Saturday, April 26, 2008

6 Easter Yr A

Around the church recently we’ve been spending some time and energy being agitated about church attendance, and about programming that meets the needs of all of you and of those who we have not yet reached. We have many conversations about these things, Dave and I talk in the office as we brainstorm new ideas, the education committee wonders about how to do Sunday school in creative ways, the worship committee plans worship that they believe is engaging and interesting, and yet stays true to our Prayer book heritage, people are interested in ways in which we can get the word out about what St. Andrew’s offers. I do believe that many of you talk of these things over your kitchen tables, over breakfast when you leave on Sunday morning, and when you gather at each other’s homes for a meal. Sometimes these are frustrating conversations, sometimes they are enlightening conversations. But today’s reading from Acts sheds some light on these conversations.

Paul is teaching in front of the Areopagus. The Areopagus was both a place and a group. According to Dan Clendenin, on his website journeywithjesus.net, the Areopagus was a small rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis in Athens. More importantly, the Areopagus was the most prestigious and venerable council of elders in the history of Athens. Dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, the Areopagus consisted of nine chief magistrates who guided the city-state away from rule by a king to rule by an oligarchy that laid the foundations for Greece’s eventual democracy. Across the centuries the Areopagus changed, so that by Paul’s day it was a place where matters of the criminal courts, law, philosophy and politics were adjudicated.

This is all to say here is Paul, who had been publicly professing the Jesus Way in the marketplaces and synagogues with anyone and everyone, being questioned and ridiculed by these culture shapers and opinion makers who advocated ‘foreign gods.’ We find Paul today in the marketplace, using the images and categories of these power brokers, to make his case for the Jesus Way. I think Paul begs the question, how do you and I in the beginning of the 21st century, in the marketplace, profess the Jesus way? And can we do that or do we do that using the images and categories of the power brokers of our day?

It is no longer enough for us Episcopalians to sit back and expect people to join us because we do church right, or better than anyone else. That has been our prevailing opinion. And we have expected people to conform to our tradition, we have expected people to do it our way, we have expected people to see the wisdom of our reason and tradition, and the beauty of our prayer book. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think our tradition and our prayer book are amazing and wonderful things, and I am not suggesting that we in any way get rid of them, but I am suggesting that Paul begs us to worship the one God, and asks us to find ways to present God that make sense not only to us who are already here but also in the images and categories of those who would not enter our doors otherwise.

I beg you, as Paul begs us, to find ways to profess the Jesus Way in the marketplace, in our community. I think two things need to be happening at the same time for us to live like Paul asks us to live. One of those things is that everyone here needs to find a way to get serious about your own faith formation. If we don’t offer something that works for you, then it’s up to you to offer something that may work for you and others like you, for others who are here right now, and for others who may come because your idea works for them.

We offer bible study, Education for Ministry, Wednesday night casual worship and education and youth group, food and fellowship, Sunday morning formal worship, Sunday school for children and adults, and occasional faith formation events. Our outreach includes the Cornerstone mission meal, United Campus Ministry meal, Clothe a Kid, collecting toiletries for Love INC, and food for the Church Response food shelf, we have people who bring communion and our community out to those who cannot be here on Sunday’s, and I’m sure I’ve missed something.

We are working on two new ideas for the fall and if you find your passions around children and youth we invite you to participate in shaping these ideas. We’d like to reinvision our ministry with children and youth and we are asking the questions Paul has directed us to ask. Given the landscape of families today, which is very different from the landscape many of us grew up in and raised our own children in, how do we respond, how do we offer faith formation in ways that work for fragmented and frantic families? What are the images and categories in which we must work so that we can make sense of God’s abundant love for them?

The other idea is around adult faith formation. I truly believe our ministry with children and youth is only as vibrant as our passion for our own adult faith formation. And we need a shot in the arm. Our vitality is marked by our willingness to engage in our own faith formation, and we will be transformed in that process. We will see and live and experience God’s love and abundance in ways we never imagined, in ways we never thought possible. And then we are sent out into the world as bearers of the love and forgiveness and justice that we have received, to serve others, and to profess to others that God’s love is available to them as well.

We had a wonderful and worthwhile workshop a couple weeks ago. Pastor Arley Fadness led us in identifying our gifts, looking to the places where our passions lie in order to get about doing the work that God has given us to do. I would love for us to engage this process further, and to that end I would like to see us work together with something called “Rooted in God,” it is a program that will help us explore creatively what it means, foundationally and universally to be Church, and we will discern specifically what God is calling our church to do and to become. I’d love to tell you more about this, and I look toward the fall to begin.

