Saturday, February 25, 2012

1 Lent Yr B

Lent begins and ends with baptism. Today we hear the story of Jesus' baptism. And with this story the gospel writer shows us, the readers, the true identity of Jesus. Jesus is the beloved son of God. Lent ends with our own reaffirmation and baptism at the Easter vigil. What we see in this is that Jesus is who God says he is, so also we are who God says we are, in Christ we are beloved sons and daughters of God. All the rest of the gospel of Mark shows what that means and what that looks like.

For me, encountering water has always been a very powerful experience. I have lived my life in and around water. When I was a little girl I would spend my summer days at the neighborhood pool, we swam and sunned and played. I learned to swim there, and eventually I taught others to swim there. I lifeguarded there and I coached swimming there. And I swam on the synchronized swimming team in high school. Eventually I moved on to lifeguard at a Minneapolis lake, and I was waterfront director at a YMCA camp, where Rick and I met.

During our early married years, my dad had built a place on a beautiful lake in north central Minnesota. We would spend weekends there. By then my favorite water activity was to go out into the deep water and float, the quiet and calm of the water did much to renew my spirit. Tom and Willie learned to swim before they could walk. They would be by my side when I coached the swim team at the Y.

Water is powerful, it is intoxicating, and it can kill as well as thrill. Did you know that the human body is 60% water, and that too much water can kill you? The power of water can take away life as easily as it can give life. When we live here on this piece of land and we give thanks for every drop of water that falls from the sky, others are killed when hurricanes and tsunamis hit their piece of land. Water is a closed system. The rain drops that do fall on us are the very same rain drops that fell on Noah and his wife and children. The Power of Water. We spend the first nine months of our lives afloat, and the rest of of lives trying not to drown.

The power of water is the theme of much storytelling in popular culture. The Poseidon Adventure an old movie now that surely dates me, and The Perfect Storm are stories that have powerful images of the intoxicating nature of water. O Brother Where Art Thou and The Matrix are stories that I think speak specifically to the power of water and baptism, which is where all this water talk goes to today.

Water is the powerful symbol of baptism, the powerful symbol of life in Christ. This powerful symbol is capable of containing the meaning associated with life, death, and resurrection. That is why stories are told about water and it’s intoxicating influence.

In the story of Noah, water took away life, and in the story of Jesus’ baptism water gives life. It is quite appropriate that we begin our journey through Lent with Jesus in the water. The water washes us clean, and in the water we teeter on the brink of death, and in the water we hear with Jesus “with you I am well pleased.” At the beginning of our Lenten pilgrimage, we have an opportunity to look squarely at the power that is life and death, and choose to walk this road, equipped by our identity as baptized people.

In the gospel of Mark, there is no time between Jesus' baptism and the time in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. No time to reflect on who he was or what he was doing. He didn't have time to figure out what a good person, a good teacher, a good friend, a good leader would say or do then try to say or do that. I believe that Jesus sought the living God, claimed his identity as the son of God, and let his life, his words, his relationships and his love, even to giving of himself on the cross, flow from that identity as God’s beloved. Perhaps that’s what God is calling us to do this Lent; to follow Jesus out of the water and into the desert to listen deeply for what God has to say to us through Baptism.

As we begin this Lent together, in the waters that are of Jesus’ baptism, and as we complete this Lent renewing our own baptismal promises, let us remember who we are. Remembering who we are is about our identity as God’s beloved. We are people who are beautifully and wonderfully created by God. We are people who are blessed by God. We are people who have a tendency to turn away from God to worship idols, we tend to hurt ourselves and each other, we tend to build up our own wealth instead of working for peace and justice for all. We are people who God calls back into relationship, God loves us so much that God is willing to be one of us to show us the way.

Again I ask you, what gets in the way of living fully the creation that God has made you to be. What causes you to forget who you are? What must you lay down, so that you may be fully and completely who you are created to be? What must you die to, so that you can be free to live?

I found this this week, and I want to share it with you. Archbishop David Moxon preached at the Eucharist that began the 2012 year at St John's College, New Zealand.

