Saturday, June 23, 2012

4th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B

I love stories about the underdog. We’ve watched Rudy so many times we can recite the lines, and I cry every time Rudy gets put into the game. Mighty Ducks, the first one, is another favorite, I sit on the edge of my seat until the end of the game, even though I’ve seen them win a bazillion times. The Rookie, Star Wars, Chariots of Fire, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, and the list goes on. The reason I bring all this up is that I wonder at the question, which comes first, our passion for rooting for the little guy, or the story of David and the story of Jesus?

During the time in which the story in Samuel first was told, Israel is constantly at war with the Philistines. Ancient warfare was highly ritualized. In Homer’s Iliad, we read how battles were conducted in ancient times in the epic story of the siege of Troy, about 1200 BC. We see that each side would send out its great champion who would fight on behalf of his people. Often the battle would end there, because whichever champion won the other side would be so demoralized it would retreat. In this story we read today, the Philistines have a champion who is described as well, huge, Goliath. And the problem is that the Jewish forces have no champion at all. The Jewish troops are stationed on the one side of the Elah Valley, south of Jerusalem, a place that you can still visit today in Israel, and the Philistines are on the other. Goliath is marching out in front of the Philistine lines, shouting curses at the Jews and challenging someone to come and fight him. Choose yourself a man and let him come down to me shouts Goliath. If he can fight me and kill me, we will be slaves to you; if I defeat him and kill him, you will be slaves to us and serve us. The mortified Israelite army has to listen to this, because no one is willing to take on Goliath. One day, David, who is still a shepherd and not a soldier, shows up on the battlefield bringing food for his brothers and he’s shocked by what he sees. Outraged at Goliath’s blasphemous insulting of the God of Israel, David volunteers to fight Goliath, though he has a hard time convincing everybody to let him go out into the field. Finally, he convinces King Saul with his steadfast faith in God.

I remember my first New Testament professor telling us that all history is written from the perspective of the winners. History published in history books is written from the perspective of the winners. The losers don’t write history, and their story is rarely told in history books. Western civilization loves its winners and they are often assigned near divine status, or, at the least, God is on the winner’s side status.

And yet we have before us this story of David in which the underdog becomes the champion. And we have this story of Jesus, in which those who are low are raised up, those who are on the margins are brought to the center, those who have no power are empowered, and lowly fisher folk become disciples.

I wonder if it is just part of human nature to claim to be on the side of the winner. Is it part of our DNA? The biological story may support that. We know the story of the survival of the strongest. We know that the human drive is to procreate, to survive and to thrive. In the animal kingdom the weakest and the smallest don’t last long. But Jesus shows us that in God’s kingdom in dying we are alive, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing everything.

God’s kingdom is very different from humanity's kingdom. In God’s kingdom, the underdog becomes the champion. In God’s kingdom, fisher folk become disciples and bring the Good News to all nations, to all people, to the ends of the earth. In God’s kingdom, God has faith in the people, and the people respond with faith the size of a mustard seed in God. In God’s kingdom, faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to grow and accomplish great things. In God’s kingdom, not only does the underdog win, not only does the lowest get lifted up, but even what is dead has new life. In God's kingdom, Love wins every time. Even the faltering and fearful faith of the disciples can become awe.

The Good News is that God’s kingdom has begun. Jesus’ life, and love, suffering and death, and resurrection began God’s kingdom. In God’s time God’s kingdom will be fulfilled. In the meantime, you and I can be active participants in God’s kingdom. We can respond to God’s love, we can respond to God’s faith in us. We can be on the side of the underdog. We can be with the imperfect, fearful disciples in the boat. Both of these texts are about courage and fear and what happens when you let the fear take over. So they are also about what happens when Love wins. We are so much like those disciples in the boat, being afraid of what's under the bed. Every time we turn around someone is telling us to be afraid, someone is preaching gloom and doom. But God's message is not about fear. God's message is about love.

