Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ the King, Yr B, Nov 25 2012

The description of Christ the King is probably one of the most loud and subtle oxymorons of all time. Christ the King. Just listen to it, Christ the King. Jesus, the baby born in a barn to parents of no status or honor, who spent his life with no roof over his head, always on the road, foraging for his next meal. Whose message is consistently, love one another. Jesus, whose friends were never quite sure of him, and whose reputation was suspect as far as those who had power were concerned, the scribes and pharisees and others who ranked high at the temple. Jesus, whose life ended hung on a Roman cross, the most degrading, torturous death imaginable. Jesus, the King.

For me a helpful image to illustrate this oxymoron is in a movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That's the one where Indiana Jones goes to seek the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from. Remember, Indy and his dad and the bad guys found the ancient knight guarding the cup, Indy had to find his way through the maze that could kill him. When he got there, there were many choices, gold cups, platinum, silver, terra cotta and wood. The knight says "you must choose, but choose wisely, for as the real grail brings eternal life, the false grail brings death". The bad guy comes in and chooses a glittering golden cup. "Truly the cup of a king", he says and drinks from it. Shortly later, with several horrific transformations, he deteriorates and turns to dust. The knight looks at them and simply says "He choose poorly". Indy selects a wooden cup "The cup of a Gallilean carpenter" he says, and with much fear, having seen the results before, drinks from it. "You choose wisely" says the knight.

The cup of a King, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter. There is the rub, there is the oxymoron, there is the paradox, Christ the King, servant to all. As the parables in scripture show us, all is not as it seems. History shows us Kingship, and Kingship throughout history has had it's megalomaniacs. Most of the kings that make our history books are Kings that have grabbed power. Kings that have subdued the people. Jesus shows us an entirely different kind of Kingship. Jesus shows us a Kingship that doesn't take power, but that empowers. Jesus shows us a Kingship that doesn't take life, but gives new life. Jesus shows us a Kingship that is not about being first in battle, but about being first in Love. Jesus shows us a Kingship where laying down his life creates life for all. Jesus shows us a Kingship where might does not win, but where Love wins.

The cup of a King, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter. Throughout history we've wanted so desperately to make Jesus into a cultural King. Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king." And then Jesus continues, "for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." We want Jesus to sit on a throne and judge. Often, we want Jesus to sit on a throne and judge others deemed not worthy of life in Jesus' kingdom. Especially those who we think do not deserve the kind of Love Jesus offers us. Love, unconditionally, no matter what, unless, of course you disagree with me, or are different from me. Unless of course you've done something dastardly. Unless of course you love someone of the same gender. Unless of course you believe in a different God I believe in, or don't believe in God at all.

Kings and thrones, judgement and justice, forgiveness, mercy and compassion. What is the truth that we hear from the voice of Jesus? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your mind and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Feed my sheep, clothe those who have nothing to wear, visit the imprisoned. The Good News is that no matter what or who we want Jesus to be, Jesus loves, and Love wins. Kingship, for Jesus, is about being a king that serves, that sacrifices, and that loves radically. A king that looks the complete opposite of virtually any king any of us has ever read about.
Jesus, whose example is humble, not glorified; generous, not treacherous; hospitable, not exclusionary. The cup of a king, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter?

Kingship, or something like it, was all the people knew about ruling a people. It was either a King, an Emperor or some such ruler who lorded over the people, or it was chaos and anarchy. The God the Jews knew brought order out of chaos, this Jesus who was said to be God's son, therefore was King. But the Kingdom is of mercy and compassion, the Kingdom is of peace and reconciliation, the King knows each by name.

So it is this oxymoron, this paradox that we must somehow reconcile in our own lives. The cup of a King, or the cup of a Galliliean carpenter. Choose wisely my friend. But I think the wisest choice is not one over the other, but it is the Episcopalian way, the via media, it is somewhere in between. We must hold both realities in tension. Christ the King, whose throne is a cross, and when we do, we see a fuller picture. We bandy about that image, Christ the King, on a throne, the seat of judgment. But do we really have any idea what it means? Jesus indeed sets out a standard of judgment, an expectation if you will, but this King shows us the way, this King doesn't leave us alone to figure it out ourselves, and it is right here that our lives our transformed.

