Saturday, March 19, 2011

2 Lent Yr A

What is this being Christian really about? Why do we bother, every Sunday, every Wednesday, coming here, to this place to worship a God we cannot see. It would be so much easier to be out with the others, drinking good coffee at Starbucks, or some other coffee establishment, reading our newspaper, eating a wonderful confection for breakfast. Or sleeping in late, or reading a good book, or hanging out with kids and partner after a long and grueling week. And yet we are here. I don’t think it’s because I compel you to be here, I have thought about preaching hell and damnation if you don’t come, hoping to increase our numbers, but I don’t, I can’t. I can’t honestly do that, because I don’t think it’s right or true. Coming here on Sunday mornings, being together, participating in good music, prayers, bread and wine, body and blood, is not about hell and damnation, it’s not about life after death, it’s all about life in the here and now. It is about the eternal life that Jesus talks about with Nicodemus in our story this morning.

Eternal life is not about heaven. Remember on the Last Sunday before Lent, a couple of weeks ago, I said something about kairos and chronos. I talked about time and measuring time and the experience of time. We live in chronological time, we are conceived, we are born in to the world, we grow, we age, and we die. The story we hear from the gospel of John today seems to, and all the other stories as well seem to show a time that is not chronos. The stories in the bible speak about God’s time, they show us kairos, not chronos. The word eternal in today’s gospel doesn’t mean forever. It isn’t a uniform measurement of time like days and years marching endlessly into some unknown or even known future. That’s a category or concept that we really don’t even find in the bible. Eternal as in whoever believes in him may have eternal life, doesn’t mean the literal passing of time, it means transcending time, or kairos, it means belonging to another realm or reign altogether. It means belonging to God’s realm. That is where heaven comes in. When Jesus talked about heaven, he was talking about our present, eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of death and in whatever is to come. Heaven for Jesus wasn’t just someday; it was and is a present reality. Jesus blurs the lines, inviting Nicodemus, and us, into the merging of heaven and earth, the future and the present, here and now.
That is how you can be born again, because eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God. Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and even survive death.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Why do we come here each Sunday morning to sing songs of praise, to worship, to encounter God’s word, to be with each other, to be fed by God’s body and blood? Because new life in Christ demands it. Because the response to God’s amazing creation, God’s amazing love and grace is to give thanks, because the response to God’s amazing gift of life and love is to raise up in prayer and song, and to fall on our knees in awe. And because it’s not about any one of us individually, it’s about us together.

Some Christians have co-opted this language of being born again and have made it into a one time and exclusive deal. If you say a particular set of words you have access to some sort of life after death that means you will spend eternity in heaven, as opposed to hell. That really doesn’t seem to be what Jesus talks about or is concerned about however. Jesus seems to be much more interested in the here and now, and the new life that is available to everyone, but especially people who are suffering, in pain, and on the margins. Jesus gave his life for this new life; Jesus walked a road of pain and suffering, for what? So that some people could have comfort in an afterlife, and so that most people who don’t have access will spend life after death in a place called hell?

God’s amazing and abundant love is available to all, that’s what Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection makes real. There is no exclusivity to it; all of scripture shows us that. That’s why I come here, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Not because it’s an exclusive club, but because together we give thanks for this amazing gift, because together we recognize our need for forgiveness so that we can realize fully the love that God has for us, and because together we are fed and nourished so that we may feed and nourish others.

We are born again. In the midst of the pain and tragedy of this life, and we have observed and experienced some of the most horrific pain and tragedy recently, Jesus walks with us. In the midst of the pain and suffering of our lives, Jesus walks with us. Jesus doesn’t take that pain and suffering away, often we wish he would, Jesus carries the burden with us. The work that Jesus does in life and death, and resurrection, is to absorb all that pain and suffering, violence and hatred, and defeat it with the power of God’s amazing and abundant love.

You and I have access to that new life, to that amazing love, right here and right now. We are born again and again and again. It’s not about a one-time deal; it’s not one moment in time. It’s a process and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt. We keep coming to church and we keep being fed and nourished because this journey is messy and unclear. We glimpse the new life that is right in front of it at one moment, and then we miss it, again we miss the mark, we loose the trail, we wander in the wilderness, and we come back to be fed and nourished and find our way again.

