Sunday, December 26, 2010

1st Sunday after Christmas Yr A

From Isaiah we hear, I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness. And in Galatians the Good News is that we are children of God.

We read this same set of readings each Sunday after Christmas, and each time I am overwhelmed by the awesomeness of God and of our human inability to speak of that. These readings challenge our understanding of God, and yet I’m not convinced we even understand God’s nature in an intellectual or a cognitive way. I think we understand it in a much more organic way, a way that touches the very truth of our being, and the very core of our limitedness.

Our humanness is tied directly to language. We really are formed and shaped by language, however adequate or inadequate it is. How we understand God, our relationship with God, how we understand Jesus human and divine, how we understand the presence of the Holy Spirit, is often about the words that we employ to describe that experience, that relationship. For example, those who say they are atheists are not necessarily people who do not believe in God, rather they may be people who cannot assent to a particular way of describing God, because our language is just not adequate to describe the totality and the mystery of that relationship.

Throughout history people have tried desperately to describe God, we have tried desperately to describe the reality in which we live. Today, postmodern thought suggests that what is real is only what we put language too. In many ways I am a postmodern thinker, but in this case what I think is real is God and our relationship with God. What that means is that God exists whether or not we have the language to describe God, and therefore a relationship exists whether or not we have the language to describe it. The challenge is to find the words and the symbols and the actions to describe God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God.

The first chapter of the gospel of John, In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God I hear as an absolutely beautiful and poetic song helping us to not only understand, but to feel and to see and to hear how we are related to God, and who Jesus is in that relationship. It is not coincidental that In the beginning is the Word invokes in us a notion of the spoken language, but language is so much more than the spoken word.

Every time I read these words from John I hear the language of music. Sometimes for me the language of music speaks more clearly than words. When I hear this passage from John, I am encircled, enveloped, swaddled, if you will, in the awesome and abundant love of our creator. When I hear these words I hear a symphony.

I hear the bass, the tuba, the tympani and the baritone, beating as the heart of creation. I hear the bass clarinets, and the bassoons, and the saxophones joining in the building of the harmonies. I hear the flutes and the clarinets with the melody of love and hope. And I hear the trumpets and the French horns with the blast of the proclamation that God has created the world and come into it as one of us. And I hear the sadness of the oboes, with the news that some do not choose to listen to and be transformed by the music.

Music is organic; as is the love of God. It is in the fiber of creation, the stones shout it out, the wind hums the word, the rain keeps the beat, the grace and truth of Christ is made real in the dance of the spheres.

In A Wind in the Door, the second book in a series of books by Madeleine L’engle, the first being A Wrinkle in Time, the author writes that for growth to happen there is a necessary death. The passage I quote this morning is a passage late in the book, when Meg O’Keefe, the main character, and her friend Calvin are really beginning to understand the interconnectedness of all things, and they are beginning to understand, birth, death, and resurrection. The reason I quote from this story and from this passage is that it hearkens to the first chapter of John. It goes like this. “We are the song of the universe. We sing with the angelic host. We are the musicians. The stars are the singers. Our song orders the rhythm of creation. Calvin asked, ‘How can you sing with the stars?’ There was surprise at the question: it is the song. We sing it together. That is our joy. And our Being.”

The Light has come, is come, and will continue to come into the world. That is what Christmas attests too. Light overcomes darkness, darkness will not prevail. The Word is with us, the Word is in our midst, and the Word creates the song.

I am also aware that the first words of John, and the first words of Genesis, are very similar. In the beginning was the Word, In the beginning God created. This incarnation, God breaking into our world, God interrupting our lives, God in our midst, the Word made flesh, the song that sings light into the darkness, are words that attempt to describe God’s awesome activity.

Listen again to these words from the Gospel of John, from The Message. The Word was first, the Word present to God God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him, nothing—not one thing! —came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness, the darkness couldn’t put it out.

Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 2010

In the midst of the trees and the tinsel, the shopping and the wrapping, the baking and the giving, God breaks in. A baby, born in a barn, cold and vulnerable, to parents who have no discernible home, and of questionable status, is our God. A baby, born to show us what love looks like in the midst of the brokenness of our lives. God comes crashing into our world, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. And God comes quietly, as a newborn baby. Ready or not, crashing or quietly, God comes. Madeleine L’engle, in her book Bright Evening Star, describes it like this. “Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?”

Christmas comes and I am reminded of the Who’s in Whoville, from the Grinch story. No matter what the Grinch did, Christmas would come anyway. Because Christmas is not presents and trees and lights and cookies, Christmas is incarnation, and incarnation happens with or without the rest of it.

Imagine yourself living in the dark days of the oppressive rule of Rome. This census that caused Mary and Joseph and all the others to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about unjust taxation by Quirinius. The gospel writer Luke knows that Jesus was born in dark times. He knows about the dark times that followed as well—the famine in Judea, the war with Rome, the destruction of the Temple, strife within synagogues, the persecution and martyrdom.

And yet, still, tonight we celebrate the Good News. This is not a celebration of sentimentality and nostalgia. It is not a celebration of the power to get, or a contest about what’s in your wallet. It’s not a celebration about who is at the head of the table, who is able to give the most, the biggest, the best, gifts.

Jesus has come among us. The Light has come into the world; darkness has not, is not, and shall not prevail. God’s glory is revealed! All we need to do is to follow the signs. And what are the signs? A child, wrapped in ordinary cloth and lying in a manger. A peasant girl, narrowly spared from being stoned to death by her village after her husband-to-be found her to be pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. An overwhelmed father, doing his best to find shelter for his family on a night when they are homeless and friendless. A gathering of shepherds, among the lowest of laborers.

You see, the signs show us that the world doesn’t have to be made perfect before it is made new. You and I do not have to be perfect before we are made new. That’s what’s so amazing about God with us. God comes to us in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the darkness. God comes to be with us in the midst of our isolation and alienation, in the midst of the muck of the stable, and the pain of a Roman cross.

This is an extravagant love, an abundant love, poured out for each one of us as if each one of us was the only one in existence; poured out for all of us in unlimited supply. This abundant love is offered without reservation or regard for what you have and haven’t done, or how many Christmas cookies you make, or how many Christmas presents you give, or how many lights are on your house.

The prophets of the Old Testament testified to this love, in Isaiah we hear a statement of faith, trust, and gratitude for what the Lord has already done. Grounded in this certainty makes the next words of promise and future hope believable. While it appears that the powers of this world have a firm hold, God's power will have the final victory. In the midst of that which creates despair and darkness, God's light shines as that which is the fulfillment of all that we need and everything that we wish could be.

On Christmas Eve, when candles burn bright to witness to the God's light that shines in all of our darkness, we are reminded that this is not just a claim for tonight, or even because of Jesus, but points to the nature of who God is and always has been. When the candles are extinguished, the lights put away, and the decorations stored until next year, God is still God.

The love that God has for creation is beyond comprehension. That is why God came into our midst, to shed light on this love. You see, Jesus is more than a teacher who can help us understand the words in scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. We don’t have to figure it all out; we can experience it in relationship.

God with us, God in our midst, the light that has come into the world is the power and the hope of Christmas. And this isn’t just something that has happened, or that happens to us, we are not a passive observer. This is a relationship in which we participate. You and I are part of it; we are constituents, part of a community that is the body of Christ. The Word made flesh meets us in the Flesh. We are not acted upon by a “big guy up there.”

That’s what this is all about. God came to be with us, and God comes to be with us, and God will be with us, and therefore we are invited into a relationship with God and with one another. And we don’t have to be perfect in this relationship. In fact, it is into the midst of our brokenness that God comes.

One way we express this participation is when we gather together and the Word is present in our midst, and we are re-membered in the Body and Blood of Christ, just as we are doing right now.

Another way we participate in a relationship with God is to carry the light into the world. You see, God’s work is not contained inside a church. We participate in God’s work, and are nourished and fortified to do God’s work, but most of that work takes place out there, it takes place in your work and in your play, in your school. We are to be the light that illuminates God, we are to be the light that shines on people and shows them the way to God.

It’s a new life. It’s a new world. Right here, right now, we are invited to experience the Incarnation we celebrate in Christmas by living and loving as Christ’s body in the world. That’s the light we walk in, that shines all the more brightly in the darkness that cannot overcome it. That’s the hope that sustains us, the peace that keeps us centered amidst life’s turmoil, the joy that makes eternal and abundant life present in the here and now.

Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

4 Advent Yr A

All four candles in our Advent wreaths are lit. The light is beginning to fill the void. As we find ourselves nearing ever so closely to Christmas, the anticipation grows; the waiting will come to fulfillment. The stories we have before us point to incarnation, they point to God-with-us, they encourage us to see the signs. The Christian journey is about recognizing God who comes to us. Observing a time of waiting and preparing culminating in the incarnation once each year causes us to remember God’s relationship with us, and we remember that relationship through the stories we tell, we remember that relationship through the things we do, we remember that relationship through the songs we sing. We remember those who populate the stories of faith, those who responded to God’s call to relationship, those who realized that God is indeed the author of the story.

