Saturday, December 29, 2012

1 Christmas and Baptism

God's word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. The Word is born into this humble and majestic world. In a deliberate parallel to the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence, who is Jesus. Jesus, whose birth we just celebrated. Jesus, born in a barn to parents of questionable status. This same Jesus speaks the word and it happens, forgiveness and judgement, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Hear it again. The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

During advent we saw much of this John. We learned that John calls us to a change of mind and heart. John calls us to turn around and face the Light, to fall on our knees and be forgiven. And today John calls us to be partners with him in showing the way to the Light.

We are yet in the season of incarnation, God in the flesh meeting us in the flesh. God came to be with us in the flesh not to relieve us of the mess and the muck of this life, but in the flesh God stands by our side, takes our hand, sometimes even carries us, and loves us. And that kind of love changes us, we can't help but be changed. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to be perfect because we are perfectly loved. We don't need to consume and acquire to possess worth, we are enough just the way we are created. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to gain attention to earn God's love, God has already loved us into ourselves.

Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. Our hearts expand, our hearts break, we give, we receive, we grow, we die. We do not despair, or lose hope, we do not harm, we work for the good of the others with whom we share this rock, because we know that love wins. Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. We come here seeking God in the flesh, and we receive God in the flesh, Jesus, in the bread and the wine around this table, at these steps, and we are made into that flesh which God is. We are made into God's body in the world. We become the new life that Jesus promises.

And today we have the good fortune of baptizing Zakariah into God's household of faith. Today we have the good fortune of baptizing Zakariah into the life, death, and resurrection of God in the flesh. Today we have the good fortune of baptizing Zakariah into the body of Christ, in the flesh. Today, once again, God shows the world that Love wins.

Many of Zakariah's relatives are making promises on his behalf this day, they are making promises that will help transform Zakariah into the person God calls him to be. The promises that are made on his behalf, and the promises he will renew himself someday soon, and the promises you and I renew today, form and shape us into the person God calls us to be. We are formed and transformed, our minds and hearts are constantly and consistently turned to God, as John would say. We are bathed in the water that reminds us of our mortality and our new life in Christ. We are marked with the oil that leaves an indelible cross-shaped tattoo on our face. And we receive the Light of God, so that we may bear it into the dark and broken places of our lives. We are upheld in our promises by God's household. We become God's flesh in the world.

We recognize baptism, whether it is here at St. Andrew's, or in any other denomination, or even if it is a "baptism by desire", as that which helps us remember who we are. We are God's beloved, no matter what, there is nothing we can do, there is nothing we have done, that puts us outside of God's capacity to love us and to bring us into that loving relationship. We are God's beloved, and baptism is a time on our journey of life where we can return on purpose or by chance. Every time we get wet, in the rain, in the shower, in the pool, we remember that we are God's beloved, we remember that we are called to a life and ministry of justice and peace, of mercy and compassion. Every time we see a cross, in the trees, in the window, in the sidewalk, we remember that we are God's beloved, we remember that we are called to a life and ministry of bearing the loving work that Jesus does on the cross into the world. Every time we smell the oil, the oil of cooking, the oil of healing, the oil that moisturizes our body, we remember that we are God's beloved, we remember that we are called to a life and ministry of healing and reconciliation.

Every time we gather together to baptize another child of God, we remember we are God's beloved, and we promise to hold this child in our prayers, we promise to hold this child in our hearts, we promise to walk this way together, never alone. Every time we gather together to baptize another child of God, we remember we are God's beloved, and we renew our commitment to be partners in this most grace-filled and difficult work. Every time we gather together to baptize another child of God, we remember we are God's beloved, we remember the Word that calls us into being, we remember the Love that wins, we remember the Spirit that sustains us and gives us new life.

You are God's beloved, you are marked as Christ's own forever. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas

There's a wonderful video wandering its way around youtube, called An Unexpected Christmas. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to look it up. The line repeated in it is, "that's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!" God decides it's time to send his son to help the people remember that God loves them. But how will they pay attention, seeing as how it's clear they haven't been paying much attention. God decides the way to get the people's attention is to send something so surprising, so unexpected, the people would have to take notice. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

It seems to me that we've put Christmas in a nicely wrapped package with a beautiful bow, and completely lost the surprising and the unexpected. We've tried so hard to experience Christmas as a time of romance and nostalgia we've pushed the astonishment of the inconceivable incarnation under the rug. We get so absorbed in the stuff of Christmas we've lost the unreasonableness of a baby born in a barn. A baby born in poverty to parents uncertain of their own future. A baby who would be king, born in the muck and the mud of a stable. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

This story that we tell as each Christmas comes and goes, the story of the baby born in the manger, the angels singing and the shepherds coming to see him, the wise men who read the stars and recognize this world changing event, is not about comfort, or nostalgia or romance. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us and all of creation to know that Love wins. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants to meet us flesh to flesh. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us to join with Mary as she says yes to the difficulty and pain and joy of new life and new birth.

They won't be expecting that! Mary says, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

We continue to experience much violence far away and near, we wonder about how to make peace in our homes, our communities, our countries. This Christmas event, this wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, shows us the way. This Christmas event, this Galilean carpenter, shows us the way. This Christmas event, these angels and shepherds and prophets, show us the way. This Christmas event, shows us the way.

Christmas is about God showing us the way to love. Christmas is about God showing us the way to peace. Christmas is about God showing us the way to hope. God shows us through this birth, this new life, this new beginning, this powerless baby and these powerless parents in this ordinary stable. God came to dwell with humanity to show us about love. God comes to dwell with us in the flesh so that in the flesh we live life fully and completely. Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. God came to be with us in the flesh not to relieve us of the mess and the muck of this life, but in the flesh God stands by our side, takes our hand, sometimes even carries us, and loves us. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

And that kind of love changes us, we can't help but be changed. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to be perfect because we are perfectly loved. We don't need to consume and acquire to possess worth, we are enough just the way we are created. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to gain attention to earn God's love, God has already loved us into ourselves. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. Our hearts expand, our hearts break, we give, we receive, we grow, we die. We do not despair, or lose hope, we do not harm, we work for the good of the others with which we share this rock, because we know that love wins. Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. We come here on this night/morning seeking God in the flesh, and we receive God in the flesh, Jesus, in the bread and the wine around this table, at these steps, and we are made into that flesh which God is. We are made into God's body in the world. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

We go home, and share our own meals, we gather around our own tables, we spend time together, we give and receive presents. And we go out into the world bearing God's love, bearing the light that grows and grows and grows. We go out into the world as God's transformed body, God's flesh in our flesh, making a difference in every dark corner, in the places that need healing and wholeness and love. We go out into the world as God's body, God's flesh in our flesh, and we show the world that love wins. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!

Be the surprise, do the unexpected, say yes with Mary to God made present in you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

3 Advent Yr C Dec 16 2012

John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. The repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Remember, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be.

As you know, there's a lot of chatter about wishing folks a Merry Christmas at this time of the year. The problem with that conversation is that it misses the point. The point being that we are not there yet. I prefer to wish people a Blessed Advent. We are not at Christmas. The problem is that when it finally is Christmas, and it's time to wish one another Merry Christmas, many are already tired of the whole thing.

So why bother with the whole thing. Why bother with the waiting, the preparation, the anticipation? We are not really "merry" at this time anyway. We are hopeful, expectant, and joyful, but not really "merry." Diana Butler Bass, a well known contemporary writer on the church in society, wrote in the Huffington Post, "Christians recollect God's ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together. The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing. Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born. The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression. Hymns anticipate world peace and universal harmony." Not really very "merry" at all.

We bother with Advent because we human beings need to spend time waiting and preparing for this event that turns the world, this event that brings light into the darkness, this event that makes the first last and the last first. We can't just jump into it. We can't just jump from Halloween to Christmas without some time to be immersed in the mystery of incarnation; this mystery that we struggle so to understand, this mystery that seems unreasonable, this mystery that takes leaps with our imaginations. In Advent, we get glimpses of it, but it takes time for that mystery to grow in our hearts, and in our souls, and in our lives. It takes space for God who is with us, to sit down next to us and teach us that Love wins. It takes quiet to hear the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, and to hear the voice that calls us to transformation.

And it is not easy. We want desperately to make it easy, and romantic, and nostalgic. We want it to be about feeling good. Indeed, some of that is part of what Christmas is, but that is not what this story is about. John calls us to a change of direction in mind and action. John calls us to Advent transformation. John calls us to be ready for the one who is coming, the one who has come, the one who turns the world. God in our midst, Emmanuel, the baby born in a barn, the one who shows us that Love wins, calls us to deepen our commitment to loving one another, calls us to deepen our commitment to compassion and to mercy.