And as we are fed and nourished, we go out and feed and nourish others. And in the end, and in the beginning, and in the middle, that is what Christian discipleship is about, that is what this journey is about. It is about responding to the amazing love that God has for each and every one of us and for all of us, it is about the new life, the eternal life, the life of here and now, that is available to all of us. In the messiness of our lives, in the good and bad choices we make, in the pain and tragedy of human action and in the pain and tragedy of natural disaster, God’s amazing and abundant love is available to Abraham who lived in a land that worshiped gods who were not the One God, it is available to Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, it is available to the Samaritan woman at the well, it is available to the man born blind, it is available to Lazarus and Martha and Mary, all outsiders, all people on the margins, all who never said the words, I accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior. And this same amazing and abundant love is available to you, and to me and to all of us.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

1 Lent Yr A

We enter the season of Lent with this story that takes place just after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, and just before Jesus calls his disciples and begins teaching on the hillside. I have said before to you that I think this story is much more about seduction than it is temptation, and I’ll tell you why. I’m reminded of Edmund, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Edmund is the third child in a family of four children. He is overshadowed by his older brother Peter, and Edmund suffers from a lack of confidence that contributes to a rather unfortunate series of decisions. When the children enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe, they encounter eternal winter, brought on by the despicable Queen. The Queen approaches Edmund and tempts him with the sugary concoction, Turkish delight, and some warm and wonderful hot cocoa as well. Thus begins Edmund’s turn toward the despicable Queen, and away from the Lion Aslan, his brother and sisters, and all that represents.

You see, without an exception, temptation looks and feels delicious. It is part of our very humanity to seek out that which we believe is positive, pleasurable, and good. We always embark on the road to perdition with the belief that it is in fact a good. That is the nature of seduction. It begins with a beautiful face, it begins with a ripe red apple, it begins with mouth watering tastiness, it begins with the promise of relief, escape, pleasure, it begins in wonder and amazement, but it does not end well. And yet, often we are powerless to know it or to see it.

The great seducer in our gospel today shows Jesus three wonderful and amazing things. First, stones that may become bread. It may be hard to imagine yourself as Jesus, or not, but try for a moment. You are concerned about poverty and starvation all over the known world. Your instructions to those who follow you are to feed the hungry; over and over you ask your friends and followers to feed the hungry. And here you are presented with a solution to world hunger. Command these stones to become bread. That’s it, that’s all it takes. There are enough stones in the world if they all became bread there would be no child going to bed hungry at night. Who wouldn’t say yes? Feeding people is good, isn’t it?

Second, ultimate safety. If you were unable to be hurt, would you not be able to continue to relieve world hunger forever and for always? If you were unable to be hurt, would you not be able to love everyone all the time? If you are unable to be hurt, would you not have to go to the cross to die? Sounds like a good, doesn’t it?

Third, authority. Everyone and everything answering to you. With ultimate authority, everyone would follow your rules and your rules are good rules. Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. The world would be perfect if you were in charge.

What’s so wrong with this scene? Nothing at all. Nothing at all. That is the nature of seduction. It looks so good. It tastes so good. It feels so good. It must be right. We are human after all. What makes this story so powerful is that we have been there. Each and every one of us has been there; we may even be there yet today. This is about Jesus, and it is about each of us. You see, it isn’t black and white, right or wrong, it isn’t obvious or clear, and don’t let anyone seduce you into thinking that it is. This journey of life is full of choices, which is God’s gift to us, choice, and a pile of love to go with it. Even Jesus had the choice, the choice to follow the seducer, the choice to give in to the pain and suffering of his journey, the choice to walk away from the cross.

So what does this journey look like? We are on a journey together, you and me and all the others. All the best heroes have their posse’s with them. Edmund had his brother and sisters and all the animals of Narnia, Luke had Han Solo, Lea, Chewbacca, and the Holy Trinity of Obi-wan, Anakin, and Yoda, Harry has Hermione and Ron and the whole Weasly family, Woody has Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex and Hamm, you get the picture. We take this journey together; together we share the strength, the wisdom, the courage to make choices, good or bad, right or wrong.

Us humans live daily, maybe even moment-by-moment in the reality of this seduction. It is being fully human after all, what is so amazing is the love that God has for us and the forgiveness that God is willing to heap upon us time, after time, after time. We miss the mark, and Jesus stands with us, surrounded by our company of friends, loved ones, supporters, and Jesus puts his arms around our shoulders, straightens us out, gives us strength and courage, and shows us how to hit the mark dead center. And, while the enemy arrow comes right at him, Jesus also says, let me step into your place and take the arrow for you.

In our lifetimes, we don’t ever feel the absence of seduction and temptation. We are however forgiven. That is where we begin this journey of lent, in the place of examination and forgiveness. We have this opportunity to turn to God, to examine ourselves, to ask again for forgiveness, to look upon our mortality and fall on our knees and ask for the help we need, because we cannot do it on our own. We cannot walk this journey without the one who created us, the one who walks with us, and one another. To believe we can is to succumb to the seduction of vanity, self-absorption, egotism, and selfishness.