Ahaz, a king, who according to the rabbis, persisted in his wickedness even in the face of all the trials to which he was subjected, would not repent. Worse than this, he threatened Israel's religion to its very foundation, in order to destroy all hope of regeneration. He closed the schools and houses of worship so that no instruction should be possible, and the Glory of God should abandon the land. It was for this reason that Isaiah had to teach in secret, though Ahaz always humbly submitted to the prophet's rebukes—his only redeeming feature. These years of kingship in a divided Israel demonstrate the failed solutions people throughout history have tried as a means to be in control, it was idol worship, not God worship. And in the midst of this idolatrous kingly reign Isaiah points the Hebrew people toward the sign that would show the people the extent that God would go to come to the people, to be in a new relationship with the people, to come in the flesh.

This sets up a contrast between Ahaz, a king who was concerned mostly with himself and his own power, and Joseph, a man who completely inhabits his part of this amazing story of the love that gives and does not possess, the love that empties so that the beloved may be filled. God has asked Joseph to name this child.

Joseph by rights should toss Mary out for the punishment that should befall her, death by stoning. According to Matthew’s telling, it seems that even before the angel came to Joseph, he already knew that Mary was pregnant, maybe she told him, maybe he just knew; we don’t hear anything about that. What we do hear is that Joseph considered his choices. 1st century customs about betrothals were quite clear. If you think the woman to whom you’re engaged is bearing someone else’s child both the woman and the man whose child it is get death by stoning.

Joseph is a righteous man, but he refuses to expose Mary to public disgrace to carry this out. So Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly, this divorce is the measure that would have to be taken to nullify a betrothal. It’s the best option he can take to avoid claiming a child that wasn’t his. In the face of common law, tradition, all the cultural forces mounting against him, derision and judgment, Joseph chooses life, Joseph chooses incarnation,

When Joseph had resolved to do this, an angel appears to him too, and says the words angels are famous for in scripture, “Do not be afraid.” The child Mary is bearing is of the Holy Spirit, and when he is born, Joseph is to name the child, Joseph is to call him Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves. The writer of Matthew very intentionally connects this story with the passage from the prophet Isaiah that says there will be a son and his name will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

Joseph could not ignore God’s presence, Joseph could not ignore incarnation, neither can you and I, just like Joseph, we have a choice to make. This was a child who was born of Mary, a child who should not have been born at all, and of Joseph, who had he been so inclined, would have left Mary to public justice, stoning and all. This is a child whose birth, death, and resurrection attest to God’s creativity and power.

I am reminded of a scene that I love in the first Jurassic Park movie. I realize that Jurassic Park is an old movie now, but try and picture this with me. Shortly after arriving on the tropical island that is Jurassic park, the scientists tour the whole park, and then they sit down to dinner with Mr. Hammond the owner, and Ian Malcolm, a mathematician and scientist at the park. They are talking about the cloning that has been done to create the dinosaurs at the park, and that the safe guard to not having more dinosaurs out there is that they created them all female. At the table while they are eating this gourmet meal, Ian delivers a brilliant line. He says, “Life will not be contained! Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is.”

That is what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen with Jesus and incarnation. God breaks into our world, God interrupts our lives. The life that God creates breaks free, it expands to new territories, and it crashes through barriers, sometimes painfully and dangerously. It is the life in Mary’s womb, and in Elizabeth’s womb, that exists not because of biology and despite humanity’s tendency to end life, but because of God’s awesome, creative, power. It is the life to which Joseph joins Mary in saying yes. It is the life in which God pours out upon us unlimited love.

This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are ever so close to that inbreaking. How do you prepare your heart and mind and body for the crashing in of God? How do you join with Mary and Joseph and say yes to this incarnation? The question at the mall, the question asked by the culture is Are you ready for Christmas? Well, are you ready for Christmas? This question is asked from the perspective of perceived expectations, not from the perspective of this inconceivable conception. What that question really means is do you have your decorating done, are your lights up, did you get your cookies baked, is your house clean and ready for the guests, do you have all your gifts purchased and wrapped?

But the real question is, are you ready for God’s crashing into our world, are you ready for God’s crashing into your life and into your heart? Are you ready to be transformed into the person God would have you be? Are you ready to say yes? Now those are hard questions.

I am ready for Christmas, and I am not yet ready for Christmas. I have experienced the inbreaking of God into my life and I know that God’s inbreaking continues in new and life changing ways. I know that God has broken into this particular church and the universal church; and at the very same time, I continue to wait and prepare for the cosmic coming of Christ, for all times and all places, and the church continues to wait and prepare, and we have no idea what that will look like. All we have is what we imagine.

But we do know what God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like today, right now. It looks like the clerk at the store, the one who really needs someone to say, “you’re doing a great job in the midst of this madness.” It looks like the guy in the car beside you, who needs a smile and a nod, not a raised finger. It looks like the mom and children who really could use something good to eat in these days, and a warm coat to wear. It looks like the family that works two and three jobs just to make it to the end of the month and still needs a little help from the food shelf. And it also looks like the executive who works 80 hours in a week, and long ago forgot that it’s not about the stuff that he can give to his family, it’s about the time he can spend with his family. Or it looks like the young person desperately trying to fit into a world that values contingency over commitment. Sometimes it looks like the sadness we feel when our loved one has died, and it is so very hard to remember that life will not be contained, life breaks free.

God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like when we gather together around this altar and are re-membered, we made into the body of Christ, it looks like when we invite others, sometimes people who don’t look like us or speak like us, to eat at this table with us. God’s incarnation looks like the gathered church in the diocese of South Dakota, people of all colors and shapes and sizes. God’s incarnation looks like the church gathered across the United States, people from every country, of many colors, and mostly who can agree on something, maybe. God’s incarnation looks like the love we share with one another; and it is made real when we say yes with Joseph and Mary.

For me, the experience of the inbreaking of God in my life and into the life of the church has everything to do with God being revealed in absolutely new ways, in ways I couldn’t have imagined, even in ways the church hadn’t imagined before. Because that is what and who Jesus is, God comes as a lowly child, not as the expected King. And like lan Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, that breaking forth of new life is sometimes painful, but is always creative.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3 Advent Yr A

Do you see what I see? Do you see what Jesus sees? Do you see what God sees? John seems to be expecting something that Jesus isn’t expecting. Last week we heard the first of the John the Baptist stories, in which John proclaims that Jesus is the one for whom we all prepare. This week we hear from John the Baptist again, not from the Jordan River, but from prison. John has been thrown into prison for sedition, for proclaiming a King who is not the Roman emperor. Even in prison John is interested in Jesus’ mission, so he sends one of the people who visit him to find out about how Jesus is carrying out his mission, and John is not pleased. You see, John spoke about a mighty one coming to baptize the righteous with the Holy Spirit and the wicked with fire to destroy them. Jesus talks about and does plenty of Holy Spirit things—that is what we read about in today’s gospel, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them—but Jesus doesn’t talk much about fire and destruction, like John thought he should.

John and the Jewish community are expecting the Messiah, the anointed one, the one who will come in power and glory to overthrow the Roman government and put Israel into power. This is not what happens. Even John questions Jesus identity, he asks, are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

And Mary sings my soul magnifies the Lord, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy. But God has not come as expected. God comes as a baby in a barn, God comes as child in a culture where children have no voice, God comes as a man who is lifted onto a cross to die.

It is not in power that God comes, but instead it is in healing and compassion. It is healing and compassion that point us toward the coming of the Christ. It is not in power that God comes, but instead it is in deeds of love and mercy.

John’s displeasure may be a result of finding out that he was wrong about the Messiah. The people’s expectation of the Messiah may be wrong as well. Jesus says to them, What did you expect? A King? Someone dressed in soft robes in royal palaces? Because that is in fact what the people expected, a King that would come in power to give them all a place at the head of the table. Jesus says and demonstrates that he is not the King they expected.

What we have is a huge chasm of unmet expectation in this story, and that unmet expectation in fact plays out throughout the gospels. God does not come to the people as King, as a powerful ruler. Instead, God comes into the midst of the people as a child, born in a barn, born to a lowly woman who is not even married yet to Joseph. God, who has all power, gave up all power to come into the midst of the people as one with no power. God, who would be King, instead is a child, who we tend to make into a King.

A world of unmet expectation. I think we know that world well. What you hope and dream about usually is nothing like what it is that actually happens to you. So much stress at holiday time is caused by perceived expectations, by the chasm between a sort of nostalgic view of what should happen and what you think should be accomplished, and what is real. What is real is usually unrecognizable compared to what is imagined.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I think it is the very thing that helps us to remember that we were and are never in control anyway. We do this to people all the time. We expect them to behave in a particular way based on our own expectations of them. But we have no control over other people, and what they think, believe, or how they act. We, just like John, have no control over Jesus, who he was, who he is, and who he will be. The real Jesus that we read about in the bible, and whom we encounter in the bread and the wine, and who we experience in the other, is nothing like the Jesus some wish Jesus was.

The Jesus some wish Jesus was is the Jesus of power, the Jesus who seems more like a magician than a man. Jesus who judges who can be in relationship with him and who cannot. Jesus who said every word that is printed in red in their bibles. And who is the real Jesus, who is God in the flesh? The Jesus I read about in the bible heals the blind, and the lame, and the lepers. The deaf hear, the dead are raised. He eats with tax collectors and women; he spends his time with children. He says that the last shall be first, he says those in bondage will be freed; he says love God with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor. Jesus who got so angry that he turned the tables in the temple, and broke everything in sight.

