We often talk about the Feast of Pentecost being the birth of the church. It's not about the birth of the church as we know it today, in our contemporary minds we often equate church with the church building, and church with institution. But these readings don't point us to buildings or institutions, they point us to people who are filled with the Holy Spirit. People who become followers of Jesus. People who know that in their lives, Love wins.
Indeed, today I think Pentecost is about breaking out of the framework, and being about God's reconciling mission in the world. Pentecost is about being a follower of Jesus and doing it together, with other people on the way. And for us, it is about doing it in this peculiar and particular way as Episcopalians at St. Andrew's. As I've been reflecting on church, and as I've been influenced by a few "top ten" lists I've seen floating around blogs, I've come up with my own "ten reasons to do church." They are actually in no particular order.
1 Church is where there is always something to eat, and everyone gets fed. We know our risen lord in the breaking of the bread, we know our risen lord in the sharing of a meal, we know our risen lord in the hearts and the faces of those we feed as well as in the feeding. Something mystical and amazing happens when we are made Jesus' body through the sharing of a meal. We are made whole, we are put back together, we are joined with God and with one another.
2 Our liturgy, what we do when we are gathered together, makes sense of our lives. Because many of us live hectic and full lives, we make room for silence. Because we need a language for worship of that which is not us, we pray with words and symbol, we pray with music and song, we pray in order and in chaos. Because when the pain gets too hard to bear, we have a place to put it here, in this place. And when the joy and gratitude bubble over, there are others to catch it and share it.
3 No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you. That one is not really mine, it's from Robin Williams, who is an Episcopalian. We engage in the very important skill of theological reflection. We engage the world, and we consider it through the lens of scripture, tradition, and reason. We read scripture together, we learn about its context, we talk about it, we even argue about it, and we make up our own minds as to how we live its call in our lives. You don't have to check your mind at the door. And no matter what we gather around the table and eat together anyway.
4 People love one another. That is an action, not necessarily a feeling. We treat each other, and all those who come looking for acceptance, with dignity and respect. And when we don't, we ask for forgiveness and are granted it. This is a vision of the kingdom. In God's kingdom, all are loved, all are cared for, all are forgiven. In church, we fall short but that continues to be the vision.
5 Children are always welcome, old people too, and gay people and straight people for that matter, and ordinary people, and extraordinary people. God loves everyone, no exceptions, and church, this church in particular, lives that out. Again, not perfectly, there are times when we forget who we are, we forget that our number one priority is to welcome all as Christ welcomes all.
6 There are some important times in people's lives that we pay attention to: birth and baptism, marriage, death, and even the times in between, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, times of sickness and suffering, times of joy and celebration, comings and goings. We pay attention to these times because it is often at these times the time and distance between us and God, us and the others in our lives, thins. It is these times when we lift our hearts and our voices to give God praise, to ask for strength and courage, to turn to one another for support, not because we have to, but because it is what our humanity calls us to. We talk to God and with one another in the words that come into our hearts and our minds, and when we cannot find the words to say what needs to be said, we turn to our Prayer Book. We turn to the words that have been said and prayed through the years, the decades, and the centuries. There we can place our joy and our sorrow, and know that we are held in the awesome presence of our Creator God, our Father and Mother God, our loving God.
7 We show up consistently, we listen, we tell the truth, and we try, hard as we might, to let go of the outcome. This one is the foundation of all ministry. We show up. That's a tough one these days. There is so much that demands our attention. There are many, many things we could be doing besides coming here to do this each Sunday morning. But we know that it's not about having the time to come, none of us really have any time, instead, it's about knowing that to be whole people, we need to stop for a few moments, stop and listen to God and to one another. We show up.
We listen, we listen to God's word, to one another, sometimes you even listen to me, I try to listen to you. We listen in the silence of this space, we listen to the cacophony of the marketplace, we listen to the music of the spheres and the music we make together. We listen.
We tell the truth. How hard is that? The truth that God loves you no matter what. The truth that God came and comes into this created world to walk with us on the way. The truth that there is pain and suffering and sometimes life just sucks, but we are not alone. The truth that in Jesus life, and suffering and death on the cross, Love wins. The truth that nothing belongs to us anyway, the truth that we are stewards of God's creation, stewards of our children, stewards of this beautiful building, and we live in gratitude for all of it.
We let go of the outcome. See number eight.
8 We recognize that God is God and we are not. We are not the center of the universe, we are not the hub of the wheel, we are not the most important of God's creation. We are interdependent, we are one part of a mighty creation, we are not in control. We let go of the outcome.
9 We recognize that we are transformed by God's amazing and abundant love in Jesus Christ. The relationship that God has with us changes us, the relationship we have with others changes us. We begin to look more and more like people of mercy and compassion, we begin to look more and more like people who feed each other, who feed the hungry. We begin to look more and more like people who miss the mark, ask for forgiveness, and are loved regardless.
10 We go out into the world as followers of Jesus, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the imprisoned, see number 9. We embody mercy and compassion, we listen to God's call in our lives, we seek to get on board with what God is already blessing. We recognize that God is the greatest healing and integrating force in an increasingly fragmented world. We understand that it is our call to be the peace makers, the light bearers, the agents of healing and reconciliation in the world.
