Saturday, July 28, 2012

9 Pentecost Yr B

It was a hot and humid July day in Sunberg Minnesota for the first of it's kind Braaton family reunion. The kind of day that just standing still you sweat, the kind of summer day that makes you wish for a winter day when the wind blows and makes your bones so cold. This is the July day in Sunberg that we all gathered at the community center to see many we hadn’t seen for years, others, we’d just met. This is the July day that everyone brought their best, their best jello salad, their best potato salad, their best rolls, their best glorified rice, their very best. This is the July day that the picnic tables were full to overflowing with the best potluck in the world. This is the July day that we revel in the abundance that is family, and food, and fellowship.

Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. They all sat there in the city park, about five thousand in all, somewhat more than our family reunions, but not much. Jesus took the five loaves of bread, the two fish, gave thanks for all he had, and distributed them to everyone. They ate as much as they wanted, and when they were satisfied, the disciples gathered up the fragments, and they filled twelve baskets.

It seems to me that this feeding story in the gospel of John is a precursor to the feeding stories of our family and church potlucks and meals. They are stories of abundance. When was the last time anyone went away hungry from your family potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a St. Andrew’s potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a meal St. Andrew’s served at the Cornerstone mission? Even when it seems like there may not be enough, somewhere, somehow, there is enough, and usually more than enough. These stories show us divine plenty and generosity. Even when it seems like and looks like abundance cannot be found, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” God’s abundance shows up.

I even think the story about David in Samuel is about abundance, albeit judgment. David has so much, he is king, he has wives and property, he has more than any one person could use. And yet he wants more, he wants Bathsheeba, Uriah's wife. God says to David through Nathan as we'll hear in the later verses, "I gave you so much, and you wanted more. There will be trouble for you."

But it's not even about how much we have. How much we have is beside the point. It's that nothing belongs to us anyway. Everything is a gift, we are stewards of that gift. We are called to give thanks, we are called to do likewise, we are called to pay it forward.

But sometimes it feels like we are losing so very much, our retirements seem to have gotten smaller, people around us out of work for months after losing their jobs, and goods and services cost more than ever, how can we even think about paying it forward? We do so because it is our call, it is our mission, and we do it because of God’s abundance, we do it because of this story from the gospel of John, even when it looks like there cannot be enough, God’s divine plenty and generosity and love is ever present, God’s abundance shows up, all we have to do is get out of the way and get involved in the work God has already blessed.

Instead of living in fear, we continue to serve a meal at Cornerstone mission, instead of living in fear, we collect money to provide new clothes for children to begin school in the fall, instead of living in fear, we continue to pay our expenses and payroll here at St. Andrew’s in creative ways.

When we respond to God’s divine plenty and generosity even in a time of fear and perceived loss,
with confidence and abundant generosity ourselves, amazing things happen. We are able to show people the truth of resurrection. Resurrection shows us that when life as we know it dies, new life will arise. We are in the midst of loss and for some death, I am confident in resurrection, I am confident in the new thing that God is doing. And in the midst of God’s divine plenty and generosity, people continue to love one another, people continue to care for one another, people continue to be generous themselves.

And it cannot be accidental that the feeding of the five thousand is followed immediately by the story of Jesus walking on the sea. Jesus said to them, and says to us, “it is I; do not be afraid.” When it feels like we are losing more than we are gaining, when it seems like there is not enough, remember, in he breaking and the sharing of the bread, there is always enough, “it is I; do not be afraid.”

This story from John is not only a description of the way God’s abundance was present then and is now; it also points us to the feast that is to come. This massive picnic in the wilderness is manna from heaven, the bread of angels. Our participation in the feeding of many today, our participation in God’s divine plenty and generosity today, does affect the Kingdom that will come. The story continues to show us that Jesus is the bread of life. Feeding people, their minds, their bodies and their spirits
is what you are about here at St. Andrew's. No one goes hungry, everyone is invited to the feast.
Because Love wins, not fear.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

8 Pentecost Yr B

When they got out of the boat many recognized Jesus and his disciples. They began to bring the sick to wherever they heard Jesus was. They begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. Jesus brought healing wherever he went. Jesus brings healing wherever he goes. Jesus brings healing whenever you and I invite him into our present reality. This healing that Jesus offers is physical healing, as well as reconciliation of relationships, wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. Jesus makes whole what is fragmented, In a broken and fragmented world, Jesus is the most powerful reconciling force.

