Saturday, January 28, 2012

4 Epiphany Yr B Jan 29 2012

Remember last week I described the gospel of Mark like a roller coaster ride, and here we go again. No time to process any of this. Jesus is already teaching in the temple and casting out unclean spirits and we're only in chapter one verse twenty one. Mark doesn't mince words. We want Jesus to teach with words, the other gospels are full of words. They try to explain the parables, the healings, the miracles. But not Mark. Mark shows us who Jesus is through healings, through presence, through action. In Mark, Jesus teaches by what he does.

We know that Mark's gospel begins with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It then goes on to show us what this Son of God looks like. The Son of God is baptized in the Jordan, and a voice came from heaven and says, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The Son of God is cast out into the wilderness and battles Satan. The Son of God calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, who left everything to follow him. The Son of God was in the habit of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was also in the habit of breaking many of the rules of the Sabbath. The Son of God taught with authority. All of this is what the Son of God looks like.

Robert Browning, the English poet, once said, “If the most powerful people in the world came into this room, the King, the President, we would stand up. But if Jesus came in, we would kneel down, and that’s the difference.” We could add to Robert Browning’s list of powerful people, the kind of people today that are lifted up as powerful sports stars, movie, television or music stars. Maybe even today’s billionaires would make this list, people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Well, today’s gospel is about is what the Son of God looks like, and the Son of God looks like authority, and authority that looks nothing like those who think they have authority today, and an authority that brings us to our knees.

In this gospel story, Jesus’ authority creates something that no one had ever experienced previously, and I would venture that Jesus’ authority creates something that no one in our culture experiences today. Today I think we experience authority as power, and that gets transferred to the power to buy and consume and have. The scribes, who were the educated and literate people, had never before experienced the kind of authority that is shown to us in this lesson; we only encounter this kind of authority when we encounter Jesus.

What kind of authority is this? What does this authority look like? It is Jesus’ being. Authority is who Jesus is, authority is Jesus’ being, it is not something that Jesus’ possesses, or something that Jesus owns, not even what Jesus says. True authority, authentic authority, is not derived from power but from trust and respect. True authority does not control, it authors. Authority comes from the same word as author. It is a word that indicates something that creates, something that causes an increase, something that causes growth.

This authority is quite different from power. Power, in the Mediterranean world, as well as in our own world I would suggest, is understood as a limited quantity. If one person has more power, then the other has less. In the Mediterranean world, honor was also a limited quantity. The honoring of one resulted in the shaming of another. Power and honor are linked in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ time, and I do believe they are linked in our culture as well.

What the scribes noticed immediately in this story is that Jesus speaks with an as-yet-unheard-of level of authority. Suddenly the years of compounded knowledge, confined logic and entrenched tradition offered by the scribes begins to pale in comparison to the message that Jesus brings, Love wins. When Jesus was around, something was created, something was increased, growth was happening, the story was being rewritten. Scribes were “because it has always been that way” theologians, that is to say the kind of theology that is built on its past and nothing new really comes about. But things were definitely not the same any more.

It is in this new reality that people began to see that this must be God’s work, because it is only God who can author this new story. There is only one God, one Lord, and neither you nor I are it. What this passage says to us is that nothing is really settled except for the always present love of God and the ministry that Jesus calls each one of us to participate in. The unclean spirit was no match for Jesus;
the unclean spirit was standing in Jesus’ way. By following Jesus we are called to clear away all of those things that stand between us and truly experiencing anew how the life and ministry of Jesus calls us to live.

We are called to be authored anew if you will. We are called to put aside all that stands in the way of truly being that new creation that God wants us to be. We must look at ourselves, name our own demons, and let Jesus call them out of our being, so that Jesus can take over and create us anew so that we may be transformed.

What are the things, ideas, prejudices and excuses that you’ve got to get out of the way so that Jesus can really work in your life? So that love wins in your life? Only you can name these things, no one can do this for you. And once you do, the work begins. This Christian journey is a lifetime project. None of us are transformed in an instant, we come face to face with our demons at every bend in the road, we stumble over them, we carry them with us.

The good news is that the new creation that Jesus calls us to be is already forgiven. It’s not that our demons will never rise up again, it’s not that we don’t continue to miss the mark, the truth is that when that happens, the relationship that we are in with Jesus and this company of faithful in which we belong, calls us to see the goodness and the life that our lives can bear.