These winter days are dark. They are short, the light is with us for only a few hours. These winter days are dark, there is much violence and sadness that may lead us to believe that the light really has gone out of the world. But Advent reminds us that the Light is never extinguished. Advent reminds us that even if it seems dark, the Light is there, and the Light will brighten even the darkest corners of our lives. Advent reminds us that God walks with us, God does not take away our sadness and our pain, but God walks with us through the sadness and the pain.

We live in this in-between time, in this time of the already but not yet. We live in this time where we tell the story of Jesus birth, we await Jesus birth, and we imagine the end, God's fulfillment of all time. There is where our hope is. It is in the already but not yet. We know what God has done in creation, we await what God will do in creation, and we live our lives in God's grace. There's no guarantee of happiness, there's no guarantee that pain and sadness will not visit us, there's no guarantee of prosperity. But there is love, there is hope, there is joy.

So what do we do in this dark time, what do we do as we wait for the Light to fill the room? We don't do nothing. Waiting is not doing nothing. We love one another as God has loved us. We hold one another, we listen to each other, we bring light into each other's lives, we do not wait alone. We are God's household, you, and me, and all of us. We bear God's light and love into every corner of our lives. We bring healing and wholeness to those whose lives are torn apart. We bear the Good News that Love wins.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2 Advent Yr C Dec 9 2012

Nine months Zechariah was quiet, nine months he could not speak, nine months Elizabeth didn't hear him complain, nine months he had to think about what his first words would be. And those first words out of Zechariah's mouth were Blessed be The Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. Zechariah was a priest in the temple. What did he do for those nine months of silence, those nine months of preparation for this child who could not be, this child to be born to his barren wife Elizabeth, this child who who was an impossibility, this child who would prepare the way for the one to come after him. Silence. Silence in the face of mystery, silence in the presence of new life, silence, as the world is about to turn.

John the Baptist, son of the priest of the temple and his wife Elizabeth, was as different from his father as different could be. John, son of Zechariah, lived in the wilderness, not in the temple confines like his father and mother. John, an itinerant preacher, son of Zechariah, priest of the temple, proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not temple sacrifice, not temple piety, but repentance. John, son of Zechariah, preparing the way for the one who is to come. The one who changes everything.

The world is about to turn. The coming of Christ into the world changes everything. Blessed be the Lord God.

You see, what is happening here has far reaching effects. This story of John, and the story of Jesus, is set squarely in the political context of it's day. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. It is at this time and this place that God is doing something new, that the world is turning, that change is happening. We are being pointed toward this absolutely new thing that God is doing in the world, we are to prepare for it, we are to stay awake, keep alert, be ready. The birth of two baby boys, first John and then Jesus, have everything to do with everything, Luke is saying. What seems so insignificant changes the world, Luke knows that and is telling us that.

Luke has John say these words from Isaiah. In Isaiah these words are about God leading God's people out of exile, back to their land. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return -- in essence a new "exodus" -- bringing the people of Israel out of bondage and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. And in Luke, John points to Jesus, who comes to empower and finish the re-turn of God's people to their God. John points to Jesus who shows all humanity that Love wins.

These two bundles of promise, John, born to Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, bring God's love into time and space. These two bundles of hope, show us that the world is about to change. These two bundles of peace, speak truth to power. These two bundles of joy, bear such grief to their mothers. These two bundles show the world that love wins.

John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. That is the repentance that John calls us to. You see, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be, whether or not you know who that is. The repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Repentance is being who God calls you to be, and who God calls us to be. And being who God calls us to be is what we do in the waiting, it is what we do in the preparing. And who God calls us to be may be surprising, indeed, if it is not surprising, it may not be God doing the calling.

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. God's voice that says you are already loved, you can do nothing more or less to earn my love. Let go, give up control. Put up your tent, make camp right here. Enjoy what this is, right here, right now. The one next to you is also already loved, just as much as you are. Give her a smile, buy his coffee, make their day.

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. Take time to pray, to listen, to wonder, to invite God into this day, this circumstance, this ordinary stable we live in. Give up the busyness, the worry, the noise, the stress. Be filled with the Love that is born in the mess of the stable, the Love that is born in your heart, the Love that is born here each time the one who is looking for something more finds their way to this table. Be filled with the Love that wins your time and attention, your pocketbook, your heart and your mind and your soul.

What words come to you in the silence of new birth? Blessed be the Love that wins.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

1 Advent Yr C December 2 2012

Happy New Year! You all know that, right? Today is the first day of the new year. We begin again on this day, the first day of Advent. We count time differently in the church. Time in the church looks much more like a circle than a line. Our beginnings look like endings, and our endings look like beginnings. Our church year looks much more like a circle than like a line so that we would always remember that for every ending there is a beginning, and for every beginning there is an ending. This time is the time for getting ready, this time is the time for preparing, this time is the time for waiting. What is it we wait for? We wait for the great mystery of Christmas, the inconceivable incarnation, the baby born in a barn, Jesus born in our hearts, the Cosmic Christ that turns the world.

What are you waiting for? Some of us are waiting for presents. Some of us are waiting to see our families and our relatives. Some of us are waiting to see if the Mayan calendar that has no more days after December 21 means anything. Some of us are waiting to die, some of us are waiting to be born again. Some of us are waiting for the economy to collapse, some are waiting for the president to fail. Some of us are waiting for the president to succeed. Some of us are waiting for the world to change, some of us are waiting to change the world.

Advent is a time of waiting, and I think the waiting in and of itself is what we are waiting for. I think Advent may be about creating some room in our very loud and busy lives, for the surprise. The surprise that Christmas is. The surprise of Love born anew, Love born again, Love born.

I do think it is much like the waiting for a baby to be born. There is nothing you can do to make it go any faster or any easier. The baby just grows. And once that baby starts growing, it will change your life forever. Nothing will ever be the same. You, will never be the same. And, no matter how much we think we know about that new life growing inside, the birth itself is surprising, the baby itself is surprising, and we can never be fully ready for the changes to our lives the baby will bring. At every moment, we are changed by that new life. At every moment we are surprised by that new life. At every moment the possibilities will change us.

Advent comes to us every year. In that way it is a gift. We need Advent. We need to pull away for a time, from the cacophony of the cultural Christmas, and be quiet, and wait. We need to be in a space where God can find us and surprise us with new life and new birth. We need to hear the wonder of new birth, we need to hear the mystery of God with us, we need to hear the thunder and the roaring sea. We need to taste the fig from the tree. We need to ponder the mystery of Jesus, of God with us, and God who will fulfill all time.

We are in this middle place, a time between time. We live in the time when God is bringing all of creation, all of humanity, to Godself. God’s reign on earth is what we anticipate, the birth of God into the world 2000 years ago and the raising of Jesus from the dead, inaugurated God’s reign. We live in the time between the beginning and the end, and advent is the time we are given to wonder about and to anticipate God’s reign.

What are we waiting for? We wait for birth, and then we can’t wait for a child to grow out of being two, or six, or thirteen. We can’t wait to finish college and get a real job, we can’t wait for our children to finally make it on their own. We wait for a parent or loved one to die.

Part of waiting is in anticipation of what life will be like when the waiting is over. As we wait, we may have the opportunity to reflect on life as it is and possibly to come to appreciate the glimpses
of the wonder and beauty of life as it is. Maybe, we begin to see life differently, more clearly. Maybe, all the things we thought were important aren’t so important anymore. Maybe, the falseness is being stripped away, and what is left is a truer person, a person who wants to plunge into every moment of life, no matter what, instead of sleepwalk through it. Maybe there is actually transformation in the waiting. At its best, Advent waiting transforms us. We are shown a glimpse of “what if.” What if we approach our Advent waiting as a radical time of transformation?

The Good News is that Advent transformation isn’t born out of fear of the end of the world. Advent transformation comes from joy because the promise has already been given. Advent transformation comes from the hope that Love wins. For those with the eyes of faith, “what if” has already happened. God is already with us. The reign is at hand. Heaven is already here. And nothing will break God’s promise.

Our Advent waiting may then be about making the world look more like the heaven that we already see by faith. We do this by focusing on the essentials—the basic things every human needs in order to reflect the divine. The poor have to be cared for, the hungry have to be fed, the homeless have to be sheltered, and the sick need to be healed. Forgiveness has to be offered, those at war must stop,
and peace must be our legacy.