And what happened to this Jesus? He was rejected; he was rejected because the way he lived and taught was threatening to many, especially those in power. And he was murdered in the most brutal and lingering of ways. He took it all, and yet forgave those who dealt it out. When he came back afterward, he still didn’t come back as a King. He still didn’t come back like a magician, or a superhero, rising from each blow to deal out better than what he got to the one who gave it to him; he came back pretty much with the same attitude and behavior he exhibited before his crucifixion.

So what kind of Jesus are we expecting will be coming back at the climax of all things? Are we hoping that this next time, Jesus will finally come back as The Terminator, getting rid of all the people we don’t like? Maybe we look for Jesus to come back as the one who will finally bring prosperity to everyone, or peace to the world. Some may look for Jesus as the one who will destroy all those who don’t agree, or who believe wrongly. Or maybe the next time he’ll protect himself by shooting first.

If so, we’ll be just as disappointed, if not more so, than John the Baptizer was. The Jesus our hearts long for, the Jesus our lives as well as our lips confess is coming again to judge the living and the dead, the Jesus whom John’s followers were told about, is not the Jesus of superheroes.

The Jesus we wait for, the Jesus we long for is the one who humbly serves the poor, the outcast, and the sinner. He is the one who is willing to eat with Pharisees as well as tax collectors and women. And most of all, he is willing to die on a Roman cross rather than retaliate against those who treated him and his people brutally. That’s the only Christ there is. Jesus who accepts you and I exactly as we are, who loves us exactly as we are. Who gives us not what we deserve; but instead gives us love that has no conditions, love that is selfless, love that gives up all power for the good of the other.

There is no other Jesus. The Jesus we read about in the bible accepts, he does not condemn. Jesus forgives. Jesus frees people from a lifetime of bondage so that they, and we may live a life that is marked by love and generosity.

There is no evidence that Jesus, who will come again in glory at the end of time, will come as a ruler to hold power over creation. The story that we read in these gospels suggests that Jesus, who we wait for and prepare for, will come again to judge us against the standard he set: humble service to the poor, the outcast, the sinner; willingness to eat with those with whom we disagree and with those who are unlike us; and whether or not we spread the good news of God’s love in him. These are the markers of the people who follow Christ, and who wait for his return.

As the anticipation of Jesus comes to a climax, do as Jesus does, go out and serve the poor, the outcast, the sinner. Or maybe eat a meal with someone you can’t agree with. And we can say with all our heart, Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him. Amen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

2 Advent Yr A

We just prayed this morning when we lit the second candle on the Advent wreath, Gracious God, Grant that we may find peace as we prepare for our Lord’s birth. May divisions in ourselves and in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Help us to see the paths of peace in our lives, and then give to us courage to follow them. Lord, let us remember that you only are the giver of lasting peace and that you are always with us. We relit the first candle, the candle of hope, and lit the second candle, the candle of peace. On this the second Sunday of Advent, may we find peace and hope.

Isaiah shows us that the political situation of the people of Israel is in total disarray. Into this setting, however, just when things appear hopeless and the future looks very bleak, the prophet promises that God will send a leader who will rule with justice toward all, and with mercy toward the most vulnerable in society. The little ones, the defenseless ones, the innocent ones will be protected and cared for. Isaiah urges the people to remember who they are as the people of God, reminding them that their power, their life, comes from goodness, not from greed. In Matthew, the people that John the baptizer was with had stopped believing the Messiah would be coming. We live in a similar time of cynicism, we have stopped believing that there can be an end to war, that there can be an end to homelessness, that there can be an end to inequity and injustice. Mostly because we look to the wrong place for justice and peace. Only God will bring justice and righteousness, the world cannot do it. God’s mission in the world is healing and reconciliation, it is not justice as the world understands it. It is in God’s healing and reconciliation where real hope and real peace lay.

What is your greatest hope? What makes you get up in the morning, and move through your day, and, at times, struggle against discouragement, injustice, and despair? What are you moving toward, and what carries you toward it? We always need to remember that hope is not the same thing as a wish. We often make the mistake of using hope when we really mean wish. We wish for presents at Christmas, but hope is in the promise of new life. Wishes sometimes come true, hope is already true. God has already broken into our lives and our world to bring peace and reconciliation, to bring hope, and to show us what that looks like. Advent reminds us of this truth, Advent gives us an opportunity to listen, to stay awake, and to prepare ourselves and our community for the day that God will fulfill our hope.

The story in Isaiah shows us what hope looks like. A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Even when something looks dead, in God’s economy, new life is possible. That is hope. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. That is hope.

And that is what John proclaims in Matthew; this one who is coming is the one who begins the new peaceable kingdom. But the peace and the hope that Jesus brings is not a nostalgic romantic peace, it is not a wish. It is about turning away from the powers of the world and to live in hope. We have heard Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message; repentance is about turning in your old life for a kingdom life. Peterson writes, Jesus will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. Jesus places everything true in its proper place before God, everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.

And Paul in Romans shows us what that kingdom life looks like. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Peace and hope are about welcoming everyone into this kingdom life. You are welcomed into this new life that God has for you, you don’t have to be perfect to be welcome, surely the Pharisees and the Sadducees were only perfect in their own minds and they were welcome in God’s kingdom. Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you. There are so many that aren’t hearing this from us Christians. So many people continue to live in hopelessness and despair because they are hearing and seeing that some Christians believe a certain way, behave in a certain way. But that is not what Paul says here. This welcome, this radical greeting, is the welcome offered to the one who does not look like myself, who is not a member of my "immediate" family. Perhaps this one dresses differently, celebrates different traditions, looks different, perhaps this one is even sick or without a home or in serious difficulty. Perhaps this one is the one with whom I vehemently disagree, Paul says all are welcome in Christ.

Paul is here pushing the boundaries of the community. Yes, Christ came to one particular place, was born into one particular race and a unique religious tradition, but it is precisely this particularity on God's part that allows God to be paradoxically present in all people, in all cultures, in all flesh. The incarnation is about the infinite becoming fully embodied in the finite and yet never restricted by that finite. Christ's coming into the world, into the house of David, is God's coming into all of humanity, for all humanity. This coming, the advent of Christ, can never be claimed as a privilege by one group. Rather, everyone is invited, those who are inside and those who are not. Hope abounds when we welcome everyone as Christ has welcomed you.

Last week I mentioned that here at St. Andrew’s we have shifted from using the liturgical color purple, which signifies penitence, to using blue instead. This passage from Romans illustrates that shift. The shift is from penitence to hope. When I am out walking just as day is dawning, the sky is an amazing blue. Blue is the hope of a new day, blue anticipates coming of new creation. And the vision of the coming kingdom is broad, wide, deep, and generous. The vision of the kingdom is peace and hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Funeral homily for Bernice Holland Jones

I am humbled and privileged to say these words as we gather to celebrate Bernice’s life. Although I am the one who has the privilege of speaking, many of us will tell similar stories of Bernice’s impact on our lives. She taught all of us, whether you are a St. Mary’s girl, whether you are a friend, she taught all of us. All of us know that in these last years, she wondered to herself and aloud at her purpose for continuing on this earth, she was somewhat impatient to get started on the next part. Today, I get to tell you what she taught me. I hope you will share with each other what she taught you.

I was called here to Rapid City to lead this congregation of St. Andrew’s. But it was Bernice who really taught me what it means to be priest. It is Bernice who blessed me. Each Wednesday Bernice would stand at these steps after taking the bread and the wine, and wait for prayers of healing. As I made the sign of the cross on her forward, and laid my hands on her head, I wondered what healing meant when you are 99 years old. I would say, Lord God, we ask for healing and for wholeness, and especially Lord for the power of your Holy Spirit, in whom we are made new creations, in whom we are born again, and by whom we are being made in your image. Each time I prayed these words, I saw Bernice’s beauty, I saw Bernice who I believe looks as much like God’s image as I can imagine. I would stand before Bernice and I would be blessed by her. Many believe it’s the other way around, that I bless them. But as Bernice stood before me, I was blessed by her, over and over again.

Bernice taught me about learning. There is always something new to be learned. Her attendance at Bible Study until quite recently attests to that, most would suggest that they’d been there done that got the tee shirt. But not Bernice, scripture always had something new to teach; each time we approach scripture there is something new for us to learn. I bet that’s why she was such a good teacher herself for so many years, I imagine she approached her students with the hope of learning something new, and that always results in transformation.

But I think what is most important to me and has formed me as a priest, is Bernice’s graciousness toward all people. It wasn’t just about kind words, Bernice had the ability to embrace people and encounter them as I think Jesus would have. At least she did with me. She and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, probably true with many of you as well, you see this isn’t about right and wrong, or agreeing and disagreeing, it‘s about seeing into someone’s soul and respecting the dignity of that creation. Bernice could do that, and that actually sounds a lot like living out our baptismal promises. Bernice helps me do that.

All of us have heard Bernice’s stories I hope. Stories of the Episcopal Church in South Dakota, stories of St. Mary’s girls, stories of Thunderhead Episcopal Camp, and of Camp Remington, Bernice was not just at these places, many of them wouldn’t be around if it hadn’t been for her and Emmitt. I to have been blessed by these stories.

