Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christ the King, Yr A

Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. I think these people seem surprised. They were surprised to be at the throne of the king and told they were blessed. I think they were surprised because what they did was just what they did. Treating people with dignity and respect was who they were. Treating people with dignity and respect was the ethos out of which they lived. Treating people with dignity and respect was how they were formed. Treating people with dignity and respect was no big deal. And yet they were blessed.

Not only does this story tell us about people for whom treating others with dignity and respect is just part of who they are, it also tells us about this king and the relationship this king has with this people. The relationship this king has with the people is one of dignity and respect. Christ the King is not at all a king of worldly consecration. Christ the King is not a king of power, but a king of empowerment. Christ the king is not a king of lordship over subjects, but a king of raising up ordinary people to be extraordinary. Christ the king is not a king who forces subjugation, but a king who inspires loyalty and emulation. Christ the king is not a king who puts his subjects in harm’s way to protect himself, but a king who willingly puts himself into the midst of pain and suffering, right next to the people he loves.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. How do we honor a king for whom all this pomp and circumstance would have been out of place, who was born in a barn to parents of modest means? How do we honor a king who put himself in our place, who took all of human pain and suffering on himself, so that you and I could live in freedom, so that you and I could have new and abundant life? I think we honor that king by doing as he did, treating all people with dignity and respect, and by loving as he loves, without boundaries.

This story of the sheep and the goats is not a story about doing good deeds so you can live happily ever after. It is not a story about doing the right things so that you get your reward in heaven. It is not just about figuring out if we are a sheep or a goat. It is so much more than that. It is a story about who the king is, and who we are not. It is about what that king has done, and continues to do for the people he loves so much.

First and foremost, it is not you or I who sit in the judgment seat. People’s sheepness or goatness is not up to us. What a relief that is. This good news is truly freeing. It’s not up to you to judge, we’re not really any good at it anyway, and so we may as well just give it up. Giving up judgment is really hard when of course you know you are right and you really do think everyone else must measure up to your standards, Some would suggest that it’s not personal standards that people must measure up to, some would suggest that there are absolute biblical standards to which we all must measure up. Either you measure up and are judged a sheep by those standards, or you don’t and are judged a goat, in which case you may as well give up now and live a gluttonous and hedonous life. Although this may be a safe and comfortable way to live one’s life, there is no clear and concise list to live by that goes by the title, This is the list everyone will be judged by. In Matthew’s gospel today, the king is concerned with how people are treated, not about a list of do’s and don’ts.

However, there are many people who are concerned about being a sheep or a goat. Jan Laitos asked that question all the time. He really wanted to be a sheep; he really wanted to be at the right hand of God. We assured Jan that he would, because of God’s grace, and I am confident that Jan’s fulfillment is in that very place.

So what is really the difference between the sheep and the goats? Sheep and goats look a lot alike. What they represent does not. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the stranger, clothing the naked, helping the sick and visiting the imprisoned are corporal and spiritual works of mercy, really rather simple actions, and it is surprising that that is all that is asked. But what they are not is indifference or violence, cheating or stealing, they are not narcissism they are not greed, even when it is hard to differentiate those things. Part of the difference in being a sheep or a goat is in living our lives as if we really thought that we are created in God’s image.

There is judgment in this passage from Matthew. So what is judgment really about? One of the images that informs our understanding of who God is, is the relationship of parent and child. Sometimes our relationships with our parents or our children leave a lot to be desired, and yet, as a parent, which one of your children will you condemn to eternal punishment? Which one of your children would you judge unworthy of love? Would you not choose to give your own life so that your child could be spared? Would you not give of yourself so that your child could have new life? This is what God has already done for us. Jesus stands in our place, so that we may have eternal life. I am reminded again of the story I spoke of last week, God on Trial. In that story of Jewish men in Auschwitz, when the time came for the men to go to their deaths, it was a son that was to go, and the father stepped into his son’s place, much like Jesus steps into our place even in the face of cruelty and tragedy.