It’s almost as if Advent calls us to faith in the Real Absence of Christ—to believe in Emmanuel even in our darkness, in God-With-Us even when we hear no answer, and in the Incarnation even when we feel nothing at all. And so during Advent waiting, we may abstain from the flurry of Christmas not as a penitential punishment, but as a way to train our eyes to see God even without the angels and trees, crèches and stars. We focus instead on the basics of light in the darkness, silence in the chaos, and stillness in the turmoil. Advent waiting is waiting for Love to be born, again.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ the King, Yr B, Nov 25 2012

The description of Christ the King is probably one of the most loud and subtle oxymorons of all time. Christ the King. Just listen to it, Christ the King. Jesus, the baby born in a barn to parents of no status or honor, who spent his life with no roof over his head, always on the road, foraging for his next meal. Whose message is consistently, love one another. Jesus, whose friends were never quite sure of him, and whose reputation was suspect as far as those who had power were concerned, the scribes and pharisees and others who ranked high at the temple. Jesus, whose life ended hung on a Roman cross, the most degrading, torturous death imaginable. Jesus, the King.

For me a helpful image to illustrate this oxymoron is in a movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That's the one where Indiana Jones goes to seek the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from. Remember, Indy and his dad and the bad guys found the ancient knight guarding the cup, Indy had to find his way through the maze that could kill him. When he got there, there were many choices, gold cups, platinum, silver, terra cotta and wood. The knight says "you must choose, but choose wisely, for as the real grail brings eternal life, the false grail brings death". The bad guy comes in and chooses a glittering golden cup. "Truly the cup of a king", he says and drinks from it. Shortly later, with several horrific transformations, he deteriorates and turns to dust. The knight looks at them and simply says "He choose poorly". Indy selects a wooden cup "The cup of a Gallilean carpenter" he says, and with much fear, having seen the results before, drinks from it. "You choose wisely" says the knight.

The cup of a King, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter. There is the rub, there is the oxymoron, there is the paradox, Christ the King, servant to all. As the parables in scripture show us, all is not as it seems. History shows us Kingship, and Kingship throughout history has had it's megalomaniacs. Most of the kings that make our history books are Kings that have grabbed power. Kings that have subdued the people. Jesus shows us an entirely different kind of Kingship. Jesus shows us a Kingship that doesn't take power, but that empowers. Jesus shows us a Kingship that doesn't take life, but gives new life. Jesus shows us a Kingship that is not about being first in battle, but about being first in Love. Jesus shows us a Kingship where laying down his life creates life for all. Jesus shows us a Kingship where might does not win, but where Love wins.

The cup of a King, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter. Throughout history we've wanted so desperately to make Jesus into a cultural King. Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king." And then Jesus continues, "for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." We want Jesus to sit on a throne and judge. Often, we want Jesus to sit on a throne and judge others deemed not worthy of life in Jesus' kingdom. Especially those who we think do not deserve the kind of Love Jesus offers us. Love, unconditionally, no matter what, unless, of course you disagree with me, or are different from me. Unless of course you've done something dastardly. Unless of course you love someone of the same gender. Unless of course you believe in a different God I believe in, or don't believe in God at all.

Kings and thrones, judgement and justice, forgiveness, mercy and compassion. What is the truth that we hear from the voice of Jesus? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your mind and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Feed my sheep, clothe those who have nothing to wear, visit the imprisoned. The Good News is that no matter what or who we want Jesus to be, Jesus loves, and Love wins. Kingship, for Jesus, is about being a king that serves, that sacrifices, and that loves radically. A king that looks the complete opposite of virtually any king any of us has ever read about.
Jesus, whose example is humble, not glorified; generous, not treacherous; hospitable, not exclusionary. The cup of a king, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter?

Kingship, or something like it, was all the people knew about ruling a people. It was either a King, an Emperor or some such ruler who lorded over the people, or it was chaos and anarchy. The God the Jews knew brought order out of chaos, this Jesus who was said to be God's son, therefore was King. But the Kingdom is of mercy and compassion, the Kingdom is of peace and reconciliation, the King knows each by name.

So it is this oxymoron, this paradox that we must somehow reconcile in our own lives. The cup of a King, or the cup of a Galliliean carpenter. Choose wisely my friend. But I think the wisest choice is not one over the other, but it is the Episcopalian way, the via media, it is somewhere in between. We must hold both realities in tension. Christ the King, whose throne is a cross, and when we do, we see a fuller picture. We bandy about that image, Christ the King, on a throne, the seat of judgment. But do we really have any idea what it means? Jesus indeed sets out a standard of judgment, an expectation if you will, but this King shows us the way, this King doesn't leave us alone to figure it out ourselves, and it is right here that our lives our transformed.

Because Jesus, the one who comes to show us the way to God, Jesus, the one who is King of all creation, is at the very same time the one who lived life just like you and me, who loved his friends and family, who suffered and died, just like you and me. For what good is a God who sits back and watches, what good is a God who rules from afar, what good is a God who holds power over people. Jesus is the one who loves, the criminal who hangs next to him, the mother who cries below him, the friends who betray him.

In the beginning, and the middle, and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, Kingship for Jesus is giving himself totally and absolutely for the love of his people. It is this love that you and I must respond to. It is this love that is transforming love. It is this love that reconciles and redeems. It is this love that gives us hope. Jesus' love changes us, and we are to choose wisely.

We are changed through the realization that each one of us is loved completely and absolutely, that is the truth of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. We are changed through the realization that when we fall short of the kind of love Jesus demonstrates for us, and we will fall short, that is part of being human, we are forgiven. Just like Peter, who denied Jesus three times. Forgiveness not just once, but time and time again. Not even just until we get it right, because it's not about getting it right. Only trying to get it right just makes us into self-righteous snobs and misses the point of Jesus' kingship entirely. It's about responding to hate with love, it's about seeking reconciliation not revenge, and when we don't, because we won't, it's about asking for forgiveness, again. We are changed through the realization that Love wins, every time.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

25 Pentecost Yr B Proper 28 2012

Beginnings look a lot like endings, and endings look a lot like beginnings. Anxiousness, excitement, fear, trepidation, joy. The birth of a child is like that. The actual birth is a point in time that represents all that went before it, the preparation, the hopes, the pain, the morning sickness. And all that will follow, dreams, sadness, joy and pain. The actual birth is something that we blessedly forget, or we'd never do it again. Birth ends the one phase of carrying a child, and begins the next phase of carrying a baby. The birth of a child changes our lives completely and absolutely. Nothing will be the same, ever. Our lives are not our own. We are wrapped up and around and in and through our children. And that brings us much joy, and much grief. We worry, we hope, we cry, we call poison control, we make trips to the emergency room, we beam as they walk across a stage. And we would never trade it in for anything.

Jesus talks about this new thing that is happening as the beginning of birth pangs. With Jesus something entirely new is happening and the world cannot, will not, ever be the same. Not one stone is left upon another, all are thrown down. Jesus tries and tries to make the disciples, and us, see the magnitude of the change that is taking place, Jesus uses metaphor upon metaphor to help us see. Buildings being torn down, something new rising up in its place. Seeds being tossed to the ground and finding the proper earth to grow. Women healed, children included, nothing will be the same, Love wins. New life is being born, this is a new beginning. Out of the pain and joy, out of the sweat and tears, out of the womb of God, new life comes. And as it is with new life, it isn't easy, it's hardly ever pretty, and it looks nothing like the life that came before.

Hope, joy, love, are all contained in new birth. But that's also where fear is born. The transformation is utterly complete, and fear lives for so many of us in the midst of change. The disciples were fearful of losing Jesus, they were fearful of what would happen to them in the aftermath of Jesus' death. They were fearful that life would return to the same ol' same ol', and they were afraid that none of it was even real. They were afraid of the turmoil Jesus' death would cause. The disciples fears are not different from our own. We are afraid of change, we are afraid of transformation. We are afraid of what it is that Jesus calls us to do, who Jesus calls us to be, what burden Jesus asks us to lay down. We are even afraid of living the new and full life Jesus affects for us.

But, who can blame us really. We live in a culture of fear. Every time we turn on the news the stories are about what storm is coming, what leader is doing crazy things, what toxins are in our food, what harm the containers we drink out of will do to us. Our ability to parent is in question because we are so fearful of the outcome. Parenting itself is increasingly an arena of fear and anxiety in part because family life in general now lacks any cultural consensus about norms and standards. It's not just that we don't know if we're getting it right, but we don't even know what right might look like. So in the absence of agreement about good parenting, we increasingly find solace in safe parenting. We embark on a journey of living safely rather than fully.

And there's the rub. In the midst of our fears, whether they are around parenting, or the Newsweek lead article That Little Freckle Could be a Time Bomb, or Why drinking too much water cold send you to the emergency room, or the Mayans calendar ends in 2012 so that's the end of the world, we are surrounded by fear to the extent that we are surrounded by people who profit from fear.

And although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or 1000 years ago. The types of dangers have changed, no one had to worry about plane crashes a hundred years ago, but in general we in the west at least, are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. And yet in our darkest and most fearful moments, our greatest fear is our fear of death.

