Sunday, June 28, 2009

4 Pentecost Proper 8

Some ask the question, have you found Jesus? Often my flippant answer to this question is I didn’t know Jesus was lost. I think Jesus finds us. That’s not to say we can’t go looking, but it is to say that not matter how hard we try to hide, God still loves us so very much that Jesus comes looking. And I also think that we get found in the oddest of times and places. In times and places that we just don’t expect.

I think we also tend to believe in a very limited God. We believe in this God, who only knows us when we’re in church, which goes hand in hand with believing in a God we can hide from. I believe in God, who seeks us out, who loves us so very much as to come to be with us, to stand by our side, to hold our hand, to carry us when we need help. This passage from the gospel of Mark is one of the stories that convince me of this. This is a story about opportunity and interruption. See, you can’t plan how you will be found; you can’t put a date in your blackberry and say to yourself, I’ll meet Jesus for lunch today. This is a story about where God finds you.

This story begins and ends with Jairus, a very important person, who asked Jesus to come to his house to heal his daughter. But it is also about the in between story, the story that interrupted Jesus. Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ house, I imagine he was fairly focused on getting there in short order, because the girl was dying. As Jesus made his way through the crowd, a woman reached out to touch the fabric of his prayer shawl so that she would be healed. Jesus, we know, was a good Jew; therefore he would be wearing his prayer shawl. A Jewish mans prayer shawl has fringes. In Malachi, there is a story that all good Jews would know, that even the fringes of the Messiah’s prayer shawl had healing power. So as this woman interrupted Jesus’ mission to Jairus’ house by reaching out and touching his fringes to be healed, she did it in confidence and faith that Jesus is the Messiah, and capable of healing.

There’s a fabric store in Austin Texas, where we lived when we were at seminary, called the Silk Road, and I would go there just to touch the fabric. It was in a wonderful old house, and there were stacks and racks of silks, and cottons, and linens, and I would wander around and feel the fabric. Fabrics that are smooth and rough, brightly colored and earth tones. I’ve sewed since my mother taught me how as a young girl, and for a while I even worked for an interior designer and I made beautiful window coverings and upholstered head boards and valances out of amazing fabrics. My journeys to the Silk Road were all about finding balance and healing. In the midst of the academic and intellectual world of seminary, I would go to the Silk Road to touch and feel, to be reminded who I am, where I came from, I would stop thinking for a while, and experience the moment of beauty in the fabric. I tell you this story of the Silk Road today because I think the story from Mark is about how God finds us in some very unusual and odd places, God finds us in interruptions. We get bothered by interruptions, but God finds opportunity in interruptions.

Jesus' willingness to resist the electric expectancy of the crowd and to complete the restoration of a faithful woman paints him as a person who sees opportunity in interruption. This passage encourages us to consider a theology of interruptions, to understand that God is neither bound to nor limited by human allocations of value and priority. Opportunity in interruption. That’s what my trips to the Silk Road were about, interruption of what I thought I had to do, in order to be healed, to be restored, to come back to myself.

Usually we experience interruption as an inconvenience. Interruption is being derailed, thrown off course. And yet, considering this theology of interruption brings us to a place where we can find ourselves, where we can be restored, where we can be balanced once again. A theology of interruption is to see and feel how Jesus finds us and makes us whole. A theology of interruption is to see and feel God’s grace. A theology of interruption shows us that we are not in control. God is present in the interruptions. God brings healing and restoration in the interruptions. God comes close in the interruptions.

We work so hard and spend so much time making plans and being focused on the outcome of whatever important thing we must accomplish, even when it is saving lives, we miss the opportunities for balance, for healing, for wholeness. We miss the opportunities to touch what is holy.

As I looked briefly at this morning’s paper, and saw the pictures of those who have lost jobs in this recession, I am reminded of the less pleasant interruptions. Losing one’s job, losing one’s health, these interruptions in our well planned lives are painful and difficult. But I am convinced that it is in these interruptions that we may be found. Because it is only in death that there is resurrection, it is only in losing our lives that we are created new. Touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment, feel the power that there is in Jesus. Go in Peace.