Earlier I said that there are two things that need to be happening at the same time. The second is that we need to be clear about our mission, which is what we will get at with the ‘Rooted in God’ program. But we can’t sit back and wait to get clarity. We need to act on our love of Jesus Christ in ways that make sense to each of us. We need to take seriously living by word and example and God’s abundant love in our lives. We need to invite others to come to church with us, not to fill our pews, but to give them the greatest gift of all, the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. I don’t know what all the images and categories are for those who have yet to know the love of Jesus Christ in their lives. But I do know that Paul calls us to ask and figure that out, and then to teach out in the marketplace in ways that make sense.

I do know that the abundant love of God is present in this place, and the transforming power of Jesus Christ is alive and well. I do know that we are nourished with the body and blood of Jesus and sent into the marketplace to do the work that we are called to do. Together we’ll figure out how.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. Come, let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

5 Easter Yr A

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe in me also. These are the words Jesus says to his friends as he prepares them for his departure from this world. And Thomas still responds with fear, How do we know where you are going? How do we know the way? And Jesus tries to explain again; I am the way, and the truth and the life. And yet, Jesus’ friends continue to be troubled, you and I continue to be troubled. We are always looking for the certainty that what we believe will relieve our trouble.

Many people look toward Jesus to relieve that trouble, many look toward this particular passage for certainty, for the answer, for the one way. In the culture of fear in which we live, we look to this passage for the explanation, the answer.

If this passage gives the answer, if this passage certifies the need for one and only one way, it also allows us to place blame and to assign responsibility to others because it’s more comfortable to make sure some people don’t make it into the club.

I just don’t think that sort of certainty is there. In fact, I think this passage from the gospel of John affirms our anxiety, it lets us know it’s ok to be unsure, just like Jesus’ friends were unsure, troubled, afraid. Instead of closing down to a very narrow ONE way, it invites us into the breathtakingly wide-open wonder.

In addition to the rich language of the gospel of John, poetry comes close to describing the awesome wonder of the way, the truth, and the life. Two poems, one by the 17th century poet George Herbert, and the other by the 20th century poet W.H. Auden have both been favorites of mine, and coincidentally share the theme, the way, the truth, and the life. Both also, are in our hymnal, The Call, George Herbert’s poem is hymn number 487. Come my way, my truth, my life: such a way as gives us breath; such a truth as ends all strife; such a life as killeth death. Come my light, my feast, my strength: such a light as shows a feast; such a feast as mends in length; such a strength as makes his guest. Come my joy, my love, my heart: such a joy as none can move; such a love as none can part; such a heart as joys in love.

And the one by WH Auden is number 464. He is the way. Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness; you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures. He is the truth. Seek him in the Kingdom of anxiety: you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years. He is the Life. Love him in the world of the flesh: and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Jesus says, I am the Way. The invitation is not to a simple answer, but to a complex relationship. A relationship that breathes new life, a relationship that is about transformation, a relationship like no other. We know Jesus, and come to God through Jesus, not by learning and believing one time, one way. Instead, we belong to Jesus, we journey together, we are a community walking the path together. The way is a way of continuous conversation and discovery. The way is not an answer we can teach our children; it is an adventure we share with them and with Jesus, our companion on the way. And this adventure will bring us to people in whom we meet Jesus.

Jesus says, I am the Truth. Truth is encountered on this adventurous journey. Jesus is the embodiment of truth. Truth is not defined narrowly. Truth is about a lived reality. Truth is the story of life, death and resurrection. Living in relationship with Jesus is the truth. The truth will accompany us on the journey whose destination is unknown, but is promised to be magnificent. We see at the journey’s end a spacious place, open and welcoming, full of grace, far greater than the bounds of our understanding, full of the expectation of our return.

Jesus says, I am the Life. We define life so narrowly. In our culture it seems more and more that the boundaries of life include seeking ways to alter the reality in which we find ourselves. Our culture sells us images of fame, images of bigger and better everything, from homes to cars, trucks, and body parts; rather than inviting Jesus into the midst of that reality and living it fully. Throughout the scriptures we gather and glean that God’s deepest desire for humanity is to live life fully and to know the abundance of God’s love.

Life is the relationship that Jesus invites us into, a relationship with him and with others. Life, love is the call to us in this world, right here and right now, in our work, in our homes, in our schools. Life is the relationship that Jesus calls us to, a relationship that demands loving oneself and loving others. A relationship in which no one of us is the main character, because God is the main character. A relationship that is full of living, a relationship that is full of giving. Giving for others, giving of ourselves, giving because it is the right thing to do.

