Saturday, August 23, 2008

15 Pentecost Yr A

Last week we heard the story about Peter, who boldly got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. And then, as Peter realized what was happening he lost courage, and foundered in the water. Upon calling to Jesus, Jesus reached out to Peter and pulled him out of the drink. We heard that it is staying in the relationship that draws out faithfulness. Today, we meet Peter again, to whom Jesus says, who do you say I am? And Peter responds, you are Messiah, the Son of the living God. When Peter uses Messiah, he means the future King of Israel, from the Davidic line, who will rule the united tribes of Israel. Messiah literally means “the anointed King.”

Jesus affirms Peter’s recognition, but I don’t think Jesus affirms the conventional meaning or understanding of King or kingship. The gospel shows us that Jesus is not the kind of King that was hoped for, not the King who comes with power to hold it over people, but the King who comes with power to empower people. Jesus is a King whose sovereignty rests in giving life to the people, in raising up those who are at the bottom, in bringing to the center those who are on the margins. Jesus is a self-sacrificing King, whose kingship only has meaning as it gives its life for the people.

We know this is the kind of King Jesus is because the gospel writer Matthew shows us how citizens of this kingdom can really live. Jesus’ teaching is to love your enemies, to come before God in prayer in worship, to forgive one another, and that Jesus’ life will be given for ours. This is the kingship in which the God who created the heavens and the earth inaugurates this new creation. And even the ancient story of Moses shows us that what we do matters to God.

Who do you say that Jesus is? This question is more important than any answer and it presupposes that what we believe about Jesus matters. It matters to you and to me, it matters to our church, and most importantly it matters to the world. It also assumes a relationship; there is no way to begin to say who Jesus is without the relationship. And in this relationship with Jesus, we learn who we really are. In response to Peter’s naming Jesus, Jesus tells Peter who he really is.
You are Peter, a rock. In this relationship, Jesus knows who we really are, we are named and marked as Christ’s own forever, you are my beloved, the delight of God’s life.

I think this is the most important part of this story. Not the right answer to the question who do you say that Jesus is, but the relationship the question presupposes, you are the delight of God’s life. We can’t answer the question with words, but we can begin to show the world that Jesus matters, that this relationship with Jesus matters.

That brings us to the image that is presented in Romans, we, who are many, are one body in Christ. This is an amazingly counter cultural image,
one body, with different graceful gifts. This new creation that God inaugurates in Jesus is all about a completely new way to live on this earth. We live not for ourselves, but for the greater good of God’s creation. Do not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the amazing and abundant love that God has for you.

How do we live in the world as the body of Christ? How do we live in the world as the delight of God’s life? How do we live in the world as people to whom Jesus matters? How do we live in the world as agents of new creation? How do we live in the world as a people transformed by God’s love? I think we do that by showing forth love not only for those it is easy to love, but for our enemies as well. I think we do that by empowering those without power. I think we do that by showing forgiveness and reconciliation. I think we do that by caring for God’s creation.

One of the things that is very important to me as your rector here at St. Andrew’s, is that in the community we be a witness to the diversity of the body of Christ. What that means is that we stay in the conversation, we stay at the table with people who hold very different views about God than we do. This is not to say that everyone here at St. Andrew’s has the same view and understanding about God, in fact it is to say that here at St. Andrew’s we may have very different views, and that is exactly who we are. We witness the diversity of the body of Christ.

So by staying in the conversation, staying at the table, even when that is challenging, difficult, and sometimes infuriating, the whole body shows forth. And by staying in the conversation, the whole body is transformed. We all begin to see with transformed eyes and hear with transformed ears, and love with transformed hearts. We are better able to respect the dignity of every human being; we are able to show forth the love that God has for us.

An example of this is our involvement in Hills Alive. Hills Alive is the Christian music concert put on by the Christian music radio station each July. Hills Alive is outside of the box for many of us, but for us to stay away from Hills Alive because it is not our cup of tea, is to silence us, it is to lose our voice, it is to go hungry because we have removed ourselves from the table. It is also to lessen the body of Christ in this community, because the wholeness of the body is not represented. Those from St. Andrew’s who have chosen to be involved in Hills Alive have not necessarily found it easy, but they have found bridges to be built, relationships that cause everyone to expand how they may answer the question, who do you say I am?