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

Saturday, June 20, 2009

3 Pentecost Yr B

During the time in which the story in 1 Samuel first was told, Israel is constantly at war with the Philistines. Ancient warfare was highly ritualized. In Homer’s Iliad, we read how battles were conducted in ancient times in the epic story of the siege of Troy, about 1200 BC. We see that each side would send out its great champion who would fight on behalf of his people. Often the battle would end with that, because whichever champion won the other side would be so demoralized it would retreat. At this time, the Philistines have a champion who is described as well, huge, Goliath. And the problem is that the Jewish forces have no champion at all. The Jewish troops are stationed on the one side of the Elah Valley, south of Jerusalem, a place that you can still visit today in Israel, and the Philistines are on the other. Goliath is marching out in front of the Philistine lines, shouting curses at the Jews and challenging someone to come and fight him. Choose yourself a man and let him come down to me shouts Goliath. If he can fight me and kill me, we will be slaves to you; if I defeat him and kill him, you will be slaves to us and serve us. The mortified Israelite army has to listen to this, because no one is willing to take on Goliath. One day, David, who is still a shepherd and not a soldier, shows up on the battlefield bringing food for his brothers and he’s shocked by what he sees. Outraged at Goliath’s blasphemous insulting of the God of Israel, David volunteers to fight Goliath, though he has a hard time convincing everybody to let him go out into the field. Finally, he convinces King Saul with his steadfast faith in God.

Why do we love the stories of the underdog so much? Well at least I do. We’ve watched Rudy so many times we can recite the lines, and I cry every time Rudy gets put into the game. Mighty Ducks, the first one, is another favorite, I sit on the edge of my seat until the end of the game, even though I’ve seen them win a bazillion times. The Rookie, Star Wars, Chariots of Fire, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, and the list goes on. And there are many where the underdog doesn’t win in the end. Little Big League, Tin Cup, Any Given Sunday. The reason I bring all this up is that I wonder at the question, which comes first, our passion for rooting for the little guy, or the story of David and the story of Jesus? I think it is a fascinating question.

I remember my first New Testament professor telling us that all history is written from the perspective of the winners. History published in history books is written from the perspective of the winners. The losers don’t write history, and their story is rarely told in history books. Western civilization loves its winners and are often assigned near divine status, or, at the least, God is on the winner’s side status.

And yet we have before us this story of David in which the underdog becomes the champion. And we have this story of Jesus, in which those who are low are raised up, those who are on the margins are brought to the center, those who have no power are empowered, and lowly fisher folk become disciples.

I wonder if it is human nature to be on the side of the winner. Is it part of our DNA? The biological story may support that. We know the story of the survival of the strongest. We know that the human drive is to procreate, to survive and to thrive. In the animal kingdom the weakest and the smallest don’t last long. But Jesus shows us that in God’s kingdom in dying we are alive, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing everything.

God’s kingdom is very different from human’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, the underdog becomes the champion. In God’s kingdom, fisher folk become disciples and bring the Good News to all nations, to all people, to the ends of the earth. In God’s kingdom, God has faith in the people, and the people respond with faith the size of a mustard seed in God. In God’s kingdom, faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to grow and accomplish great things. In God’s kingdom, not only does the underdog win, not only does the lowest get lifted up, but even what is dead has new life. Even faltering faith of the disciples can become awe.

The Good News is that God’s kingdom has begun. Jesus’ life, and love, suffering and death, and resurrection began God’s kingdom. In God’s time God’s kingdom will be fulfilled. In the meantime, you and I can be active participants in God’s kingdom. We can respond to God’s love, we can respond to God’s faith in us. We can be on the side of the underdog. We can be with the lowly disciples in the boat.

So I return to the all time best underdog movie, Rudy. For those of you who don’t know the story, Rudy grew up in a steel mill town where most people ended up working, but Rudy wanted to play football at Notre Dame instead. There were only a couple of problems. His grades were a little low, his athletic skills were poor, and he was only half the size of the other players. But he had the drive and the spirit of 5 people and has set his sights upon joining the team. He spent two years at St. Mary’s working on his grades and working his way through school. When he finally got into Notre Dame as a junior, he walked on to the team and served on the ‘scout’ team as pretty much a tackling dummy. By the time he was a senior, he had endeared himself to the really good football players, and they really wanted him to be officially recognized as a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and that would only happen if he participated in at least one play. Rudy’s teammates had already experienced his heart, and his steadfast faith, and insisted to the coach that Rudy suit up. So in the waning moments of the last game of Rudy’s senior year, the team and then the fans chanted Rudy, Rudy, coach put him in and Rudy ran a couple of plays. It wasn’t about winning at all, it was about a little guy who responded to life in big ways and with gusto. it was about faith, it was about being fully engaged in relationship with God and with others.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2009

2 Pentecost Proper 6 Yr B

What makes this story that we are hearing a life forming story? What makes this story an epic? What makes this story worth paying attention to? For one, it’s a pretty good story. It has love and passion, it has violence and death, it has good guys and bad guys, it has a giant and a weakling. What’s more, it has truth, it reveals to us the patterns of our lives, the patterns of history, the patterns of the universe.