So today we celebrate a life well lived. We celebrate the hope in the promise of new life that God gives and that is shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that death and resurrection that is so beautifully illustrated by the butterfly that Bernice loved so much.

One of the most difficult things I do as your priest is to accompany people on life’s journey to death. It is also one of the privileges of my work, because life’s journey to death is a sacred journey. God came into this world, into our midst, to show us that death does not have dominion, that the material demise of our bodies is not the ultimate story. The ultimate story is the story of resurrection.

This is the celebration of Bernice’s life, and it attests to the hope we have in the new life that is given by God through Jesus Christ. What God brings to us is change. Death is the penultimate change, resurrection is the ultimate change, and that is what we celebrate today. As we celebrate this life well lived, we are sad, and in the midst of the sadness, the good news remains. We hear scripture today full of good news. The good news is about the absolutely new life that God gives to us in Jesus.

Our hope rests in new creation. Our hope rests in the story that the work Jesus does on the cross matters. And what Jesus does on the cross is to collect all of the pain and suffering of this world, and take it and hold it so that the stream of pain or sadness or hurt will flow no farther. Jesus takes in all of our pain and our suffering and Jesus contains it. Jesus’ life and death says to our world, it all stops here. It all stops with me.

Jesus doesn’t take away pain and sorrow. You and I both know that reality. To be human is to feel, to feel pain, to feel joy, to feel fear, to feel intimacy. Being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love. Only by facing death, our most primal fear, can we move ahead to embrace life with the great “nevertheless” that is God’s gracious word to a broken world.

Death is real and grief hurts and sometimes we just have to sit in the silence and cry and wait. What Jesus accomplishes is to let the pain and suffering wreak its fury upon him, to negate its power and take it out of the world with him. Jesus didn’t defeat pain and suffering by resisting it; but by absorbing it and removing it through the power of love.

And Jesus is the reason we rejoice today. It is this truth of what God in Jesus does in life, and on the cross, and in the resurrection that we celebrate Bernice’s life today. It is the truth that God lived and died as one of us, that connects us to each other, and gives us the strength and courage to love one another in our sadness and in our joy. God came to be with us, so that we may be new creations. God came to be with us, so that our pain and suffering, and joys and celebrations are made absolutely new.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

1 Advent Yr A

Life is short, stay awake, although this is the Caribou coffee tag line, it applies to our readings this morning as well. From Romans we read, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. And from Matthew, keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Advent is derived from a Latin word for “coming.” Advent is a time of preparation, expectation, anticipation, and waiting. It is not Christmas. Just want to make that clear. Christmas begins on December 25th. It seems waiting and anticipation are foreign concepts to many today. We wait in a line at the store and we get irritated. We wait at the stoplight and we wish there was not so much traffic. We wait for life to be born, and we wait for death. We, for the most part, are very bad at waiting. No wonder we jump right over Advent to Christmas, why wait when we can have it all today.

And yet, there is an urgency in our waiting. On this first day of the new year, this first Sunday of Advent, are some readings that ask us to stay awake and to wait in urgency for something that is new. We wait for the birth of the baby, we wait for the coming of the end, we wait for the coming of the cosmic Christ, we wait in expectation and anticipation of all that we believe fulfills humanity. Our waiting is urgent waiting, it is not wasted waiting. It is waiting for the reality that we know today, and the reality of the Kingdom that comes. It is waiting that does not negate the joy and happiness in which we live, it does not negate the sorrow and pain that we feel, but it is waiting that calls us to something new. And it is waiting that calls us to stay awake.

The cultural Christmas season has already begun, as we well know. There is this seduction to be busy, not that being busy is bad, but busyness tends to divert our attention from waiting for the gift that is being prepared for us. There are wonderful things to do at this time of year, but we cannot be seduced into believing that is all there is. That seduction pulls us away from staying awake, staying alert to the amazing gift of God’s love that we receive at Christmas.

What would we do differently if we knew exactly when Jesus would come? This is the way we need to live in Advent, because the truth is that Jesus comes and is coming, for all times and all places, into our lives and into our hearts, and we must be prepared. The only way to prepare is to stay awake and see the signs around us. Romans actually gives us some instructions about how to do that. We are to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

I think putting on the armor of light is about paying attention to the love that God gives us, and paying attention to the relationships in our lives. I think laying aside the works of darkness is to let go of all that draws us away from God’s love at this time of the year. There is so much that draws us away from God’s love, sale after sale after sale, these things are not bad, but we can’t let them be all there is. The real event is taking place in a hidden, yet powerful way. Lives are changed every day because of Jesus, people are healed from sin and death, eyes are opened to new realities, and we seldom hear about them because often we’re too distracted by the other stuff.

What meaning can Advent waiting have for us today? The best illustration I can think of is pregnancy. Nine months of waiting, or in my case 91/2 months of waiting, nothing can make it go faster, there is no way you want it to be over early, and nothing can change the absolute change that pregnancy brings to lives. A new life, being knit together in the darkness of the womb, a new life being created, absolutely and completely out of your control. But this kind of waiting is a profoundly creative act. It is in no way passive; indeed it is quite active as this new life grows. This is the waiting of Advent. It is to be joyfully and fully present to new growth. Advent becomes a way of being.

Advent is a time to put away the distractions. So maybe this is the time to put away our Blackberry’s and our iPhone’s for an hour or a day. Maybe it’s time to turn off for a while. This is a time to find some solitude. In fact, insist on it. This is a season to draw apart for a little while, to read scripture, to take ten minutes and breath slowly, letting the promise of God fill your lungs with fresh air. This is a time for staying awake to what really matters and letting go of some things that don’t. Advent offers some alternatives to all that doesn’t matter: an Advent wreath on the table, and its increasing shine as a new candle is lit each week; an Advent calendar to mark the days of waiting; a brief passage from scripture with the evening meal. These are anti-stress times when people’s souls get restored among those they love. Those who live alone can sit in front of a lighted candle and remember loved ones and friends who have surrounded them in the candlelight. Most of all, we can recall a God who loves us so much that we are offered a time to prepare, a time to wait, a time to remember that underneath all that seems to be crumbling is a firm foundation, and the One who is to come.

During Advent we will be singing a very unusual song, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. It is a poem from the 18th century, based actually on the Song of Songs. In this new year that Advent begins, this hymn offers to us a new way to hear Jesus, a new way to see Jesus, a new way to experience Jesus. We are called to rest awhile, to rest from all that seduces us away from Jesus Christ, the giver of life, Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Stay awake to the love that brings light into the dark. Stay awake to the love that forgives and heals. Stay awake to the love that brings us together, the love that feeds us. Stay awake to the love that brings us peace. Stay awake to the love that prepares us for new birth. Stay awake to the love that anticipates our homecoming.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christ the King, Yr C

Christ the King Sunday, the ultimate paradox. Christ the King, whose throne is the cross. One of the difficulties for me, and maybe for you, is this paradox. Kingship as we have learned through out history has been much more about tyranny than about justice and mercy. There are two places that I have learned most about the kingship of the cross, and both of course, are stories of metaphor. In, The Horse and His Boy, book 5 in the Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis, King Lune says to his newly found twin son Prince Cor, “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

The other place is in a trilogy of stories called collectively The Song of Albion, by Stephen R Lawhead. This is a story about a young man who enters into an alternate world, a world of kings and queens, of quests and wars, an alternate world that is quite related to our own world, what happens in one affects the other. Our main character enters this alternate world through one of the thin places of Celtic mythology. Upon entering, he begins to live a new life with new hopes and dreams. Eventually it becomes clear that he is to be the king of this land. He becomes a king who understands his kingship as constituted by the people, he is only king as much as they are his people. He leads his army into the battles, he gives up his coat, his food, for those of his land that need it. Eventually he comes to the time when he must ultimately put his life down for his people, it brings him great sadness, but he does so out of mercy and compassion.

Is there a king that is recorded in the history books like these kings? As we all know, history books are about the winners, not the kings who gave their lives for their people. Those kings would be regarded as weak, noneffective, and are quickly forgotten.

Christ the King, whose throne is the cross. Jesus, the shepherd through whom we know God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created. In Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Jesus God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross.

One of the criminals who was hanged there with Jesus said to him “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” And it is as if Jesus thought to himself, “I am King of the Jews, but I can’t save myself because I am saving you.” Here is the paradox. This is kingship as presented by God through Jesus. It runs absolutely counter to Messiah as it had been conceived in those times, Messiah as those who waited were prepared for. Messiah, the one who would come with power to put under, put down, put away, all those who already were the oppressors.

Jesus, born in a barn, proclaimed as a King, as Mary’s song proclaims, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. We use Kingly language, like sovereign Lord; we use Kingly images, like Christ who sits on a throne, and yet we also tell the story of the baby born in a stable, to parents who had nothing, who grew to be a man who was thrown out of the temple and whose throne is a cross.

Jesus announced the kingdom of God was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. The world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus is about mercy and compassion. The rulers of this world may be about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation.

I think this paradox of Jesus as King, and Jesus as the one who eats with tax collectors and women, whose closest friends were of bunch of smelly fishermen, is the most difficult image for me to reconcile. I am much more comfortable with the Jesus who wears Birkenstocks and jeans and a tee shirt, than Jesus who wears a crown and a robe. Kings spent all of their time building up riches of gold, silver, and jewels, but Jesus owned nothing at all. Kings surround themselves with servants; Jesus chose to be a servant. But, today, we are asked to hold both images in tension, Christ the kings, whose throne is a cross, and in so doing we see a fuller picture.