The same is true on the congregational level. We stay in the relationship, we stay around the table, no matter our disagreements, because we are the body of Christ, and the body is lessened when we don’t show up. The question then, who do you say I am, may be answered by our presence, by our showing up at the table, by our showing up for the conversation, by our showing that we love one another because we are all of God’s creations.

Peter is the rock. Peter is in this relationship with Jesus and is named, he is called the rock. You and I are in this relationship with Jesus and we are named also. We are named beloved, delight of God’s life. We are named forgiven.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth:
Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

14 Pentecost Yr A

This week we have two stories that challenge the status quo and move us to forgiveness and acceptance. By all rights, after having been thrown in a pit
and then sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph should be looking for revenge. Instead, he welcomes and celebrates the arrival of his brothers and offers healing and hospitality. And in Matthew’s gospel, a Canaanite mother, an outsider, brought to Jesus her brokenness and imperfection, and challenged Jesus to embrace and honor all. In our call to be healed and to offer healing, we must reach out as God has reached out to us, no exceptions.

Last week we heard how Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him, but Rueben spoke up and suggested that rather than killing him, they just throw him in a pit. Joseph was rescued from the pit, only to be sold by his brothers into slavery. And as the story continues, Joseph meets up with his brothers, and not only shows his brothers mercy, but seems happy and excited to see them. Through it all, Joseph remains in relationship with God, in fact Joseph attributes to God his ability to preserve life, to help people remain faithful through this famine. It seems that Joseph would have good reason to turn from God, everyone he knew turned against him, and yet, he remains in relationship with God, and even with his brothers.

And then the gospel story presents us with this Canaanite woman. Let’s see if we can see this scene. Maybe a bystander sees it this way.

It had gotten worse, her daughter couldn’t be taken out in the public square, she screamed and squirmed, it was obvious something or someone had taken hold of her mind, body and spirit. But on this day, when the one they called Jesus was coming through the village, she decided to take her daughter out. We were all embarrassed, but his time it wasn’t her daughter that was possessed. It was her, she was the one screaming and shouting, she was hysterical. She yelled at Jesus, have mercy on me, heal my daughter. Who did she think she was? He ignored her as long as he could. Jesus had no business talking to her, he was a Jew. But she kept shouting. His friends told him just to leave, but he shouted back at her that he wasn’t interested in her kind. That just made her even more hysterical. She threw herself down on that nasty ground in front of him, confirming her shamefulness, and said, Lord, help me. Jesus could have picked his words a little more kindly, but instead he really dug deep, he said she wasn’t worthy even of the children’s food. But then we couldn’t believe what she did. She should have just crawled off at that point, but no, she kept at him, and told him that even the dogs like her get the crumbs that fall off their master’s table. We had never witnessed any thing so bold, so courageous. He changed his tune. He healed her daughter.

I am very thankful for this Canaanite woman. I think she makes it possible for me, and for you, to step boldly into Jesus’ presence, to offer the reality of who we are, to be in this relationship with God, and to be forgiven and healed. This Canaanite woman could so easily have not approached Jesus at all. Or she could have turned away when Jesus ignored her. But she didn’t. She persisted, she was bold and she was courageous. And she was far from perfect. She brought all that she was, all her sinfulness, all her goodness; she dropped to her knees and offered it up.

The very hard part of this story is that she was ignored. And there is something we need to hear from her. She did not turn away from Jesus, that would have been easy. She could have said, see, he only wants perfect people, he only wants the people who are the right kind of people, but she kept at him, and because she stayed in relationship with him, he changed. Because of her, he saw that his work was for all people, not just the Jews, but everyone. The healing and reconciliation that takes place in this story is not one sided. Her staying in relationship with Jesus affects her own healing and her daughter’s healing, as well as reconciliation of a whole host of people.

What’s in these stories for us? The most powerful thing I think is twofold. First, that we come to Jesus and offer our whole selves, and second when we feel like it’s not going well, we don’t turn away to worship something else; we stay in the relationship with Jesus. And then we offer the same sort of healing and reconciliation that Joseph offered, and that the woman and her daughter received, to all we encounter.