You and I know that submitting to Jesus’ authority, naming our demons, becoming the new creations that God wants us to be, and embracing the ministry that grows out of that is a lifetime project. But when we do, our story begins to be rewritten and the fruit of transformation is ministry and discipleship.

We know this is a life time project because we know that today we can decide that this is the day that we begin anew, that this is the day that we decide to let nothing get in the way of making choices that show God's love, mercy, and compassion.

We know this is a life time project because we know that today we can decide that it’s time to get serious about our own spiritual formation and get involved in bible study.

We know this is a life time project because we know that today we can decide that this is the day that we do something about people going hungry, and we bring food for the food shelf.

Today is the day to get started on the lifetime project of submitting to Jesus’ authority knowing full well that tomorrow we may just have to begin again. God’s love is ever present, God’s love is abundant, God’s love will always call us back. Love wins.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

3 Epiphany Yr B Jan 22 2012

In the gospel of Mark, there is no pussy-footing around. There is no nativity story as there is in Luke, there are no begats like in Matthew, and no metaphorical language like in John. No, Mark gets right to the point. In the first sentences the writer says, this is about the Good News, who is Jesus the Messiah. John announced Jesus, Jesus is baptized, and the next thing you know Jesus is calling disciples. Not even enough time to get strapped in before we hit the first 200 foot climb followed by a one second drop. Mark gets down to business.

It's not much different for these fisher people. Just imagine this. Just imagine being in that fishing boat with Simon and Andrew, with James and John, having fished all night. You're exhausted, and you must fix the holes in your nets before you can call it a day. You just want to get the work finished, take your haul home, and go to bed. And Jesus passes by. He yells from the shore, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Who is this guy? How can you make a living fishing for people? How's that going to pay the bills? How's that going to put food on the table? How's that going to bring any honor to the family? This is just crazy. And yet you go. And yet you step out of the boat and follow. What is so compelling about this man that causes you to leave your father, to leave your livelihood, to leave your honor, and follow.

Mark doesn't give us a whole lot of clues about what is so compelling about this man Jesus, except to tell us that this is the Good News of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus is the truth, Jesus speaks the truth, Jesus knows your truth. And that is compelling. And when you say yes to the call, you don't really know what to expect, except that your life will be changed. You will be transformed. When you say yes to the call, Love wins, mercy prevails, compassion lives.

Because that is the way it is with Jesus, it isn't easy, comfortable, or clear. So what does saying yes to the call look like? It looks like a guy who walks to the other side of the road to help someone who had been attacked by strangers. It looks like a woman who gives a man a cool drink of water at the well. It looks like the soil that is rocky, that is thorny, and that is fertile. It looks like the tiniest of seeds.

Being perfect, or even having our act together, is not a prerequisite to saying yes to Jesus' call. Remember the Old Testament story that is before us today from Jonah. What we heard is the conclusion of God calling Jonah. The beginning of that story goes like this. The word of the Lord came to Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah's response to God's call was to turn tail and run. Not unlike most of us when we hear God's call. Jonah ran from God until he could run no further, Jonah said no to God for as long as he could. The result of Jonah's eventual yes, was that everyone turned away from their evil ways, maybe in other words, they turned toward mercy and compassion.

Saying yes to Jesus' call is what frees us to be who we are, and to live the truth of who we are, beloved and forgiven. I think the reason people say no to God, and say no to church, is because of the mistaken believe that you have to be perfect to stand before God and others. I think the reason that has happened is because some who call themselves Christian have set up some sort of perfection checklist, some sort of standard of behavior that no one can live up to, and everyone begins to live a lie.

Saying yes to Jesus, is to say yes to the truth. The truth of who we are, We are people who are broken, we are people who make mistakes, some huge mistakes, some not so much. We are people who betray. We are people who love and who fall short of love. We are people who get ourselves into trouble with wanting too much and expecting too little. We are people who believe we can make it on our own and forget we are not the center of the universe. We are people who erect and worship idols. We are people who build walls around us so thick to guard our brokeness and to look perfect.

Saying yes to Jesus, saying yes to the truth, looks like the guy who spent some time in jail, and who can listen to others trying to find their way. It looks like the mom who struggled to live through addiction, and who can listen to other moms who are so afraid to face up to their own lies. It looks like couples who work through the depths of sadness, recommit to each other, and listen to those who can't see the possibility. It is each and every one of us knowing we are just inches away from losing our job, or losing our home, or losing our spouse, and living in the midst of hope and joy anyway, because Jesus lived it all too.