Worldly kingship implies power; power over others, authority over people. But Jesus did not exercise this sort of power and authority. Jesus’ power and authority are shared, not possessed. Jesus’ power is not over people, but with and through people. Kingdom is the inbreaking of a new order, an order that doesn’t just drive out the old order, but that reorders all relationships. The criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus recognized this power and authority, the power and authority to love absolutely, the power and authority to forgive. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus, the one who comes to show us the way to God, Jesus, the one who is King of all creation, is at the very same time the one who lived life just like you and me, who loved his friends and family, who suffered and died, just like you and me. For what good is a God who sits back and watches, what good is a God who rules from afar, what good is a God that holds power over people. Jesus is the one who loves, the criminal who hangs next to him, the mother who cries below him, the friends who betray him.

Kingship for Jesus is giving himself totally and absolutely for the love of his people. It is this love that you and I must respond to. It is this love that is transforming love. It is this love that reconciles and redeems. It is this love that causes us to love ourselves, it is this love that causes us to love one another, it is this love that gives us hope. Jesus’ love changes us.

We are changed through the realization that each one of us is loved completely and absolutely, just like that person on the cross next to Jesus, not for what we’ve done or not done, but for who we are. What kind of change happens in us for us to declare, Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom? It is the kind of change that causes each one of us to know that none of us is in this life alone, and none of us gets out of this life alive. It’s the kind of change that causes us to know that perfection is not the ticket, but love and forgiveness are. It is the kind of change that causes us to serve, like Jesus serves, the person next to us. Whether that person is next to us in our pew here in church, or that person is next to us in line at the grocery store, or that person is the one with whom you disagree most vehemently.

We are changed through the realization that when we fall short of the kind of love Jesus demonstrates for us, and we will fall short, that is part of being human, we are forgiven. Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Forgiveness not just once, but time and time again. Not even just until we get it right, because it’s not about getting it right. Only trying to get it right just makes us into self-righteous snobs. It’s about responding to love in love, and when we don’t, we ask for forgiveness. It’s about responding with love to the encounters along our paths, and when we don’t, we ask for forgiveness.

We begin our Advent journey next week. We begin our preparations for the coming of Christ into our hearts, and into our lives, for all time and all places. We begin our waiting in hope at this place of the cross, and this place of paradox, at this place where kingdom comes, and where love and forgiveness prevail. We begin at the place of remembering, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. We begin at the place of forgiveness, today you will be with me in Paradise. We begin at the place of grace, for you are absolutely and abundantly loved.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

25 Pentecost Yr C

I think the message from Isaiah and from Luke that we hear today is so exciting. From Isaiah we hear for I am about to create new heavens and a new earth, for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. And in Luke we hear the promise of new life, the promise that whatever happens, whatever has happened, God is creating something new.

We must always remember that these stories are written in hindsight, the writers are looking back at events that have already happened, as is the case with all stories, true or not true. Even science fiction and fantasy, the kind of stories that I like so much, at the very least comment on events that have already happened, for the purpose of proposing what may be, especially if we don’t change our ways.

The writer of Luke is looking back at the destruction of the temple that has already happened, and seeing it through the lens of the promise of fulfillment by God through Jesus in those days and to come. The event that is being described is the destruction of the temple, the temple was the center of the community’s life. Imagine the story you would tell if this church was destroyed. You would remember where you were when you heard the news, you may remember what you were thinking, what you were doing, who you were with. The destruction of anything, especially a building that is central to your faith and your family is a watershed event. It completely redefines all that came before and all that will come after. Nothing is the same, the people are changed, the landscape is changed. This is the report of destruction in the gospel of Luke that we read this morning. The destruction that is reported is an event that was shared by all Jews. It was an event that would have led them to think the world as they knew it was ending. That event happened about 70 years after Christ, and it is being interpreted in Luke in light of the promise of new life. We make a mistake when we think that these are events that are yet to happen.

The gospel writer Luke, writing after these significant events have happened, is telling a story in which Jesus is the main character. And I think what Luke is trying to do is to reassure people of the hope Jesus brings,
he tells people not to panic, not to be afraid. He writes, “you will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish.” He is saying, yes, it looks and feels like the end must be coming, but don’t panic. Don’t panic in the face of human destruction. Don’t panic about wars and rumors of wars. Don’t panic when the sky itself shows troublesome portents. Don’t panic when Jesus demands that God and our brothers and sisters in Christ take priority over our biological family.

It is tempting to panic. It is tempting to be ruled by our fears. Especially when we hear so much fear. But we are not to be ruled by fears. Jesus is still with us, giving us words to bear witness to his healing and reconciling of the world to himself. We believe that work will be consummated, and God’s will accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. Endure the troubles that will pass; hold on to Jesus’ vision for us and for the world, and we’ll hold on to our souls, our integrity and our destiny. The rulers of this world put on a convincing show of power, but we who know Jesus know what real power is and what it is doing and can accomplish among us.

It is Jesus’ power and Jesus’ power alone, in a world of darkness and violence, in a world of fear that brings light and hope. The world of injustice and hatred has ended, is ending, and will end. Jesus has seen, is seeing, and will see to that. Don’t panic, be not afraid, for the Light has come into the world, and will not be defeated by darkness.

The Light claims our heart and our soul and our mind. At our baptism, we were united with Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever. Every time we come to this table for nourishment we leave fortified, strengthened, we leave with renewed energy. You and I are bearers of the Light. You and I are co-conspirators in God’s plan of bringing Light into a dark world. The challenge of today’s gospel is about not giving into fear and panic, it is about being a Light bearer.

How are you a Light bearer in this world? How do you bring the good news of God in Jesus Christ into the world in which you live?

At work, and at school, in your neighborhood, and even here, your church home, are you a reconciler? Do you bring peace? Are you an advocate for those who are most vulnerable? Do you treat others with dignity and justice, and do you challenge your coworkers and your classmates to treat one another and others with dignity and justice? Are you a good steward of the abundance of God’s creation? Do you welcome the stranger? Do you by your actions point people to hope? Do you treat children as Jesus treats children?

Light bearing in a dark world is a big job, and we all share that responsibility. God’s plan of reconciliation is a big job, and we all have a part to play in it. Fear has no hold on us, for the Light has come into the world.

May we echo with the angels and archangels, Holy, holy, holy is the God who is Love, who is now, who is then, who is forever. Amen.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Saints Yr C

The Beatitudes are very familiar to us, although, we may not be aware that there are two versions of them, this one from Luke, and the one in Matthew, they are very similar. I have trouble understanding the Beatitudes. It’s hard because the blessings don’t seem like blessings, being poor, hungry and weeping. The woes don’t seem much like woes, being rich, full and laughing. The problem is that they aren’t really clearly blessings and woes, what they are is much more about where we place our trust, in whom we place our trust and who and what we worship.

I think the Beatitudes in Luke are about what gets in the way of our trust in and worship of God. I think these Beatitudes are about idolatry, whether it’s blessing or trouble. I think the Beatitudes are about how the stuff in our lives clogs our lives and gets us stuck. When we concede to the seduction of the culture of greed, the culture of fame, the culture of consuming, we transfer our trust in God to trust in something other than God, and when we do that, we put idols before God. When we concede to the culture of self-absorption, and the culture of happiness, we put idols before God.

This is nothing new, the stories of idol worship go back as far as Genesis, when Adam and Eve transferred their trust in God to their own self-importance they were kicked out of the Garden. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they transferred their trust in God to trusting themselves and they had nothing to eat. When the Hebrew people transferred their trust in God to the empty rituals of sacrificing animals their temple was destroyed.

Let’s take a look at these blessings and troubles one by one, and see if we can identify the idols, the stuff of our lives, that get us stuck and clogged up. The language we’re hearing is from Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message.

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all, God’s kingdom is there for the finding. Sure doesn’t seem like a blessing. We hear stories of people losing everything, in fire or in flood. You all have stories of people you know who have lost much due to fire or flood. When people lose home and possessions in fire or flood, when they are left with nothing, it is at that very time, when there is nothing between them and God, that their relationship with God may be at it’s strongest. So often it is what we perceive as loss that brings us to our knees, it is these times when our relationship with God is most pure.

You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry, then you’re ready for the messianic meal. You and I rarely go hungry, and if we do it is often because of poor planning rather than any real need for food. It is hard when we are so well fed to imagine coming to this table hungry, hungry for relationship, hungry for connection to God and to others. But each time we come to this table we are satisfied. And not merely with the meal of bread and wine, but with the meal that is Jesus, the meal that satisfies all of our longings, the meal that fulfills all of our hopes.

Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out. What it means is that truth is too close for comfort. When we become too smug and too sure of our rightness, we are sure to be cut down a notch. It is then that we can see the truth. It is in our humility that we can see God clearly. It is in our humility that we begin to be compassionate and know the truth of the other.