You are worthy of God’s love. There is nothing you’ve done that puts you outside of God’s love. You may be sitting there thinking, but if she really knew me, she wouldn’t say that. I’m really not good enough to be loved like that. The thing is that I’m not the judge; none of us are the judge. And this story shows us that there is nothing we are or nothing we can do that would keep us outside of God’s love. What this story shows us is that we need to enter the relationship with God, we need to drop to our knees and say, this is me, all that I am, with all that I have done or left undone, with all of my faults, all of my insecurities, all of my control issues, all of my goodness, all of my love, all of quirkiness, everything that I am, I’m yours.

And then we need to stay in. We can’t get up and leave. We need to stay in that relationship with God. We can’t turn and say, well that was interesting, but now I think I’ll go find something better, or more fun, or more entertaining, or more prosperous, more risky, more exciting. All of those things seem better than this relationship with God. They seem better because they are valued by many around us, by our culture. We see it and we do it all the time. We worship that which looks and seems good and great, but those things cannot make us whole, they cannot heal us. And they cannot connect us to one another in the way that we are meant to be connected.

And lastly of course this is not just about you. It is about Jesus, and that because of this encounter, you and I are included in the Kingdom that God is building. The woman challenged Jesus to see the true scope of his ministry. She challenged him to see that God’s amazing and abundant love is available to all, not just to the ones who are in, or who say the right words, or look the right way, God’s amazing and abundant love is available to all, even her and her daughter. Jesus realized in this encounter that all are welcome, Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman. In Jesus God inaugurates the new creation that God promised, in this encounter, that new creation includes everyone.

So now, you and I, who continue to do what this woman does, we drop to our knees and ask for forgiveness, for healing and for reconciliation, do the same for others. We invite others into this relationship with God, we invite everyone to be part of the amazing and abundant love that God has for them. You and I are agents of this new creation that God begins in Jesus. We have a role to play in the kind of healing and reconciliation that Joseph offered to his brothers, and that this woman asked from Jesus. Everyone is included, no one is excluded, even you.

Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth:
Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

13 Pentecost Yr A

A priest, a rabbi and a minister were all in a boat out in the middle of a lake. The Minister says, "I’m thirsty. I’m going to shore and get something to drink." So she gets out of the boat walks across the water to shore, gets a drink, walks back across the water, and gets back in the boat. The minister says, "I’m thirsty also. I’m going to shore and get something to drink." So he gets out of the boat, walks across the water to shore, gets a drink, walks back across the water, and gets back in the boat. The rabbi thinks to himself "pretty cool. I’m trying it." So he says, "I’m thirsty also. I’m going to shore to get something to drink." He gets out of the boat and falls in the water and sputters around. Then the priest said to the minister, "Do you think we should have told him where the rocks were?"

The walking on water story goes like this in Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message. Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, Master, save me! Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand. Then Jesus said, “Faint heart, what got into you?”

This story is the story that has given rise to the expression “oh ye of little faith.” But I’m not convinced it’s a story about a lack of faith, as much as it is a story about having a little faith. Peter actually has a little faith in this story, what he needs is courage after he steps out to keep on going. I think Peter is the quintessential human being. Peter is just like me. There are days I have a little faith, and days I need a lot of courage. Peter gives me hope.

Let’s check this out. We heard the mustard seed story just two weeks ago. Jesus says in a version of that story, “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Now we know that a mustard seed is a mighty tiny seed, so having faith the size of a mustard seed is a little faith. But these are stories not about what faith is lacking, and it is not about not having enough faith, it is about the faith that Peter has that causes him to courageously step out of the boat. And it is about you and me, who, on most days, like Peter, have a little faith.

So how much faith do you need to make a difference, to change the world, to move mountains, and, like the rest of the disciples in the boat that day, to know that Jesus is lord? You need a little faith. Faith is not about having enough, faith is not about knowing for absolute sure, faith is not about clarity or certainty. Faith isn’t about shouting most loudly about knowing exactly what God’s specific plans for everyone are, faith isn’t about knowing the future.