How do we follow Jesus in a culture of fear? What is the fitting response, the ethical response to fear, the kind of fear that is with us today, and the kind of fear some garner from a biblical passage like this one in Mark? Now, fearlessness is not a good thing. But that is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong things. Putting fear in its place is being freed from fear to being empowered to love. The quieting of fear is exactly what is required in order to hear and do what God asks of us.

Quieting our fear is not easy, but these overwhelming fears need to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things, by a sense of adventure and fullness of life that comes from locating our fears and vulnerabilities within the larger story that is ultimately hopeful and not tragic. The story of God’s abundant and amazing love that resides with us in the life and love, the pain and suffering, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And only by facing death, our most primal fear, and as far as we know, the ultimate change, can we move ahead to embrace life with the great nevertheless that is God’s gracious word to a broken world.

At our baptism, we were united with Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever. We entered the tomb with Jesus, through baptism we have already faced death, and seen it overcome. Every time we gather together here to celebrate Christ with us we acknowledge the work that God does in Jesus on the cross. Jesus collects all our fears, all our pain and suffering, and Jesus takes it out with him, not by responding in kind, not by seeking revenge, not by invoking fear, but responding in love. Jesus shows that in the beginning, and the middle, and the end, Love wins.

Beginnings look a lot like endings, and endings look a lot like beginnings. Fear not, hope much, Love wins.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

All Saints Yr B, transferred


As I thought about transferring our celebration of All Saints, I was reminded again that All Saints is a celebration of family, a household celebration, and a celebration of all our relations. And as I read the gospel from John for All Saints, I remembered that this is about the cloud of witnesses, Lazarus and Martha and Mary and the witnesses that stood at Lazarus' tomb and watched Lazarus come out, the witnesses whose names we spoke aloud in this morning's litany, and the witnesses that sit right here beside us in these pews. And as I read the gospel from Mark that is appointed for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, the story of the widow, I was reminded that the widow in our story is a witness, a witness to the new life that Jesus confers upon her and her response to give all she had, out of her poverty. You and I are witnesses to the new life that Jesus confers upon us, and our response needs to be to give like the widow gave, out of our poverty.

Oh Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, stand here beside us. Oh Martha and Mary whose grief was complete, stand here beside us. Oh people who stood at the tomb, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us and show us the way. Stand here beside us and witness to the freedom from bondage that Jesus offers. Stand here beside us and shout before the whole world, Love wins. O cloud of witnesses teach us what it means to be a disciple, show us how to follow the way.

Lazarus came out of the tomb bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Discipleship is about throwing off that which binds us. Discipleship is casting away that which is killing us. Discipleship is being freed to live the new life Jesus' life, death, and resurrection affect for us. Oh Lazarus, stand here beside us and show us what it is that binds us. Show us what it is that is killing us.

What is it that binds you? What holds you hostage and keeps you from the new life that Jesus promises you today? For most of us what holds us hostage is fear. What does that look like for you? We have just lived through a contentious and mean spirited campaign, and many hold resentment and fear in their hearts. Lay it down. The pursuit of bigger and better, the pursuit of the big house, the fancy car, so much stuff, the fear of not having enough, gets in the way of real relationship with God and with others. Lay it down. Perfection, expecting ourselves to be perfect, expecting others to be perfect, just one of many idols that we erect between ourselves and God. Lay it down. Control, what an illusion. Lay it down. Immortality, none of us gets out of this life alive. Lay it down.

Lazarus, stand here beside us, show us the way. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us. Their brother has been dead and in the tomb for four days. The grief washes over them in waves of misery. There must be someone to blame, there has to be someone to blame. Jesus, if only you had been here earlier, none of this would have happened. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us and show us the way to faith, the kind of faith that lets Jesus in, even in misery and grief. The kind of faith that does not build walls, but instead builds relationships. The kind of faith that lays down sorrow and grief so that the new growth, new life may emerge. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us.

Oh unnamed widow, who gave every penny, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us and show us how to respond to God's amazing and abundant love with all that we are, with all that we have, even when we think we have so little. Oh unnamed widow, who gave out of her poverty, show us our poverty. Is time our poverty? We have so little time, not enough time to do all we wish to do. Not enough time to spend it with those we love. Not enough time to travel. Not enough time to volunteer. Not enough time. Is mercy and compassion our poverty? We are quick to judge. We are quick to seek revenge. We are quick to explain our rightness. Is forgiving our poverty? We are slow to forgive when we believe we have been wronged. We will not forgive when we believe we are right. Oh unnamed widow, stand here beside us, and show us our poverty. Show us that all belongs to God, all that we are, all that we have, the earth we walk upon, the sky that is above our heads. Show us how to be stewards, those who care for all that has been entrusted to us, show us how to give.

Oh witnesses that have gone before us, stand here beside us and show us the path. There are so many in our lives who are examples of giving. Our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. There are so many in our lives who are examples of loving no matter what. Our fathers, our sons, our brothers. There are so many in our lives who were broken and put back together by God's love, Jesus' gift. There are so many in our lives who believe in us, who teach us to believe in ourselves, and who show us God's love. Our teachers, our preachers, our coaches, our friends. There are so many in our lives who show mercy and compassion, who show us that Love wins. Oh witnesses, stand here beside us.

Household of St. Andrew's, stand here beside us. Hold each other in our grief. Cheer for each other in our joy. Help each other when we fall. Teach each other about ourselves. Encourage each other in our compassion. Pray for each other when we cannot pray ourselves. Tell the truth to each other when the truth seems hard. Be the light and the life and the love that shows that Love wins.

All the saints of God, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us, saints of God.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dear Mr. President



November 7, 2012

Dear Mr. President

Congratulations! I am pleased at your re-election, although I know many who are not. My experience is that important things take time, and governing a country is important work.

The reason for my writing to you this day is to offer a couple of suggestions. Now I know I don’t know anything about governing a country, but I do know something about helping people to ask important questions and talking about the answers without trying to convince each other about the right, or only, or correct answer. And I have observed that the people who we have elected are having a lot of trouble talking to one another and coming up with solutions to some Big Issues.

My experience has taught me that people tend to come together and have conversation over a meal. People tend to actually see each other when they are eating together, and when you actually see the other, it is so much harder to dismiss them. So my suggestion is that you schedule some potluck meals. Don’t even assign what people need to bring, just leave that up to grace. It really works well.

Secondly, it is my experience that people all over the political spectrum show up for choir rehearsal. You can look in many church parking lots during choir rehearsal and see bumper stickers on cars that say “Coexist”, and “I’ll keep my money, my freedom, and my guns, and you can keep the change”, and “Republican health plan: don’t get sick” and one of my personal favorites, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” The point is, when people sing together all of their harmonies make music. I think you should have congress sing together. Songs like “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing,” or “O beautiful for spacious skies,” which happen to be in my hymnal, or “This land is your land, this land is my land,” or “If I had a hammer,” or, well, you get the idea. Singing together creates community, and community is about relationship, and relationship is what the members of congress need to get something done.


Blessings on you, humbly,

The Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes

Saturday, November 3, 2012

23 Pentecost Proper 26 Yr B Nov 4 2012

I made a decision to move our observance of the Feast of All Saints to next week mostly because so many of us could not be here today, and it seems funny to celebrate a feast that is all about all our relations, when many of our relatives could not be here. We will read the All Saints lessons next week, and because of that, we read this set of lessons today. And what a wonderfully synchronous turn of events. We rarely hear these particular readings because we supplant this day with All Saints. So we are doubly gifted I do believe.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. And we spend our entire lives trying to work this out. 

What cannot always be assumed about what you know and therefore what needs to be said is that God loves you, and me, and all of us, completely, abundantly, and absolutely. God has shown and continues to show us this truth as God accompanies us in this life. We know that God accompanies us in this life because the truth of life, in all its suffering and joy, in its pain and pleasure, in its death and resurrection, show us that Love wins. It is that amazing and abundant love that calls us to Love God back. And we love God back by loving our neighbors. In fact, we love our neighbors, especially the ones we don't like, because we believe God is present with them as well. It seems so simple, and yet we spend our entire lives working that out. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out who indeed is our neighbor. Many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out who is excluded from that command. People spend a lot of time and energy speculating as to which people Jesus really intended for us to not love.