Matthew’s parable is really about God’s abundant and real grace. This story is really about a king who puts himself in the place of danger, the place of pain and suffering for the love of the people. And this story is really about our response to this amazing thing that God has done. God accompanies us on this journey of human life; God brings us to the fulfillment of God’s deepest desire for each of us, to be with God for all of eternity. It is in response to God’s love, God’s grace, God’s willingness to take on our pain and suffering, that we in turn treat others with dignity and respect. In response to God’s love and God’s grace, in response to God’s willingness to be here in this world with us, we treat others as they truly are “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Dear goats, let the abundance of God’s love for you transform you so that you may be judged as one who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, shelters the stranger, clothes the naked, and visits the sick and imprisoned. Dear sheep, let the abundance of God’s love for you transform you so that you may know that God’s love includes everyone.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

27 Pentecost Yr A

Our actions in dark times say who we are. On Wednesday night, those of us who were here for Wednesday @ St. Andrew’s watched a rather disturbing piece that had aired on PBS. It was called God on Trial. It was the story of Jewish men held at Auschwitz, on the eve of the death of half of them. They decided to put God on Trial, and that the charge that God was guilty of was breaking the covenant. We talked a little about our impressions of this story, and I think most of us are probably still thinking about it. That was a dark and evil time. And what I gathered from that story is that our actions in dark times say who we are. The men in that story went to the gas chambers with prayers in their mouths, and their hands on their heads, in lieu of the hat that covers their heads with humility before God.

Our actions in dark times say who we are. Some would say we are living through some dark times. Some would say the election we all just experienced is hopeful, others, like the letter writer in Thursday’s paper, say all our freedoms have just come to an end. I think the truth can be found somewhere in saying that no matter what, we must change. We must examine our consumerism and our consumption and we must learn to use less. We must examine our impact upon our Mother Earth, and we must learn to live with less of an impact. We must examine our relationships with our neighbors and learn to love them. Our actions in dark times say who we are.

Our actions in dark times say who we are. So, who are we? We are people of hope. We are people of joy. We are stewards. We are God’s children, and God has poured out God’s abundance upon us. We are people who do not give in to fear. We are people who like our relatives the Jews, pray, and come humbly before our God. We are people who take risks for the kingdom, not for ourselves, but for the Kingdom. That is what the parable in Matthew shows us today. This story shows us that fear only limits our capacity to be the children that God has created us to be. This story shows us that fear only limits our capacity to participate in the mission and ministry that God has called us to. This story shows us that fear only limits our capacity to be the new creations that God has made us. This story shows us that we are people of hope, and that we must move from fear to hope.

Many things have been said about the third servant in Matthew’s story. I say that servant was living out of fear, and that fear limited his ability to be the disciple God had created him to be. He focused all his energy on preserving things as they are, and missed God’s abundance. Fear caused him to be unable to experience God’s abundance. Fear caused him to be unable to risk living fully as a new creation. Fear caused him to be unable to see that he was created in God’s image. When we live out of fear, when we do not risk experiencing God’s abundance, we are much like that servant. Not only do we lose sight of God’s abundance, but we begin to lose the gifts that God has given us as well. Fear keeps us from claiming God’s abundance.

Moving from fear to hope seems like folly to many in our culture. But the rules of God’s economy are quite different than the rules of the marketplace. In God’s economy, as Matthew shows us, everyone is abundantly gifted, everyone has value and worth. In God’s economy, to risk is to claim God’s abundance. In God’s economy, being a steward is a given, the choice is between being a good steward or not. In God’s economy, to risk losing what our culture counts as valuable is to gain everything. Well-done, good and trustworthy servant. If these are indeed dark times, our actions say who we are. We are God’s creation, and we are stewards of that creation. The question remains, as we move from fear to hope, what kind of a steward do you want to be?

Find a way to be generous; there is so much need in our community. We are well fed, people are hungry. The shelves at the food bank are empty, our cash can fill them.