Holy Spirit, Holy One, Creator Spirit, God of all....I lay aside my key ring, a sign of my car and house, of my main possession. I lay aside my cell phone, my means of communication. I lay aside my credit card, my source of finance and money. I lay aside my pen, my way of writing down my thoughts and intentions. I lay aside my glasses, my perspectives, my frames for seeing the world. I lay aside my watch, my timetables and timeframes. I lay aside my comb, my way of looking at myself. I take off my shoes, my method of transporting myself, the way I walk in the world. Then, stripped in this way of most of my securities and techniques for coping and functioning in the world, I try to simply acknowledge the presence of the One who made all things, in whom we live and move and have our being. I am seeking to be alone with the only true God, the one true reality behind and within everything, and making that quiet space. Then I pick up my key ring, praying, “Use my car and house, my main possessions, for your purposes”. I pick up my cell phone, praying, “Use my means of communication, to share messages of your goodness and grace”. I pick up my credit card, praying, “May I spend and be spent in the ways of righteousness and justice”. I pick up my pen, praying, “Guide me to write your thoughts". I pick up my glasses, praying, “Help me see the world through your eyes”. I strap on my watch, praying, “May I live in your time.” I pocket my comb, praying, “May I see your beauty around me”. I put on my shoes, praying, “May I walk in your ways ”.

Attempting to transform ourselves and the world around us; claiming our identity as God’s beloved is what Lent is all about. This Lent how are you going to emerge from the water washed and ready to embark on this pilgrimage. Where will you pitch your tent, and sit in the quiet so that you may hear, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Amen

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Feb 22 2012

Today we begin our pilgrimage, pitch our tent, quiet our spirits, listen. We begin by remembering. We remember who we are and whose we are. We remember that we are marked as Christ's own forever at baptism, and that same marking, that same cross, is retraced on our foreheads this day with ashes. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Why do we do this Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week thing year after year? Why isn't just once enough? We do it again because we so quickly forget. We forget who we are and to whom we belong. We forget that we are created in God's image, we forget that we are loved abundantly, we forget that we are the delight of God's life. And as we forget, we have a tendency to place ourselves front and center, and we forget that God is God and we are not.

This season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday is brilliant really. In it we have the opportunity to do nothing. That's really all we have to do. We are invited to spent some time in the quiet each day, and do nothing. No one, not even you, can reproach you for it, because you can just say to them or to yourself that that's what you're doing for Lent. Go ahead, give it a try. Spend 10 minutes each day, sitting in your chair, sitting in the quiet. You may even have more than 10 minutes, but start there.

Some of you may say to me or to yourselves, I can't do that, I'm too busy, I've got kids, I'll do something else for Lent, like give up gum, or candy, or chocolate, do that too, but also give 10 minutes to the quiet, and see what happens. Pitch your tent, make camp, give it 10 minutes a day.
God is already calling us into relationship, sometimes we need to make room. God shows up, all the time, we though are often just too busy, or too loud, to notice.

It may take a while, it may take the whole 40 days, but you may make room for remembering who you are. You may make room for remembering that you belong to God, that you have been marked as Christ's own forever. As that reality dawns on you, as the reality of God's amazing and abundant love takes hold in you, as you remember that Love wins, you may feel compelled to respond. You may feel the need to ask for forgiveness, for that which you have done or left undone. You may feel the need to forgive someone in your life. You may need to lay down that which is killing you. You may feel the need to serve, or to give.

On the other hand, you may be in a place where you feel bereft. Feeling God's love is just not where you're at. Relinquish control, let go, trust yourself to be a part of something beyond yourself. Open up the quiet space, be connected to the community of faith, into your hands oh Lord, I commend my spirit.

Lent isn't just the lead up to the party at Easter. It's actually much more like life itself. We get cleaned up, all ready to go, and the next thing you know we fall back into the mud. Life is Hard, it's messy, just like these ashes, this smudge reminds us of who we are and whose we are, loved, imperfect, forgiven. Everyone one of us the same before God, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There is no getting out of it, there are no distinctions.

I invite you now to consider this pilgrimage of Lent. I invite you to consider embracing the quiet. I invite you to think about that which you need to set aside so that you may enter a Holy Lent.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Transfiguration

When our kids were younger, Rick and I, and Tom and Willie, would travel by camping. We'd pile all our camping equipment in the back of the van, and take off for sites unknown. We love staying at National and State Parks, setting up our tent and campsite, and experiencing where we were in the out of doors. One of the most interesting places was Dinosaur State Park near Glen Allen Texas. We went there specifically to see the Tyrannosaurus Rex footprint in the creek bed. It was really cool. We saw the amazing starlit sky on the 4th of July from the shore of Truman Lake in the Army Corp of Engineers park in Missouri. We took the tour of the dam at Ft. Peck, Montana, and learned about all the mammoths unearthed there. And we drove the circle tour around Lake Superior and camped at the wonderful provincial parks in Canada, they had the best facilities anywhere. It was a great way to see the United States.

