Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas 2011

It is time. We have been staying awake, we have been preparing for the faithful one. Love bursts into our world and our lives. Love interrupts us. Love wins. Sing a new song, let the heavens and earth be glad! For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. It is time to join our yes with Mary's yes. We can hardly contain our joy for this good news.


Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. God with us, born in a barn, in the muck and the mess of the stable, to a young girl, not yet married to her betrothed, Joseph. The romance of the birth of this long awaited baby Jesus soon turns into the flight of his parents into Egypt, to escape the tyranny of the emperor. The stars in the heavens signaled his birth, showing the magi the way to find him, but they had to return to their home by another way, to protect the little one.


This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first. But this birth is not just about rehabilitation, it is about resurrection.


For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.


This is a scary proposition because we've invested a lot to keep our lives as they are, and it can be down right frightening to give up what we know. But that's what Advent has been all about, keep awake, prepare, be ready to give it all up to the love that is born in our hearts, our lives, our world. It is scary, and it's thrilling at the same time, because this promise speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time.


And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother, and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love and have heard the good news that "unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord." No wonder we sing, "Let heaven and earth rejoice!"


This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes to be with us, delivered into our world 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. This God comes to us when all will be fulfilled at the end of time.


This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.


Love wins, Alleluia, to us a child is born. Come let us adore him, Alleluia!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4 Advent Yr B

How do we begin to approach and try to understand this incredible, inconceivable story of incarnation? So far this advent we have heard, keep awake, pay attention, prepare for this one who is faithful. Today we hear yes to God’s offer of Love, Mary says yes, you and I say yes. But what if an angel came to you and said, “Fear not here comes God.” I don’t know about you, but I would be afraid. An angel comes and tells me not to be afraid, I’m gonna be terrified.

When I close my eyes and try to imagine this scene, I see Mary. In my imagination, Mary is a very young girl, and yet very excited to be a woman, and ready to be married to Joseph. Mary is a Jewish girl; she knows well the stories of God’s activity in the life of her people. She has lived her whole life in this community of faith. Mary has lived her whole life in the community of people who believe there is a special relationship between God and them. They believe that their story, the story of this community, day in and day out, through slavery, wilderness, kingdoms, and exile, is the story of God’s working through them to accomplish the divine purposes on earth.

God is trusting God’s people to have raised Mary in the right way, to have taught her the story of faith, taught her to recognize God’s hand at work in her life. Gabriel has made the proposition. The great archangel has announced God’s purpose, the heavenly messenger has posed the question, and the girl is clearly troubled.

Mary is perplexed. Perplexed in Greek leans much more towards “to be in doubt” or “not to know how to decide or what to do.” In my imagination, this is much closer to how I see Mary responding. Mary must have been terrified. She must have wondered what was happening to her, being visited by an angel was a new thing, there weren't stories of her people anyway about an angel visit.

“Not me, no way, I can’t do that. Don’t ask such a thing of me, I’m only a girl. You’ve got the wrong person. The God bearer should be royal, a person of honor, it can’t be me.” She must have doubted herself; she must have doubted her own capability to be the God bearer. Any young girl would. What must have gone through her mind?

And Gabriel responds, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Mary, you are the one. Gabriel does go on to remind Mary of the story she already knows, the story of her people, and who this son is to be. Mary wants to know how this can be, since she is so young and yet a virgin. Mary voices the question each of us has as we hear this story.

How can this be? This is incredible, inconceivable, incarnation is unreasonable. This doesn’t make sense. Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit will take care of it, and then gives her evidence of the possibility, her old, barren cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant, nothing will be impossible with God.

How can this be? How can Mary get pregnant by God? Is all of Christianity founded on this inconceivable possibility? I ask this question, because this question has been asked of me, by adults and children alike, by your children, by my children. I turn to one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle when I ponder these things. She writes in a book called Bright Evening Star, “It is not that in believing the story of Jesus we skip reason, but that sometimes we have to go beyond it, take leaps with our imagination, push our brains further than the normally used parts of them are used to going.” She goes on to write “I had to let go all my prejudices and demands for proof and open myself to the wonder of love. Faith is not reasonable because it wasn’t for reason, but for love that Jesus came.”

It is for love that Jesus came. And so, for love, Mary says yes. She actually says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says yes. And it is in love that we light the fourth candle on the advent wreath today.

Do you think Mary considered the implications of her yes? Of course there is the question, “What will people think?” But how does this particular baby change her, how does this particular baby change everything?

Today, I ask the question, what does Mary’s yes to the love of God, have to do with us? Mary’s active, engaged yes, empowers each of us to say yes to the possibility of God in our midst. Mary’s yes can be our yes. Indeed, it may be because of Mary's yes that Love wins. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “Hail favored one, the Lord is with you.” The Lord is with you, these are not just words spoken to Mary, these are words spoken to each of us and to all of us. Mary said yes, God waits for each of us to say yes.

The terrifying part of Gabriel’s invitation is what will happen if we say yes? What does God-bearing look like? Mary didn’t know, she risked everything when she said yes; she risked everything on the promise that God was with her. All we know is that saying yes to God changes everything and risks everything we have.

When we say yes to God, no longer are we the central character in the story. The story is about God and God’s love for us. It’s about the promise God made to Mary and God makes to us to bring us out of a life of greed and why not me, into a life that bears hope and promise. The real world is the world in which Mary said yes to God, and the world in which each of us says yes to God. It is living fully and completely, it is feeling pain and joy, it is giving and receiving, it is life, and it is death. This world is messy and confusing. A world into which God is born in a dirty barn, so that love could burst forth. It is a world in which we enter into relationships with one another, where we see each other face to face, it is a world in which how God created us is wonderful, it is a world in which we understand the sacred in each of us and treat each other as if we were all God-bearers.

“Fear not, here comes God.” We may be terrified, and reassured at the very same time that our yes brings Christ into this world. We Christians have been taught to look for the Christ in everyone we meet, to practice a radical hospitality to serve the Christ in each other, for in serving them we are serving Christ himself. What do we -- each of us -- have to offer the Christ this year? Where do we see the signs that Christ has been born among us?

Mary’s yes didn’t just happen all those years ago, Mary’s yes happens everyday you and I bear love ourselves. God is still up to something. God continues to burst forth in our lives. Love wins.

Keep awake, pay attention, prepare, fear not!
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

3 Advent Yr B

Keep awake, repent and forgive, prepare, bear God's light and joy. This third Sunday of Advent we are so close, but not there yet. The path takes us through the waters of baptism with John and by the oaks of righteousness with Isaiah, to the place where our anticipation of the incarnation soars. In the Christmas season, where shopping and party’s have traditionally been the activities, we are reminded in Thessalonians that the one who calls you is faithful. Keep awake, pay attention, prepare for this one who is faithful.

The way we prepare is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances. I don’t know about you, but that sure isn’t the way I hear the Christmas message coming from my TV, or the newspaper, or from what's trending on yahoo. The Christmas message that I’m getting is that the key to Christmas is to buy and buy and buy.

We are in a place and a time where this message; rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, the one who calls you is faithful, couldn’t be more appropriate. Here is where hope lies. Today we light the third candle on our advent wreath, the pink candle. We are filled with hope in the one who is faithful, the one who is to come, the one who has come, the one who will come again. We positively burst with excitement at the possibility and the reality of the light coming into our dark world.

The hope that we look at today is not to be confused with wishing. That often happens, wishing gets confused with hope. We misuse hope all the time when we say, hopefully, things will change, or I hope I get a new iPhone for Christmas, or I hope those Twins can sign Michael Cuddyer. Those are really wishes. We can wish for much, but it still isn’t hope. Christmas as we see it presented in the marketplace is all about wishes, but not about hope.

Hope lives in the reality of God with us, hope lives in the reality of the incarnation and in the resurrection. Hope is in the faithfulness of the one who calls your name. Listen to this Good News carefully. Hope is in the faithfulness of the one who calls your name. For me this is truly good news, hope is not in my ability to have enough faith, or any faith at all, those things live much more in the realm of wish, sometimes I may say to myself, I wish I had more faith. Hope is not in my ability to earn more money and buy more things; hope is not in wall street or the marketplace. And wishing all that won’t make it true. What is true is that the one who calls you and me is faithful. The one who calls you and me is trustworthy, reliable, devoted. This is the one in whom hope lives. This is the one who has made you and me new creations; this is the one who delights in us. This is the one who we prepare our hearts and our minds and our souls to receive into our lives now, this is the one who came 2000 years ago, and this is the one who will come again.