Well then, what is faith about? Faith is a willingness to risk. Faith is about the courage to take that step out of the boat, to respond to Jesus when he says “come ahead,” and to do it whether you think you’ll sink or skate. And faith proceeds from love, the kind of love that makes a person willing to be the first to say “I love you”, not because of a certain expectation of a particular reply, but because of the possibilities that saying “I love you” opens.

Faith doesn’t connote belief in a particular outcome, and it isn’t an intellectual assent to a particular proposition. It does suggest trust in and allegiance to a person. But believing in Jesus does not mean believing that we’ll be successful in a particular enterprise that Jesus is calling us to. Having faith in Jesus means a willingness to follow Jesus, not because we believe that we’ve already got the rest of the story plotted out once we’ve made that decision, but because we take seriously that Jesus is Lord.

So faith is the courage to risk, faith opens up the possibilities, and faith is taking seriously that Jesus is Lord. This faith opens up the possibility that we are fully capable of loving one another, that we are fully capable of respecting the dignity of every person, and the possibility that we must die in order to live again. This kind of faith also opens up the possibility that we may fall, and that we may wallow in the mess. And when that happens, we can look to resurrection and hope, and know that Jesus is right there with us in that mess.

Faith is not certainty and it is not security in a right future. Faith is living each day knowing that Jesus lived each day. Faith is the courage to risk. Jesus loved, Jesus was hurt, Jesus even hurt others, Jesus risked everything, Jesus died and Jesus rose from the dead. Faith is responding to Jesus’ invitation, “come ahead, have courage,” and being transformed by the relationship.

Faith is risking it all and being together in the mess. Peter wasn’t alone in that boat. All the disciples were there with him. Faith is finding love and hope here in the body of Christ. Because this risky business of faith is not to be undertaken by yourself. It is to be undertaken together, it is to be undertaken in the body of Christ. We do this together, no one is out there alone undertaking this risky business of faith, it’s too important, it’s too dangerous, it’s too perilous. Every one of us needs a support team.

The body of Christ, the community of faith, is our support team in this risky venture of faith. I could not be your priest without all of your prayers and words of encouragement. I depend on your prayers, as you depend on my prayers and the prayers of all of us gathered. Not one of us can accomplish the risky work of faith out in the world without the support team that is our community of faith. I go to Sr. Margaret at St. Martin’s monastery once a month for spiritual direction, and I know I am in the daily prayers of the sisters there, they are our support team.

My favorite author, Madeleine L’engle once said during her recovery after a horrible accident she was in, that she could no longer pray, but that she knew that there were people who were praying on her behalf. That is the body of Christ, the community of faith doing its work.

I believe faith is not one sided. Faith is not just about us. I believe that God has faith in me, and in us. Imagine the risk God takes at the creation of each and every child, each and every planet, each and every star. Will it be all that God intends for it to be? Will it be creative, will it be life-giving, will it fulfill all the hope in its creation. God is faithful. God risks everything with each and every one of us. If we have little faith, the size of a mustard seed, God has humungous faith, the size of millions of universes.

It is God’s huge faith in me that enables me to have little faith in Jesus. Little faith is enough to make a difference, little faith is enough to bring Light into the mess, little faith is enough to move mountains, and little faith is enough to find the rocks in the water so that we can make it to the other side.

Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth:
Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

12 Pentecost Yr A

Tom’s got a tee shirt that says “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” It’s a tee shirt from Philmont Boy Scout Ranch, a high adventure base in northern New Mexico. I’ve heard it said that Philmont is the adventure a boy scout loves to hate. At the very least, a boy who goes to Philmont doesn’t return the same way he left. Besides being dirty and hungry, with plenty of scrapes and bruises, there’s a change in the way a boy sees the world. Jacob could’ve been wearing that tee shirt in this story today. The story of Jacob wrestling with God, and the story of the feeding of five thousand and then some in Matthew are both stories of transformation.