Jesus brings wholeness out of fragmentation, Jesus brings reconciliation to relationships, what happens is transformation, and transformation means change. If you are to be healed, you are to be transformed. Healing and transformation are part of an ongoing relationship with Jesus. Jesus' power to heal, Jesus' power to make whole, is like a refiner's fire. I've been reading with some interest about the presence of many blacksmith's this weekend at the fairgrounds. Imagine what a blacksmith does. They take a blob of metal, heat it so hot that it becomes pliable, maybe even liquid, and pound it into something new, something you could not imagine that lump of metal could ever have been. Sometime that is what Jesus' healing is like. It's a powerful creative force that makes us into something we could never have imagined before, or even done on our own. Sometimes it is more like the peeling back of of an onion skin, one slow and painful layer at a time. It's really different for each of us. But being healed, being made whole, being reconciled is risky business. The risk is in letting go of what is a sure thing, to be made into something new.

The sure thing, the thing we know so well, the thing we are so comfortable with, needs to be refined into something else, something new. Often the sure thing is unhealthy habits we've acquired that lead to a death spiral, not eating well, smoking, drinking, using drugs. Sometimes the sure thing is work habits that lead to financial and social well being, but not right relationship with God, self, and others. Often we hang onto that sure thing at our own peril, but who wants to have their sure thing made into something that may be better, but is guaranteed to be much more painful during the refining. Sometimes we enter the healing process, the spiritual journey, willingly, like those in our gospel today, often we go kicking and screaming.

But the reality is that healing always requires a kind of death before the healing resurrection can happen. There's no getting around that. That's what Jesus' life and death and work on the cross make real for us. That's why Jesus' work on the cross matters to us, to those who came before us, and to those who will come after us. Our lives give testimony to that reality, our stories of healing and new life always include the journey with Jesus through the difficult and painful times.

It's no different for us as a church. You all know that Rick and I were in Indianapolis for our General Convention. Rick was an able volunteer helping people find their way through the maze of hotel meeting spaces and the convention center, as well as finding some time to see Lucas Oil Stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play, and together with about 3000 of our close Episcopal friends we enjoyed a baseball game and other activities. As a deputy to General Convention, I serve on the Education committee. Our focus was on the foundation of Baptism to all our ministry and the priority of Life-long christian formation. We talked particularly about Confirmation as a mature witness to the transformation that Jesus calls us to. Our conversation dovetailed another committee's conversation about Holy Communion and it's place in our faith journey's. What became clear is something I've known for a long time, that a faith journey is not linear. We don't achieve baptism and then communion and then confirmation and then marriage or ordination and then children... It's much more like a deepening, it's much more like a spiral. The events of our lives, those that are painful and joyful, may cause us to ask questions that cause us to reconsider and recommit and deepen our relationship with God and with others, that may cause us to spend a season of our lives in service or in silence. Anyway, that's a lot of stuff to consider.

Considering these things as an entire church elicit both excitement and fear in people, some get excited about doing things in a whole new way, some get fearful about doing away with time-honored tradition. It's very scary to give up the sure thing for something that is only just being imagined. Being able to have these conversations is very important, and I believe set the groundwork for probably the most important thing we did at convention, and that is to re-imagine the structure of our church. So on a very practical level, we voted to move our church offices out of the building in Manhattan to a less expensive site to be determined, and we voted to re-structure all of the commissions and committees.

We continually ask the question, what is God calling us to do? Who is God calling us to be? Nobody really knows the answer, we are Episcopalians, but we are willing to go into the very frightening unknown, we are willing to take the risk of being refined, made into something we couldn't even imagine before, so that we can respond to God's call in this world of technology and immediacy, and in this world that is so desperately in need of healing. The reality of Jesus in our lives and in our world bring us to a place where we are willing to be transformed, it is scary and risky business. I bet you haven't read about that part in the news.

It is the foundation of Baptism, and it is this witness of Jesus in our lives and in our world that also bring us to a place of approving the provisional use of blessings for same sex couples. Again, we are Episcopalian, and we don't all agree. But I believe as a church we are in a very graceful place, a place where we can be transformed by God's love, we do believe that Love wins, and Jesus' healing makes us new.

And then there was the "Official Youth Presence." Each Province, and there are nine provinces, chose two youth representatives from many who had applied. Cole Meyer, from Sioux Falls, was one of the two from Province VI. The youth were seated with the rest of the deputies and had voice in conversation and debate. They were eloquent, inspiring, and well dressed. Their presence changes us, they are not the church of the future, they are who we are today, and we're blessed to hear their voice.

In the coming weeks we will have opportunities to talk about these and the other decisions and experiences of General Convention, we will have opportunities to listen to what God calls us to and who God calls us to be here at St. Andrew's. I look forward to the conversation.