WH Auden imagines that life this way: He is the Life. Love him in the World of the Flesh: and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

The way, the truth and the life is not a narrowly defined exclusive club for people who profess a particular way of belief. The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship like many of our relationships, with good days and bad, with joys and sorrows, with arguments and apologies, with forgiveness and new beginnings.

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is lived out in community, lived out with others who also each day strive to bring their passion about and their love of Jesus into the world.

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship that brings meaning to life and death, and new life. A relationship that speaks the truth in the face of evil and injustice, a relationship that makes possibilities out if impossibilities.

I pray today, in the words of George Herbert,

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life;
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as killeth death.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Come let us adore him. Amen.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

4 Easter Yr A

Resurrection is a kind of miracle, a miracle of awareness, aliveness, an awakening. We have stories that help us roll away the stone of our tomb-life. We have stories that remind us that others have suffered as we do, and as those we love. We have stories that reassure us unexpectedly and unpredictably, that on the other side of suffering there is life. We have stories that help us to awaken and live. These are resurrection stories. These are the stories that will set us free.

Recently a couple has come to me for marriage. In our time together I have heard the pain and seen the tears of suffering with divorce, I have witnessed the desperation in a broken relationship. And I have heard the joy and hope in this new relationship. In this same story I heard the pain and suffering experienced by the rejection and judgment of a church that could not accept the humanity of mistakes and brokenness, and instead only wants to shame and judge. I suggested to the young man that his is a story of resurrection, a story of forgiveness and healing and new life. His is a story that reassures us of the life on the other side of suffering. His response to me was that he’d never heard or imagined that his story was a story of resurrection.

In the introduction to his book, Celebrating Easter and Spring, Mark Harris says, If we believe in a creative power that shatters the icy tomb of winter with the life-giving miracle of spring, we have seen a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power that moves tens and then tens of thousands of people to cry out against injustices of society, enabling the downfall of hatred and prejudice, then we have fomented a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power lying within each human breast that enables us to break the bonds of personal pain and know the hope of new tomorrows, then we have experienced a resurrection.

This is what Easter is about; this is why we are Easter people. In the book of Acts, from which we hear this morning, is the story of people who live in the reality of resurrection, who are Easter people, and who formed their lives and community around that reality. Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. The response to resurrection is awe.

I am in awe because of the wonders and signs of resurrection. It is because of resurrection that we are baptized and we devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. What is it about resurrection that causes such fervor. Resurrection is a present and future reality. Resurrection, what happened at the first Easter, is about God’s interruption of human history, God has created this amazing new thing. God has raised Jesus from death to new life. The promise is that the same will happen to each of us. That is what is meant by the present reality, and the future reality.

It is this reality in which we live and die. It is the promise that on the other side of suffering and pain there is abundant life, life that is unimaginable. It is the promise that in the midst of suffering and pain, in the midst of the mess that sometimes just is, God is with us, God loves us and cares about us. In this Easter season we live on the side of abundant life. We live in the reality of new creation. The Good News is that death does not have the victory, the Good News is that Life Wins. I’ve quoted before from Jurassic Park, a conversation that Ian Malcolm had with his colleagues about the breeding of the female dinosaurs, Ian states the truth, Life finds a way.

Baptism, teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers is our response to the gift of abundant life.

We also live in the promise of the new creation of the future. There is a popular story out there about what the future holds. It is a story called rapture, and most recently has been told in the Left Behind novels. That story goes something like this. We are now living in the end times, in which all the great prophecies are to be fulfilled at last. Central to these prophecies, it is believed, is the promise that Jesus will return in person, snatching the true believers away from this wicked world to be with him and then, after an interval of ungodliness, returning to reign over the world forever. In the fictitious scenario of the Left Behind books, the rapture has happened; all true Christians have been snatched away from the earth; and those left behind are now struggling to survive in a godless world. This end time speculation has been closely associated with and connected to the agenda of some of America’s leading politicians. But this scenario is far from resurrection that is the truth of Easter, and it is far from the promise of new creation that we read about in the book of Revelation.

What is promised in Revelation 21 is a new heaven and a new earth replacing the old heaven and the old earth, which were bound to decay. So, far from sitting on clouds playing harps, or even floating around as disembodied spirits, the redeemed people of God, that is you and me, in the new world will be the agents of God’s love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of God’s love.

So at the moment, by the Spirit, the word, the sacraments and prayer, and in those in whom we are called to serve for Jesus’ sake, the absent Jesus is present to us. So in the midst of our pain and suffering, our joy and delight, we are to be agents of new creation. We pray daily to our Lord, that the Kingdom should come, that God’s will be done. That is about the present reality of word, bread and wine, and prayer and the future reality of the new creation right here on earth.