Many, many years before that, my next door neighbor and best friend growing up, would complain when her family went on road trips. Her dad insisted on stopping at every, literally every, roadside historical marker. She would be so impatient, she just wanted to get there, wherever there was. I do think that these trips they would take took a good deal of endurance.

Today we have this story about Peter, James and John, out on a camping trip possibly, high on a mountain top with Jesus, and something amazing happened. Much more amazing than the starlit sky over Lake Truman, way more awe inspiring than the mammoths in Montana, and truly more exciting than the historical markers dotting our highways. A mountaintop vision, and our wonderful Peter, the one who wanted Jesus to wash all of him after Jesus proposed washing his feet, the one who declared three times I Love you Lord, the one who declared three times, I don't know who he is, this Peter wants to erect a shrine, a tourist destination, a place to visit, so that others might come and witness this amazing thing. Now, I am much like Peter, and on first blush this seems like a good thing. But really, it's the difference between taking the trip to see the wonders of the world, which, again, is a good thing, and taking the trip because the pilgrimage is valuable in and of itself, and maybe even pitching our tent in one place for awhile.

I think it's the difference between being a tourist, or being a pilgrim. Do we visit the shrine that Peter wants to erect so that we can have an experience of glory, so that we might be entertained, or are we pilgrims on the way? I'm not sure that we can always tell the difference. But God's call to us is transformation, and that takes time. Eugene Peterson, author of a biblical translation called The Message, calls this "long obedience in the same direction." And he writes in a book by that name that "religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure." Peterson continues, "for some it is a weekly jaunt to church; for others, occasional visits to special services. We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow expand our otherwise humdrum lives. The religious life is defined as the latest and the newest."

This is really once again about our addiction to the instant and immediate. We are impatient for results, we have adopted the lifestyle of the tourist and only want the high points. We want the newest and the fastest, we want to visit at one site and make our way to the next as soon as possible. Our information must be at our fingertips, or we don't bother to get it. A long road trip seeking out historical markers seems interminable, and for many, unimaginably torturous.

Eugene Peterson says "pilgrim tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ." I would add that sometimes on that way we need to set up our tent and make camp. Sometimes we need to stay awhile and see what happens. What happens may not always be spectacular or fabulous, it may be much more quiet, like the stars in the sky, or the historical markers on the road. But, transformation takes time, it is not instant nor immediate. It is a long obedience in the same direction. It is about growing and changing. It is like being trained in the work of a craftsman, it takes a lifetime to learn.

So let's say we go on the pilgrimage, we set up our tent and make camp, and Jesus shows up, and we, like Peter, James and John, are terrified. The call to transformation, the call to growth and change, may very well be terrifying, at the very least frightening, and if it's not, we'd better nail down our camp chairs, because it will be. I do believe if we are honest with ourselves and with others, growth and change are usually mighty scary propositions, which may be why many people, even most people would really rather not. Please leave things just the way they are thank you very much.

But the status quo is not what God calls us to. Over and over the story tells us that the Pharisees, who are lovers of the status quo, who really would rather keep things the way they are, were asked to change and grow. Why is that? The reality of suffering, death, and resurrection is why. What Jesus did and continues to do is to show us that we must die to that which is killing us, we must let go of that which sucks the life out of us, and what results is new and abundant life, and that is terrifying and life-giving all at the same time.

Transformation means that our well constructed walls come tumbling down, transformation means that our thick skins of pride, or false humility, are shed. Transformation means that as we love and serve others, we are made compassionate and merciful, and we are created in God's image. Transformation means that our real selves can then emerge. Our problem is that most of the time, our our walls, and our skins, and our masks are very, very, comfortable and familiar, and usually the very thing that is killing us. God knows our real selves, and loves us anyway. God knows who we are, and loves us anyway. God calls us to shed the lies, God calls us to let love win.

And the possibility of any of that happening as we continue as tourists is mighty slim. Transformation just doesn't really happen when we are tourists, looking to be entertained. It happens when we are pilgrims, when we pitch our tents once in a while, and listen for the real life God calls us live.

This week we enter into Lent, the church season that allows us some quiet space to listen to God. I invite you to the pilgrimage, to pitch your tent, to shed your skin, to be transformed.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

6 Epiphany Yr B

If you choose, you can make me clean, the leper says to Jesus. Again, the writer of this gospel doesn't mince words, he gets right to the point. Jesus instructs the man to go to his priest, and make his offering. What Jesus is doing in this healing, as he did when he healed Simon's mother-in-law, and as he did when he cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue, is to restore this person to wholeness, essentially to give them new life. These stories of healing in which Mark does not mince words, are to show all who are in hearing, that Jesus, the Son of God, is bringing about God's kingdom right here, and right now.