It’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself, your self will not satisfy you for long. It’s not about you, it’s about God. You’ve got to keep the main thing, the main thing. It’s never about how great a Christian any of us is, how much we give or how much we serve. It’s not about how important you are, how big your house is, how great your grades are, how talented you are. It’s about God’s abundant love for you and for all of us together. Satisfaction comes from God.

And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it. There is no truer statement. The reality of our lives is suffering and pain, along with joy and celebration. You know this. Jesus didn’t live this life to take the suffering away, Jesus lived this live to accompany us in the midst of the suffering, to walk by our side, to be our guide, to suffer with us.

There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, popularity contests are not truth contests. Your task is to be true, not popular. That’s one we can all write down and post on our mirrors, or our desks, or someplace where we see it daily. Your task is to be true, not popular. Jesus shows us and teaches us the truth, the truth of our lives. And the truth is about trusting God to be God, Emmanuel, God with us, the One who created us, and is in our midst, the one to whom we sing Holy Holy Holy and who accompanies us through our joys and sorrows, the one who loves us no matter what, especially when we are feeling like there is nothing left to be loved, the one who we call Father and promises to be connected to us, when we feel isolated from everyone around us. The One who lived, suffered and died, and rose again to new life, so that we may be made new.

The Beatitudes call us away from idolatry, they call us to examine the stuff of our lives and to get unclogged. The Beatitudes call us away from idolatry and toward servanthood. And it is the Beatitudes that we hear on this All Saints Day. But remember, your task is to be true, not popular. Your task is to be faithful, not a saint. If we get caught up in being a saint, we are a long way from being a servant.

Today we baptize Isaiah, Isaac and Tiana. Today we reaffirm our own baptism promises. Isaiah, Isaac and Tiana, and all the rest of us, remember who you are this day, remember who came before you this day, and remember who comes after you, God was, is, and always will be. Every day, God is worthy to be praised.

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

23 Pentecost Yr C

Imagine, It was a day like many other days in Jericho.
Hot. The kind of hot where just standing makes you sweat.
Dry. The kind of dry where your throat feels two pieces of sandpaper.
Dusty. The kind of dusty that when the sweat drips off your brow
you get muddy rivers in the cracks of your face.

It was a day unlike many other days in Jericho. There was a murmur swelling into a roar about the prophet Jesus who was traveling through town on his way to Jerusalem. All the men were shuffling in the heat of the day into the village square, near the well, to catch a glimpse of Jesus. The women and children remained near the back of the growing crowd, and Zacchaeus tried to blend in with them.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Zacchaeus accepted the fact that people in his village shunned him. Zacchaeus himself thought he was doing only what his job asked of him. He called on the townspeople and collected the Roman tax, well, plus a little bit for himself and a little bit more for his employer. But Zacchaeus also gave half of all of that to the poor, and, if he did get caught cheating, he did what the Hebrew law asked of him, he paid back four times as much. In addition to his sleazy profession, he was also admittedly diminutive, short in stature as some might say. People seemed to look right through him, sometimes right over him; he often had the feeling that he was invisible.

But on this day, he decided to run ahead of the hot and sweaty crowd to the village square, and knowing that he could not see through their backs, he decided to find a better vantage point for viewing the commotion. There was a sycamore tree that gave some shade to the well, and Zacchaeus climbed into it. He made himself comfortable, and from there was able to observe the commotion quite well.

People gathered and buzzed about Jesus, the one who is coming. Zacchaeus had heard about this Jesus. They said he was a prophet, they said he was a teacher, a rabbi; they said he was a healer. He had just healed a blind man, he had healed lepers.
But they also said he was radical, that he once told a rich man that in order to follow him he would have to sell all that he owned and give his money to the poor. Imagine that, thought Zacchaeus, why would you even want to follow this guy, he surely didn’t have any power. And the story about that other tax collector, the one who asked for mercy, mercy for what? Doing his job, and making money?

Zacchaeus sat in the sycamore tree, pondering these stories that he’d been told about Jesus, when he heard someone yelling up at him. “Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus, come down here, I’m coming over to your house to eat and stay awhile.” The others were calling out to Jesus, “Jesus, Jesus, come to my house to eat, but it was Zacchaeus that Jesus was talking to. Zacchaeus felt a thrill of excitement that this man whom everyone wanted to come to their house, had just invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. For a moment Zacchaeus worried about what his wife was going to do when he brought Jesus home with him, but decided this was about his good luck and his wife would understand.

Besides, Zacchaeus noticed that everyone else was indignant and annoyed that Jesus was coming to his house, and Zacchaeus liked the attention he received. They all were grumbling that Jesus had no business with this crook, but Zacchaeus had for so long listened to the condemning comments that the townspeople made toward him, and had so long been treated like scum, that he was overjoyed to have this man at his house.

In the middle of that crowd of people Jesus looked right up at Zacchaeus. At that moment, Zacchaeus felt as if Jesus knew exactly who he was. Zacchaeus had spent his life hiding from people. The only way he could do his work was to keep people at a distance, to steer clear of relationships with his neighbors. If he ever developed relationships with people, there’s no way he ever would have made any money, how do you extort money from people if you actually like them, and you let them like you?

Zacchaeus had spent his life being overlooked by people too. Alienation and isolation were the result of being looked at like he was less than a man. Most folks dismissed him before ever finding out about him. Who knew that he gave so much of his wealth away? Who knew that he took only his due, that he didn’t intend to cheat, and if he did, he paid it back fourfold. Who knew that he had a wife and kids? Who knew that he had been climbing trees his whole life. Who really knew Zacchaeus? Sometimes, he thought his wife didn’t even really know him. But the minute Jesus looked into his eyes, he knew, and Zacchaeus was changed. Zacchaeus was called away from himself, when Jesus calls you can’t stay in the same place.

Zacchaeus climbed like a monkey, and he quickly alighted on the ground under the tree, so as not to give this man any time to change his mind. Together they made their way to Zacchaeus’ home, through the crowd, with everyone looking at Zacchaeus with disbelief, how could Jesus even consider going to the home with that tax collector?

Upon entering Zacchaeus’ home, Zacchaeus, being the good Jew that he was, washed Jesus’ feet, and offered him something cool to drink and good to eat. Zacchaeus and Jesus talked, just like they’d been old friends, meeting again after a long time apart, (Zacchaeus had to chuckle, since he had no old friends) but not missing a beat.

It was almost as if Jesus had looked into his soul and knew him for his entire lifetime, and for who he was. A good man, a good Jew, but a man nonetheless, whose tendency toward sin pulled him hard and away from what he knew was right.

The meal they shared together that day was a meal he would not soon forget. After Jesus left, every time Zacchaeus came back to his table to eat, he remembered Jesus sitting there. He remembered what it was like to be known by Jesus, to be completely and absolutely himself, not puffing himself up like he usually did with others to try to pretend he was taller or bigger.

Every time Zacchaeus came back to that table he remembered what it was like to no longer feel alienated and isolated. Every time Zacchaeus came back to that table he remembered what it was like to have a friend like Jesus. Every time Zacchaeus came back to the table he remembered that salvation had come to his house, because he too was a son of Abraham. No longer was he lost, no longer was he afraid, no longer was he alone.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

22 Pentecost Yr C

I have such a hard time with this Luke passage and others like it. It just feels to me like we’re caught between the rock and the hard place. If you humble yourself you will be exalted, if you exalt yourself you’ll be humbled. Well, I have news for Luke; it just doesn’t work that way in this world, and surely it isn’t that clear and easy.

You all know as well as I that in this world, those who exalt themselves get the rewards. They get paid the big money, they get all the attention, they get face time on the news. It doesn’t matter what their motivation is, whether it’s altruistic, beneficent, or whether it’s completely self-serving, or somewhere in between. Doesn’t matter. Those who look good, those who make a lot of money, those who have a particular skill that we value, or even a skill that we don’t value, make it into our headlines. Even those who call attention to themselves by not calling attention to themselves make it into the news. Even the ones who are so deserving, they do good work for their families or others; they are so humble that they get a home makeover, or showered with gifts and attention. How do you keep from feeling like you deserve it too, like you do good work and you should get the attention too. It just doesn’t seem fair.

This passage is a parable, and as we have learned, parables are like a treasure, a gift, but they have a lid that makes it hard to get inside. This parable from Luke not only has a lid that makes it hard to get inside, it also seems like one of those Chinese finger torture deals, the one you stick a finger in at either end, and when you try to get your fingers out again you can’t, it just pulls tighter.

This parable is like that. On your first pass at it, it seems simple. It seems like there’s a good way to be and a bad way to be. The Pharisee prays and is thankful that he is not like the others, the thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even the tax collector. He does what he’s supposed to do, he prays, he fasts and he tithes. But then we see the tax collector, who in the opinion of the Pharisee is an extortionist, a man who takes more than he should so that he can pocket some for himself before he turns the rest over to his boss. But it is the tax collector who is down on his knees asking for mercy.

But Pharisees are the men that Jesus is always chastising; it’s the Pharisees who Jesus calls on the carpet because they tend toward obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. Tax collectors are the ones that Jesus invites to table fellowship, the ones that Jesus eats with while telling the Pharisees off.

With this one, the harder you pull, the tighter it gets. Who’s good and who’s bad in this story? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who has the higher moral ground? Who should we be like? Who is really humble and who is not? The Pharisee or the tax collector? Us or them? Sometimes I think that lid is on mighty tight.