We catch up with the story today as Samuel the prophet realizes that Saul and his descendents will not continue to rule Israel, and Samuel goes looking for another candidate. Guided by God, he goes to Bethlehem and Jesse’s family to find someone. I am reminded somewhat of the story of Cinderella, after the ball, after Cinderella runs from the palace and looses her shoe, when the prince sends his emissary out into the kingdom to find the one the shoe fits. He gets to the house of the evil stepmother, and she shows what she believes to be the best of her girls. The two stepsisters. The emissary tries the shoe on the girls, and we all know it doesn’t fit either of them. He asks if there is anyone else. According to the evil stepmother there is not. She does not even begin to see any value or worth in Cinderella, the lowest of the low in her eyes. Eventually Cinderella shows up, after being detained in her room, in the Disney version the mice get her out, and when the shoe finally is placed on her foot, well we all know the end of that story. Happily ever after and all that. I suppose that’s where the similarities end.

David is the youngest son, the smallest, the weakest, he’s out tending the sheep, and we all know about shepherds, that position was reserved for the ones who couldn’t do anything else. As soon as David appears, Samuel knows he is the one. Despite the fact that physically he isn’t much to look at, he is the strong leader that Israel needs. So Samuel anoints him, pours the oil right over his head. David, the youngest, the weakest, the smallest, is to become Israel’s champion, but we’ll save that story for next week.

I think what makes this story so great is that the one who is chosen is David. When we read the whole story we realize that any one of us can identify with David. If we don’t hear the story for ourselves, we make the mistake of just knowing that David was a shepherd and then a King. We don’t really hear the parts that show us that David, the shepherd, the champion and the King, is a sinner, a repenter, a servant, a human just like you and me.

This story of David is a part of the greater story we call the metanarrative, and we see the truth of God in the pattern that is revealed in creation. This story shows us that this is the One God, creator of the universe, creator of all that is seen and unseen, God above all gods. Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. This is the God that brought the Israelites out of slavery into freedom; this is the God that stayed with the people in Exile. This is the One God who anointed Kings over Israel and Judea even knowing that wasn’t such a good idea. This is the One God who reunited the two kingdoms into one and placed this King David on the throne, knowing that David was not a perfect man. This is the One God who creates and who blesses. This is the One God who has faith in creation and who stands fast when creation turns away and who calls creation back into relationship even as they wander in the wilderness. This is the One God who chooses as the champion the littlest, the weakest, the least perfect.

What about this story is so powerful? What about this story is about redemption? We find the pattern repeated in the gospel of Mark. Here we have a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. It’s not size, or the power that we have that is important. It is not what we have or what we achieve that is important. It’s not being the biggest or the best that is important. It is the transformation, it is the shepherd transformed to the king, it is the mustard seed transformed to the greatest of all shrubs so as to provide shade so that all the birds of the air can make nests. And the gospel of Mark shows us that this transformation is what the kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is not about perfection, but about transformation. The kingdom of God in not about being right, or being powerful, or being strong, or even having enough faith, the kingdom of God is about the transformation of a thing that looks like it can’t possibly be worthwhile, into a new thing that is able to give life, is able to provide a place for the birds of the air to make their nests.

So we are to be like David, in the fullness of our humanity, God has faith in us. And God’s faith in us is transforming. We are to be like the mustard seed, the very seed that looks like it can’t bear any fruit at all, but becomes that which gives life to all that take refuge. And there’s one more thing in this Mark passage that we need to pay attention to. The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. This little kingdom of God parable shows us that God’s work is our transformation; our work is to respond to God. This is not to say that we do nothing, it is to say that transformation is up to God, and we are to be in a position to hear, to listen, to worship, to glorify, to be changed, to be molded. And then transformation results in our response, just like planting seeds in the ground bears fruit. The fruit we bear is our response to how God changes us. The fruit we bear is a part of the new creation, the kingdom of God.