Jacob’s story is not unlike ours, except for the two wives, two maids, and eleven children, I hope. Jacob wrestled through the night with God and lived through it. But we’ve learned elsewhere that no one survives a face-to-face meeting with God without dying and rising to the new life that God promises. Jacob wrestled with God and was made a new man, he received a new name, and he received a new wound. Transformation is not an easy journey, it is a journey on which we die to ourselves, our obsessions, our materialism, and we rise to the new life that God offers to us.

There’s an old friend of ours, Jenny, who at age 18 was skiing in Colorado, and her life was suddenly changed. She fell, and never got up again. That fall resulted in Jenny being quadriplegic. She was an athlete in high school, a diver. Jenny wrestled with God; her wound is deep and permanent. But Jenny has worked hard at her independent life, and has been executive director of an organization called Helping Paws. Helping Paws trains dogs and their people to manage life together. Jenny would tell you that she is thankful for the new person she became after her injury. Her injury has made her completely different, and in her opinion, better. The people who know Jenny would attest to the gift she is just the way she is, she has shown that ministry happens out of being wounded.

All of us don’t have that outward wound that Jenny has. Most of our wounds cannot be seen. But just the same, the new life we receive can be a gift. It is not the same as our old life, and it is marked by our wounds. Jesus’ journey to the cross, Jesus’ wounds, and death on that cross is what makes it possible for you and me to survive the wounds that this world deals out, the wounds that sometimes we inflict ourselves. That wound is the place from which we minister. That wound is the place from which our compassion grows. That wound is the place from which our love for our enemies have meaning. That wound is what gives us hope.

Hope. Woundedness gives us hope. Seems like an odd sort of thought, doesn’t it. It seems counter to what everything in our culture would tell us about hope. Hope is about a secure future. Hope is about the American dream, including a house, a yard, healthy children, a pension and good retirement.

The hope of the gospel is nothing like that. Hope is about dying; hope is about being wounded, hope is about having everything you think is important being stripped away, and surviving it. Not just surviving it, but being given a new name. Beloved, delight of God’s life.

The disciples in the story we heard from Matthew today, were forgetting about the hope that Jesus offered. After Jesus retreats for some peace and quiet, and the crowds won’t leave him alone, Jesus teaches and cures the sick. As the afternoon wore on, the disciples thought they would send the 5000 or so people into the towns to find something to eat. Can you imagine, out there on the hillside, sending the crowd into town to find something to eat. Someone wasn’t planning ahead. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to give them something to eat. Their response, “we have nothing to offer, except these five loaves of bread and two fish.”

The disciples responded to Jesus with an exasperation that tells of their lack of hope. And their lack of understanding of what Jesus was capable of doing. The disciples responded to Jesus from a position of scarcity. “We have nothing here.” They did not see the five thousand and some people in front of them, with all their woundedness, with all their suffering, with all their joy and excitement to just be in the presence of this rabbi.

And Jesus shows them the abundance that surrounds them. Look what we have, five loaves of bread, and two fish, and all these people with everything they bring with them. “We have enough,” Jesus says, “we have enough.” Jesus blesses what they have, and everyone was fed that day. Not only were they fed, they had leftovers. Twelve baskets of leftovers, enough for everyone in the whole world to be fed.

Too often we approach the world like Jacob, and like the disciples. We approach the world from a position of scarcity. Scarcity that is about the wall we put up around us so that no one can see our fear, our lack of hope, our belief that we are not good enough. God wrestles with us to break down that wall, and in the encounter we are wounded. Scarcity is about letting our woundedness be a source of despair, rather than a fountain of strength and hope. It is in that place that we begin to see the blessing that God has given. We begin to see the abundance that God has for us.

Abundance and blessing. We are transformed. We are fed with the bread and the fish. We are nourished and healed. But the abundance doesn’t end with us. That’s the wonder of the twelve baskets of leftovers. Our blessing is to get those leftovers out to those who need them. We meet God in the encounter, and we cannot be the same because of the encounter, we meet one another face to face as we break bread together, and we have enough to bring out into the world to those who need to be fed, healed, and transformed.

It is our woundedness, our broken hips and our broken hearts, that make us compassionate ministers. We are nourished by the abundance of God’s blessings, in one another and in the bread. We have enough, we have all that is needed, to feed the 5000, and then some.

Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth:
Come let us adore him. Alleluia.