I think this story is about all of us, I think every one of us can find ourselves in it as we move away from an interpretation that paints an either/or picture. I think this is a story about spiritual pride, a sin that each and every one of us has committed and most likely will continue to commit.

Spiritual pride is among the most insidious of sins. Fight it successfully for a moment, and it’s tempting to start thinking or saying to yourself, “Hey-I’m being really humble! I’m way more humble than that guy over there. Maybe I should teach a class on humility at church.”

Or how about this. “I can’t stand those liberals, if you’re conservative, or I can’t stand those conservatives, if you’re liberal. They think they’re so much holier/better informed than everyone else. Well, that’s pride for you. If only they’d be like me, the world would be a much better place.”

So, it would be easy to say that we should all be humble and penitent like the tax collector, and less prideful like the Pharisee. But this turns into a game of competitive virtue. Point to the Pharisee and identify with the tax collector and talk about how much you hate those proud and hypocritical Pharisees; or point to the tax collector and identify with the Pharisees and talk about how much you hate those people who take advantage of the less fortunate. Either way, we identify with one side and hate the Other Side of whatever issue is hottest. You see, that Chinese finger torture just keeps getting tighter.

When we read Jesus’ parables, there is one way to know that we’re on the right track, if it doesn’t surprise, shock, and challenge us, we should probably begin again. The truth about this parable and all parables, being what they are, is that there is no cut and dried, black and white, easy or hard, interpretation of them.

And that is the way with Spiritual pride. As soon as we think that we are the humble one, in fact, the focus then is on us, not on the work of God. Spiritual pride is one of those sins that is “done or left undone.” When what we are doing becomes all about us, and no longer about the work that God calls us to; that is spiritual pride. It is a slippery slope, the example of the Chinese finger torture works as an example, because when we think we have it right; when we think we have it all figured out; is exactly the time to think again.

The truth is that we can’t avoid spiritual pride. It is our nature. But we can name it, call it what it is, ask forgiveness, and try again. This is the relationship that God calls us to. This is the transformation that is offered to us when we accept the gift of unconditional, amazing, and abundant love that God gives. The relationship Jesus has with us does not require perfection, it requires love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, and it requires giving up being the center of attention.

Frederick Buechner, a prolific theologian, defines humility as thinking of yourself as neither better nor worse than you are. He says the one who is a person of humility is the person whose energy is so occupied with serving others, with exercising the kind of spiritual leadership that calls everyone they’re with into deeper maturity, with seeking God’s will and enjoying God’s fellowship, and with enjoying all of God’s good gifts that that person doesn’t have all that much left over to devote to assessing whether she or he is more or less virtuous than others.

Paul’s writing in second Timothy is at a time nearing the end of Paul’s life. Paul writes from prison, how can one be prideful from prison? I think Paul is the exemplar here of what is not spiritual pride. We attribute these famous words to Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Paul’s example shows us that love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, are not occasional virtues, love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, are lifelong attitudes that create in us the ability to be humble, to be transformed by our encounter with Jesus and with others. The love and forgiveness that God shows us, that transforms us, is the very love and forgiveness that is a part of us every time we encounter those who challenge us, who disagree with us. It is love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, which make us humble, not humility that makes us good.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

21 Pentecost Yr C

Many around the world spent intense hours this past week waiting with one another for the amazing rescue of the trapped workers in the bowels of a Chilean mine. We cheered and wept as one by one the miners and their rescuers were brought to safety. And yet, we can only wonder at the toll those hours, days, weeks, and months have taken on their bodies, their hearts, and their souls. We can’t imagine what life was like in the darkness of the mine; we can’t imagine the ebb and flow of hope and despair. We just can’t imagine.

And yet before us today is a similar story, a story of a people in exile. A story filled with the ebb and flow of hope and despair, a story of crying out to God for rescue, a story that speaks our truth into this so very real world. The power in the scriptures we hear today is that they reveal to us the truth. The truth of our lives, the truth of your life and my life, the truth of the lives of our parents and grandparents, the truth of the lives of our children and grandchildren. All of that truth is contained in what we have before us.

This is a story that not only speaks the truth of a people who came before us; it also speaks the truth of each and every one of us today. It speaks truth collectively and individually. That story may go something like this. Once upon a time there was a young woman, or a young man. This young man worked hard to go to school and get good grades. This young woman graduated from college and got busy working at her job. She was a business major; he caught on with a successful law firm. She worked her way into the management of her company. She fell in love and got married, they had two children. The bottom fell out of the market, they lost their house, they lost their income, they almost lost each other.

Nothing in their lives had prepared them for the difficulty of feeding and clothing their children, caring for each other, rising each morning in a world of lost dreams and despair. Nothing in our lives prepares us for the reality of suffering and loss. Nothing prepares us for the reality of the cruelty of others, whether that is epic like war, or personal, like violence and bullying. Nothing prepares us for the reality of the cruelty of nature, whether that is catastrophic like earthquakes and hurricanes, or the wind bringing a tree down on our house or car.

What gets us through pain and suffering, catastrophe and heartache? What gets me through is that I am formed by this story. I remember this story. I can find myself in this story. A story of a people who had a claim on God. Who believed that God chose them. These people, Israelites they were called, had pursued wealth and power. They were divided into two kingdoms under two different Kings, until they were finally exiled to a foreign place. The chosen people lived in the foreign place, Babylonia, for hundreds of years, until there began to be no memory of live as it had been, life in the promised land. And yet there was a glimmer of the story, a glimmer of hope. Those people didn’t think life could get any worse, the suffering and the shame was immense.

But the wise ones among them kept reminding them of the God who promised to always be with them. They cried out to God, where are you? And they turned to the God who had given them life, who had created them, and who had blessed them.

The story of Israel and Judah that reaches a hopeful place in Jeremiah today is our story. Each one of us asks the question in the midst of our suffering, sadness, grief, where are you God? Why did you leave me, right when I need you? There is so much darkness around me, I can’t feel you, you don’t answer my prayer, you don’t do what I want you to do. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be?

The people for whom the letter of Timothy was written, the people who originally heard the story of Jesus in Luke, all knew the story of their people, the story of exodus and exile. The story of pain and suffering, of heartache and chaos. They internalized the word of God as we too internalize the word of God. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, it says in Timothy today, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Internalizing scripture, knowing these stories, is what gives us hope and joy in troubled times. It is what carries us and accompanies us always, in the good times and the hard times. We must know who we are so that we may act accordingly, and scripture helps us know that.

And lastly in Luke we hear, pray always, do not loose heart. I trust these words because of the truth of the story. Do not loose heart, pray always. Do not loose heart, those are words that surely are hard to hear in the midst of our darkness, under ground in a mine, or underground in my soul. They speak of persistence in prayer. Pray always, how do we do that? My favorite author, Madeleine L’engle is the one from whom I learned that there is no excuse for not praying, and there is no excuse for not praying morning prayer. She says you can pray morning prayer anywhere, even in the bathroom while you’re getting ready for your day. Unceasing prayer is like that. And when you begin to pray at all times and in all places, your prayer begins to change you. When we persistently pray, what happens is that our prayer turns us outward, it may begin with our own wants and needs, but unceasing prayer by its very nature turns outward, it turns us toward justice.

Let’s just see. Let’s say I’m praying while I’m going for my morning walk. It’s a very good time for me to pray. Another good time for me to pray is while I’m doing the dishes, or driving the car, or waiting in line at Walmart, you get the idea. So I’m going for my morning walk, and often I begin with the Anglican rosary prayers that I like, and then I begin praying for people who have asked for my prayers, and then for people whom I need to pray for whether they’ve asked me to or not, and interspersed in all of that is prayers for me and what is going on in my own life are the many blessings and thanksgivings. By the time I’ve finished walking, I’ve come across a new idea, or someone who I need to contact has popped into my mind, or a problem has been solved, and my problems and needs, the perceived inconveniences and hardships of my life creep into the background as I become aware of the work of justice and reconciliation that God calls me to.

And that is what I think Luke is saying with this widow’s story today. Justice and reconciliation arise out of persistent, unceasing prayer that is grounded in scripture. Prayer changes us. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for folks to pray. Prayer changes us. We begin to hear and see more clearly the injustice and suffering of our world. But we believe in a God who loves us, a God who came to be on this earth as one of us, who lived, loved, suffered and died just like we do, and so we are not disheartened by our prayer, instead we build this supportive community where people can sustain the crying day and night and not lose heart, where we do not tune out, but live in hope and with a sense of trust that does not make us feel like we have to carry the whole world on our shoulders. For facing the pain of the world, facing the pain of our own heartache is, indeed, a crushing experience which most of us cannot bear and which, without support and acceptance we will inevitably either deny or ourselves become part of the hopelessness.