We need to get to the work that God has given us to do. As Bono has said, "Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed." What is God already doing at St. Andrew’s. God is teaching us to be compassionate, to listen to others whose opinions and beliefs are different than our own, to listen to each others faith stories, to identify our gifts and talents, to live out our baptismal ministry.

What is God already doing with us in the world. God is calling us to feed the hungry, at Cornerstone mission, at the United Campus Ministry meals, donations to the Church Response food shelf. God is calling us to clothe the naked, through Love INC Clothe a kid, through church rummage sales. God is calling us to free those who are bound, by visiting those in the hospital, and by welcoming all who would come.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen. Come let us adore him. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

3 Easter Yr A

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. From the moment I stepped into an Episcopal church this is the scripture, the prayer, the action, that made the presence of Jesus Christ real for me. There is nothing about church, about community, about family, about faith, about social justice, about baptismal promises, about a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is not contained in this little collection of words. Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.

As a child, I lived in a community of people. I am five of eight. There were most always people around, and the liveliest times of the day were our dinner meal. We would scrunch around our kitchen table, someone would have to sit on a stool at the counter in order to get us all in. I remember those times with all the commotion and chaos quite fondly.

When we would gather for holidays there were 23 of us grandchildren. We would enjoy a meal together, but not much quiet. Often many of us little one’s would end up staying the night wherever we were. I remember those times and savor the innocence of those relationships.

As we grew older, all of us cousins with all of our children stopped gathering for the Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving holiday, but many times we gathered the evening before Thanksgiving, as many as could, for a game dinner, venison, duck, sometimes even salmon caught in Alaska. Those were nostalgic times.

The Norwegian relatives on my fathers’ side have gathered every other year for as long as I can remember for a family reunion. We spend a couple of days together, eating mostly, and telling lots of stories. Many have died now, including my father. These are precious times.

As one of our sons is already off on his own, and the second one will be gone in the blink of an eye, I savor the meals we are able to share together, even with such busy schedules we often sit down to dinner together, and sometimes even breakfast. While we were at seminary, my classmates and I ate lunch together each day. And many Friday nights would find all of us, our spouses and children, gathered around the pool for a potluck meal. Since most of us were away from family, holidays were spent together, because we had become family. Those are meals that will never be forgotten.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Telling stories, eating, breaking bread, feasting, remembering, reconstituting, recreating; these are all ways that we know our Risen Lord.

It makes so much sense that breaking bread together is the central activity for us. The most radical activity that Jesus engaged in was to invite people to a meal. And not just anyone got that invitation. Not only were there religious leaders, there were tax collectors, there were women, single women at that, women who were protected by no one. At table Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. At table Jesus disrupted the social order. At table, Jesus nourished not only the body, but the spirit and the soul as well.

When we gather together at this table we come from home and work and school; we come from far away and down the street, we come and we tell our story, and we tell the story of God’s activity in our lives; we tell the story of creation, blessing, turning away, God loving us back into relationship, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. We tell the story of life, death, and resurrection. We tell the truth.

It is important however that we know the story, that we know how God saved the people from the flood waters, that we know that God freed the people from slavery in Egypt. It is important that we know that God brought the people out of exile back into their land. And it is important that we know that God came to live and die as one of us, that Jesus is in our midst.

The way we know those stories is to read them and to study them. The way we know those stories is to gather together in bible study, to listen and to talk about what God did and continues to do in this world. The way we know these stories is to tell them to our children, to tell them to our children at home, to tell them to all of our children here in Sunday school.

We must know these stories because they help us remember who we are. We remember who we are and we recognize one another and we are recognized in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. We give thanks for our blessings; we ask for healing for ourselves and others, we eat together.

That is what happened with the two in our story today, who were walking away from Jerusalem, dejected, alone, afraid. Wondering what it was all about, wondering how it all went so very wrong. And the one who told the story of Moses and all the prophets, who told them the story of Jesus, joined them. They invited him to stay, he did, they ate together, and they recognized him.

We recognize Jesus in the people with whom we gather to share and tell our stories, and the stories of our faith; we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, we see Jesus in the hands, and in the eyes, and in the faces of the people at our sides as we come to this table to eat.

But we also recognize Jesus in the stranger, we see and hear Jesus in those who are out there, those who continue to live in isolation, in loneliness, in hurt, in this broken world. We recognize the freedom, the peace, the community, that can be theirs as well.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Help us to recognize you in word and sacrament, in story and in food, help us to see you in the midst of this community, and help us to see you in those we greet each day. Help us to be agents of your new creation, standing on the ground that you have already won in your resurrection.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen. Come let us adore him. Alleluia!