Today, we have the example of Ruth. "Turn back, my daughters, go your own way." And Ruth answers, "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Ruth is an alien in this story, she is in a land and with a people who are not her own. The call to love your neighbor is a call to love the one who is completely different than you, the ultimate other, the epitome of foreign, absolutely alien. 
Ruth is a stranger in a strange land. And yet Ruth is willing to stay in this alien land and love the woman who is the mother of her deceased husband. Sometimes I don't understand the logic of those who are the lectionary choosers, but in this case the pairing of these stories is quite evident. The story of Ruth shows clearly what it means to love your neighbor. In this story, neighbor is not the friendly face over the fence. Neighbor is not folks I like down the street. Neighbor is not the like minded people I gather with for mutual whining about how the system is broken. In the story of Ruth, the one to be loved, the neighbor, looks different, sounds different, and even more earth shattering, believes in a different God altogether.   

We have been hearing from Mark for weeks now these stories of discipleship. Discipleship is about being healed from blindness, it's about seeing with new eyes. Discipleship is about being baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Discipleship is to walk with the poor. Discipleship is to be in relationship with all of God's creation, and to protect the most vulnerable of God's creation. Discipleship is to cast off the idol, to lay down that which is killing you. Discipleship is to live one's life as if God matters. Discipleship is to show forth the truth that Love wins. 

It isn't complicated, but it is mighty difficult. We see the difficulty everywhere we look, we hear the difficulty over and over again. But we know that love unites, love reconciles, love heals. To love one another is to approach every encounter with mercy and compassion. To love one another is to approach every encounter expecting to meet Jesus. To love one another is to expect your own transformation in the encounter. To love one another brings us closer to the kingdom of God. To love one another is to make a truly daring and authentic decision, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of division, in the face of fragmentation, to love one another is to say yes to God's possibility.

We are mistaken about God's love and God's kingdom when we approach the other with the intent to convince them of our rightness. We are mistaken when an agenda of judgement supersedes a posture of grace. We are mistaken when we let ideological difference get in the way of reconciliation and healing. We are mistaken when we believe the kingdom is about a seating chart. We are mistaken when we believe the kingdom is about power. We are mistaken when we embrace exclusion and hate as a way God acts in this world. We are mistaken when we believe perfection has something to do with God's expectation of us. 

To love one another is to want the other's well being as much as or more than your own. To love one another is to be God's agent of healing and wholeness, to be God's agent of resurrection in all places in which we find ourselves. To love one another is to let the brokenness in our hearts reach across all boundaries and meet the brokenness in the other's heart to find some sort of common ground. To love one another is to feed your neighbor, literally. To love one another is look into the eyes of the one across the aisle and to actually see another who is also God's beloved. To love one another is to show the world that division and death are not the final word, indeed, the final word is Love wins.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

22 Pentecost Proper 25 Yr B Oct 28 2012


We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. We've been on this road for a while now. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry, before the cross and the passion.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus’ question of Bartimaeus is the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago. But the contrast between the request of James and John and the request Bartimaeus makes is cavernous. James and John were somewhat confused, they ask Jesus for power, they think the kingdom is about a seating chart. Bartimaeus asks to see. Not at all like the power and status that James and John were all about, and Bartimaeus wasn’t even officially a disciple.

Jesus called the disciples, Jesus said to them, come, follow me, and they did, they left everything to follow Jesus. But somehow there's a difference here between James and John, and Bartimaeus. It seems the healing; the transformation of James and John was a bit long in coming, not unlike most, if not many of us. It takes time to be changed by God’s amazing and abundant love. For most of us that doesn’t happen immediately, it happens gradually. I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the importance of examining what it is that we hold most dear. What is it that we hold on to so tightly it becomes idolatrous? What are the barriers that we set up in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others? Are there burdens that we need to set down so that we may follow God’s love in Jesus Christ? We are much more like James and John than we are like Bartimaeus. For most of us, our blindness is not immediately noticeable to others, unlike Bartimaeus whose blindness was obvious. Our hurts and pains are buried deep and wide, and instead of being healed, like Bartimaeus, we look to taking power and hope to sit next to Jesus, like James and John. Jesus' call to us, the call to discipleship, is to open ourselves up, to reduce our baggage, to lay our burdens down, to let Love win. It’s hard to hear the call when there's so much noise, it’s hard to follow when what we carry is so heavy, it’s hard to move when we’ve built our sturdy wall. Being healed isn't easy for us.

Being healed changed Bartimaeus’ life completely. There’s some good and some not so good about being healed. The good part for Bartimaeus was being restored to the community. As a blind man in that culture he was outcast, on the margins, unseen by any who walked by him on that road. His work was begging and as a man restored to society, he had to get a job.

There is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in transformation. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, it's nearly impossible to give that up to an identity as beloved of God. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity may hurt and is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ. The Good News is that when we do let die what is killing us, we make room for Love to win, there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.

Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. The way at this point is to the cross, which is where the rest of the story takes place. Not easy, no more business as usual, always death before resurrection. Discipleship, following Jesus on the way, to the cross, all the way to resurrection, is not about gaining or wielding power and status, it's not about a seating chart, and it is not about pain and suffering for suffering sake, or for the sake of martyrdom, but is about embracing this life with all it entails. It is as much about joy, thanksgiving and gratitude, as it is about pain,  suffering and tragedy. It is about our God’s willingness to be with us in the middle of it all.

Bartimaeus is called, and healed, and in faith follows Jesus. Had Bartimaeus known what lie ahead for Jesus and for the rest of the followers, they might have bailed, who knows. The journey to and through the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating, discipleship is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Bartimaeus could easily have it wasn’t worth it, why bother,  what happened to the reward, where’s the power and status in all this.

So discipleship as Bartimaeus shows us is not about the reward, it is about the journey. It is about being accompanied by Jesus on the road, it is about accompanying others on the journey, it is about seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us, because we know that Love wins. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope. There is hope.

Discipleship, following Jesus, is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Discipleship is seeing healing right in front of us; discipleship is seeing the divine in one another and joining with one another in the journey. Discipleship is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Discipleship is answering yes to God’s call to come, even when the road ahead seems treacherous because Love wins.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

21 Pentecost Proper 24 Yr B


Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us. James and John ask Jesus. Arrange it, they said, so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory - one of us at your right, the other at your left. Jesus, I have something I want you to do for me. I want you to grant my wish for a better job, a bigger house, a wonderful spouse. I want you to get me out of this mess I'm in. I want you to make sure that with this investment, I make a lot of money. With this ticket, just make sure I win the lottery. Jesus, I know you can do this for me, and if you do, I will be a better person. I will give ten percent away. I will never again use your name in vain.

James and John, you and me, we get confused about who Jesus is. Sometimes we think Jesus is more like a genie in a lamp, instead of the one who walks this life with us and gives his life for us. James and John are confused, they think this is about seating order at a party, not life in God's kingdom. Jesus, in this story, is too polite to say to James and John, since when did you believe this is about you? And we need to hear that too, since when did you believe this is about you?

Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will be put to death. They all know this, but the disciples are unwilling to accept the inevitable death of their friend and teacher. Jesus says to them, if you want to be close to me, if you want me to be present with you, serve one another, serve your neighbor, serve those with whom you most vehemently disagree. This is the model of discipleship.

Jesus says it is not the order in which you sit at the table at the party. Dwight Zscheile, in People of the Way writes, "In the household of God, no one can claim privilege of place; we are all adopted children via our baptism." And this is the image Jesus invokes. It is all about diving into the water. "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." We are baptized into Jesus' life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Taking Jesus' cup is about diving into the waters of our baptism, waters that bring the dead to life, waters that fill an empty soul, waters that give a heart the only thing worth living, and worth dying for. We get completely wet in these holy waters. We take each others hands and dive in.

Diving in to those waters is dangerous. We take the risk of dying. But you and I both know that death is necessary for resurrection. We must die to that which is killing us so that Jesus can raise us to new life. Right now, not later, not after you die, but right now Love wins. Jesus' work on the cross brings new life now. You see, what is true for each and every one of us is that there is that thing that is out there beyond us, that goal we construct our lives around, that dream that demands every ounce of our being, that job that demands all of our attention, all of our energy, or the revenge that consumes us, that is our idol. For James and John it was the prize of sitting next to Jesus at the banquet table. They couldn't see that the prize was an idol. They couldn't see that the getting the prize would kill them. Or at least destroy everything they cared about and all their relationships.

What is it for you? What is that prize that you are willing to die for. Lay it down. Lay it down. And take up your most honest and authentic self. Be free. Be transformed, be changed. Because there is where you will find new life, resurrected life, there Jesus will find you. You see, the goal of life is not to have something, or someone. Even if that someone may be God. The goal of life is not to gain the reward of an after life. Life is about living fully alive, now, in the midst of God's amazing and abundant love. That's what Jesus' work on the cross and in the resurrection is all about. Life is about living every present moment fully immersed in God's love, and showing forth God's love in your life.