So I return to the all time best underdog movie, Rudy. For those of you who don’t know the story, Rudy grew up in a steel mill town where most people ended up working, but Rudy wanted to play football at Notre Dame instead. There were only a couple of problems. His grades were a little low, his athletic skills were poor, and he was only half the size of the other players. But he had the drive and the spirit of 5 people and has set his sights upon joining the team. He spent two years at St. Mary’s working on his grades and working his way through school. When he finally got into Notre Dame as a junior, he walked on to the team and served on the ‘scout’ team as pretty much a tackling dummy. By the time he was a senior, he had endeared himself to the really good football players, and they really wanted him to be officially recognized as a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and that would only happen if he participated in at least one play. Rudy’s teammates had already experienced his heart, and his steadfast faith, and insisted to the coach that Rudy suit up. So in the waning moments of the last game of Rudy’s senior year, the team and then the fans chanted Rudy, Rudy, coach put him in and Rudy ran a couple of plays. It wasn’t about winning at all, it was about a little guy who responded to life in big ways and with gusto. It was about faith, it was about being fully engaged in relationship with God and with others.

We are called to respond to life's challenges with courage, and not in fear. We are called to row the boat together, and when we do, we'll all get to the shore.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

2 Pentecost Yr B

I am reminded of a story we used to read to our children, after the little bird breaks out of the egg, his mother goes to find some food and the baby bird tumbles out of the nest to find his mother. He walks right past his mother and does not recognize her, and then he continues on and asks the kitten, the hen, the dog, the cow, the car, the boat, the plane and the snort, Are you my mother? Of course they were not, luckily the little bird ended up back in the nest, and his mother came home with a big fat worm to eat, and the little bird knew that that was his mother. How did the little bird recognize his mother? in the feeding and in the eating..... This story from Mark is told in the context of a meal.

Mark has Jesus ask this question, who is my mother, who are my brothers, who is my family? In this story that Mark tells us, Jesus redefines the criteria for what constitutes his true family. True family is determined by who does the will of God. What Mark asks us to do with this story is to rethink all relationships a new light, in a kingdom light. Jesus makes a claim about what it might mean to belong to other people, what Jesus does is to make a claim about identity.

People who follow Jesus are people who belong to God and who belong to one another. Our identity is a beloved child of God, we are marked as Christ's own forever, we are in relationship with our creator and the rest of creation. In the time in which Jesus lived and a little later when Mark was writing, this claim made one a crazy person, as evidenced in this story, and it made one guilty of sedition. The scribes who came down from Jerusalem, the religious heavy hitters, decided Jesus must be insane, because surely he would not make claims about kingdom that would make the empire mad, that would just not do. But indeed, Jesus was not crazy, so maybe his claims about kingdom life could be true.

In our contemporary society, which is a post-christian society, to claim identity as a follower of Jesus is tied to being a beloved child of God, this identity is tied to being part of a community of faith, a community of reconciliation, makes one seem crazy. This identity flies in the face of autonomy and individualism and self-determination. Even much of what some call Christianity today is about individual salvation, it's all about me and God. But this passage from Mark is about Jesus' claim of kinship, that we are all related, that we indeed belong to each other, we belong together, and that is like what we experience as family, but it is also bigger, broader and deeper than what we experience as family. The image is much more like an intricate web in which the thread continues infinitely, than a hierarchy in which one person is at the top, or even a wheel in which any one of us may be the hub.

As a follower of Jesus, we find our identity in being a beloved child of God, who has brothers and sisters for whom Love wins. We find our identity in being marked as Christ's own forever in baptism. We are loved, we are precious beyond measure, created for loving relationship with the source of all life and with one another. So what does this mean for us today? What does it mean to be part of this family that Jesus calls together? What does it mean to do the will of God?