Joy is a result of this hope. Hope is similar to joy as wishing is similar to happiness. Happiness is something that the marketplace wishes to fulfill. You will be happy if you build a bigger house, you will be happy if you buy a nicer car, you will be happy if you make a lot of money, none of this has anything to do with joy. Joy lives in the reality of being the beloved of the one who created us, joy lives in the incarnational wonder of the one who created us.

Hope and joy are the realities of Emmanuel, God with us. The response to hope and joy is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a compelling reminder of the faithful response of a community that celebrates God’s saving actions in Jesus Christ.

How can we faithfully witness to the joy of God’s delight in us? And how might our actions and responses move us away from a climate of complaint to the creation of a climate of rejoicing? I turn to John's gospel. I am reminded of a mirror that reflects light. The mirror itself is not the light, but just think of a world in which each of us reflects the light, each one of us testify's to the light, just think how much light there would be, when we bring light into every dark place. We are in desperate need of light, we are hungry for God's glory to be revealed to us. Be a piece of that mirror, reflecting the light, all of us together reflecting the light, like John, begin to approach God's glory.

Keep awake, repent and forgive, prepare,
reflect God's light, watch for God with us.
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

2 Advent Yr B

Last week, the first week of Advent we heard stay awake! Stay awake, something amazing is about to happen, stay awake, you don’t want to miss it, you don’t want to be so busy doing paying attention to something else that it passes you by. Stay awake!

Our collection of readings this second week of advent shows us how to tell time. One of my favorite stories to tell in Sunday school is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way our culture tells time. I’m reminded of a very old song by Chicago, the lyrics are, “As I was walking down the street one day, A man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, And I said, Does anybody really know what time it is, Does anybody really care, If so I can’t imagine why, We’ve all got time enough to cry.” And then, “I was walking down the street one day, Being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, And I said, People runnin everywhere, Don’t know where to go, Don’t know where I am, Can’t see past the next step, Don’t have time to think past the last mile, Have no time to look around, Just run around, run around and think why.”

When we tell time the church’s way our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and our year begins in quiet waiting rather than loud revelry. Telling time the church’s way causes us to stay awake and to prepare for this amazing thing that God does in Jesus Christ. Telling time the church’s way causes us to take time to be present to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Telling time the church’s way helps us to live fully alive, fully engaged, and not to run around in circles, always wondering why we are alone, always wondering why we never get anywhere.

In Isaiah we hear that all of creation is getting ready, even the wilderness prepares the way of the Lord, every valley is lifted up, every mountain and hill are made low, everything is being rearranged for the day when it can be shouted, Here is your God! And in second Peter, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?

Advent not only marks the beginning of time, it also marks the beginning of the end of time. We begin the year again, we wait patiently for and prepare for birth, the coming of God into our world, and at the very same time, we wait patiently for and prepare for our Lord coming into our world again, the fulfillment of all things, as God promises. Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?

John the baptizer knows something about time. In fact I think he really does know what time it is, and he really does care what time it is. John knows that to live fully in the present, it’s time to repent; it’s time to be forgiven. It’s time to be prepared for the One who is to come. All creation is getting ready; it’s time for us to be ready. How are we to be fully present to God who is with us, and how are we to get ready for the One who is to come?

I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with repentance and forgiveness. I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with being fully present to God in our midst. I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with being ready for the One who is to come at all. But if it really is time for repentance and forgiveness, we’d better get around to it. Repentance and forgiveness are about turning away from that which keeps us from a relationship with God and with others. lf it is time for repentance and forgiveness, as John the baptizer says it is, what is it that we need to turn away from? Where is it that we miss the mark? Not only individually, but collectively. How do we even know where the mark is? I think we can find the mark in our baptismal covenant. Seeing as this story from Mark is a story of baptism, maybe it is good to look at our baptismal promises as the mark.

As we live fully present to God in our midst and as we prepare for the One who is to come, we may measure ourselves against this: we are to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers; we are to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; we are to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; we are to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

This is the mark to which we point ourselves. And when we miss the mark, when we fall short, we repent and ask for forgiveness, and we try again. Does anybody really know what time it is? According to John the Baptist, it is time to repent and seek forgiveness.

As we live fully present to God in our midst and as we prepare for the One who is to come, like Mary and Elizabeth, like the Shepherds, we may also look for those signs that show us the way, those signs that tell us that this is Advent, the time of preparation for Immanuel, God with us. God signs. What are the things, the people, the circumstances that call us to be fully present to God with us, fully alive as the new creations we are. What wakes us up and causes us to say, hummm, that was a God sign. There are God signs all around us, signs of God with us, signs that may even cause us to see how we miss the mark, signs that help us to know what time it is, signs that show us that Love wins.

I encourage you to spend some time this advent being fully present to God with us, I encourage you to spend this new year fully awake and aware of God with us. I encourage you to share with one another the God signs in your life. Keep awake, prepare, repent, and watch and wait.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feast of St. Andrew

In the Jewish tradition, the name you give your child has everything to do with your hopes and dreams for who that child will grow up to be. Many people name their children for beloved aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. Names have meaning. This community of faith is named for St. Andrew. I’m thankful we are St. Andrew, and not St. Barnabus, after the red barn that our forebears met in during the early years, and that burned down.

Andrew was a fisherman, a very obvious occupation for a boy who grew up on the Sea of Galilee, and who probably sat by his father in his father’s boat, and had it not been for Jesus, Andrew would have raised his boys to be fishermen too. But Andrew encountered Jesus, and Jesus said to Andrew and some others, Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

This encounter changed Andrew’s life forever. Andrew left a sure occupation, a certain paycheck, to follow Jesus, who he really only knew by reputation, the teacher, the rabbi. Not only did Andrew leave his livelihood, he also left his family, and in Andrew’s culture, it is the family that confers any honor and status. Now being a fisherman wasn’t a lofty profession, but being a hardworking son had a degree of respect. Andrew and the others left that to follow this teacher, this one who had no home to lay his head, had no discernible livelihood, had no food to eat, for the promise that he would fish for people.

I can’t even begin to imagine what that meant to Andrew. Maybe it was just about adventure, maybe it was about hanging with a brotherhood, maybe Andrew experienced something in this man, Jesus. What we know from this side of the story is that something amazing did happen, but Andrew couldn’t have known that.

I look toward Andrew as an example of discipleship. Jesus encountered Andrew and Andrew was changed. He didn’t have all the answers, but he knew greatness when he saw it. He may have been judged by his boyhood pals he left behind as being stupid, or even wrong. But discipleship is not about being right or being wrong, discipleship is about being changed by this encounter with Jesus.

Jesus’ life and death and pain and suffering and resurrection from the dead is about the new life that God offers us, and that new life, that new creation, changes us, transforms us. Living in the new life that Jesus begins for us, is exciting, and scary, and it isn’t easy. Discipleship isn’t easy. But as Andrew did, when we are changed by this encounter, we invite others to join us. We invite others into this transformation that God offers.

New life is about hope in the midst of difficulty, hope when all hope seems lost. You and I, just like Andrew, can offer hope in this broken world. We must be the ones who invite, come and see, come and see what this new life looks like, come and see, what wholeness and peace looks like. Come and see.

Our King and Savior now draws near: Come and see.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King Year A

Recall your math classes in school. I for one, was not much for the math option. I did get through Algebra 1 and Geometry successfully, but the rest, Calculus, Trigonometry, Statistics, not my cup of tea. I was a good student, I listened in class, did my homework, and relied heavily on the answers in the back of the book. I am ever thankful for those answers in the back of the book.

The book we read together, our bibles, the story of God's activity in the life of God's people, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on our need for answers, has no answers in the back. And that is especially frustrating in the midst of this book of Matthew, it would be so much easier if we could just turn to the back and have it all worked out for us. We find ourselves in this place where it just keeps getting harder. Story after story shows the demands for discipleship, and Jesus' impending death, and there are no answers.

What these stories show us is that Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive. New life is not about right answers, it is about responding to God's amazing and abundant love. New life, transformation, conversion, whatever you want to call it, demands a response, and that response is about being a disciple, and disciples feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the sick and visit the imprisoned.

