also what love looks like.

What does this love look like for you? What does this kind of servant ministry look like for you? I had the honor of attending the first annual GIFTS dinner on Tuesday night. For the sake of not using acronyms that some may not know, GIFTS means God is Faithful Temporary Shelter, and it is the homeless men’s ministry in Janesville. GIFTS is what love looks like. GIFTS is a story that focuses on love, GIFTS is a story about God loving the world so much, that God decides to dwell as Jesus, in the world. GIFTS is a story that reveals God’s abundant love.

How do we imagine new ways of being in God’s love? We show forth God’s love for us, we embody Jesus’ servant ministry, we wash one another’s feet. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

5 Easter Yr B April 29 2018

5 Easter Yr B April 29 2018 Audio

We have had one long winter haven’t we? Our grass is finally turning green, and the roses are coming to life in our garden. I await with baited breath and wild anticipation for the lilacs delighting the senses, we may actually celebrate this rite of spring. All winter long I yearn for the warmth and the smell of the dirt as we dig and play in it. All winter long we give thanks for the moisture that comes our way, knowing that it's falling from the sky results in new growth. Even when spring comes late, we are out planting, hoping against hope that there is no more frost to bring our work to naught, but secretly thinking it really doesn't matter because it's just a wonderful excuse to be outside and not inside. 

Before us today is a passage we all know well. I'll read it again in Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message. "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples." 

The gospel of John is rich with metaphor, ripe with meaning. At the very least, this is a passage about growth and grapes, but it also tells us something of how to live, and it is very much about following Jesus. In our collection of readings this morning it is coupled with 1 John, God is love, and we, followers of Jesus, must love our brothers and our sisters. Eugene Peterson translates, live in me, make your home in me, which I find very helpful. Other translations use abide in me, and remain in me. All of these invoke intimacy and connection. God, the farmer, God the vine-grower, God the gardener, wants us, each one of us and all of us to remain connected to our source, to our creator, and in doing so, we not only grow but we bear fruit. The image is to remain connected to the vine, it doesn't say, in any of the translations, that we are to connect ourselves to the vine. Our organic and natural state is connection. 

The vines that fall away are gathered together and thrown into the bonfire. Apart from the vine, our lives result in disconnection, disorientation, disintegration. It's a beautiful image, the farmer caring for the vine and the grapes, a pastoral image that maybe some can't imagine in this time of immediacy, in this age of instant results. I was wondering about an image that could possibly be similar today, and I think of your computer, or my iPad, devices that give us instant communication and fast results, but that don't work unless sometimes we connect them into the power source to be re-enlivened. They really would just be typewriters on steroids without the Internet and the world wide web that connects us to people and information all over the known world. Even Facebook and all the other social media portals would be nothing if it were not for all the others we get connected to. Are they life giving? That question remains to be answered, but for matters of metaphor they'll do. 

And to what end are we given this illustration, this tangly vine metaphor that John uses? It is about being disciples, it is about following Jesus, it is about loving our brothers and our sisters. The point is to bear fruit, and in bearing fruit, God is glorified and we are disciples. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It really is as simple as that; we try to make it so much harder. We get so caught up in semantics sometimes, you and I sometimes even bristle at the word Christian, because it means one thing to some, and another thing to others. You and I and all of us together follow Jesus. That is what we are to do, as we follow Jesus we bear fruit, and we glorify God. 

So what does this call to bearing fruit look like? Picture a vine laden with grapes, so heavy it pulls itself to the ground if not held up by some sort of trellis. So heavy with grapes they can't help but spill over onto the ground, so colorful that they can't help but make the hands of the picker all blue and purple. Our call to bearing fruit causes our love to overflow like those heavy-laden grape vines. 

And our call to bearing fruit is very clear in the passage in first John, it is to love our brothers and sisters. These are the brothers and sisters who make us crazy, these are the ones you can't live with, and you can't live without. These are the brothers and sisters you wish would call more often and who talk too much on the phone. These are the brothers and sisters you fight with and who you sit down to dinner with. These are the brothers and sisters who drink too much, tell dirty jokes, and die much too early. These are the brothers and sisters who take care of your parents just like you do. These are the brothers and sisters who produce your nieces and nephews. These are the brothers and sisters who won't pick up their toys, who hit you in the back seat of the car, who want to watch a stupid movie when you're trying to watch your own stupid movie, these are the brothers and sisters you love no matter what. It's a good thing Love wins, because there are those days when loving your brothers and sisters is absolutely impossible. 

We don't pick our brothers and our sisters. There are those we wish were are brothers and our sisters, the ones we like, the ones we get along with, the ones we invite over for sleepovers, the ones who love us just the way we are. I'm really thankful for them, I call them friends. And, we count ourselves lucky when our brothers and our sisters are also our friends. But still, that's not what fruit bearing and following Jesus are really all about. Following Jesus is about what we do not only when it's easy and convenient, but what we do when it is not easy or convenient. Of course loving our brothers and sisters is about loving our brothers and sisters, but it is so much bigger than that. It is also about loving our brothers and sisters who live on this giant rock with us, because we are all related. 

Loving our brothers and sisters has everything to do with those we are related to by blood, and those we are related to by brokenness. And maybe that’s where we go so terribly wrong sometimes. Our forgetfulness gets the best of us. We forget that the state of humanity is brokenness; we forget that it is our vulnerability, our wounds, our scars, being made in God’s image, is what is at the core of our relatedness. We come here to remember, we come here to break bread, drink this wine from the grapes picked from the vine, we come here to be healed, we come here to be sent, we come here to love.

Following Jesus is about that relationship. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our creator God's relationship to us each and every day. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our connection to one another every day. Following Jesus is about finding the relationship between people, finding the connection between us and the other, finding the way to acknowledge one another's dignity and worth, even when that seems impossible. Following Jesus is being connected to this vine that gives us life. Because it is Love that wins, after all.   

Feast of Pentecost Yr B May 20 2018

Feast of Pentecost Yr B May 20 2018 Audio Thomas Edison once said after a fire destroyed his laboratory, "There is gr...