On Ash Wednesday I invited you to think about that which you would fast from this lent. It is not about giving up something you love, but it is about abstaining from that which gets in the way of your relationship with God and with one another. What seduces you into believing that you can walk this journey on your own? What seduces you into believing that you are right and others are wrong? What seduces you into believing that you are immortal, that whatever you eat or drink or smoke won’t harm your mortal body? What seduces you into believing that you are the center of your life and others lives? What is it that you will abstain from this lent?

I invite you to journey together; I invite you to a holy lent, The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ash Wednesday 2011

Almighty, forgiving God, help me to accept your healing love today and to practice forgiveness in my daily walk with you and others. In this, the church’s holy spring, we ask you, O God, to renew us. With a gentle breath, blow from our lives the dust of sin, and make us your people again. Lift us from guilt, and shame, and regret, to repair all we’ve broken, and give us the gift of repentance. With the lengthening days, stretch our hearts, too, to be ready for your risen life; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Just as Advent is the beginning of the New Year, Ash Wednesday and Lent are the beginning of our new life. I think we have a deep desire to start over, to begin again, to turn to God and take a deep, refreshing breath of new life, and to say, here I am Lord, I have heard you calling in the night.

This is our opportunity. This is our call. We present ourselves to God, just as we are, confident in the promise of starting over. Ash Wednesday, and all of Lent are an opportunity. An opportunity to put all our attention toward the Gospel call to love as Christ loves. Ash Wednesday and Lent are an opportunity to examine ourselves and find where we miss the mark of that love. Ash Wednesday particularly is an opportunity to come to our senses, to be reminded of who and whose we are, to start over, to loosen our heart’s grip on the things that separate us from the love of God and our sisters and brothers. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to do that which is described in our gospel reading, to give alms, to pray, and to fast.

Today we are marked again with the cross of Christ. We were marked as Christ’s own forever with oil at baptism; today that same cross is traced with ashes. These ashes remind us of who we are, and whose we are. These ashes remind us that we came from dust and to dust we will return. These ashes remind us that God is God, and we are not. These ashes remind us that we are chosen and marked by God’s love, delight of God’s life,

The ashes of this day mark us as human, and offer us another chance to be reminded that we are called to fast from that which gets in our way of relationships, relationship with God, with those we love, and with those we encounter each day. I invite you to think about that which you may fast from,
what gets in the way of relationship for you? Do you need to slow down? Do you need to abstain from electronic media, facebook, internet, television, your phone? Do you need to make a commitment to consume less, food, drink, goods, clothing? Do you need to pay closer attention to something or someone?

Lent is also a penitential time, a time to forgive and be forgiven. God loves us with an abundant love, love that seeks nothing, love that does not exclude. The Greeks had a word for the forgiving kind of love, agape; it means a profound concern for the welfare of another without any desire to control that other or to be thanked by that other. This isn’t an easy love. If we can follow it, it will mean that we will never exclude. Not the old, the ill, the dying. Not the people who have hurt us, or who have done us wrong. Or the people to whom we have done wrong.

Jesus set the standard for forgiveness. What does Jesus' teaching on forgiveness require of us, and how can we begin to practice this kind of love and forgiveness toward others?

How have you felt, for at least a fragment of a second, the forgiveness of God?

When you approach forgiveness with this kind of love in mind, you put yourself in a position to be healed, When you are able to forgive, you begin to be healed.

I invite you to ponder the kind of love God has for you, I invite you to approach the kind of forgiveness that does not want or need or manipulate. I invite you to be marked with ashes, and begin the journey of love and forgiving. A journey that begins with ashes, that includes sadness, silence, and suffering. A journey that passes through some dark and scary places. A journey that moves through ashes once again, but includes the eventual joy of new birth, new life, new creation, resurrection.

Today I ask you to write. What it is is up to you. But it may be something about what you need to fast from, it may be something you wish to do during lent, it may be something that you need to be forgiven for, it may be something or someone that you need to forgive. Whatever it is, it’s between you and God.