So we have these stories before us today that are all about littleness and mystery. They are about God, not really about us at all. They show us that God is faithful, they show us that God is up to something and we are simply called to participate in what God is doing in the world. That is why we find flashes of brilliant hope and the promise of a greater day to come. They may only be flashes, but they are powerful epiphanies nevertheless. Here and there, in longed-for reconciliation within families and among friends, in healing from illness and grief, in the decisions by a community that places its most vulnerable members at the top of its agenda rather than at the bottom, in sharing and celebration and the release of grudges, in acts of great and unexpected generosity, in the end of war and the seeking of peace, in the breaking of bread and the nourishment of our souls and our bodies, in giving voice to the voiceless and lifting up the hopes of those in despair, we see the mysterious ways of God.

It may begin, or seem to persist, in smallness, in little steps and small hopes, but the path, Jesus says, leads to greatness, a greatness we cannot see or even imagine today. God can see it, and God can imagine it, and most of all, God intends it. The tiny little seed grows into the greatest of all, the mustard tree, strong and great enough to offer shelter and goodness and the stuff of life for those who need to find a home. (Thank you to Weekly Seeds, i-ucc.org)

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

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Trinity Sunday Yr B

This passage from the Gospel of John is probably one of the most familiar passages in the bible. Who hasn’t seen posters at football games with John 3:16? What happens with things so familiar is that we accept what they are and forget to ask what does that really mean, my favorite question.

This is one of my favorite stories about why. The family was gathered for Easter dinner. The youngest newly married daughter was preparing her first family dinner. As she was about to put the large ham in the oven to begin baking, her mother stopped her and said "You have to cut three inches off the ham before you bake it." Puzzled, the daughter asked her mother why? "Because that's the way my mother taught me to do it," said the mother. Still puzzled, the daughter went to find her grandmother. "Nana," she asked, "Mom says you have to cut 3 inches off of the ham before putting it in the oven to bake. Why?" "Well, that's how my mother taught me to do it, and it's the way I've always done it," replied the grandmother. Well, the daughter's husband had heard all of this and he wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. He went into the living room where the family was gathered around great grandmother. "Nona," he asked, "Grandma says you taught her to cut 3 inches off of the ham before putting it in the over. I'm puzzled. Why is that necessary?" "Well, dear, when I was a new bride, just starting out, I baked my first ham for Easter dinner. The ham was 18 inches long. The largest roasting pan I had was 15 inches long, so I had to cut three inches off of the ham to make it fit the pan." And so it goes, from generation to generation, until someone asks "Why?"

So Nicodemus asks the question for us, “Why,” more specifically, Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” Nicodemus was a man of the Pharisee sect; he was a prominent leader of the Jews. And yet, late in the cover of night, he went to Jesus to find out the truth. How can these things be, he asked. How can you be the Son of Man Jesus? How can you turn water into wine? How can you say we must be born again, we are born only once. How can these things be?

You and I live in a world of reason and science. We live in a world where we spend much time and energy on finding the explanation, testing the hypothesis, repeating the experiment to see if we can get the same results many many times. This is a fine world; it’s a world of question and answer, a world of fact and proof. But side by side with the world of reason and science is the world of narrative, the world of story. Who you are today has everything to do with how you were formed, and who formed you. It has everything to do with the people in your life, and it has everything to do with how you learned to respond to the challenges that were set before you. This is where truth lives. The world of science and reason and the world of narrative are not mutually exclusive worlds, they address different questions though.

Nicodemus asked the question how does this happen, he wants a proof and evidence, and Jesus answered with the truth of relationship, Jesus answered with the truth of the story. Jesus referred Nicodemus, the learned Jew, to the story he would know so well, the story that is part of the very fiber of his being, the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Jesus essentially says to Nicodemus, remember who and whose you are, you are a child of God, you are constituted by the truth of wandering in the wilderness, just like Moses, just like the people that followed Moses. And what happened to them? They were slaves brought out of Egypt into the Promised Land. They were in bondage and they were freed. Jesus says to Nicodemus you can be free too, free from the bondage that holds you to death. You can have new life and freedom that comes with the truth of God who came into this world, God who loved the world so much that God gave God’s Son, the one and only Son, so that no one needs to be destroyed, by believing in him, anyone can have whole and lasting life. God came into the world to put the world right again. God who came into this world so that something absolutely new could happen.