Saying yes to Jesus is to say yes to the truth. And the truth will set you free. Saying yes to Jesus is to let love win, it is to let the mercy and the compassion seep into our scars and heal us. It is to let love win and let the the mercy and the compassion transform us. When you say yes, your life begins to change, you are in the presence of God, and your truth begins to invite others into healing. Jesus' truth, your truth, your life in God's presence invites others to live a live fully alive, a live filled with truth, with love, with mercy and compassion. Your life begins to show forth the moral decision making that is apparent in the baptismal covenant. You begin to do what is right, instead of what is selfish or greedy. You bear Jesus' light in the world, and those you encounter, those who encounter you, witness the truth of your life and are invited to be healed by Jesus. Come and see.

Studies are showing that people today and especially those under 50 don't so much want to GO to church as they want to BE the church.  I'm wondering how we can empower one another, as we go to church, to be able to live out our calling as we seek to be the church. How do you live out your calling, out there in the world? At work, at school, at play. That is being the church. As you do that, more and more, as you make the invitation into Love, others will come, you will see.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2 Epiphany Yr B

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house. As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me." So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him. The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. "Climb in!" shouted a man in the boat. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me." So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him. The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me." So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him. The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned. Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. "Heavenly Father," he said, "I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?" God gave him a puzzled look, and replied "I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?"

I begin with this joke today because it's funny, but it also illustrates the very funny story we have in the Old Testament from 1st Samuel. Poor old Eli was trying to get some sleep, and that Samuel runs into his room three times with "I heard you calling me, what do you want." Finally Eli realizes who is calling Samuel, and it's not him, it's God. It's a good thing Eli finally figured this out, who knows how long this would have gone on if he hadn't. And as Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

This persistent calling of Samuel story is paired with the calling of Nathanael in John and Psalm 139, which happens to be my very favorite Psalm. O Lord you have searched me and known me, even before a word is on my tongue Lord, you know it, you knit me together in my mother's womb, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Years of psychoanalysis will not get me to know myself like God knows me, and in all of that, God still loves me. This is truly amazing. God loves me, God loves you, not because of who we are or what we've done or not done. God loves. Love wins. God knows and God still loves.

The Gospel from John seems hard to break open. Is it a story about Philip, to whom Jesus said, follow me. It is a story about Nathanael, who seems to know whom Jesus is, the Son of God.
 
Our Epiphany stories have all been stories that show and tell us what incarnation looks like, they are stories that show and tell us about how incarnation changes everything, and how then we must go home by another way. I think the collection of stories we hear today follow the same theme, they are all stories that illustrate how different the story of God is from the story that the world in which we live tells us, whether that world is hundreds of years before Christ, whether that world is first century Israel, or whether that world is 2012 years after Christ.

Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The job of a prophet was to tell people what they least wanted to hear. That they need to shape up, change their ways, and turn to God. What we hear in these stories is the invitation to live another way, not the way of the world. To take seriously the amazing and abundant love that God has for us. The story in Corinthians is a story about belonging. We belong to God. The author of Corinthians wonders, don't you know that you are not your own. You belong to God. And in John,
we hear clearly the invitation to live by a different way, to be a part of the story of God, who is here in our midst.
 
What is so powerful in this set of stories today is that we hear about God's activity in the lives of God’s people in and through history. And at the same time, we are invited to be part of God’s mission.
Today, we are invited to be a part of what God is up to now. Unfortunately, sometimes we are like Samuel, who couldn't figure out it was God calling, and sometimes we are like Philip and Nathanael,
wondering how and where Jesus gets to know us so intimately, although we know God knows us intimately because of Psalm 139. Each one of us is invited to step into the unknown, and live this radical life in relationship with God, without knowing really what to expect, except that we are called to be faithful.
 
When we say yes to God’s call we don’t know what that will bring. Like Samuel with Eli's encouragement before us, it is our turn to respond to God with here I am, here we are. It is our turn to respond to Jesus who says, follow me. What does our response look like, our response as an individual and our response as a church? We must imagine that, we must begin to see the possibilities. Come and see, Philip says. Maybe we need to picture the people populating these pews. Who will they be? Maybe they are young families. Maybe they are Episcopalians, but probably they are not. Maybe they are people disaffected from other denominations for various reasons, maybe they are just people looking for love and acceptance in a house of God. Maybe they are people seeking Christ; maybe they are people seeking meaning. I’m hoping they are people finding Christ and finding meaning here, finding love and acceptance at this table, and in this body. Maybe they are people who want to understand who they are and who they are called to be, they are people who want to seek and serve Christ in all persons, here behind these walls, and out there, in the community. Maybe they are people who will challenge you to grow and develop in your own spiritual journey, because you will accompany them on their journeys and be changed by them.
 