The other part of the good news is that we don't do the work alone. We do this work in community. I spent a lot of my life by the side of a pool, or a lake, as a lifeguard. In lifeguard training one of the hardest exercises was to dive in and swim up to a person who is acting as if they are drowning, putting that person under control, and then swimming into the shore towing my own weight plus theirs. I truly hoped I would never have to do it for real. But that's actually what we're called to do as a follower of Jesus, as a person who is baptized into Jesus' baptism. You are called to dive into the water, sometimes you're the lifeguard, towing someone else to safety. Sometimes you're the one being saved, and you need to let someone else carry you to safety. But it's together we have a chance to receive the new life that Jesus has for us, together we know that Love wins.

And that's what this community of faith is all about. Diving in and swimming, or thrashing around, whichever it is, we do it together. That is the body of christ. The work of letting go of the idol, letting go of the prize is so important, it matters so much, that we need help, we need each other, we can't do it on our own. We need to be in the company of others. And the joy of new life, the joy of being transformed matters, and needs to be celebrated in the body of christ, in the company of others.

Lay down the pursuit of your prize, lay down your idol, be lifted up to new life in Jesus. Let Love win.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

20 Pentecost YB Proper 23


Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two thousand and twelve years, this one was probably the first. This earnest young man wants to hear from Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Wouldn't you like to know that too? Wouldn't you like to sit down with Jesus and find out just exactly what you must do to have eternal life? No more guessing, no more praying that you do the right thing, but a clear and concise list that you can check off. Absolute certainty about what it takes to have life after death.

Jesus' first response to this young man is to tell him to follow the law. And this earnest young man reminds Jesus that he is a good Jewish boy and has been following the law since his youth. At this point I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and gathering his spirit together. Jesus looks at him and loves him, and thinks this is not a bad guy, and Jesus says, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The truth is that each one of us gathered here today is that earnest young man. If we have a roof over our heads, if we have a car to drive no matter what shape it's in, if we have shoes for our feet, if we have food to eat for lunch, we are this young man.

And then Jesus goes on to describe the reality that the disciples live in, and the reality that you and I live in. The disciples ask, who can be saved. And Jesus answers, it isn't about you at all, it isn't about your wealth or even your poverty, it is not about what you look like, it's not about who you're related to, it's not even about how much you give to or help others. Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible."  What Jesus is saying is that rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, democrat or republican, we are all on this planet together, and none of us get out of this live alive. We can do absolutely nothing to earn, deserve, or in any way change the fact of God's amazing and abundant love. There is no check list for salvation. Love wins. This is an invitation to not look for salvation in your stuff. So stop trying to win God's love, stop trying to earn God's love, it can't be done, it is impossible for us. But it is not impossible for God. The invitation is to be God's beloved.

So in scripture, when we hear "give all you have to the poor," when we hear "clothe the naked, feed the hungry," we realize that that is how we respond to God's amazing grace, we pour out our love for all those whom God loves. It is at the core of being a follower of Jesus, it is discipleship. And the promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, you will not be bereft, you will not be left with nothing. The promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, Love wins. When you give it all away, you are filled with that which only Jesus has. You will be soaked in God's love, you will be filled with the spirit, you will be re-membered in the body of christ, you will be transformed.

So what keeps us from giving it all away? What is it that is so important to us that we are willing to give up a life in relationship with Jesus, for a life in relationship with all of our stuff? The answer is that we are afraid. We are afraid to risk, we are afraid to live our lives fully alive in the love of Christ. We protect what we have, rather than live as a citizen of the kingdom.

Here's a story about a man who had to face his own fear, fear that caused him to work so hard and long it almost cost his marriage. Millard Fuller is the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that many of you know about. Millard Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29, and had experienced the "American Dream." He made it his life's work to pass that dream on, especially through his work with Habitat for Humanity International. This need to serve came upon him when he almost lost his family and his health to the rigors and pressures of the business world.

Fuller's wife abruptly left him at a time he was working too hard and too much. He followed his wife to New York and together they had many soul-searching conversations. The couple finally decided they would sell almost everything they owned. They returned home to Montgomery, Alabama to "sell their home and give away their possessions, donating the proceeds to mission projects worldwide and church-related organizations." Fuller also sold out his share of his business to his partner, and donated the proceeds of that sale to humanitarian causes.

Eventually, the Fullers decided to start a housing partnership plan which would build small houses on plots of land one half-acre each. The homes were to be sold to poor, rural families. Additionally, their faith dictated they follow the biblical edict in Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest." The money would come from Linda Fuller's business, as well as charitable donations, interest-free loans from donors, and later, small mortgage payments from the homeowners themselves.

Fuller later commented, "We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, politically, morally, and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness." They founded Habitat for Humanity International, an organization which was to raise money and recruit volunteers to build homes for those in need. Habitat homes are sold to families or individuals living in substandard housing who do not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels. Some people mistakenly believe that Habitat gives people free homes, but as a Habitat volunteer commented, "We give away nothing but a great opportunity." A small down-payment is required, as is a low monthly mortgage. The mortgage payments go into a fund that perpetuates the program. Additionally, all buyers invest a set number of labor hours in their own home. Fuller calls this "sweat equity" and points out that it builds a sense of pride and ownership in the individuals.

You are already God's beloved, so this isn't about earning your way to heaven. Lay down your fear, and live your live, fully alive, fully immersed in God's love.  Find ways to respond to God's abundant and amazing love with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. Give all that you are to bear God's reconciling message that love wins. For nothing is impossible in God.
                     

Saturday, October 6, 2012

19 Pentecost Proper 22 Yr B


Again Jesus is saying and doing something radical here. He shows the Pharisees, and the disciples, in a world where women and children are possessions, relationship matters. Jesus is saying that relationships with God, and with others, matter. Indeed, not only do relationships matter, relationships are salvific. The whole of the gospel of Mark shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like, and throughout the story we learn about being disciples. Jesus announces the coming of God's kingdom, and Jesus brings to us the embodiment of the kingdom. So this passage from Mark tells us much more about God than it tells us about ourselves, but it does indeed tell us something about ourselves and our role as disciples. It tells us about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to God and to one another.

So I start with what it shows us about God. The truth is that God as creator is the integrating force, not just the most powerful integrating force in nature, that would suggest there are other integrating forces. But it is God who is the integrating force. That means that God is wholeness, and in a world of brokenness, it is God who makes us whole. This is how we experience God in the stories of creation, God calls order from chaos, God creates wholeness out of nothing. It is important that we understand that that is the starting point, and that Jesus always points to God's Kingdom as that which is unifying. Kingdom is about wholeness and health, God's kingdom is about compassion and mercy. God's kingdom is about being related to God and to one another. And relationships matter to God.

That is how Jesus responds to the questions of law that the Pharisees ask. The Pharisees are concerned with laws in these questions, they are not concerned with love. You and I approach marriage from the standpoint of love, and romance. The Pharisees approach marriage from a legal standpoint. This is not about law, but about love. There is a place for law, for protection of the most vulnerable in our society. A very important place. But that's not what this is about. Marriage is a contract by which the man takes possession of the woman from the woman's father. But Jesus responds to the Pharisees, not by upholding or disparaging the law, but by describing the desire that God has for humanity to live in relationship, relationship that honors and respects the beloved. This kind of relationship is the way God relates to us, and this kind of relationship is God's desire for us in relationship to one another.

God yearns for humanity to be committed to one another, God wants for humanity to put the beloved before self, God wants for humanity to live together with dignity, respect, love. This is what the kingdom looks like. Jesus knows what happens when relationships are rent, and when relationships are torn asunder. That's what he describes in this passage. Humans are torn apart. Hearts are broken. Children are hurt.

We live in a world of contingency, which is about the opposite of committed relationships. Contingency and casualness, is a message that is splayed all across our screens. When I am on facebook, there is an ad consistently that tells me that with some surgery I too can have a perfect body, or with a pill I can lose weight instantly. A theme of some of our favorite television programs is that if you are not satisfied with the partner you have, you can leave them for another. But it goes even deeper than that. The message that in order to be valued in this world you have to possess a big house, a nice car, a good wife, successful and beautiful children is pervasive.

In the world of 1st century Mediterranean culture remember the highest value was honor and status. It is into all of this that God invokes relationship and community. Here is the place where the highest good is commitment to one another. Where promises are made about always being there for the other.

It's also the place where humanity lives. You and me in all of our glory and in all of the messiness of life. God yearns for us to be together, to put the other first, and yet God knows how we fall short of that. God knows the pain of broken relationships. God knows the pain of love. Isn't that where we are going with Jesus, on this path of discipleship? Straight to the cross, that's the road we are on with Jesus. Right through that pain and suffering of brokenness. And as some might say, it ends badly with death on a cross. But you and I know different. We know it doesn't end there. We know that God loves us so absolutely and completely that something happens, that Love wins. That a new thing happens, resurrection. That's the hope in God's relationship with us, and in our relationship with others. We fail. We hurt. We are broken. But because God shares God's very self with us, and because we share our lives with others, we share the very fiber of our being, we are forgiven. We have a second chance. We live through the pain we cause, we live through the pain others cause in our lives, we are broken. And God's love seeps into our brokenness, God's love seeps into the fissures of our hearts and the fissures of the fibers of our skin and bones and muscles and organs, and somehow we are healed. Somehow we can live again. Somehow, Love wins.