Since I have placed this story from Mark clearly in the context of identity, and I have suggested that our identity is formed by being a beloved child of God, and being marked as Christ's own forever in baptism, I will answer those questions about what does this means by looking at the blueprint for following Jesus, our baptismal covenant. According to Dwight Zscheile (Schylie) again, his book People of the Way, Renewing Episcopal Identity is a must read for all of us, "community experiences God's grace and healing in the Eucharist, where the brokenness of our lives and the world is transformed into a foretaste of the heavenly feast. Christian ministry begins in baptism, where our identities are changed and we live no longer for ourselves but for God, for one another, and for our neighbors in the world. We become participating members of the body of Christ through the power of the Spirit."(p.89)

We promise to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. Continuing in the apostles teaching is a central challenge for us. For many, the bible is an intimidating book that seems difficult to enter into meaningfully. We don't necessarily like everything it has to say. But we must listen to it, we must be informed by it, and we must teach our children and grandchildren it's stories. We must let it become our story so that we may be part of the story. You have opportunities at St. Andrew's in bible study and in Education for Ministry. And if we don't have what you want or need at the time you want or need it, please get it started yourself. The central activity for us as we gather together is sharing bread and that is good. This space is a depository of all of your prayers, you come here and we share our prayers and praise, and you bring that Spirit back out into the world as agents of reconciliation and peace.

We promise to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord. The call to following Jesus is a call to transformation, deep change that encompasses our hearts, minds, and every aspect of our lives. This part of the baptismal covenant acknowledges the persistent reality to sin, to miss the mark. The persistent reality of evil isolates people, fragments people and relationships, breaks relationships, and causes people to do horrible things to one another. We dis-integrate in the face of evil. God is the single most integrating force in this world. We are transformed from disintegration to integration, from individuals to a body of christ.

We promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. It is time to tell Jesus' story, it is time to tell your story, it is time to identify where God is your your life and in our live together. This is the story of wholeness, of reconciliation, of peace. This is the story about God's choice to walk with us, to walk with humanity through the pain and suffering of this life. This is the story of suffering and death, and the reality that our creator walks with us through that, doesn't take it from us, but walks with us in the midst of it. It is the story of resurrection. This is a story you all know well. New life happens, Love wins. We need to tell this story by word and example. We need to give others the gift of walking together and not alone, we need to give others the gift of community, of meaning, of purpose.

We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as ourselves. As followers of Jesus we need to love others as we have first been loved. I have heard people say things like they don't deserve to be treated with respect, or she didn't deserve that painful death, or he doesn't deserve to have that tremendous gift. The reality is that what we deserve and what we get have nothing to do with each other. Jesus walked this journey on earth, suffered humiliation and pain, went to the cross, not because he deserved it but because of love. On the cross Jesus absorbs all that pain and suffering and takes it out of the world with him, and non of us deserve any of that. God loves, love wins, and that's enough. Christ comes to us as the stranger or as the guest. We are called to love others, in whom the image of God is present.

We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. We are marked as Christ's own forever, we are called to God's mission of restoring human community, the place in which we live and move and have our being, to right relationships. Living as followers of Jesus means sharing in Christ's compassion for the vulnerable, suffering, hungry, homeless and poor. We do so as participants in God's kingdom, as participants in God's family, not because we can solve the world's problems through our own strength. This is God's work in which we share, this is God's mission in which we participate. As Bono, of the band U2 has said, "Stop asking God to bless what you're doing. Get involved in what God is doing -- because it's already blessed."

We are family, we are followers of Jesus, they may call us crazy, but what a way to go.
Love wins, Amen.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Trinity Sunday

If you remember back to ten reasons to do church, that I talked about last week, you'll remember that I began with eating. Much of our gathering together is around eating a meal, eating bread and drinking wine. I'm reading a fabulous book called People of the Way, Renewing Episcopal Identity, by Dwight Zscheile (Shylie), he writes

"Every Sunday at ordinary Episcopal churches, something extraordinary takes place. In a society in which tables of hospitality are mostly closed off to strangers, a public feast is held. You don't need to buy a ticket to this meal. Not everyone necessarily knows each other; not everyone gets along perfectly, but they come together nonetheless. The food is simple stuff - bread and wine - about to become something more than itself. As the story is told and songs are sung, a change takes place. Hearts are lifted. The brokenness in the lives of each of the participants, and the brokenness of the world, is brought into focus. Healing begins to pour through it. Lives turned inward are opened outward. In the midst of the messiness and richness of this meal is the presence of Jesus, felt and known through the Spirit, tasted in the bread and wine, inviting us and the whole of the world into community with God." (p.44)