In the story before us today, we see the Lord of all creation, the King on the throne of glory, with everyone gathered together. For some this is a scary story, we may ask ourselves, am I a sheep, or am I a goat? Do I sit on Jesus' right? Do I enjoy eternal life or am I to be banished forever? I think these questions are all beside the point. The truth is that we are not totally one or the other, ever. And I don't think it's about a percentage of goodness or badness. Did I do the right thing 51 percent of the time, and is that enough? That's not the way Jesus acts here.

Our reality is that we don't always respond to every opportunity of Jesus in our midst with total generosity, we don't always give away our coat, we don't always provide a meal, we don't always visit those who are sick or imprisoned. I think what is really going on here is a story about discipleship, and what really gets us into trouble is doing nothing. Jesus is Lord over all the earth and has something so say about what we do, and what we do is to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We aren't asked to do it perfectly, but we are expected to do it. That is what followers of Jesus do. This story is about that expectation.

This new life that Jesus gives us, this transformed life, is all about relationship, relationship with God and with others. It is not about following a particular set of rules, it is not about being perfect, or being perfectly bad, it's about relationship. It's about relationship with God who is creator of the universe. It is about a relationship with Jesus who walked this earth to show us that Love wins. It is about a relationship with others in whom we believe Jesus lives and moves and has his being.

It is in this relationship and these relationships, that we are fully alive. We don't feed hungry people, clothe naked people, visit sick and imprisoned people because of the reward, or because we work at earning God's love. We do these things in response to the amazing and abundant love that God lavishes upon us, and that we experience in the life, the suffering and death, and the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus came to make dead people alive. Living fully alive is the fruit of resurrection.

Author Anne Lamott said in her graduation commencement address to the students at Berkeley, “Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are." And by one much, much, much earlier than Anne Lamott, St. Irenaus of Lyons, "Man fully alive is the glory of God."

Our lives have already been given by God, and we have already been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever in baptism. God is already in relationship with us, we have already been born again, we have already received new life, the dead have been made alive, Love wins. We are to embrace that reality and live it fully and completely, we are to live fully alive, we are to live as disciples, and the way we do that is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. As we do these things which are the right things to do, God is blessed.

So what does it mean when we don't do these things. Does God love us any less? Are we ultimately in peril? Once again, no answers at the back of the book. But it seems to me that not doing these things lessens our lives. Not doing these things means we are not living the new life that Jesus has given, not doing these things is not living fully alive and not blessing God.

I also want to point out that what is absent in these discipleship instructions has quite a loud voice. What is absent is "live for yourself, be narcissistic, make as much money as you can and don't share it with anyone." What is absent is "use other people and creatures and things and when you're finished throw them out." What is absent is a list of the kind of people you can fall in love with.

Come, you that are blessed, all of you, when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, when I was a stranger you welcomed me, when I was naked you gave me clothes, when I was sick you took care of me, when I was imprisoned you visited me. It's not complicated, it's not easy, we aren't perfect. We are loved, we are blessed, we are broken, we are sent. The Lord who is of all things seen and unseen, asks us to love each other, to treat each other with mercy and compassion, to show the world that Love wins.

Amen

Saturday, November 12, 2011

22 Pentecost Yr A

I see the television show, Fear Factor is back on, all new, and even more fear. Fear sells, we see that with the proliferation of vampire and zombie stories on television and in the movies. Fear sells, we see that as simply as teasers for the news, "see how the air in your house is killing you, tonight at 10." You show up to watch and they'll sell you the next wonder product. Fear sells, we hear ads for various and sundry medications, "afraid of loosing your hair, take this red pill." But what the gospel tells us is that the highest good is God's kingdom, not our security or our longevity, or immortality. In a culture of fear, it is hard to believe that God is enough.

Some would say we live in dark and fearful times. Granted, there is much uncertainty about leadership, about economics, some may even say national security. A culture of fear promotes the idea that the accumulation of wealth is a reasonable response to uncertain times. But I say our actions in dark and fearful times say who we are. And it is high time we say who we are, and who we want to be. I think we must examine our consumerism and our consumption and we must learn to use less. I think we must examine our impact upon our Mother Earth, and we must learn to live with less of an impact. I think we must examine our relationships with our neighbors and learn to respond with mercy and compassion. Our actions in dark and fearful times say who we are.
 
Our actions in dark and fearful times say who we are. So, who are we? We are people of hope. We are people of joy. We are people of mercy. We are people of compassion. We are people who believe that there is always new life after suffering and death. We are stewards of God's abundance. We are God’s children, and God has poured out God’s abundance upon us. We are people who do not give in to fear. We are people who take risks for the kingdom, not for ourselves, but for the Kingdom.

That is what the parable in Matthew shows us today. This story shows us that fear limits our capacity to be the children that God has created us to be. This story shows us that fear limits our capacity to participate in the mission and ministry that God has called us to. This story shows us that fear limits our capacity to be the new creations that God has made us to be. This story shows us that we are people of hope, and that we must move from fear to hope.
 
Many things have been said about the third servant in Matthew’s story. I say that servant was living out of fear, and that fear limited his ability to be the disciple God had created him to be. He focused all his energy on preserving things as they are, and missed God’s abundance. Fear caused him to be unable to experience God’s abundance. Fear caused him to be unable to risk living fully as a new creation. Fear caused him to be unable to see that he was created in God’s image. When we live out of fear, when we risk experiencing God’s abundance because we are afraid, we are much like that servant. Not only do we lose sight of God’s abundance, but we begin to lose the gifts that God has given us as well. Fear keeps us from claiming God’s abundance, and separates us from a relationship with God and with others, we indeed choose the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What are you afraid of? Not having enough? Something happening to your children? Dying before you're ready? Failure? Being abandoned?
 
Moving from fear to hope seems like folly to many in our culture. But the rules of God’s economy are quite different than the rules of the marketplace. In God’s economy, as Matthew shows us, everyone is abundantly gifted, everyone has value and worth. In God’s economy, to risk is to claim God’s abundance. In God’s economy, being a steward is a given, the choice is between being a good steward or not. In God’s economy, to risk losing what our culture counts as valuable is to gain everything. Well-done, good and trustworthy servant. In God's economy, there is always life after suffering and death.

If these are indeed dark and fearful times, our actions say who we are. We are God’s creation, and we are stewards of that creation. The question remains, as we move from fear to hope, what kind of a steward do you want to be?
 
Find a way to be generous; there is so much need in our community. We are well fed, people are hungry. The shelves at the food bank are empty, our cash can fill them. I ask you today to be a bold steward. I ask you today to put your trust in God’s economy. I ask you today to move to action. I remind you today of our hope in Jesus Christ. If indeed these are dark and fearful times, I ask you to be generous, not only to our St. Andrew’s budget, not only to the mission and ministry we can do together, but to just be generous for the sake of the Kingdom and the sake of God’s economy. Our actions in dark and fearful times say who we are. We must respond in hope, what we do matters to the kingdom, what we do matters to those we share this earth with.

Act out of hope. Act with mercy and compassion. Act generously. Act as the beloved child of God that you are. Act boldly. Risk everything. Love wins.

Monday, November 7, 2011

All Saints Day Yr A

Twenty-three years ago on this day, our son Tom was baptized, and twenty-one years ago on this day our son Willie was baptized. All Saints Day is my most favorite church day, next to the Easter Vigil. I love it because in word and sacrament on this day, we are so clearly part of something beyond ourselves, we are part of a communion and a community that shows forth God's amazing and abundant love. We tell a story in which we are active participants and that connects us to all those who came before us, and to all those who will come after us.


It is important to be active participants in this story, it is important to tell the story, and it is important to shape the story as it moves into this young 21st century. That's what we, as saints, as part of the communion of saints, do. In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the collect we read for All Saints Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. Our problem with the word "saints", is that from very early times, “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.


But we use “saints” today in the former sense, to describe the entire membership of the Christian community. This day we are intentionally connected to all those who have come before us, all those who are here today, and all those who will come after us. Today we stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder as we remember the stories of our people, and we look toward those stories to show us the way of this life of discipleship. We are shaped by these stories, and who we are and what we do in these days, shapes the world around us. Who we are and what we do makes a difference here today, and each day makes a difference. Those we baptized here today enter into this story with us, and make a difference to the communion of saints.


These people we have called upon today lived or live lives that attest to the Beatitudes, the passage we heard from Matthew. Their stories attest to the struggle to live lives that have been formed and informed by Scripture. Their stories are part of the bigger story. Our stories attest to the struggle to live lives that are formed and informed by Scripture.