As disciples, we live in God's kingdom. We live in the place where relationships matter, where relationships are sacred. Where every person has dignity, where every person belongs. The Gospel of Mark starts in the lonely places and Jesus will end up on the cross. But being alone is not what God wants for us. God says, "I am here, in my Son, to be in relationship with you. Nothing can separate us any longer." That's why we do what we do. That's why we ask for forgiveness every time we come to the table to eat. That's why we gather together and stand shoulder to shoulder to eat the bread and drink the wine. That's why we share our prayers and deposit them in this holy place, together. And that's why we go out into the world bearing God's yearning for relationship to all who we meet. We are Jesus' disciples, we live as kingdom people, and for us, Love wins.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Proper 21 Yr B, by Deacon Marty Garwood


Lord, open our lips.
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

So the journey to Jerusalem continues.  We have seen amazing things as we have traveled this road with Jesus.

Yet we continue to miss the point.  Jesus has asked us hard questions.  Jesus asked us “Who do you say that I am?”.  Jesus has tried to tell us what to expect in the days to come but the idea that He will be killed and then rise again is impossible for us to understand – to wrap our minds around.  And we are afraid to ask how that can even be possible.

We argue about which one of us is the best disciple ever.  And somehow Jesus knows that is what we were talking about.  So He tells us that whichever one of us wants to be first must really be the last of all and servant of all.  What in the world does He mean by that?  And to top it off, he holds up an inconsequential child as an example of how we should welcome others – others that are really Jesus and the one who sent him.

And when we see someone outside of our close-knit group casting out demons – and daring to do it in our teacher’s name – we expect Jesus to stop him.  But no.  Instead of understanding our point that if that person is not with us – he is against us, Jesus turns it around on us and says that whoever is not against us is for us.  That simply is not the way it is done.  Doesn’t Jesus care about his honor – our honor?

I have deliberately used the present tense in recapping the Gospel readings for the past few weeks.  Although the Gospel of Mark was compiled nearly 2,000 years ago, it sounds strangely like today.

The Christian community today still argues about which is the best form of discipleship.  The concept of putting ourselves last is still counter-cultural.  That is not what society holds up as the standard for success.  

And even today we Christians can have a tendency to want to keep “our” Jesus tucked into a nice safe box of our own creating.  We take pride in our methodology and may have little tolerance for other theologies and forms of worship.

If they are not with us – then they must be wrong.

They must be wrong – they are too liberal –.

They are too conservative – they must be wrong.

They are too literal.  They don’t take Scripture literally enough.

They welcome in just anyone – even the sinner.

They exclude people – even the sinner whom God loves.

How can our God be their God?

Even we Episcopalians can fall into a way of thinking that pits us against them.  We have a little slogan that goes something like “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You & You Don’t Have to Check Your Brain at the Door”.  Yes, it is meant as an invitation  with a touch of humor and probably has served as an attraction for some.  But we need to guard against using it as a form of arrogance or elitism.

We Christians need to be constantly reminded that God does not belong to us.  We belong to God who loves each of us intimately and infinitely.   We belong wholly – as in completely – to God.  And we belong holy – as in sacred – to God.   We can not contain God into a box of our making – even a box that we call a denomination  - a box which has been created by human minds.  God is greater by far than the sum of all Christian denominations and world religions.

The human trait to contain and to claim apparently runs deep in our DNA.  The disciples – in their humanity – were threatened by the actions of someone outside of their community.

Peter and Paul – in their humanity – struggled with the question of how to claim the gentile converts.   They were of differing opinions on whether or not it was necessary for those Gentiles to be circumcised and to bear that mark of conversion to the Jewish faith in order to follow the teachings of Jesus.

We – in our humanity – often struggle with the difference between tolerance and respect.  Sometimes our tolerance may even teeter on the brink of intolerance.  But respecting the differences often comes with difficulty.  We may find it incomprehensible that other denominations or faiths are indeed doing God’s work when it may look so different than how we have been called to live out God’s mission.

God’s work is God’s work.  God’s people are called by God and God’s ways are infinite.  We have all been given gifts and strengths to carry out that mission in the world.  God’s action in the world is not limited to only those practices with which we are familiar.  Jesus continually taught that if we are inflexible in our thoughts, our deeds, or our worship, we are missing out on the fullness of God’s kingdom.

My gifts are not your gifts.  Your strengths are not my strengths.  Our ways are not their ways.  Their practice is not our practice.  Does that make any one less than the other?  No it does not.  It bears witness to the infinite vastness of God’s creation.   The thing that runs deep and true through every one of us is the love that God has for us.  Love does indeed win.

In the last two petitions of our Baptismal covenant we are asked if we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  And we are asked if we will strive for justice and peace among all persons and if we will respect the dignity of every human being.   Seeking and serving Christ, striving for justice and peace, and respecting EVERYONE’s dignity – and yet not one word about intolerance or even merely tolerating the different.  It is certainly a good thing that we acknowledge that we can do none of those things without God’s help.   It is because of God’s help – because of God’s love – that we can rise above the notion that if they are not with us – they are against us.  With God’s love illuminating who we are and whose we are – we can be open to the sacred knowledge that if they are doing work in the name of God – they are part of who we are – and yes – we are part of who they are.

We can heal the divisions which are caused by the mind-set of us vs. them.  We are all beloved children of God struggling within the limited knowledge of our humanity to live the lives God calls us to.   There should be no we or they.  There should only be peace among us as we work together bringing the love of God to the world.

Like those disciples of so long ago, we continue to follow Jesus – even when we don’t get it right.   We continue to make mistakes.  There are times that we simply aren’t sure what we are doing. And we do get it right on occasion.    But we know that Love wins and we know that God has faith in us even in those times we aren’t sure of our own faith.

Because we keep stumbling along trying to live into the image of God that we are meant to be, we become seasoned veterans in this life of discipleship.  The concept of seasoning or salting is two-fold.  If something is well-seasoned, it will last longer.  For instance, a cast iron fry pan which has been well seasoned with oil and heat will cook more evenly and won’t rust as easily.  In the days before modern refrigeration or artificial preservatives, a heavily salted barrel of meat or fish would still be edible months later.  

As seasoned disciples, we become stronger and wiser in how we are to share this journey with other disciples.  We become aware of how limitless is the variety of ways in which disciples accomplish the work of God.  We are meant to be preserved by God’s love in living this life which we have been called to.

The other aspect of seasoning – of salting - is creating flavor – that burst on your tongue that makes you want to take another taste and then another taste and then another.   I believe that as well seasoned disciples we are meant to be that burst of flavor in a bland and tasteless world.

Last weekend on the public radio program called “The Splendid Table”, I heard an interview with a woman who is in her nineties and still owns and manages a restaurant in New Orleans.  As I thought about this homily, one of the things she said kept coming to mind.  She talked about the difference in people who merely exist rather than really living.

As disciples of an incredibly loving God, how can we merely exist?  We have been salted with Jesus.  As disciples we should be fully alive in Christ.  We are called to truly live in the full flavor of God – in that mix of salt and yeast of the bread – in the pungent full bodied flavor of the wine – the bread of life and the cup of salvation!

When we live our lives in Christ with enthusiasm and zest it is apparent to the world that there is something different about us – something delicious if you will.  Because we have been salted with love, our lives have been consecrated and transformed.  Others will see that we are full of flavor and they will want to come for a taste of what it is that we have.   They too will then be consecrated and transformed.  By truly living, rather than merely existing, we are symbols of that Splendid Table that is our promise of life in Christ.

My beloved brothers and sisters, if we are to have salt in ourselves as the Gospel tells us, then we may on occasion need to remind ourselves of the incomparable words of Emeril Legasse.

BAM – kick it up a notch.

Amen.









Saturday, September 22, 2012

17 Pentecost Yr B Proper 20

Leaving there, they went through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” The disciples didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. Jesus sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

In Mark, whenever the disciples and Jesus were passing through, they were on their way to Jerusalem. And you and I know what happens in Jerusalem, Jesus is hung on the cross. The disciples in this story were afraid, but not sure of what it was they were afraid. And yet, on the road, Jesus surmises that they are arguing about which one of them was the greatest, something that Jesus was not concerned with at all. Jesus' concerns had to do with teaching the disciples how to live out God's reconciling love. The disciples were concerned about themselves.