Because Jesus, the one who comes to show us the way to God, Jesus, the one who is King of all creation, is at the very same time the one who lived life just like you and me, who loved his friends and family, who suffered and died, just like you and me. For what good is a God who sits back and watches, what good is a God who rules from afar, what good is a God who holds power over people. Jesus is the one who loves, the criminal who hangs next to him, the mother who cries below him, the friends who betray him.

In the beginning, and the middle, and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, Kingship for Jesus is giving himself totally and absolutely for the love of his people. It is this love that you and I must respond to. It is this love that is transforming love. It is this love that reconciles and redeems. It is this love that gives us hope. Jesus' love changes us, and we are to choose wisely.

We are changed through the realization that each one of us is loved completely and absolutely, that is the truth of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. We are changed through the realization that when we fall short of the kind of love Jesus demonstrates for us, and we will fall short, that is part of being human, we are forgiven. Just like Peter, who denied Jesus three times. Forgiveness not just once, but time and time again. Not even just until we get it right, because it's not about getting it right. Only trying to get it right just makes us into self-righteous snobs and misses the point of Jesus' kingship entirely. It's about responding to hate with love, it's about seeking reconciliation not revenge, and when we don't, because we won't, it's about asking for forgiveness, again. We are changed through the realization that Love wins, every time.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

25 Pentecost Yr B Proper 28 2012

Beginnings look a lot like endings, and endings look a lot like beginnings. Anxiousness, excitement, fear, trepidation, joy. The birth of a child is like that. The actual birth is a point in time that represents all that went before it, the preparation, the hopes, the pain, the morning sickness. And all that will follow, dreams, sadness, joy and pain. The actual birth is something that we blessedly forget, or we'd never do it again. Birth ends the one phase of carrying a child, and begins the next phase of carrying a baby. The birth of a child changes our lives completely and absolutely. Nothing will be the same, ever. Our lives are not our own. We are wrapped up and around and in and through our children. And that brings us much joy, and much grief. We worry, we hope, we cry, we call poison control, we make trips to the emergency room, we beam as they walk across a stage. And we would never trade it in for anything.

Jesus talks about this new thing that is happening as the beginning of birth pangs. With Jesus something entirely new is happening and the world cannot, will not, ever be the same. Not one stone is left upon another, all are thrown down. Jesus tries and tries to make the disciples, and us, see the magnitude of the change that is taking place, Jesus uses metaphor upon metaphor to help us see. Buildings being torn down, something new rising up in its place. Seeds being tossed to the ground and finding the proper earth to grow. Women healed, children included, nothing will be the same, Love wins. New life is being born, this is a new beginning. Out of the pain and joy, out of the sweat and tears, out of the womb of God, new life comes. And as it is with new life, it isn't easy, it's hardly ever pretty, and it looks nothing like the life that came before.

Hope, joy, love, are all contained in new birth. But that's also where fear is born. The transformation is utterly complete, and fear lives for so many of us in the midst of change. The disciples were fearful of losing Jesus, they were fearful of what would happen to them in the aftermath of Jesus' death. They were fearful that life would return to the same ol' same ol', and they were afraid that none of it was even real. They were afraid of the turmoil Jesus' death would cause. The disciples fears are not different from our own. We are afraid of change, we are afraid of transformation. We are afraid of what it is that Jesus calls us to do, who Jesus calls us to be, what burden Jesus asks us to lay down. We are even afraid of living the new and full life Jesus affects for us.

But, who can blame us really. We live in a culture of fear. Every time we turn on the news the stories are about what storm is coming, what leader is doing crazy things, what toxins are in our food, what harm the containers we drink out of will do to us. Our ability to parent is in question because we are so fearful of the outcome. Parenting itself is increasingly an arena of fear and anxiety in part because family life in general now lacks any cultural consensus about norms and standards. It's not just that we don't know if we're getting it right, but we don't even know what right might look like. So in the absence of agreement about good parenting, we increasingly find solace in safe parenting. We embark on a journey of living safely rather than fully.