These are stories of creation, of blessing, of sin and our need for forgiveness, of being reconciled, of dying and rising to something absolutely new and different. As we tell our stories we reflect on our own suffering and joy, we realize that we are participants in the story of God with us. Our stories tell of our relationships with one another, our relationships with God, our relationships to those who came before us, and our relationships with those who will follow us.


The importance of telling our stories is two fold. First, so that we can find our place in the story of God in our midst, and second, so that we can find our place in history, we can see how we are related to one another and to the world; so we can see how all of us have been given a gift of relationship, and how with that gift is a responsibility to care for one another and to care for the created order, and to care for ourselves.


It is responding to that gift that makes us participants in creation, and as participants, we are not perfect. That's why it's unfortunate that word "saint" has taken on a meaning that connotes perfection, or heroism. There is nowhere I can find in the bible that God has required any one of us to be perfect, but time and time again I find where God has required us to respond to what life throws at us with mercy and compassion, born out of our suffering and sadness.


And it is on this most appropriate of days that we baptize Hannah, Alivia, and Kaitlin. There are four days of the church year on which Holy Baptism is especially appropriate: the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, this day All Saint’s, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.


On these days, and at each baptism, we renew our own baptismal vows. We renew our resolve to respond to the gift of Jesus Christ in our midst in ways that form us as disciples.
We renew our commitment to live as saints, as participants in the coming of Christ, as participants in the story of new creation, as participants in the story that Love wins.


On this most festive of days, let us give thanks for the communion of saints, for the saints that have gone on before us, for all who gather here this day and who gather around the world, and for those who will follow us.
Amen

Sunday, October 30, 2011

20 Pentecost Yr A

Many years ago, my husband Rick managed the Episcopal Ad Project, which produced some amazing ads for the Episcopal Church. It was at that time that we became Mac people. Rick worked on one of the very first Macintosh computers, it was a box that sat on his desk and it was a wonder to behold. He got to do all of his work on, and I even got to use it too. We’ve only bought Apples since then, although sometimes we have to use the other ones. In those days who would have thought that each of us would have a computer on our desk, and each of us would carry one in our pockets and in our purses. Who would have thought that I'd be standing here today with what I want to say on my ipad? Who would have thought? Steve Jobs thought, and all those who worked closely with him. As I have spent some time reflecting on Steve Jobs life and death, I think his example of innovative thinking, I would call it imaginative thinking, serves us well. What, besides Steve Jobs death, would cause me to begin this sermon with this story? I think what we have in our readings from Matthew lately is Jesus’ critique of peoples’ failure of imagination. Jesus kept at the Pharisees, whether they were in the gathered crowds, or lurking at the edges like in our reading today, encouraging them to think and act from their center, from their hearts, to listen to their intuition, and not to limit their imaginations, indeed, to follow their imaginations. What I think we can learn from Steve Jobs is about imagination. Not only did he think outside the box, he made a whole new box, and the cloud has a whole new meaning. Steve Jobs did not suffer from a failure of imagination. In the passage we have before us today, as in all the recent passages from Matthew, there were many, including the Pharisees, who were very happy and comfortable with the status quo, with the way things are. There is no judgement in that, but what Jesus was doing was calling them, and us as well, to a whole new way of being. Jesus calls us to act from our centers, from our hearts and from our guts, and to live lives of mercy and compassion, to create something new, something almost unimaginable, especially for those who lack imagination, and that is a compassionate reality. Jesus called the Pharisees and all who gathered to hear him, and Jesus calls us to an absolutely new paradigm, an unbelievable paradigm, maybe even unimaginable, all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Remember that the culture of the first-century world was built on the foundational social values of honor and dishonor. Honor was seen as the first and foremost value. The system was not based on values of good and bad, but on behavior that is viewed as disgraceful, or behavior that is viewed as noble, and the honor or disgrace a particular behavior will bring to the group. As modern day Americans we have some trouble with this, because these values are held as group norms, and we live in an individualistic culture. But it is important for us to know these things as we read this New Testament text, so that we may grasp even a little of the paradigm shift, the great imagination that it takes to understand what Jesus is saying and doing in these texts. The Pharisees' desire for prestige and honor comes under fire with the accusation that they act solely in order to win praise from others. They wear showy prayer shawls with long fringes that will draw attention to themselves, and they always want to be in the most conspicuous places so that folks will see them, treat them with deference, and reward them with titles of honor. "Rabbi," "father," and "instructor" are specific titles to be shunned by Matthew's community. These are all titles that carry both status and authority in the value system of the Empire in which all of these people live. "Father" in particular was the term for the head of a household, whose total life-or-death authority mirrored the role of the emperor. To seek such roles and titles would be seen as desirable and in conformity to the hierarchical values of the Roman Empire, but those values should not prevail for Jesus' followers. For them the vision and practice of an egalitarian community, with God and the Messiah as the only authorities to be accorded honor and obedience, are hallmarks they share with the divine reign whose coming Jesus proclaimed. So it is into all this that Jesus says, "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted." This is unimaginable for all but those who can think outside the box. Jesus is asking his followers to imagine a new world, a new kingdom, in which there is no honor garnered by what you do or to whom you belong, a new kingdom in which every person, tax collector, woman, child, jew or greek, has equal access to love and worth. Every person has access to a community that affords new life in a world that would trample them underfoot. This new world that Jesus is making possible and Jesus' followers were invited to imagine is a world in which those who have two coats give one to the one who has none, those who have much to eat give to those who have little to eat. It is a world in which worth is assigned by being a child of God, the delight of God's life. God inaugurates this new world in Jesus, that is how we understand the resurrection, God recreates reality as they knew it in their time. You and I are living in the same new creation, our lives are transformed by God so that we may also live as new creations, alive to the absolute and abundant love that is available to us. And we, members of this community of imagination, of new birth and new life, are called to be partners in living this compassionate reality. We are called to live generously and abundantly with all that we are and all that we have. We are called to speak for those who cannot speak, we are called to give for those who cannot give, we are called to love so those who cannot may learn to love themselves. We are called to imagine the world Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead for. We are called to live each and every day, each and every moment, in the truth that Love does indeed win.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

19 Pentecost Yr A

Which commandment in the law is the greatest? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, this is the greatest and first commandment, and the second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, who were the experts of their day, is straight out of the Hebrew scripture. Jesus knows those scriptures well; he didn’t have them written in front of him, like we do, he had them on his heart, and in his soul. Those scriptures are part of the very fiber of his being. Those scriptures were what each Hebrew boy and girl heard every day of their lives. They new the story of creation, they knew the story of Noah, of Moses, of Exodus and Exile, of David, the Prophets, they knew the story about the angel passing over their homes when they put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts; they knew the stories of their ancestors. We need to know our story, knowing our story, knowing where we came from, knowing to whom we belong gives us value and worth. Our story teaches us, shows us, tells us that we are created in God's image. That story is ultimately important because being created in God’s image is where love is located. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind is about the truth of the story that constitutes us, that makes us who we are. So God’s love for us is not about how we feel on any given day or at any given time. God’s love for us is the in the pattern of action that is the story that tells us who we are. You have heard your story many times, I have told you this story many times. It is the story of creation, of blessing, of separation and independence from God, of repentance, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this story, God who is the creator of the universe, comes to be one of us, Jesus, lives, loves suffers and dies, and is raised to absolutely new life. It is the story that shows us Love Wins. But we usually don’t see the arc of the whole story all the time. From our point of view it's hard to see the wholeness of the story. We sometimes find ourselves in one part of the story, or we catch glimpses of ourselves in the story. When we are engulfed in darkness it's very hard to trust that there is light. But it is when we come out of suffering and sadness with hope and joy that we really can experience the love and the light, and the new life that God has for us. And we remember, we remember God's love for us and for all of creation. Sometimes, when we listen carefully, we can actually hear God’s love for us in the voices of the people whom we encounter, especially at times of deepest sorrow or quiet joy. But how do you know about love and how can you see God's love if you don’t know where you come from and who created you? Or if you don't know that God's love is a love that gives, a love that looks for the best for the other. It is a love that is patient and kind, compassionate and merciful. God's love does not look much like the love that we witness in so many places in our culture. If the only love people know is like what they watch on TV and see in movies, their view of love is indeed distorted. That love is all about sexual attraction. That love is all about excitement. That love is about revenge and passion. That love is all about what you get out of it, it is about demanding a return. But love in the bible really has very little to do with how we feel. Love in the first-century Mediterranean world was not a vague warm feeling toward someone, but a pattern of action -- attachment to a person backed up with behavior. The two commandments Jesus gives demand nothing less than heart, soul, and mind -- in other words, every part of a person capable of valuing something – and that those capacities be devoted to God and to every neighbor. There is no one exempt from the category of neighbor, the Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that. So what we read today is a continuation of what we read last week. Last week we heard that everything comes from and belongs to God. Everything. This continuation of that reading demands nothing less than everything, heart, soul and mind. Jesus' call will compel each one of his followers to take the fullest extent of God's love to the furthest reach of that love, to every person whom God made. As God has first loved us, we will love others. This is Jesus’ call to us to ministry. Everything comes from God and belongs to God, and that demands a pattern of action, love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor; remembering that love is not how we feel, but a decision we make, a pattern of action. Love is a pattern of action. The pattern of action that God shows forth is, creation, blessing, dependence on God, forgiveness, and new life. This is how we are to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are everyone, the outcasts and the sinners, you and me. So what does that look like? Our Old Testament passages of late have given us some parameters. Those stories show us that there are no other Gods, and no idols, and after that comes keep Sabbath. Keeping Sabbath means that every seven days, every seven hours, every seven minutes maybe, we should stop what we are doing and rest, maybe even pray, “thank you lord for your abundant love and blessings, thank you for this moment to give you glory and praise.” We are to respect the people to whom we are related, and we are all related, we are not to murder, we are not to be promiscuous, we are not to steal, we are not to lie about our neighbor, and we are not to be greedy. These are the actions of love. The results of all these actions of love are right relationships, and an attitude of abundance and thanksgiving. When we act in love we adopt a posture of mercy and compassion. The original question the Pharisees ask Jesus is which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus answers not with law, but with the pattern of action that is love. You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does indeed win.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