I think this description of what we do when we gather together has everything to do with Trinity, which we recognize today. I've told you before about the time when I was in high school at my regular Sunday evening youth group meeting. The young priest came to teach us all about the Trinity. I figured I'd have all my questions answered that night, but no, I left more confused than I was when I arrived. But it's really not that hard. Theologians and systematicians make it more confusing than it has to be. You know, in many churches that have multiple priests on staff, it's always the new guy that preaches on Trinity Sunday because no one else wants to.

Trinity is a way of talking about the richness of God's communal life. Trinity is community with God, it is relationship. It is God's nature to create others to share in God's life. As followers of Jesus in the first few centuries sought to make sense out of the relationship between the Jesus they had known as Lord, the Spirit they experienced in community, and the God of Israel to whom the scriptures gave witness, they developed the doctrine of the Trinity.

The reading we have before us today from Isaiah shows us the God who is creator of all, of all that is seen and unseen, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. And from Romans we see the Spirit that bears witness that we are all children of God. In John, we see Jesus, who comes into this world and lives and loves and suffers and dies and absorbs all the pain and suffering and violence on the cross. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about what new life is all about. This is Trinity. It is how God presents Godself, it is how we humans imagine God in relationship. It is a model of how we may live this life in community with others on the way.

I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three. Creative, compassionate, merciful. Father, son, spirit. Mother, daughter, servant. Composer, musicians, music. Author, story, reader. Swimmer, water, breath. Steam, liquid, ice. Light, wave, particle.

Essentially, the Trinity says what our sacred text says at its opening creation story: that it is not good for humans — or God for that matter — to be alone; that meaning is created in community and through relationships; that we do better as creatures when we join hands rather than raise fists. Trinity is God experienced in community, Trinity is God's abundant and amazing love spilling out creatively as it includes all of God's creation. Trinity is much less a doctrine, and much more a dance. A dance in which everyone participates.

So what does Trinity mean for us today? So many people believe the story that dominates American life today, you indeed may be one of them. That you are what you earn or achieve, that identity must be cobbled together from a wide array of shifting possibilities, that you must work incessantly at securing meaning and community because these things are not given. Amidst competition, consumerism, anxiety, and opportunity, life is what you make of it, largely on your own. Underneath these swirling waters of struggle lay the deep currents of isolation, fragmentation, and despair.

The story that we tell, the truth that we tell, is one in which every human life is precious beyond measure, created for loving relationship with the source of all life. In this story, your worth is given, not earned. You are welcomed into a community in which no one goes hungry, differences need not be a cause of division, but a gift to be celebrated, you are offered forgiveness and are released to forgive others. You are claimed by a love and power beyond your own. You are held in arms of grace, you are part of a community in which Love wins. And in that, you are freed to participate in the restoration of human community and all creation.

Trinity calls us to wholeness, to relationship, to community. Trinity calls us away from isolation, and frees us to call each other neighbor. Our response to that is to participate in what God is already doing in the world. If our God is a God of relationship, of community, of co-creativity, maybe that's what our mission is in the world. Maybe participating in what God is already doing in the world is about building bridges, reaching out, inviting others into the Love that wins, the love that embraces every one no matter what.

Maybe participating in what God is already doing is about accompanying people, walking with people who are hurting, and offering partnership in that. It isn't always about relieving suffering, sometimes it is walking the path with others, like Jesus does. Maybe participating in what God is already doing is about responding to those who would crucify us, with love and not revenge, therefore absorbing hate like Jesus does, instead of inflaming hate. Maybe participating in what God is already doing is showing that Love wins, like Jesus does, instead of spewing words of judgement.

Trinity, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, is about participating in a web of relationship, eating with a community of people, dancing with others to the music of the seraphim. It is proclaiming with Isaiah, Here I am, send me! It is proclaiming with Jesus, Love wins. Amen.