The group of pastors I meet with on Wednesday mornings have been talking about forming a new Tuesday crew for Habitat for Humanity. Most of you read in the Rapid City Journal at the beginning of September about the Thursday crew, and the Saturday group. Chuck Mickel volunteers his time regularly for the Habitat builds. The hope is that a new Tuesday crew can begin an ecumenical build on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It is our hope that we can provide the impetus for continuous construction of Habitat homes. The need for affordable housing seems to be growing, not lessening. Our actions in dark times say who we are. If you want to be part of the new Tuesday crew, just show up at the Restore on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at by 9am. Habitat for Humanity is all about God’s economy. Habitat for Humanity International is about the fourth largest mortgage provider, and charges no interest. Talk about folly, Black Hills Habitat has built 53 houses since it’s inception, and only one has been repossessed.

I ask you today to be a bold steward. I ask you today to put your trust in God’s economy. I ask you today to move to action. I remind you today of our hope in Jesus Christ. In these dark and fearful times, I ask you to be generous, not only to our St. Andrew’s budget, not only to the mission and ministry we can do here together, but to just be generous for the sake of the Kingdom and the sake of God’s economy. Our actions in dark times say who we are. We must respond in hope, say your prayers and act humbly before your God.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Yr A

The celebration of All Saints day is a call to ministry. We celebrate all those who have died in the hope of the resurrection; we baptize and reaffirm baptism in that same hope. The reality is that we are brought into the tomb with Jesus, and we rise to the new life that is offered to us because God has done this amazing thing in Jesus. And we are equipped and empowered for ministry and discipleship. Each and every one of us is empowered for ministry. The littlest ones who are baptized all the way through the generations to Bernice, who is our honored woman. Ministry has no age limits, no physical limits, no time limits. Ministry is what we do, children of God is who we are.

So today I’ll tell a couple stories of ministry. First, Bernice’s ministry. I remember calling folks one time, not here, but at another church I served, asking them to participate in a particular ministry. I heard back pretty clearly “been there done that.” You never hear that from Bernice. She may say no, but not because she’s finished. Bernice is never finished. She comes to Bible study, she reads books and periodicals, she gives me the Anglican church magazine when she’s finished reading it. She keeps the checkbook for the Episcopal Church Women, and keeps track of the Church Response food certificates, and collects the Family Thrift Receipts, and then adds them all up until we reach $100,000.00 and can turn them in for $1000.00. Did I mention she’s 97? But the thing about Bernice is that she lives her baptismal covenant. Especially the one about respecting the dignity of every human being. Bernice has reminded me that every person is created in God’s image, and Bernice treats every person as God’s image. I have seen Bernice saddened because people can’t seem to understand that basic understanding of our humanity. On this celebration of All Saints, I am blessed by Bernice’s ministry.

Ruth Schutz’s ministry is astounding. Now, many in our culture would look at Ruth and feel that her life is diminished by her set of wheels. But not Ruth. I think Ruth especially lives the baptismal promise about seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving her neighbor as herself. Ruth gets up each morning looking forward to who she can love each day; she contributes to her community at Meadowbrook by being a loving presence, sometimes needing to speak the truth in love. She calls us to live our lives fully and completely every moment we are on this earth. I am blessed by Ruth’s ministry.

Jaden Heintzman and his family attend Wednesday @ St. Andrew’s. Jaden is full of energy and vitality, oftentimes a handful for his family. But Jaden lives his ministry with no fear. On Wednesday nights for communion we are relaxed and casual, and we usually pass the bread and the wine around the circle and offer it to one another. One night, Jaden took the bread to each one of us, and offered each of us the body of Christ. Jaden reminds me that serving people doesn’t have to be about order and appropriateness, serving people is about offering Christ in all the ways we can. I am blessed by Jaden’s ministry.

All of you have stories to tell about the ministry that has been shared with you, and ministry you have witnessed others share. There is a great cloud of witnesses here at St. Andrew’s, all those who have gone before us, all of us who are here today, and all those who will come after us. I am blessed by your witness and by your ministry.

The Lord is glorious in his saints: Come let us adore him.