And there's the rub. In the midst of our fears, whether they are around parenting, or the Newsweek lead article That Little Freckle Could be a Time Bomb, or Why drinking too much water cold send you to the emergency room, or the Mayans calendar ends in 2012 so that's the end of the world, we are surrounded by fear to the extent that we are surrounded by people who profit from fear.

And although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or 1000 years ago. The types of dangers have changed, no one had to worry about plane crashes a hundred years ago, but in general we in the west at least, are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. And yet in our darkest and most fearful moments, our greatest fear is our fear of death.

How do we follow Jesus in a culture of fear? What is the fitting response, the ethical response to fear, the kind of fear that is with us today, and the kind of fear some garner from a biblical passage like this one in Mark? Now, fearlessness is not a good thing. But that is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong things. Putting fear in its place is being freed from fear to being empowered to love. The quieting of fear is exactly what is required in order to hear and do what God asks of us.

Quieting our fear is not easy, but these overwhelming fears need to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things, by a sense of adventure and fullness of life that comes from locating our fears and vulnerabilities within the larger story that is ultimately hopeful and not tragic. The story of God’s abundant and amazing love that resides with us in the life and love, the pain and suffering, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And only by facing death, our most primal fear, and as far as we know, the ultimate change, can we move ahead to embrace life with the great nevertheless that is God’s gracious word to a broken world.

At our baptism, we were united with Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever. We entered the tomb with Jesus, through baptism we have already faced death, and seen it overcome. Every time we gather together here to celebrate Christ with us we acknowledge the work that God does in Jesus on the cross. Jesus collects all our fears, all our pain and suffering, and Jesus takes it out with him, not by responding in kind, not by seeking revenge, not by invoking fear, but responding in love. Jesus shows that in the beginning, and the middle, and the end, Love wins.

Beginnings look a lot like endings, and endings look a lot like beginnings. Fear not, hope much, Love wins.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

All Saints Yr B, transferred


As I thought about transferring our celebration of All Saints, I was reminded again that All Saints is a celebration of family, a household celebration, and a celebration of all our relations. And as I read the gospel from John for All Saints, I remembered that this is about the cloud of witnesses, Lazarus and Martha and Mary and the witnesses that stood at Lazarus' tomb and watched Lazarus come out, the witnesses whose names we spoke aloud in this morning's litany, and the witnesses that sit right here beside us in these pews. And as I read the gospel from Mark that is appointed for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, the story of the widow, I was reminded that the widow in our story is a witness, a witness to the new life that Jesus confers upon her and her response to give all she had, out of her poverty. You and I are witnesses to the new life that Jesus confers upon us, and our response needs to be to give like the widow gave, out of our poverty.

Oh Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, stand here beside us. Oh Martha and Mary whose grief was complete, stand here beside us. Oh people who stood at the tomb, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us and show us the way. Stand here beside us and witness to the freedom from bondage that Jesus offers. Stand here beside us and shout before the whole world, Love wins. O cloud of witnesses teach us what it means to be a disciple, show us how to follow the way.

Lazarus came out of the tomb bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Discipleship is about throwing off that which binds us. Discipleship is casting away that which is killing us. Discipleship is being freed to live the new life Jesus' life, death, and resurrection affect for us. Oh Lazarus, stand here beside us and show us what it is that binds us. Show us what it is that is killing us.

What is it that binds you? What holds you hostage and keeps you from the new life that Jesus promises you today? For most of us what holds us hostage is fear. What does that look like for you? We have just lived through a contentious and mean spirited campaign, and many hold resentment and fear in their hearts. Lay it down. The pursuit of bigger and better, the pursuit of the big house, the fancy car, so much stuff, the fear of not having enough, gets in the way of real relationship with God and with others. Lay it down. Perfection, expecting ourselves to be perfect, expecting others to be perfect, just one of many idols that we erect between ourselves and God. Lay it down. Control, what an illusion. Lay it down. Immortality, none of us gets out of this life alive. Lay it down.