18 Pentecost Yr A

The Pharisees ask Jesus two questions of great importance, or so they think. One of those questions we will hear next week in Matthew's gospel, which is the greatest commandment, and Jesus’ answer to that question is: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. The other question of great importance is really a group of questions all around the acquisition and use of wealth. The rich young man asks Jesus who can be saved, Jesus answers, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. There is the story of the widow who gives all that she has, the story of the talents, and on it goes. And of course the question the Pharisees ask of Jesus in Matthew's gospel today. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?   But what we have is actually one of the oldest tricks in the book. Entrapment. That’s what the Pharisees are about in this story, pure and simple. They know very well the Jewish law against creating images. We read all about that last week in Exodus. The Israelites took all the gold from their ears, their sons’ ears, and their daughters ears, melted it down and made an idol out of it. Not making and worshiping idols is the commandment second only to loving God. The Pharisees know what they ask of Jesus creates what we today call cognitive dissonance. You can’t act one way without compromising your morals; it’s the slippery slope. We go about rationalizing these things all the time. I do it on a smaller practical scale all the time, should I eat that doughnut, or should I eat that apple? I want the doughnut because I believe it will make me feel good, because I like it, because I deserve it, because it’s fun… But I eat the apple because I believe it’s good for me, because it tastes good, because I need the vitamins, because it will help me in the long run. What we do has to do with the priorities we choose for our lives. If you’re a list maker, you’d list the pros in one column, the cons in another, and make your choice.   The Pharisees are trying to entrap Jesus, if Jesus says we don’t pay taxes to the emperor he’s guilty of sedition, but if Jesus says we use these coins with an image on them to pay taxes to the emperor, he’s guilty of breaking the commandment. Caesar or God? This is not just a slippery slope, it is a no win situation.   But Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question, as is his answer each time they ask him questions about wealth is really simple. It’s all God’s. It’s all God’s. There is no hierarchy, there is no priority list, and there are no top ten things that belong to God. The question is pointless. It is all God’s. You see, there is nothing that is the emperor’s. All wealth comes from God. And wealth includes so much more than money.   There are some ramifications of this for us today. All wealth comes from God, we live in a land in which order is kept by a mutual agreement that everyone shares in the responsibility of government and infrastructure and protection. Therefore we pay your share. But all we have still comes from God. The story that informs us and transforms us is that we are created by God in God’s image, and we are related to all of creation. God’s abundance in creation is already bestowed upon us. Our job is to hold it in trust, and to care for it. This then becomes what we call stewardship. God’s abundance, give to God the things that are God’s, and everything is God’s.   But here in America many continue to live by the narrative of frontier individualism. Every man is more or less for himself, a good neighbor is one who needs no help. But this narrative runs counter to the primary virtues of Jesus Christ, which are compassion and community.     The understanding of wealth in the bible has nothing to do with frontier individualism or individual portfolios. It is not about acquisition, and it is anathema to greed. No wonder we have so much trouble talking about money, we hardly know the words to use. The understanding of wealth in the bible has everything to do with God’s abundance, with compassion, community, and relationship.   So if wealth has everything to do with God’s abundance, with compassion, community and relationship and with all of creation, what does that mean for us?   Events in the world around us have been making many nervous lately. The stock market, the housing market, the price of gas. I don’t know what it all means, but I’m sure many of you are feeling much anxiety. So a passage like this, telling us in no uncertain terms, that none of our wealth belongs to us anyway, that we are to be compassionate, and that God’s abundance is clear, may make you more nervous, or it may give you the freedom you need. You see, the real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money.   Consider Richard Semmler:   Semmler, a 59-year-old mathematician, teaches calculus and algebra at Northern Virginia Community College. He can explain how to find the derivative of a polynomial and all sorts of complicated equations. But in his private life, Semmler has reduced his existence to the simplest equation. In the last 35 years, by working part-time jobs and forgoing such everyday comforts as a home telephone and vacations, by living in an efficiency apartment and driving an old car, Semmler has donated as much as half of his annual income or more to charity. His goal: $1 million before he retires.   Semmler said ‘If I didn't do all of the things I was doing, I would probably have a new car every two years and I would have a huge house with a huge pool,’ Semmler donated $100,000 to build a Habitat for Humanity house, which he also worked on himself to build.   Percentage-wise, Semmler's generosity is exceedingly rare among the middle-class -- or the rich, for that matter, say those who study philanthropy. Each year, U.S. households give away an average of 2 percent of their income to nonprofit and religious organizations, according to Giving USA, which tracks donation trends. A household with Semmler's annual income, $100,000, donates an average of $2,000 annually to charity. Last year, Semmler gave away $60,000. Semmler believes life isn't always about multiplying what you get, sometimes it's about subtraction.*   What could we accomplish if we decided not to give just 2%, or even 10%, but if we would live with the attitude that it's all God's anyway, and by keeping any of it we're stealing from God. Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. It’s all God’s.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