And then Jesus tells them that following him is not about them at all, and Jesus sets as the example of the kingdom, the welcome, the embrace of a child. Jesus shows us that following him is about that sort of welcoming embrace, following him is being the servant of all, following him is not being the greatest, but being vulnerable. This is truly a radically counter-cultural image. History shows us various views of children in society. In contemporary American culture we have gained much around the protection of children in families and with child labor laws in the workplace. Children were taken out of factories and the public education system was established only recently, as late as the 19th century. Children have been variously valued as workers in the fields, as extra mouths to feed, and as dispensable commodities.

In the first century Mediterranean world, where space is divided into women's space and men's space, men's space was public space, women's space was private space in the home. A child was most definitely not seen and not heard in public space, and not in men's space in the home. For a child to be in the same space as these men is quite odd and unusual. For Jesus to embrace the child is a radical statement of the change that takes place because Jesus is in the world. What Jesus does in this seemingly tender embrace is to show that even a child, with no status, no possessions, no honor, is loved abundantly by God. What Jesus does is to confer new life on this child.

Jesus also sets as the example of the kingdom a description of what it looks like to be a follower. Followers of Jesus are to be like servants, followers are not to be the greatest, but are to be vulnerable, like the child.

You'd think after reading these stories about Jesus and the disciples we'd have it all figured out by now. But is seems like we have to keep being reminded what discipleship looks like, it seems like we keep forgetting that following Jesus is not about being the best, or the greatest, or the most honored. But following Jesus is about being vulnerable, following Jesus is about being a servant. The disciples kept forgetting, the disciples needed reminding, so do we.

It's tough, in this world where we just keep seeing and hearing about people who grab power, who grab attention, who grab money, for us to follow the path of giving, of serving, of laying down our selves. But that's what following Jesus looks like. And that is where Love really does win. what we really want to do is to hide our true selves. The self that is not perfect, the self that gets hurt and hurts the ones we love most. We try to stuff our brokenness and our warts and our shallowness, and our inability to forgive and our desire for life to be all about me, into our briefcases and our backpacks, or maybe under our beds or into the dark recesses of our basements, so that we don't have to look at all of that darkness, and so that no one else need see our imperfectness. We work so very hard to keep all of that away from the light of the world, away from those who love us most, because, like the disciples, we are afraid. But Jesus says, "take the last place, be the servant." Jesus says, let go of your control, put down your burden, be vulnerable, let my love seep into the hard places of your heart, let my love soak through that hard exterior, let love win.

When we do, amazing things happen. Discipleship is not just about doing the right thing, it is that but it is so much fuller, so much more complete. Following Jesus is about being loved and offering love. Following Jesus is about being treated to grace, and mercy, and compassion, and treating others with grace, and mercy, and compassion. Following Jesus is about being broken, and being healed. Following Jesus is about laying our selves down, and when we do that, we can truly be ourselves and be filled with God's spirit. We then can truly be disciples.

And following Jesus is not just about you, but about all of us. Which brings us back to the children. Here at St. Andrew's, we are one part of the body of Christ, and one of the ways we live that out is in offering hospitality to all who come, no matter what, no matter who, because we believe that Love wins. We believe that God's love, grace, and mercy are available to all, no matter what. We believe that God calls us, as individuals and as a community, to participate in the building of God's kingdom.  God's kingdom that looks like embracing children, and everyone. God's kingdom that is revealed in the wisdom and the innocence of the youngest of these. God's kingdom that is made real in the bread and the wine, in the body and the blood. God's kingdom that looks like the community of children encircling the table. God's kingdom that looks like hands held up, to be filled with Jesus. God's kingdom that looks like the least who are first. God's kingdom in which Love wins.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

16 Pentecost Yr B

Just a couple of days ago I was taking the August calendar page off the wall, as I did I paid attention to the funny illustration on the page. There is a group of men in a boat, disciples I imagine, watching a character whom I assume is Jesus, walking on the water. The dialogue bubble over the guys in the boat says, "Sure, he can walk on water, but does he really fit our parish profile?"

Rick was having a conversation with Mike Tatmon recently, about football at the School of Mines. The conversation was around the hapless state of Mines football, and the hope that the new coach would change all of that. Rick's observation is that they were looking for the savior, but what they got was one of the disciples.

We do that all the time, don't we. We look for the one who will save us, who will get us out of a mess, who will make life easy for us, who will tell us what to do and how to do it, so that we can enjoy the accolades, so that we can enjoy the success, so that we can enjoy the notoriety that comes along with showing off our wealth, or our talent, or whatever it is we have. But thats not really the way it works, no matter how much we wish for salvation from the difficulty of the situation, life just isn't that way.

The truth of our lives speak about the path of pain and suffering, and I know, I've watched enough football and been on the loosing side of some massive scores. The truth of our lives speak about the path of poor decisions, misplaced trust, so called "love" gone horribly wrong. The truth of our lives speak about the effects of the ravages of disease. And there is no one and nothing that can just swoop into any of that and make it all pretty.

But the truth of our lives also points to life after death. The truth of our lives points to hope rising out of the ashes of despair. The truth of our lives points to crashing and burning followed by baby steps of recovery. The truth of our lives show us that there is always resurrection, but resurrection never goes around pain and suffering, resurrection is on the path of pain and suffering.

Today's gospel reading is all about this path, this pilgrim path. It is all about being a follower of Jesus. This path doesn't result in success, at least success as defined by wealth or possession. This path doesn't result in ease of living. This path doesn't result in the absence of disease. It is not a gospel of prosperity. This path, Jesus says, is to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and follow.

Now, just in case any of you hear that as a call to suffer in silence, or just take what the world throws at you, or even taking abuse at the hands of the one who professes to love, that is not what this is about and it is not what I am saying. This gospel has been used as a weapon to keep people in their place with that kind of interpretation, but this is not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was talking about the new creation, Jesus was talking about reorienting the culture as they knew it, Jesus is talking about being the change that makes the world just, Jesus is talking about the kingdom that is God’s love for all of creation, no exceptions, no exclusions. Jesus is saying that Love wins.

Actually, the pilgrim path, the path of discipleship, isn't about the results at all. That's really why the path of discipleship is radical. That's why the path of discipleship is counter-cultural. Jesus is saying that we indeed must lose our lives to save them. But what looks to the world like loss is not loss at all. You see, on this path of discipleship, new life is what we live on the way. On the path of discipleship, we lay down our selves for the sake of the kingdom, we lay down our selves for the sake of compassion, mercy, healing, justice. Indeed, these are the characters we encounter on the path of discipleship.

And, the path of discipleship isn't about you at all. The path of discipleship is about God's healing mission in the world. When we walk this path with all the others, with the community of disciples, we bear witness to God's love and healing in this hurting world. We make real to the world that Love wins. We are not in the business of persuading others of the truth of the gospel story through propositional argument. When we are on the path of discipleship, we are rather about the work of living out this story that is true, this story that makes sense of our lives.

But there is more. This path of discipleship is about breaking bread with outcasts and sinners, healing the sick, and proclaiming good news to the poor. It is about changing the structure of this world to be justified with the rule of God’s kingdom. It is about putting the other first, and ourselves second. It is about speaking truth to power.

As Episcopalians we make a unique proclamation as we follow Jesus on this path. People make that proclamation on our behalf when we are baptized, and each time we baptize a new member, like when we baptized Emma and Trina a couple weeks ago, we make that proclamation again. I've been reading a little book by Bishop Andy Doyle, called Unabashedly Episcopalian. He put together a guide to living as a disciple on the particular path we call Episcopalian.

We reflect on Scripture, the apostles' teachings, communal prayer, and life lived in connection with breaking bread together. Mission is the work of God, who was sent into the world and sends us into the world. We bear Jesus into the world. Mission and outreach are holistic. We seek to meet the needs of the whole person, spiritual and physical. We proclaim in voice and in action the good news of God's kingdom. We teach, baptize, and nurture all those who seek Jesus. We respond to human need by serving others. We transform unjust structures of society. We seek sustainable and renewing initiatives that redeem not only humanity but the creation in which we live. Our outreach and mission are always rooted in Scripture, tradition, and reason. We make a greater witness to the world around us when we join hands with one another whether we agree with them or not. We are changed by serving and walking with others. We are incomplete without others, those who are different from us, by our side. We are loved, absolutely and abundantly. (Unabashedly Episcopalian, p. 88, by Andrew Doyle).

This is indeed what makes sense of our lives. It is the particular story which gives meaning to the chaos of a world ruled by powers and principalities. It is the particular story which gives meaning to our lives. It is what we have been given by Jesus, it is the truth that Love wins.