Lazarus, stand here beside us, show us the way. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us. Their brother has been dead and in the tomb for four days. The grief washes over them in waves of misery. There must be someone to blame, there has to be someone to blame. Jesus, if only you had been here earlier, none of this would have happened. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us and show us the way to faith, the kind of faith that lets Jesus in, even in misery and grief. The kind of faith that does not build walls, but instead builds relationships. The kind of faith that lays down sorrow and grief so that the new growth, new life may emerge. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us.

Oh unnamed widow, who gave every penny, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us and show us how to respond to God's amazing and abundant love with all that we are, with all that we have, even when we think we have so little. Oh unnamed widow, who gave out of her poverty, show us our poverty. Is time our poverty? We have so little time, not enough time to do all we wish to do. Not enough time to spend it with those we love. Not enough time to travel. Not enough time to volunteer. Not enough time. Is mercy and compassion our poverty? We are quick to judge. We are quick to seek revenge. We are quick to explain our rightness. Is forgiving our poverty? We are slow to forgive when we believe we have been wronged. We will not forgive when we believe we are right. Oh unnamed widow, stand here beside us, and show us our poverty. Show us that all belongs to God, all that we are, all that we have, the earth we walk upon, the sky that is above our heads. Show us how to be stewards, those who care for all that has been entrusted to us, show us how to give.

Oh witnesses that have gone before us, stand here beside us and show us the path. There are so many in our lives who are examples of giving. Our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. There are so many in our lives who are examples of loving no matter what. Our fathers, our sons, our brothers. There are so many in our lives who were broken and put back together by God's love, Jesus' gift. There are so many in our lives who believe in us, who teach us to believe in ourselves, and who show us God's love. Our teachers, our preachers, our coaches, our friends. There are so many in our lives who show mercy and compassion, who show us that Love wins. Oh witnesses, stand here beside us.

Household of St. Andrew's, stand here beside us. Hold each other in our grief. Cheer for each other in our joy. Help each other when we fall. Teach each other about ourselves. Encourage each other in our compassion. Pray for each other when we cannot pray ourselves. Tell the truth to each other when the truth seems hard. Be the light and the life and the love that shows that Love wins.

All the saints of God, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us, saints of God.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dear Mr. President



November 7, 2012

Dear Mr. President

Congratulations! I am pleased at your re-election, although I know many who are not. My experience is that important things take time, and governing a country is important work.

The reason for my writing to you this day is to offer a couple of suggestions. Now I know I don’t know anything about governing a country, but I do know something about helping people to ask important questions and talking about the answers without trying to convince each other about the right, or only, or correct answer. And I have observed that the people who we have elected are having a lot of trouble talking to one another and coming up with solutions to some Big Issues.

My experience has taught me that people tend to come together and have conversation over a meal. People tend to actually see each other when they are eating together, and when you actually see the other, it is so much harder to dismiss them. So my suggestion is that you schedule some potluck meals. Don’t even assign what people need to bring, just leave that up to grace. It really works well.

Secondly, it is my experience that people all over the political spectrum show up for choir rehearsal. You can look in many church parking lots during choir rehearsal and see bumper stickers on cars that say “Coexist”, and “I’ll keep my money, my freedom, and my guns, and you can keep the change”, and “Republican health plan: don’t get sick” and one of my personal favorites, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” The point is, when people sing together all of their harmonies make music. I think you should have congress sing together. Songs like “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing,” or “O beautiful for spacious skies,” which happen to be in my hymnal, or “This land is your land, this land is my land,” or “If I had a hammer,” or, well, you get the idea. Singing together creates community, and community is about relationship, and relationship is what the members of congress need to get something done.


