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