The people who populate these healing stories are all out on the margins, because of their disease, they essentially have been cast away, they have no life, they are in effect dead. Jesus gives them their lives back. They are healed, and they get their lives back.

What do you need to be healed of to get your life back? What demon needs to be tossed out, so that you can be restored to wholeness? While that demon rules your life, while that affliction continues to keep you from others, you are not really living. You may think you are, really living, but real life is life that is healed, life that bears the scars of your woundedness, and life that witnesses to the power of love.

Namaan's lord went out from his palace, with plenty of money and his pedigree, to buy healing from the king of Israel. But money and pedigree can't buy healing. Elisha, the man of God, healed him, without show, without fanfare, without anyone watching, and Namaan's lord was mad. Namaan's lord doesn't get what he wants, but he does get healed.

This story from Kings and the accompanying story from Mark are also miracle stories whose characters are holy people. Their purpose is to show authority and power from God, who is the main character. As I was sorting through these stories this week I was imagining them as tv shows. Kings and servants, prophets, and a man with a horrible disease that is highly contagious. Hmmm, sounds just like the stuff of a crime scene investigation drama. Some of the characters even seem like the super doctors that we see in the doctor dramas on television.

But the point of these stories is quite the opposite. In the story from Kings, Naaman reminds us quite clearly that this power is nothing like super heroes or super doctors, this power is all about God. Even the commander of the army finally says “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” But, it took him a while to get there. Naaman was a bit put off that the prophet Elisha did not himself come out to heal him. Naaman asks why Elisha did not put on a big show, make a big deal out of healing him of his leprosy, that Elisha didn't bow down to his money and pedigree. Maybe Naaman might have agreed to go see Elisha as much for the production it would cause as for the healing.

You see, these stories are about healing, but not just about the healing really, although that is a good thing, in this story about Naaman, or in the story in the gospel of Mark about the nameless leper. The stories are really about God. The stories are about God’s power and authority; the stories are about God’s amazing and abundant love. The stories are about the wholeness that comes only through Jesus. Mark wants everyone to know that God works in the world. That God is present with us, and that it is God and God alone who is worthy of our worship and praise.

You see, we are so tempted to worship other things, idols we call them. There is no God in all the earth, except the God of Israel, the God of all creation, the God who parted the sea so that Moses could lead the people through, the God who promised Noah always to be there, the God who loves us so much as to give up all power to be in our world as one of us, to be human. The God who heals, the God who offers wholeness.

And yet we are so tempted to worship other gods. The greed and consumer god. The I deserve that kind of return on my money god. The 15 minutes of fame god. The I have to be the very best at something god. The bigger, faster, cable, HDTV, iPhone, always connected god. The immediate information god. I’m not saying these things are bad, I am saying that when these things demand all of our time and attention, they become idols, and we cannot worship God and idols too.

But all of our attention needs to be on God. The leper in Mark’s story kneels before Jesus and says, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus does. A leper in Jesus’ community is an outcast, unclean and thrown away. By healing him Jesus restores him to the community, and he goes to the priest to make that restoration obvious and clear to everyone else. He must participate in the ritual of cleansing so that everyone can see that he is no longer unclean, no longer impure. It is a testimony to God’s power and authority, compassion and love.

What do you need to be healed of to get your life back? What demon needs to be tossed out, so that you can be restored to wholeness? While that demon rules your life, while that affliction continues to keep you from others, you are not really living. You may think you are, really living, but real life is life that is healed, life that bears the scars of your woundedness, and life that witnesses to the power of love.

We long for that which we cannot have, and we obsess about those things, in effect, we spend our lives being seduced by idols, worshiping idols, and resisting the worship of idols. We spend our lives doing battle with our demons. We come here, to worship and pray and to be made into the body of christ, and we are reminded of who we are and whose we are. We remember that we belong to God.
And that it is in God and God alone that we are made whole, restored to right relationship with God
and with one another. We don’t have to give in to the seduction of the money, or fame, or the speed or the power, because ultimately it is our relationship with God and with others that holds meaning and purpose for our lives.

It is God’s power of love in Jesus Christ that creates us and restores us. It is Jesus’ compassionate touch conferred through you and this community of faith that can heal broken people in this fragmented world. Remember who you are. Remember that Love wins.