Blessings on you, humbly,

The Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes

Saturday, November 3, 2012

23 Pentecost Proper 26 Yr B Nov 4 2012

I made a decision to move our observance of the Feast of All Saints to next week mostly because so many of us could not be here today, and it seems funny to celebrate a feast that is all about all our relations, when many of our relatives could not be here. We will read the All Saints lessons next week, and because of that, we read this set of lessons today. And what a wonderfully synchronous turn of events. We rarely hear these particular readings because we supplant this day with All Saints. So we are doubly gifted I do believe.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. And we spend our entire lives trying to work this out. 

What cannot always be assumed about what you know and therefore what needs to be said is that God loves you, and me, and all of us, completely, abundantly, and absolutely. God has shown and continues to show us this truth as God accompanies us in this life. We know that God accompanies us in this life because the truth of life, in all its suffering and joy, in its pain and pleasure, in its death and resurrection, show us that Love wins. It is that amazing and abundant love that calls us to Love God back. And we love God back by loving our neighbors. In fact, we love our neighbors, especially the ones we don't like, because we believe God is present with them as well. It seems so simple, and yet we spend our entire lives working that out. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out who indeed is our neighbor. Many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out who is excluded from that command. People spend a lot of time and energy speculating as to which people Jesus really intended for us to not love.

Today, we have the example of Ruth. "Turn back, my daughters, go your own way." And Ruth answers, "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Ruth is an alien in this story, she is in a land and with a people who are not her own. The call to love your neighbor is a call to love the one who is completely different than you, the ultimate other, the epitome of foreign, absolutely alien. 
Ruth is a stranger in a strange land. And yet Ruth is willing to stay in this alien land and love the woman who is the mother of her deceased husband. Sometimes I don't understand the logic of those who are the lectionary choosers, but in this case the pairing of these stories is quite evident. The story of Ruth shows clearly what it means to love your neighbor. In this story, neighbor is not the friendly face over the fence. Neighbor is not folks I like down the street. Neighbor is not the like minded people I gather with for mutual whining about how the system is broken. In the story of Ruth, the one to be loved, the neighbor, looks different, sounds different, and even more earth shattering, believes in a different God altogether.   

We have been hearing from Mark for weeks now these stories of discipleship. Discipleship is about being healed from blindness, it's about seeing with new eyes. Discipleship is about being baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Discipleship is to walk with the poor. Discipleship is to be in relationship with all of God's creation, and to protect the most vulnerable of God's creation. Discipleship is to cast off the idol, to lay down that which is killing you. Discipleship is to live one's life as if God matters. Discipleship is to show forth the truth that Love wins. 

It isn't complicated, but it is mighty difficult. We see the difficulty everywhere we look, we hear the difficulty over and over again. But we know that love unites, love reconciles, love heals. To love one another is to approach every encounter with mercy and compassion. To love one another is to approach every encounter expecting to meet Jesus. To love one another is to expect your own transformation in the encounter. To love one another brings us closer to the kingdom of God. To love one another is to make a truly daring and authentic decision, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of division, in the face of fragmentation, to love one another is to say yes to God's possibility.

We are mistaken about God's love and God's kingdom when we approach the other with the intent to convince them of our rightness. We are mistaken when an agenda of judgement supersedes a posture of grace. We are mistaken when we let ideological difference get in the way of reconciliation and healing. We are mistaken when we believe the kingdom is about a seating chart. We are mistaken when we believe the kingdom is about power. We are mistaken when we embrace exclusion and hate as a way God acts in this world. We are mistaken when we believe perfection has something to do with God's expectation of us. 

To love one another is to want the other's well being as much as or more than your own. To love one another is to be God's agent of healing and wholeness, to be God's agent of resurrection in all places in which we find ourselves. To love one another is to let the brokenness in our hearts reach across all boundaries and meet the brokenness in the other's heart to find some sort of common ground. To love one another is to feed your neighbor, literally. To love one another is look into the eyes of the one across the aisle and to actually see another who is also God's beloved. To love one another is to show the world that division and death are not the final word, indeed, the final word is Love wins.