So there's my ten reasons for church, and for this church. On this Feast of Pentecost, I ask some questions about the future of the church. How do we keep ever reforming, ever emerging? How do we find a way to speak in a language people can understand? How do we stay nimble, that is, how do we respond to the global nature of the world in which we live, and how do we respond to the ever more instant communication that people have in their hands and at their disposal? How do we help people to see that true freedom is in relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit, and with others?
I have ten answers, see above. Love wins. Amen.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Saturday, May 19, 2012
These readings we have before us in these days, the story of the resurrection, the story of the road to Emmaus, the story of the Ascension, the story of the birth of the church at Pentecost, are all stories that challenge our perspective, stories that challenge us to remove the limits we have put on our own humanity. As I challenge you to change your perspective, I offer this about a young woman I know. Today I challenge you to see life, death and resurrection from a new perspective, and to do so, I want to tell you about Pam. I know Pam from my days of coaching swimming at the Blaisdell YMCA. Pam was in high school when she swam for the team. She was one of those who showed up for practice, who worked very hard, who had some good times but wasn't a first place swimmer, and who had a lot of fun. I remember Pam most clearly as one of four on the relays. In those days she was all about supporting her teammates, swimming her very best, having a great attitude, and helping out when and where she could. Pam actually reminds me of myself. Rick and I were married during one of those swimming seasons, and Pam, with all the other girls in her relay, were at our wedding, we have pictures of all of them at the wedding, the whole team in fact. Pam's children, two little girls, swim for the Blaisdell YMCA swim team. Now my sister, Mary, who coordinates aquatics there, knows Pam and her husband and their children well. About six months ago, Pam was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After a little radiation, it was clear there was nothing to be done. I have kept up with Pam's dieing by way of the Caring Bridge website. Her sisters write about once a week, they write about their sister, they write about their nieces mother, they write about their brother-in-law's wife, and as I read what they write I am reminded of the young woman I knew so many years earlier. Today she is a sister who is supportive and present, a mom who is filled with joy at the live's of her children, and a wife who is attentive to her loving husband. And the story they are telling about life and death is heartbreaking, honest, and grace-filled. Pam lives in a thin place, the door to her new life is open wide, and soon she will step through it. Her sisters also tell a story of perspective. Pam has lost so much, she has lost the ability to run and play, and yet every smile and laugh and hug are treasured. The gap between Pam's life and death is minuscule, really non-exsistent. It really is no different for us. I share this story with you today to illustrate perspective. The value of our lives and our relationships all depend on where we stand and what we see. We perceive a time and space gap between us and God. We perceive a chasm that stretches from here to eternity. But, you see, the gap between this life and the resurrected life only seems big and wide and deep from our perspective. I am pretty sure from God's perspective, the gap between new life, the resurrected life, is not so big. From Pam's perspective, there is no gap, that place is thin and holy. With Jesus' life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the gift of the holy spirit, the gap has been closed. Why can't we live in those thin places, where God's love and grace are so very close. We get so hung up in that perceived gap. We get so concerned with time and space that we can't even seem to function. We ask questions that miss the point. We wonder how much time we have before we must or are forced to turn around and pay attention to God. We ask about what happens to us after death. Some people focus so desperately on right and wrong behavior. And we wonder why, why do good people, young people, get brain tumors and die. But all of that misses the mark. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus show us that God's love is operative right now. God's love was, is, and will be forever. God's love is available to all, no exceptions. There is no gap between God and us. God is with us in love, God is with us in the gift of the spirit, God is with us in one another. Our job is to respond to that love, not at some later date, not once and for all, but now, and again, and again, and again. Our response to God's love looks a lot like the fruits of the spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our response to God's love looks a lot like how we live our lives, and how we die our deaths. Our response to God's love changes our perspective. And the story of the ascension shows us that Jesus is with us always. I don't quite understand how that works, it's the gap thing all over again, but that is the wrong perspective. The ascension shows us that somehow in this Good News that love wins, God's love is made available to every one at every time, when life is good and joyful, and when life is hard or broken. At some time and in some space, Jesus physically walked this same road we are on. But one of the limitations of embodied humanity, Jesus' embodied humanity, your embodied humanity, is that we occupy physical time and physical space. Another limitation of embodied humanity is that we stop occupying physical time and physical space. What changes with Jesus is that God shows us that God loves everyone, no exceptions, at all times and in all places. What changes with Jesus is the gift of the Holy Spirit. What changes with Jesus is that the gap is closed between God and creation, God and us. Our response to God's love changes our perspective. The story from John we have before us today is actually a Jesus prayer, it's the other Lord's prayer. In it, Jesus asks God for joy and protection for us, for all of us who occupy this life. With the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the gap is closed. Our response to God's love changes our perspective. The cracks in our hearts are filled with God's healing love. The cracks in our relationships are filled with God's forgiving love. The cracks in our perfection are filled with God's perfect love. The space between God and us is thin, the gap is closed, Jesus does that for us. From God's perspective, we are already enveloped, engulfed, we are already one. Our job is to respond to God's love with mercy and compassion. As we respond with mercy and compassion, as we respond with the fruits of the spirit, as we respond with joy and grace, our perspective changes. We are transformed, and Love wins. As we respond to God's love with joy and grace, the situations in which we find ourselves are transformed. We become the peacemakers, the graceful ones. We become the bridge between God and those whose hearts have been hardened, and their perspective changes. The space between God and us is thin, the gap is closed. Love wins. Amen.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