Unceasing prayer helps us also to know that we are not God and do not have to be God, and that we are not alone. Unceasing prayer helps us to know that faith and hope are possible. The widow shows us that justice arises from unceasing prayer, and that together we have all we need to change ourselves and to change the world.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

19 Pentecost Yr C

My mom has some beautiful Noritake china she got when she and my dad were married. There is a gold edge around a flower pattern. That beautiful china has spent most of its life in the cabinet, behind closed doors. It has been joined by my grandmother’s china, also Noritake of a very similar pattern. I realize that there is some care involved in using china, it is supposed to be washed by hand so as not to destroy the gold or chip the edges. But it seems to me such a waste to keep it in the cabinet and not to use it. Someday I will get all that china, and if you come to my house for dinner, you will eat off of it, we will exclaim at its beauty, and I very well might put it in the dishwasher. Such a gift of beauty, such a gift of history, such a gift should be unwrapped and opened and used, even if it doesn’t always get washed by hand, I would rather have used it for it’s intended purpose and break some, than have it perfect. Perfect, for what? Perfect to gaze upon it? What is a gift if it isn’t unwrapped and enjoyed; it’s just a box with pretty paper.

As we approach Luke’s gospel it seems difficult. But today I want for us to hear the gift in it; the gift that should be unwrapped and enjoyed, and used for its right purpose. I have said before and I say it again, the gospel is not about behaving well for a reward at the end of life. The gospel is about living as God’s new creation right here, right now. This good news today is not about a reward. It is not about serving in order to gain something, or to have some sort of claim of God. We don’t get credit for doing what we’re supposed to do. We do what we are supposed to do because it’s the right thing to do.

I want to read the passage for you from Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, 'Sit down and eat'? Wouldn't you be more likely to say, 'Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I've finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper'? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what's expected of him? It's the same with you. When you've done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, 'The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.
Friends, it’s not about you, what you do, who you are, the words you say. And it’s not about rewards, it’s not about getting what you deserve, if it was, most of us would get very little. And it’s not about anyone’s judgment of others or of themselves. It is about God and God’s amazing and abundant love and grace. That is what Luke is saying in this passage. God has given us, and continues to give us a gift, there is nothing that we do to deserve it, to possess it, to own it, it just is. So all that we do, all that we are, is in response to that gift. And as my mother’s beautiful china shows us, our response, our work, is to unwrap that gift and to enjoy it, and to use it rightly.

The startling juxtaposition of this passage with the plea of the disciples right before it, Lord, increase our faith, exemplifies what is wonderful about Jesus and his method of training us and developing our discipleship, our response to the amazing and abundant love. Hear what he says. Jesus says you do not need to increase your faith; you just need the tiniest bit of faith imaginable. A grain of mustard seed’s worth of faith can empower you to do great things. Which is to say, you already have enough. You have enough! What you have is sufficient, use it rightly.

As it says in our catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, we are to bear witness to Christ wherever we may be, and “according to the gifts given us, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” This is our baptized ministry. This acknowledges that we have all been given gifts. We do not all have the same gifts, but we all have the gifts necessary, and the gifts to do the right thing. Open your gift, Trust what you have – what you have been given. Trust what you have to give. It is more than enough. You can uproot trees. You can move mountains. The lame will walk, the blind will see. Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed everyone. As you sow, you shall receive. As you follow Christ, you will begin to lead. If only you have faith as small as a mustard seed.

You see, this is good news. God has given a great gift, there is nothing you need to do to receive it but trust that it has been given. Your job, your ministry, is to use it out there, in here, at school, at work. We are sent out to do the work we have been given to do, to love and serve as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. You have enough.

What an amazingly radical message is here. Your gift is enough. It is sufficient. It is everything you need. What if we heard that over and over again, instead of what’s in your wallet, we hear you have everything you need in your heart. Instead of buy more, bigger, and better, we hear give your coat and maybe even your gloves. Instead of live for yourself, we hear live die to self and live for others, all for the sake of the kingdom that is at hand. The kingdom of God is at hand. We can reach out and touch it, feel its nearness, participate in its fullness. If only we have the tiniest bit of faith, God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is so very important to remember, especially in light of Lamentations, and what we have been hearing from the prophet Jeremiah for a number of weeks now. The pain and grief of Israel is palpable. When everything goes wrong, even in the deepest depths, you are still in relationship with God. In these passages we hear that anger and grief are as welcome as joy. We are not to wallow in anger and grief, but we can be at home there for a while. We are not to get stuck in nostalgia, some romantic version of the past, nor are we to fall in love with our fantasies of the future, but we are to embrace what is set before us, we are to embrace the gift of new life God has given us.

This mustard seed of faith is enough. It is a gift that is to opened, embraced, celebrated, and yes even chipped and broken sometimes. Chipped and broken does indeed mean that we are fully alive.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

17 Pentecost Yr C

The parables from the Gospel of Luke we have before us today are down right hard. I have read them over and over, and continue to be unsure of what they mean. I have read about them, spoken to colleagues about them, and continue to be unsure of what the message in this is. But then that is the way with parables. The nature of a parable is to ask more questions than to give clear and certain answers. You have to wonder at the wisdom of Jesus, and at the wisdom of those who eventually told these stories, and the wisdom of those who eventually recorded them. I think if I was the editor, I’d try to clear up the meaning, and aren’t we thankful I’m not the editor,because my certainty surely would not be everyone else’s certainty.

And all that is in addition to the entire collection of readings we have today, or for that matter, recently in these last weeks. I wonder how this is sacred scripture, how any of this is really Good News. We have been reading from the prophet Jeremiah, and it seems like the Israelites’ circumstances are getting worse, not better, but I assure you, there is hope, we just need to see them through these very dire circumstances. The Psalmist laments the place the community finds itself, they are feeling taken advantage of, they are feeling embarrassed, and they are feeling that God is angry at them, and yet they continue to look for forgiveness, and for help. The epistle from Timothy actually seems to have some Good News. The writer asks for prayers for kings and all who are in high positions, which is really to ask for good government. Good government brings about good order; good order gives good faith, quiet and peace, so that our savior, Jesus Christ can be at work, which is what seems like the only Good News today.

The parables that we have heard for these last few weeks are parables that call us to faith, and demand that we put our faith life in good order, and that order puts our relationship with God as the priority. Let’s take a closer look at the parables in Luke. I think these parables, although there are some difficulties, continue that theme of priority. This does not set up a duality, it does not say that God is good and wealth is bad. What it does say, is that God’s relationship with humans is the more important priority, and is our top priority. Everything else falls into place, everything else is ordered after that, including wealth.

I think what Jesus is doing in these parables is show us that faith forms, informs and shapes every aspect of our lives. The practice of faith prioritizes everything, first and foremost, wealth. That priority is what we have come to call stewardship. Stewardship is the reality that everything we have, is gift. It is ours only to care for while we walk this earth.

So what does that mean in our lives? When we leave this place, you and I have competing claims on our time, attention, and resources. Time, attention, and resources actually make up our wealth, wealth is not limited to money, wealth is so much more than money. It is education, privilege, genetics, nature and nurture. Wealth is all we bring to bear on our choices and opportunities. These parables tell us that faith in God has everything to do with wealth, and faith in God has everything to do with how we use our wealth. So these parables are about how we use our wealth, how we can be good stewards, in the midst of these competing claims.

What kind of completing claims am talking about? American’s have for about 200 years lived a Gospel of Wealth. That gospel has preached that God’s plan for humanity could be realized in the United States, and Americans could get rich while helping God realize God’s plan. Much of our politics has been built on this dream of self-development and personal growth and privilege. The economic circumstances of our common life in these last couple of years may be teaching us that priorities have been skewed and must be reassessed, in fact, the Kingdom of God involves moving down, not up.

As I was thinking about this I remembered a conversation I had with my brother who owns a construction company, he builds Hom stores, they are large furniture stores. I asked him one day about the furniture business, I see and hear ads encouraging us to buy a whole room full of furniture and that we can finance it and not pay any interest for years. I’ve never been able to understand how that works. I learned from him that the money is made not on the furniture, but on the sale of the note to the bank. The bank charges the interest and collects the principle, and the furniture dealership makes money on that sale, and then is out of the picture and doesn’t have to get their hands dirty in the interest mess. I, personally, question the efficacy of that sort of business, it seems to me that it is really a practice that puts the accumulation of money over and against what people actually need.

There is the claim that accumulation and surplus rather than sufficiency becomes the goal, and the goal comes to justify exploitative means, we have seen and experienced this in mortgage problems. There is the claim to power, and the danger inherent in the worldly power that money brings with it; the power to get one’s own way, to seek to buy people as well as things, to stamp one’s feet and demand immediate gratification. Such power leads to hubris, pride; believing that one is more important, owed more privilege than others; thinking that one is above the law and the ordinary standards of decency and citizenship do not apply, we see this often in the people our culture holds up as celebrity.

There is the claim to relationships, but riches can distort human relationships; the equality and mutuality of love and friendship are replaced with elements of calculation as people almost unconsciously modify their behavior, seeing some self-interest in so doing.

And underlying all of these, as Jesus so acutely points out, is the moral desensitization that occurs; the inability to discern what is actually enough in a world in which there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed; the ethical obscenity of conspicuous over-consumption when so many suffer such poverty; the spiritual alienation from a human community in which if one part suffers, all the other parts suffer with it, and the consequent loss of belonging to a human community in which if one part rejoices all the other parts can rejoice with it.

So in the end, our true life consists not in our wealth, but in what we value, and in how we attend to what we value, how we practice the priority of God in response to the reality that God values us, that God loves us amazingly and abundantly.

Thanks be to God. Amen

9 Pentecost Yr B Proper 11 July 22 2018

Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And so they went. I had the great...