17 Pentecost Yr A

The Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes​17 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr A Oct 9 2011 Exodus 32:1-14​Psalm 106 Philippians 4:1-9​Matthew 22:1-14 ​Page of 1 We are at a time in the live of our family where there are many weddings to attend. It started three years ago with my nephew’s wedding. That wedding was north of Duluth MN, north of Two Harbors for those of you who may be familiar with Lake Superior’s north shore, just before you get to Gooseberry Falls. Two more nephews have been married since then, and two nieces. The weddings have varied, three of them were outside on the shore of lakes and two of them were very traditional church weddings. And, we've witnessed amazingly varied wedding wear on the diverse people that have been gathered for these weddings. The most interesting wedding wear was at the wedding of my nephew the actor who lives in New York, there were many New Yorkers there, young like him, 30ish, very well tattooed and pierced. The wedding attire ran the gamut from amazingly dressy to jeans and t-shirts, there didn’t seem to be any expectation of appropriate dress.   That wedding was also the first time I’d received a postcard, about 9 months previously, advising me to save the date, that seems to be the norm now as well. I appreciated that little notice, because it really helped me to make plans to be there, about 4 weeks before the wedding we received the actual wedding invitation. People came from far and wide to be at this wedding celebration.   In my life, the invitation to a party is an exciting thing. Part of the fun of a party is the expectation, the anticipation. Part of the fun of a party is being included, belonging. The “save the date” postcard I received for my nephew’s wedding went on my refrigerator door; the date went on my calendar. As soon as I received the actual invitation, I replaced the postcard, I looked at it often, imagining the fun, imagining the family gathered, imagining the celebration we would have at the very first wedding of any of my mother’s grandchildren.   It’s a bit unlike the response of the people in our story from Matthew today, they made light of the invitation, and even killed the messengers who delivered the invitation. The king may have shrugged and said, well then, if the chosen are not interested in the wedding celebration, then go and invite any one you want, they went to the outer reaches of the kingdom, they went to the margins, and those who came to the celebration were honored to be there.   The God of abundance has made a great offer, come to the feast. The God of abundance has set the table, has prepared a wonderful banquet. The thing about an invitation is that we can choose to come, or not. The thing about this relationship with God is that we can choose to be in it or not, we are never compelled.   As all these people arrived, people from all over the kingdom, people who were honored to be there; the ones who were tattooed and pierced, the ones who were curious and doubtful, the ones who were questionable and the ones who were upstanding, the ones who loved and hated, but all people who respected the king and the occasion for which they gathered, these people received a wedding garment, a robe. The people gathered for this wedding banquet mostly were the people gathered from the margins, they were the people who responded yes to the great offer made to them. They put on the wedding garment with honor and respect to the King.   Except the one in our story. He won’t put on the wedding garment. Not putting on the wedding garment is the very same thing as not saying yes to this relationship into which he was being invited. The outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, is of his own choosing.   Putting on the wedding garment, putting on the robe, reveals a willingness to respond to the abundant banquet that is available to us now, and available to us at the fulfillment of time. When I reread this story, I was reminded of the garment each of us puts on at baptism, figuratively and literally. The baptismal garment re-presents to us that new creation we become when Jesus calls us over the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea, day by day his clear voice sounds, saying “Christian, follow me.” We are dressed as one ready, ready to follow, ready to be a voice in the cacophony, ready to dive into the relationship that is offered to us by the one who prepares the banquet of abundance, the one whose heart's desire is to be in relationship with us.   When we put on the wedding garment, or the baptismal garment, it does not signify that we are finished, that we have arrived, or that we are perfected or done, because we are only beginning. We are saying yes to the abundant and amazing love that waits for us. We are saying yes to the journey of life and yes to the knowledge that the journey is not by ourselves, but with the one who creates us, the one who reconciles us, the one who revives us. Life is not a journey that should be taken by oneself; it is a hard and treacherous journey, as well as a joyful and exciting journey. It is a journey of love and forgiveness; it is a journey of grace and mercy. And it is a journey that our creator God desperately wants to accompany us on. So much so, that God came into this time and space, to be just like you, just like me, with all the joys and hopes, all the pain and the suffering, that human life has to offer. And so much love, that Jesus was willing to put himself in our place, to offer himself to suffering and death, so that you and I are not condemned to pain and sadness and tragedy for ever.   This abundant banquet is there for the taking. Nothing is held over our heads, no strings attached. The love that provides the banquet flows in and through and among us, and we have the opportunity to respond. We have the opportunity to pay that love forward. We have the opportunity to show forth the love that has been offered to us, and to be people of love and forgiveness ourselves. The response to this abundance that God offers to us through God’s son Jesus, is to offer that same love and forgiveness to others. It is not to hoard, it is not to keep to ourselves. It is to offer ourselves, as Jesus offers his life to us, we offer this love to others. The hard part is that Jesus offers this love to everyone, sinners included. Thank God for that, because that means you and I have a place in this amazing kingdom too.   And equally exciting is the abundant banquet that is in store for us at the fulfillment of time. We get a foretaste of that banquet in the bread and the wine that we share together each Sunday we gather. We get glimpses of grace, and those glimpses are powerful. One of those glimpses of grace is that everyone is included. You and I are included, the liar and the cheat are included, the tax collector and the sinner are included.   I think what is hard for us is that we come to believe that the abundance is the reward for right behavior, so that those whose behavior is not up to a particular standard can’t be part of the banquet. But that’s not the way it works. It’s the invitation that changes us. It’s the abundance that transforms us. It’s the anticipation and the expectation of seeing our friends and our loved ones that causes us great joy. Once we put on that wedding garment, or baptismal garment, we are not the same. We are made new, God’s love, God’s power, God’s abundance changes us. We can love others, we can forgive others. We no longer live for ourselves, or for greed, or for power. We no longer live for ourselves, but we live in relationship, and in relationship we find joy and peace.   Thanks be to God.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

14 Pentecost Yr A

So your teenager walks into the house after school, or after football practice, or band rehearsal, or just takes a break from homework, or even about an hour after dinner, and looks through the cupboards, opens the refrigerator door, and says, "Mom! There's nothin to eat." Just like the Israelites in this part of the Exodus. Whining, whining, whining, "God, we have nothing to eat, and what’s more, we don't like what you’ve given us to eat." But I do think that if I were wandering in the wilderness with Moses and Aaron for 40 years, I might be a little whinny too. “God, we’re tired, we’re hungry, we may as well have stayed in Egypt for all this gets us.” And they are reminded that in Egypt they were slaves, at least in the desert they are free. This is a great story. In the verses that follow these we just heard God instructs them to gather up what they need for themselves and their families. Each family got just what they needed, no more, no less. Then Moses instructed them not to save any of it, don’t leave any until morning he told them. Well, some didn’t listen to Moses, and hoarded the food that God had provided for them, and it got wormy and smelled bad. So not only do they not seem to want what God has provided for them, they go ahead and eat it anyway, and then save some up for later, only for it to go bad on them. Lord, lord, lord, give us something to eat, give us something better to eat, we don’t like what you’ve given us, but even though we don’t like it we’ll save it for later and risk losing what is right here in front of us. God provides, God provides enough. Even when it doesn’t look good. It’s all God’s anyway. Matthew’s gospel is paired with this story from Exodus and it carries the theme even farther. Matthew’s story always seems so topsy-turvy. The day laborers that show up at the end of the day get paid the same as those who showed up early to work, and work or no work, everyone gets paid the same. The kingdom is not business as usual. Remember, kingdom parables serve to show us that God is doing this absolutely new thing, there is no business as usual. In this kingdom everything is re-ordered. It’s not even as simple as the last will be first, and the first shall be last. God coming into our midst, living, loving, suffering, dying, and being raised from the dead makes this absolutely new. So this kingdom parable didn’t sit well with those who heard it centuries ago, and it doesn’t sit well with people who hear it today, because we are trained to believe there is a reward. The simplest statement of that is if we live a good life, we’ll get our reward in heaven. This parable refutes that conventional wisdom. Our wages are paid at the baptismal font, not at the grave. The new life that God has affected is available from the beginning. We live our whole lives loved by God, the delight of God’s life. The Christian life is not about earning our wage or our reward in heaven. The Christian life is about responding to God’s amazing and abundant love, about receiving God’s grace, right here, right now. The Christian life is about the fruit of our baptism; the Christian life is about responding to the joys and challenges of our lives in ways that show forth the grace that God has given us. The Christian life is not easy nor is it clear, it is not about finding Jesus, it’s about being found by God’s love. The Christian life is about grace and forgiveness, the grace and forgiveness that God offers us, and the grace and forgiveness that we offer one another as we love our neighbors as ourselves. So when did we get so greedy? When did we begin to hoard what we have? These stories we hear today remind or maybe even teach us that we’ve got all we need, and there’s enough for everyone. One of the seminal stories about who we are and to whom we are related is the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Moses relayed the ten commandments to the Hebrews as they wandered. Moses said to the people, “God spoke all these words: I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me.” No other gods, only me, the Hebrew people, like us, had so much trouble accepting God’s gift of enough. God asks us for our undivided attention, and God gives us all we need. The Hebrew people couldn’t accept God’s gift of enough, and instead made their own god out of the gold they had and found. They got greedy. We get greedy, and we are encouraged in our greediness by a culture that constantly encourages us to buy more, and bigger, regardless of our ability to do so, regardless of need. Now, as much as the Hebrew people needed to hear “no other gods, only me,” and as much as the Jews of the first century needed to hear the inbreaking of God’s kingdom re-orders all that they knew to be true, we, in the 21st century need to hear this message that we are sought and we are found, that God loves us abundantly and claims us. Our wages are paid at the baptismal font, we are new creations. This is good news indeed. Good news in a world that needs good news. Good news that this life isn’t just about you, but it is about how you, and me, and every one of us is loved, and how you in turn love one another. It is about how you are the delight of God’s life, and about how you pay that forward. It is about how God transformed the world with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and how God continues to transform us and the world as each of us goes out into the world to do the work we are called to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Today we identify and celebrate the ministry that God has given us. We don't hoard the abundance God showers upon us, and we are not greedy about it either. We show forth so much love by being the church in the world, by being the body of Christ. Our baptismal ministry is lived out in so many ways. We celebrate God's abundance by loving and serving our neighbors, by volunteering in schools and hospitals, by knitting hats and prayer shawls. We celebrate God's abundance in our work as we create a culture of mercy and compassion wherever we find ourselves. We are ministers, every one of us, by virtue of our baptism. God's abundance enfolds us, empowers us, saves us, sends us.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