But on some level they are people who want to be a part of the story, and not bystanders. The story we tell about how God created humanity, how God blesses the creation, how God promises to always be God. This is the story about how we turned away from God, about how we worship so many things other than God, and it is the story about how God calls us back, calls us back, about how God will not let us go. It is the story about how God loves us so much, that God came as one of us, as Jesus, and lived and died as one of us, and brought us back into relationship. We can belong to God, because we know God is right here, right now, in the midst of us, in ways that are evident, and in ways we can only imagine and dream about. This is our story; this is the story that makes us a people.
 
What does your response to Jesus’ call, follow me, look like? It is timely that we hear this call of Samuel, and of Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael, on this day, so close to the anniversary of the birth of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. A man who answered a call, and risked everything to respond to Jesus’ call of equality in the new covenant. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that responding to Jesus’ call has to be in some particular way, but that is not true. Responding to Jesus’ call is to live out loving God and loving your neighbor in every aspect of your life. Responding to Jesus’ call, follow me, is to live out your baptismal promises in your work, in your school, in your play, in your family, and in your business dealings.
 
These stories we hear today are a challenge to you to live out Jesus’ invitation to follow. How will you respond to that invitation?

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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Feast of the Epiphany 2012

The poet Isaiah envisions the light, new light, come in a way that had not happened previously. The Lord’s light rising upon us. And we hear in the Gospel of Matthew the wise men from the East observed the star in it’s rising and led them to the place where the child was. They bowed down before the child. The Light that shone forth for these wise men from the East is of God, it is the Light that overcomes darkness, it is the Light that will not be put out, it is the Light that we call upon now in what sometimes seems like a world out of control, a world in chaos.
 
We are called to go out into the world in mission and ministry. We are called to be Light bearers. You and I are called to be light shining in the darkness. The Light we are to bear is the Light that shines revealing the love of God made real in Jesus Christ. And this is the love that bears all hurt, it is the Love that comes into the midst of pain, into the midst of isolation, into the midst of separation, and this Love pulls it together, this Love makes whole what is torn apart, this Love wins.
 
Paul’s letters tell us that the Love of God in Jesus Christ is for all people. Paul, a circumcised Jew, brings the Good News to Gentiles. Early in the first century, there were basically three groups of people. There were Jews who were circumcised and who followed Jewish law, there were God-fearers; people who found Jewish law attractive and followed it, but were not circumcised, and there was everyone else, those were Gentiles. According to the Hebrew scriptures, only Jews were included in God’s plan of salvation; with the new revelation of God in Jesus Christ, humanity experienced God's love for all people, that all people are included, not just circumcised Jews. We learned that we cannot limit God because God’s love for the creation is limitless, boundless, abundant, extravagant.

We watched or read about this Christmas the stories of people who had gone to KMart and other places, and anonymously paid in full the bills of those who had put merchandise on layaway. Surprising, unexpected, maybe even abundant and extravagant.

God was born into this world, the shepherds knew it, the angels knew it, the wise men knew it, and on some level, Herod knew it too. Herod was frightened of the child, this baby born in a barn. Frightened by the unknown. The wise men learned in a dream that after finding the child, they would need to go home by another way; if they returned the way they came, Herod would find the child.
 
I find it very significant that after having seen the true Light, after having witnessed the child who is God, the wise men went home by another way. They were changed; they could not go home the same way they came. The stakes were too high. They now were bearing the Light that they had encountered and everything was different.
 
When I think about the wise men going home by another way, I am reminded of my baptism. Because in baptism you see, we journey to the water and we encounter the Light, we encounter God in Jesus Christ, we encounter the Holy Spirit, and we cannot be the same ever again. We throw in our lot with Jesus and are made new; we are a new creation. Remember that the waters of baptism are at the same time life giving and life taking. We are made new, and we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Water is powerful. And, we can’t go home by the route we came by, we must go home by another way.
 