Mystery of Goodness, by whose gaze we are called into being and held in life: teach us the secrecy of prayer which seeks no reward; the generosity of love which forgets itself; the gift of a treasure uncountable and unconsumed; through Jesus Christ, the Son of the Wilderness. Amen.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Last Epiphany Yr A, The Transfiguration

This story of the transfiguration is always the last story we read as we approach Lent. We are presented with the mighty characters of the past, in the present of the story, and in the present of our own time. Moses and Elijah. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Moses, who led the people out of Israel, and walked with them through the wilderness constantly encouraging them, constantly pointing them toward God, especially when they got whiny and impatient. Forty years they spent in that wilderness, a whole new generation of Israelites was born before they got close to the land that was promised. Moses guided them the whole way, Moses saw God, but Moses didn’t live to see the fulfillment of that journey, Moses saw the promised land, but died before they got there.

Elijah was a prophet in the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab, the 9th century before Jesus lived, according to the Book of Kings. Elijah defended the worship of Yahweh over that of the more popular Baal, he raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and ascended into heaven in a whirlwind, either accompanied by a chariot and horses of flame or riding in it, depending on what you’re reading. In the Book of Malachi, Elijah's return is prophesied "before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord," making him a harbinger of the Messiah.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus in this story shows us something about God. We creatures, we humans, count time chronologically. Many of you went to the musical Rent over the last couple days. That is a story that questions the measure of time, and even the quality of time with the lyrics of Seasons of Love. “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure a year in the life?” These lyrics, while suggesting the continuum of life, carry some angst for something more than tick-tock time. What we have in the story of the Transfiguration, is a story of God breaking into our time, it is a story that shows us time out of time. It is a story that calls us to bear witness to God’s inbreaking Kingdom. The song asks how do you measure a year in the life, the transfiguration story asks us what difference does it make?

This transfiguration story takes place in God’s time, not our time; it is a story of kairos, not chronos. Madeleine L’engle suggests that kairos, God’s time, can sometimes enter, penetrate, and break through chronos: the child at play, the painter at an easel, the person at prayer, friends around the dinner table, the mother reaching out for the newborn; like the story we have before us today, with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all in one time.

God breaks into our time, we have captured here a moment of Gods time, to show us something amazing. In Star Wars, we see Obi-wan, Anakin Skywalker and Yoda; past characters all showing up in the present, to say something important to Luke Skywalker. In the story before us today, Moses, Elijah and Jesus all show up to say something important. What is it? What difference does it make? And how do we bear witness to it?

This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased! The very same words heard at Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, the very same words spoken just before Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, the story we will hear next week, the first Sunday of Lent. God is trying to get our attention here, and God is doing it by breaking into time. Peter and James and John see something extraordinary, something that is not bound by time, and they hear something extraordinary, Listen to him! Listen to him!

Something extraordinary is happening here, God is breaking into time, and it changes us, it transfigures and transforms us. It may even change the world. It is that extraordinary experience that we must bear witness to. There is no staying on that mountain, Peter and James and John went back down the mountain, utterly changed. We too, accompany them down the mountain, and bear witness to God’s extraordinary shining.

God shows forth God’s glory, God shows that life with God is without limits. It is like the Eucharistic moment, it may be comfortable and calm, it may be nourishing and refreshing, it may be inspiring and illuminating. We really want to stay, but we can’t stay in it, and we can’t repeat it. But it changes us. It gives us the ability to persevere, and from it we are sent out into the world to do the work we are given to do, we bear witness to God’s presence. We are sent out into the world to bring peace and to show forth God’s reconciliation and healing to a broken and fragmented world.

The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is a touchstone. We may return to it, but we can’t control it, it is out of our time. We come to worship and sing God’s praises; we come to find stability in an unstable world. We come to hear the story of our faith that has not changed over time. And yet God’s word and our worship are not comfortable, they are not static. God’s word and our worship are growing and changing, becoming the creation that God has intended for it.

When we bear witness to the transfiguration it may cause us fear, as it caused Peter and James and John to fear. Because we are called to go down the mountain and confront the comfortable and disrupt the status quo. We are to bear witness to the love of neighbor that Jesus demands. We are to bear witness to the arrest and torture of the one who is the Good News, and we are to bear witness to the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth with Jesus Christ God’s son.

As God breaks into our time, transfiguration promises to accompany us into our ordinary lives. We carry the extraordinary into the ordinariness of our work and our school and our play. It becomes the spirit that inspires and creates us; it becomes the life that gives us life. It is that which is in the eyes and souls of those whose paths we cross, it is in the respect and dignity with which we treat everyone we meet.

We bear witness to the transfiguration when we are about God’s mission. God’s mission of healing and reconciliation. God’s mission of putting fractured souls back together in this broken and fragmented world. God’s mission of loving and serving your neighbor.

The Lord has shone forth his glory: Come let us adore him.