13 Pentecost Yr A

In a small apartment building in North Minneapolis - a 59-year-old teacher's aid sings praise to God for no seemingly apparent reason. Indeed, if anyone was to have issues with the Lord, it would be Mary Johnson. In February 1993, Mary's son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot to death during an argument at a party. He was 20, and Mary's only child. "My son was gone," she says. The killer was a 16-year-old kid named Oshea Israel. Mary wanted justice. "He was an animal. He deserved to be caged." And he was. Tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years -- Oshea served 17 before being recently released. He now lives back in the old neighborhood - next door to Mary. How a convicted murderer ended-up living a door jamb away from his victim's mother is a story, not of horrible misfortune, as you might expect - but of remarkable mercy. A few years ago Mary asked if she could meet Oshea at Minnesota's Stillwater state prison. She felt compelled to see if there was some way, if somehow, she could forgive her son's killer. "I believe the first thing she said to me was, 'Look, you don't know me. I don't know you. Let's just start with right now,'" Oshea says. "And I was befuddled myself." Oshea says they met regularly after that. When he got out, she introduced him to her landlord - who with Mary's blessing, invited Oshea to move into the building. Today they don't just live close - they are close. Mary was able to forgive. She credits God, of course - but also concedes a more selfish motive. "Unforgiveness is like a disease," Mary says. "It will eat you from the inside out. It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me. It's for me." For Oshea, it hasn't been that easy. "I haven't totally forgiven myself yet, I'm learning to forgive myself. And I'm still growing toward trying to forgive myself." To that end, Oshea is now busy proving himself to himself. He works at a recycling plant by day and goes to college by night. He says he's determined to pay back Mary's clemency by contributing to society. In fact, he's already working on it - singing the praises of God and forgiveness at prisons, churches - to large audiences everywhere. "A conversation can take you a long way," Oshea says to one group. Which explains why Mary is able to sing her praise of thanks. "How many times should I forgive?" Peter asks. "As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." The number seventy-seven represents unlimited, infinite. What Jesus says to Peter is that you forgive, and forgive, and forgive again, there is no end to forgiving. Unforgiveness is like a disease says Mary, it will eat you from the inside out. Jesus knows this. We are not asked to forgive, we are not asked to love our neighbor, we are not asked to love our enemy for the others sake, but for our own. Jesus knows this. If you don't forgive, you will be eaten up, from the inside out. This passage isn't about asking for forgiveness, it is about forgiving. There is a huge difference. Forgiving is about freedom, it is about liberation, it is about the journey from death to life, and it is not about forgetting. Forgiving doesn't mean that we arise unscathed or unscared. Indeed, we carry the scars of being wounded with us always. But we carry scars, not open, festering wounds that eat us from the inside out. Forgiving is what causes us to heal. There is nothing in scripture about forgiving and forgetting, there is everything in scripture about forgiving, forgiving, and forgiving. It is in that forgiveness that mercy and compassion grow. I was at Trinity church in Pierre for clergy conference on Friday, and I noticed that out of the cracks in the sidewalk were growing some wonderful flowers, any way I think they were flowers, but they could very well have been weeds, I've been known to mistake one for the other. Forgiveness is like that, out of the cracks, out of our wounds, healing gives rise to the beauty of mercy and compassion from which reconciliation and peace arise. On this day we observe the anniversary of what we have come to know as 9/11, although it continues to be our son Willie's birthday. And today I wonder how we grow a post 9/11 anniversary community committed to the mercy and compassion from which reconciliation and peace may arise. In our community, in our church, in our families, how does forgiving create reconciliation and peace? How does forgiving create sacred conversation? How does forgiving create the possibility of new life and new creation? We are capable of sacred conversation. We are called to mercy and compassion, to reconciliation and peace, because we take seriously the work that God has done and continues to do through Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection. Those are the wounds from which we minister, those are the cracks from which the flowers, or the weeds, arise. Forgiveness brings healing, nothing else does, nothing else. Forgiveness creates a compassionate reality. This post 9/11 anniversary community committed to mercy and compassion from which reconciliation can grow, a community that forgives and therefore will be healed, is what we are called to, indeed, it is what is demanded of us by our baptism. The forgiveness that is made possible by the work that Jesus did on the cross and in the resurrection, and that we enter into at our baptism can and will transform our families and our communities. We must live our lives differently, differently than the revenge seeking, self-centered, model that is splayed all over our social media today. We must offer forgiveness, seven times, seventy-seven times, every time, all the time. Mercy and compassion will change the world and love will win.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

12 Pentecost Yr A

Some of you have heard this story before. That's the way of very important stories. Just about every other year since I was in junior high, the Monson family has gathered together to renew our bonds and tell our stories. I heard over and over the story of my ancestors coming to America. I know the story well. My family lived in a valley on the inland point of the Nordfjord, in a place called Stryn. Once upon a time in the Nesdahl valley there was a great avalanche that collapsed the sod hut in which the family lived. Marta died in that avalanche, and later, Jacob, my great great grandfather, decided to come to America. He came and settled in Adams, North Dakota. He married Anna, and they had 11 children, Nelbert, my grandfather was the oldest. Nelbert married Inga, and eventually they settled near Glenwood, Minnesota. Nelbert and Inga had five children, including my father, Juel. One of those children died in an accident as a teenager, and Inga died when my father was a small child. Nelbert married again, and he and Lucille had three daughters together, and Nelbert was killed in a farm accident. Lucille married Guy, and together they had one daughter. This all resulted in many children that I call cousins. When I was 23 years old, I went on an European adventure, part of that adventure was to visit my Norwegian relatives. I arrived in Stryn, Norway, after having taken a ship across the North Sea from England, a steamer up the shoreline of Norway, and a bus inland along the Nordfjord, to Stryn. I arrived on a very rainy day, without exact directions or even contact phone numbers. Unsure of what to do next, after getting off the bus, I went into the business that was right there, it was like a AAA, some sort of travel store. I must have looked like something the cat dragged in, and I asked the young woman across the counter for help, in English of course, as far as I had gotten with my Norwegian was “tussen tak.” She answered me, in beautiful English of course, and I told her my story. She just happened to be neighbors to the relatives I was looking for, so we got in her car and went straight to the family farm. She ended up being my interpreter for the time I spent with my uncle and aunt. My uncle took me on an excursion through the countryside, and in the best English he could muster, he told me the very same story I had heard over and over at each of our family reunions for all those years. The point of all this is that this story, of course there are many more details I’ve skipped over in this telling, contitutues us as a family, it tells us who we are. Over the years it has been added to as we have learned more about our grandfather Nelbert, and as all these cousins have had families of our own. It is a story of heartache, of survival, and of tragedy, and it is our story. And yet it is not unlike many stories of Scandinavian immigrants. The story of the Exodus that we have been hearing, and that we will continue to hear is like my story. It is a story that contitutes Israel as a people, and it is a story that remembers who they are. Today’s portion of the story almost reads like a recipe, and yet it is a call to remembrance and to reconciliation. It says this is who we are and what we do together, and who we worship. It calls Israel to remember. It too is a story of survival, of tragedy, of heartache, and of hope. It says, if we can hang together, we can make it. In the gospel of Matthew today our family story tells us about how we are to be Christians together. The writer of this gospel couldn’t have known that a church would be founded around his rabbi, Jesus, so we can’t say that these are instructions for the church. But what we do have is some very practical advice on forgiveness and reconciliation. You see, as Christians we believe Christ is reconciling the whole world and each of us in it to God and to one another. In the teachings in our prayer book, on page 855, it says that the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Reconciliation is all about making whole what is broken. Reconciliation is about being transformed by God’s amazing and abundant love. When Christians take conflict as an opportunity to practice reconciliation, what they do can stand as a visible sign for the whole world of what we believe Christ is doing in the world. An outward and visible sign of a grace that we believe is happening in a broader and more mysterious way in the world. And that is the definition of sacrament, handling conflict well can be sacramental, the way we handle conflict can be a sign to the world that Christ is in fact working in our world. Conflict is a reality in our lives and in our church and in our families. In fact, when we meet someone who is really difficult, inside and outside our families, we can rejoice and be glad in that day, because we get to love them, and in the process we get a sense of how much God loves each and every one of us. When folks look at you and see that you handle conflict in this sacramental way, they’ll see that you mean what you say. But we are witnesses to the rhetoric of revenge and division often on our nightly news and in our newspapers. The news reports about folks whose loved one has been terribly hurt or died at the hands of a monster. The family member calls for revenge, for more blood. Reconciliation, unity with Christ, and forgiveness are not at all what any one of them wants to hear. But maybe it is what is called for. We are at a place in our politics that calls for reconciliation. The divisiveness of our political parties, the hatefulness in our language when we address one another, the lack of civility in our public conversation result only in a breakdown of public discourse. If we were to approach one another like Matthew exhorts us to listen to one another, if we can point to ways in which our own behavior has contributed negatively to the situation, if we listen to each other with the goal of reconciliation, real conversation can take place. And we are at a place in the greater church that calls for reconciliation, a place where the family story must be remembered and told again, to remind us who we are and who we are related to. What we really have to do is stand as a visible sign for the whole world of what we believe Christ is doing in the world. We need to be that outward and visible sign of grace that we believe is happening in a broader and more mysterious way in the world. As we enact forgiveness and reconciliation we are the agents of new life and resurrection that God calls us to be. We become the carriers of grace and God’s abundant and amazing love. We remember who and whose we are, we tell the story of God’s activity in the life’s of God’s people, we tell the story of God who loves us so much that God came and continues to come into this world, we tell the story of how that love suffered and died, and rose again. Hope is made real and Love wins.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

