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.