As our grass finally turns green, as the tulips bloom brightly in our gardens, as the lilacs delight the senses, as my beloved purple iris open their blossoms to the sun, we celebrate this rite of spring. All winter long we yearn for the warmth of the dirt, and the smell of the dirt as we dig and play in it. All winter long we give thanks for any moisture that comes our way, knowing that it's falling from the sky results in new growth. Even when spring comes early, we are out planting, hoping against hope that there is no more frost to bring our work to naught, but secretly thinking it really doesn't matter because it's just a wonderful excuse to be outside and not inside. Before us today is a passage we all know well. I'll read it again in Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message. "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples." The gospel of John is rich with metaphor, ripe with meaning. At the very least, this is a passage about growth and grapes, but it also tells us something of how to live, and it is very much about following Jesus. In our collection of readings this morning it is coupled with 1 John, God is love, and we, followers of Jesus, must love our brothers and our sisters. Eugene Peterson translates, live in me, make your home in me, which I find very helpful. Other translations use abide in me, and remain in me. All of these invoke intimacy and connection. God, the farmer, God the vine-grower, God the gardener, wants us, each one of us and all of us to remain connected to our source, to our creator, and in doing so, we not only grow but we bear fruit. The image is to remain connected to the vine, it doesn't say, in any of the translations, that we are to connect ourselves to the vine. Our organic and natural state is connection. The vines that fall away are gathered together and thrown into the bonfire. Apart from the vine, our lives result in disconnection, disorientation, disintegration. It's a beautiful image, the farmer caring for the vine and the grapes, a pastoral image that maybe some can't image in this time of immediacy, in this age of instant results. I was wondering about an image that could possibly be similar today, and I think of your computer, or my iPad, devices that give us instant communication and fast results, but that don't work unless sometimes we connect them into the power source to be re-enlivened. They really would just be typewriters on steroids without the internet and the world wide web that connects us to people and information all over the known world. Even Facebook and all the other social media portals would be nothing if it were not for all the others we get connected to. Are they live-giving? That question remains to be answered, but for matters of metaphor they'll do. And to what end are we given this illustration, this tangly vine metaphor that John uses? It is about being disciples, it is about following Jesus, it is about loving our brothers and our sisters. The point is to bear fruit, and in bearing fruit, God is glorified and we are disciples. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It really is as simple as that, we try to make it so much harder. We get so caught up in semantics sometimes, you and I sometimes even bristle at the word Christian, because it means one thing to some, and another thing to others. You and I and all of us together follow Jesus. That is what we are to do, as we follow Jesus we bear fruit, and we glorify God. So what does this call to bearing fruit look like? Picture a vine laden with grapes, so heavy it pulls itself to the ground if not held up by some sort of trellis. So heavy with grapes they can't help but spill over onto the ground, so colorful that they can't help but make the hands of the picker all blue and purple. Our call to bearing fruit causes our love to overflow like those heavy laden grape vines. And our call to bearing fruit is very clear in the passage in first John, it is to love our brothers and sisters. It is to love our brothers and our sisters. These are the brothers and sisters who make us crazy, these are the ones you can't live with, and you can't live without. These are the brothers and sisters you wish would call more often and who talk too much on the phone. These are the brothers and sisters you fight with and who you sit down to dinner with. These are the brothers and sisters who drink too much, tell dirty jokes, and die much too early. These are the brothers and sisters who take care of your parents just like you do. These are the brothers and sisters who produce your nieces and nephews. These are the brothers and sisters who won't pick up their toys, who hit you in the back seat of the car, who want to watch a stupid movie when you're trying to watch your own stupid movie, these are the brothers and sisters you love no matter what. It's a good thing Love wins, because there are those days when loving your brothers and sisters is absolutely impossible. We don't pick our brothers and our sisters. There are those we wish were are brothers and our sisters, the ones we like, the ones we get along with, the ones we invite over for sleepovers, the ones who love us just the way we are. I'm really thankful for them, I call them friends. And, we count ourselves lucky when our brothers and our sisters are also our friends. But still, that's not what fruit-bearing and following Jesus are really all about. Following Jesus is about what we do not only when it's easy and convenient, but what we do when it is not easy or convenient. Of course loving our brothers and sisters is about loving our brothers and sisters, but it is so much bigger than that. It is also about loving our brothers and sisters who live on this giant rock with us, because we are all related. Following Jesus is about that relationship. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our creator God's relationship to us each and every day. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our connection to one another every day. Following Jesus is about finding the relationship between people, finding the connection between us and the other, finding the way to acknowledge one another's dignity and worth, even when that seems impossible. Following Jesus is being connected to this vine that gives us life. Because it is Love that wins, after all.