10 Pentecost Yr A

Who do you say I am, Jesus asked Simon Peter. And Simon Peter announces, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Who do you say I am, Jesus asks each one of us. Who do you say Jesus is? We come here, every Sunday morning, and who do we say Jesus is? Who do we say Jesus is when we arrive at work on Monday morning? Who do we say Jesus is when we arrive at school each day? Who do we say Jesus is when we are sitting in traffic, or deciding how to spend our hard earned money, or wondering about what government services should be cut?

Who do you say I am? Like Peter, I announce Jesus is the son of the living God. But I also think those are just words, unless they are backed up by what I do with my time, my talent, and my treasure, how I make my decisions and how I treat people. You and I aren't the kind of people who have a ready answer to the question, who do you say I am? The words don't come easily, but I guarantee the words don't really matter if our lives don't speak of mercy and compassion.

Jesus is teaching disciples in these stories. Jesus is trying to impart all he knows and all he is as he prepares for his last days in Jerusalem. Jesus is developing ambassadors of the kingdom, you and I are ambassadors of the kingdom, our work is to live the answer to the question, who do you say I am, with our words and with our lives.

What you do this week will change the world. In the Exodus story,
a single act of resistance saved an entire people. The King had commanded that all male babies be killed. The baby in our story, Moses, was hidden from that awful fate, until the daughter of Pharoah found him and raised him as her own. Moses went on to lead his people out of Egypt into a new land and a new life, Moses led his people from slavery into freedom. What you do this week will change the world. That is the butterfly effect. We just don't know how what we do will effect that change, but it will, and it does. Who do you say I am? How your life answers that makes a difference.

Last week I said to you that our words matter. This week I say to you that what we do matters. Jesus’ teaching is to love your enemies, to come before God in prayer in worship, to forgive one another, and that Jesus’ life will be given for ours. This is the kingship in which the God who created the heavens and the earth inaugurates this new creation. And even the ancient story of Moses
shows us that what we do matters to God.

Who do you say that Jesus is? This question presupposes that what we believe about Jesus matters. It matters to you and to me,
it matters to our church, and most importantly it matters to the world.

It also assumes a relationship; there is no way to begin to say who Jesus is without the relationship. And in this relationship with Jesus, we learn who we really are. In response to Peter’s naming Jesus,
Jesus tells Peter who he really is. You are Peter, a rock. In this relationship, Jesus knows who we really are, we are named and marked as Christ’s own forever, you are my beloved, the delight of God’s life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

9 Pentecost Yr A

It's been a hard year. We've seen people we know and love fall through the cracks of these difficult economic times. St. Andrew's and the people of St. Andrew's have helped more of own than ever before. It's been a hard month. It seems that people are behaving badly all over the place, We've been stretched to breaking with the demands on our patience and on compassion. It's been a hard couple of weeks. Our community has experienced the tragic death of three of it's members, two police officers and a young man we know very little about. Three people who all have families and friends who love them and care about them. There have been young people of our community die accidentally and tragically. We have experienced so very closely the broken world in which we live. There is goodness all around us, in so many places and in so many people, but it is a broken world, and we have seen much of the brokenness in these days.

And we have before us a hard lesson from Matthew and this continuing story in Genesis of Joseph and his brothers, brothers who sold him into slavery because they didn't like that he was a dreamer. What are we to make of it all? What are we to make of the readings and what are we to make of the reality?

In the verses from Matthew we have before us today, Jesus really seems mad. He's been spending all of his time teaching the disciples and other followers, parable after parable, story after story, trying to impart everything he can about humanity's relationship with God, his father. He experienced the tragic death of his relative, John, he's fed thousands of people, and all he wants is to get away by himself for a little R and R. He's got to walk on the water out to the boat to save those hapless disciples, and after all that, the Pharisees come all the way from Jerusalem to entrap him. I imagine that the telling of this story has quite of bit of censoring and editing, I imagine Jesus' language may have been much more harsh than we hear today.

Jesus says that what comes out of our mouths and from our hearts can be disastrous when we don't speak with love and truth. Jesus says, our words matter. Our words have the power to create a compassionate reality, and our words can challenge the darkness, our words can be the light in the darkness. We just spent the last week here in Vacation Bible School, watching A Wrinkle in Time, a story that is all about how our words and our actions have the power to dispel the darkness. We learned about our special gifts, following in the footsteps of the saints who came before us, about daring to be different, foolishness, faith and free will, and about the greatest call and commandment, loving one another. What we say to one another matters, our words matter.

The words that dispel the darkness are words that come from a heart that is filled with mercy and compassion, a heart filled with love for each and every gift of God's creation. Even in the midst of sadness, even in the midst of tragedy, we are called to speak words of mercy and compassion, words of God's love for all of God's creation. We are called to speak words of mercy and compassion into every darkness. If we don't do it, if we don't speak words of love, words of mercy and compassion, the darkness cannot be dispelled. That is what Jesus is trying to show us in this gospel today, and that is the truth of what God in Jesus has done and continues to do. Darkness does not win. Love wins. Our words can create a compassionate reality. And we are desperate for a compassionate reality.

The second half of the story from Matthew paints a picture of Jesus that may be even harder for us to understand. He is angry, and mean, and in this particular story, Jesus claims an exclusive mission. He says he is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. What is amazing in this story is that the Canaanite woman challenges Jesus, and her challenge creates a new compassionate reality. She challenges Jesus to include not just the lost sheep of Israel, but everyone in the known world.

In this story, the Canaanite woman is absolutely and completely the other, the foreigner, she doesn't look like us or talk like us. But she's also a mother. Jesus is speaking to a mother whose daughter's life is at risk. Many of you know that when your child's life is at stake, you will do most anything, go to any lengths, you'll stay by their bedside, you'll take them to the hospital in the middle of the night, you'll pray and ask everyone you know to pray, you'll even bargain with God. This is that mother. She's not an insider, she's not an Israelite, she's a foreigner, and even Jesus, this Jesus who I have always believed includes everyone, says no. Maybe he's just too tired, maybe he's had a hard day, maybe he's fed so many people he's just spent. I've felt that way.

But then, when you don't think you can do one more thing, help one more person, listen to one more story, something happens. Something shows forth the light, the love, the healing, the hope. Lord, help me she prays. And he does. Something breaks through. And the break through expands the love, she challenges Jesus, and the result is not just her baby being healed, but it is healing for everyone, for all of us. The light shows forth, mercy and compassion are possible.

We are desperate for this compassionate reality. Our words matter. Love wins. What we do and what we say in the midst of sadness and tragedy, are capable of healing. Remember, what Jesus does on the cross is to take evil out of the world with him. He does not look for revenge, and surely he is the one who would have the right to. Instead he loves. Instead he forgives. Instead he heals.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

8 Pentecost Yr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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