We get a glimpse of that other way in baptism, and in the words of the baptismal covenant. What happens in baptism is three things. First, we journey to the water. We come from wherever we are to the living water. Not unlike those wise men. Next, we in a sense are separated from our parents to be immersed in the water. These are dangerous waters. Personally, I find that separation holds fear for me. Separation from loved ones, from family, from God, I am afraid of all of that. But what happens next is the amazing part. After being immersed in the water, separated from family and parents, we are reintegrated into a greater whole. We now are members of the body of Christ. We are re-membered in the body of Christ.
 
And we most assuredly go home by another way. We are not the same people as we were before entering those waters of baptism. And, we are not the same body of Christ we were before baptism. We are made a new person in baptism, and we are made a new community in baptism.
 
What is the alternative route by which we return home? It is a radical route. It takes us through green pastures, and more dangerous waters, it is a route that is filled with wolves and sheep. This is a route that calls us through transformation to wholeness; it is a route on which the adventure is not about you, but about whom we are together, and how we are related to God. On this route home we are called to be Light bearers. We are called to be Love bearers. We are called to bring God’s Love to dark corners, to mountaintops, to raging waters.
 
We are called to bring God’s Love to a fragmented society, to a culture that is pulled apart by greed. We are called to bring God’s Love to a culture that engages more and more in name calling and judgement. God’s Love, God’s Power, is the most powerful integrating force in creation. God’s Love moves us from brokenness, from fragmentation, to wholeness, to healing. You and I bear the scars of that brokenness, we bear the scars that fragments cut us with, and we bear the healing Love of God. It is that Love, that Light that we carry into the world. The work that our baptism equips us for is out there, bringing the Light into the world.
 
How do you bring God’s Love and God’s Light into the world, how do you bring God’s wholeness into your work or your school? It is our call, to bring God’s transforming love to those who have not yet seen or felt or known that love. It is our call to bear the Love that wins into the world. Be the light-bearer, be the love-bearer, just like those wise people of so long ago, and you will go home by another way.

Alleluia. To us a child is born: come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Holy Name, Jan 1 2012

"What's in a name?" asked Juliet.  Everything, my dear, everything. "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In the beginning was the word, lest we forget.  And the word was made God, and God was the word. What's in a name? Who is this little child, born in a barn, to upset the accepted order of things. Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus, name above all names. Emmanuel, God with us.

The story we have before us today from Luke is the Hebrew naming ritual, and a marking ritual. It is the thing that makes a Hebrew boy, a Hebrew boy. Christians have a similar ritual, we call it Baptism. The first thing we do at Holy Baptism is to name the child. And then our children are marked as Christ's own forever. Naming is very important. Many cultures understand a name as that which a child will become. It must be chosen carefully, it may even be prophetic. Some of us are named for our ancestors, we carry the name of those saints who went before us, we may honor that person by the way we carry that name.

In Philippians we hear, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Each of us carries the name of Jesus by virtue of our baptism, maybe even by virtue of our shared humanity, Emmanuel, God with us. That's what is accomplished in the incarnation. This very God is re-presented in our world, born just like we are, with hands and a heart and eyes, with desires and expectations and fears, and given a name. Jesus. A name which both identifies him, that is, sets him apart from us, and meanwhile joins him to us. God no longer is located just in the Ark of the Covenant, or in the Temple, but God is located in all of creation, in you and in me. Each of us carries the holy name of Jesus, Prince of peace, with us, wherever we go, wherever we are.

So not only do we live our lives confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, at the very same time we live our lives filled with the divinity that is God with us, God in our midst. This Good News is transformational. It changes us, and all that we are and all that we do. The God who is love, the God who is creator of all that is seen and unseen, the God who this human story is all about, is also the God who lived, and loved, and suffered and died, so that we, humans, may be joined together to effect God's love, God's peace, God's compassion, God's mercy in this life. Love wins, love incarnate, wins.

You and I are covered, enveloped, by God's love, we are indeed imbued with God's holy name, Jesus. And that name calls us to be people of mercy and compassion, it calls us to be God's peace right here and right now. Not only are we assured of God's love, assured of being fearfully and wonderfully made, we have all we need to show forth God's love, Jesus' holy name, mercy and compassion, peace, in all that we are and all that we do. We are God's new creations, we are brought back into wholeness with God.

On this first day of the year, how will you bear God's holy name? In this year, how will love be born in you? How will love be born by you? How will incarnation transform you? This year, at this time, your response is critical. Today this is a year of possibility. It is new, and so are you. God has given you love, God has come into your life and your heart. Love wins, amen.