Nicodemus had to come out of the cover of darkness and into the light to ask his question. Nicodemus was astounded to learn that what is offered is not the same ol same ol. What is offered is not the reason and explanation of the law, but the new creation, the new life, that comes in the person of Jesus Christ. The answer Nicodemus gets is about the new life that is offered through Jesus, it is about love, and love is not reasonable. This story shows that the new life, the new creation that is available through Jesus Christ is nothing like anything anyone ever knew or experienced previously.

The story used to illustrate this amazing love that God has for God’s beloved is the story of birth. Nicodemus asks is it like entering a second time into the mother’s womb, and Jesus’ answer is that it is not, it is being born of the spirit. This story expands the possibility of how and when new birth and the power of the spirit work, rather than limiting the power of the spirit to one way or one time. You do not now where the spirit comes from or where the spirit goes, but the spirit is always about birth, the spirit is always about new creation, the spirit is always about the new life that God affects in our world.

There is no same ol same ol. There is no business as usual. God is about something absolutely new in our world. And that something new is not reasonable and explainable. That something new is about the love that God is and has for us, the beloved. We are marked and chosen, we are the delight of God’s life. We have just come out of a time of wilderness wandering, we have just celebrated the inauguration of the new creation, we in fact are living in God’s kingdom. But we continue to act as if we live in the darkness. The question before us is how do we come out of the cover of darkness and live fully and completely in the light of God’s amazing and abundant love for us? Somehow we need to be open to the possibility of the spirit, the possibility of trinity, the possibility that it is in this relationship of father son and Holy Spirit that we are made one, we are whole, we are healed.

This life we have chosen, or which has been chosen for us, is so very counter-cultural. We are seduced by the comforts and conveniences of this world, with its HDTV, espresso machines, wifi, iphones, googling, facebooking, and texting. We are seduced by the ease of our lives, we have warm houses with stoves and refrigerators and toilets. There’s nothing wrong with all this, but I do think it seduces us into forgetting who and whose we are. We must remember, gathering together, hearing the stories, eating the bread, drinking the wine, helps us remember, helps us to stay in the light, to keep our eyes and ears open to God’s amazing love for us, for each and every one of us, and therefore to our response to God’s amazing love for us. Not only is God’s love available to you, it is available to everyone. Not only does God come into this world for you, God comes into this world for all of us together. Our response to God’s amazing and abundant love is to share it, not to posses it or to hoard it.

Wake up, feel the wind on your face, hear the wind blowing across the prairie, it carries the Spirit on it. Stay awake; see the reality of God with us, of Jesus Christ in the other, of new life abounding and abundant. This is where the transformation happens. This is where we become who we are called to be. This relationship forms and shapes us into the persons that God calls us to be, persons of vast love and charity, persons for whom God’s new creation and love hold hope and joy and freedom.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God: Come let us adore him. Amen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Willie's Graduation Talk

From then until now has been quite the journey. I feel accomplished and thankful. But, mom keeps on reminding me that the pomp and circumstance music are not actually for me, nor my class, its all about her. That is true for all ceremonies, but especially graduation. The pictures taken as I walk across the stage are not for me, but for the walls and desks of my family. Moms need the ceremony to put a cap on the top of high school and have something to aid in the reminiscing for the coming years. But for the graduates it is different. It is the end to one step and just the beginning of a huge leap. Graduates have experiences in school and out to reminisce about.

Coming from Minnesota to Texas, back to Minnesota, I had huge doubts about South Dakota. It’s definitely different here. The whole place has a different feel. I was here previously, but that was just camping. Living somewhere and just visiting sheds different light on the way we perceive the environment we find ourselves in. The hills and ridges definitely put Rapid City into a different category than everywhere else. But all in all I have grown to love it here now, mostly because of the people and particularly the people here at St. Andrew’s. I want everyone to know that I greatly appreciate everything that the people here have done for me. From Obie taking me out for the day, Spew at our youth lock-ins, memories have been made and you have helped shape me into the person I am today. As I leave for college in the fall I will take St. Andrew’s with me and will never forget the people here. Don’t worry mom and dad, and everybody else I guess, I will come back to visit. Honestly, I want to thank everyone who has been a part of my life, you have formed me into the graduate I am today and I will always carry something of everybody with me.