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.
Amen.

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.

Amen.

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.
Amen.