Saturday, December 28, 2013

First Sunday of Christmas, Dec 29, 2013

Audio 12.29.2013

What a wonderful set of readings we are given this morning! In Isaiah we hear, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” And in Galatians is the Good News that we are children of God. Indeed we are God's beloved. 

How do we begin to understand the awesomeness of God? I don't think we always understand God’s nature in an intellectual or a cognitive way. I think sometimes we understand God in a much more organic way, a way that touches the very truth of our being, and of our mortality. 

Our humanness is tied directly to language. We really are formed and shaped by language, however adequate or inadequate. That is why it's so important to read to our children and grandchildren. Expansive language has the ability to expand our imaginations. How we understand God, our relationship with God, the Divine Love Story, how we understand Jesus human and divine, how we understand the presence of the Holy Spirit, is all about the words that we employ to describe that experience, that relationship. For example, those who say they are atheists, are not necessarily people who do not believe in God, rather they may be people who cannot assent to a particular way of describing God. There are many ways to describe God, to imagine God, and our language is just not adequate.

Postmodern thought suggests that what is real is only what we put language too. But I differ with postmodern thought because I think that what is real is God and our relationship with God, whether or not we have the words to describe that. That relationship exists whether or not we have the language to describe it. The challenge is to find the words and the symbols and the actions to describe God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God. We do that every Sunday we gather together. It is not just the words we say together that invite us into the Love that wins, it is also what we do together, the meal we share together, the symbols we use, and the people who are here. 

The first chapter of the gospel of John “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is an absolutely beautiful and poetic song helping us to not only understand about God, but to feel and to see how we are related to God, and who Jesus is in that relationship. Jesus is the Word, and Jesus is the baby. But Word and baby are nouns that hardly begin to describe fully the incarnation of God.

Every time I read these words from John I hear the language of music. Some of you have heard me say this before. Sometimes for me the language of music speaks more clearly than words. When I hear this passage from John, I am encircled, enveloped, swaddled, if you will, in the awesome and abundant love of our creator. When I hear these words I hear a symphony. I hear the bass, the tuba and the tympani and the baritone, beating as the heart of creation. I hear the bass clarinets, and the bassoons, and the saxophones joining in the building of the harmonies. I hear the flutes and the clarinets with the melody of love and hope. And I hear the trumpets and the French horns with the blast of the proclamation that God has created the world and come into it as one of us. And I hear the sadness of the oboes, with the news that this world in which we live is not perfect, we are not perfect, and there is sadness and tragedy. 

But music is organic; as is the love of God. It is in the fiber of creation, the stones shout it out, the wind hums the word, the rain keeps the beat, the grace and truth of Christ is made real in the dance of the spheres. 

In A Wind in the Door, the second in a series of books by Madeleine L’engle, the first being A Wrinkle in Time, the author writes that for growth to happen there is a necessary death. The passage I quote this morning is a passage late in the book, when Meg O’Keefe, the main character, and her friend Calvin are really beginning to understand the interconnectedness of all things, and they are beginning to understand, birth, death, and resurrection. The reason I quote from this story and from this passage is that in it I hear what John is saying. 
“We are the song of the universe. We sing with the angelic host. We are the musicians. The stars are the singers. Our song orders the rhythm of creation. Calvin asked, “How can you sing with the stars? There was surprise at the question: it is the song. We sing it together. That is our joy. And our Being.” 

The Light has come, is coming, and will continue to come into the world. Not only is Christmas  about the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, who enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. It is about God, the creator of the universe, who breaks into history. It is about Light that overcomes darkness. It is about the Word who is with us, the Word in our midst, the Word singing the song. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas, 2013

Audio mp3
Love breaks in, Love bursts through. We are here, we waited, ever patiently, ever watchfully. And love is born. The Divine Love Story begins again. God so loves the world, that God breaks into our world to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how many times I come to this place, this celebration, each time I am awestruck at the Love that wins. 

God, who is the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. God, the creator of the universe, breaks into history, to show us the way to mercy and compassion and justice. In this night/morning, all of creation, the sheep and shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, join together singing the love song of the ages, Holy, Holy, Holy. 

We prepare for this birth each year, we wait in the quiet, we are illuminated by the increasing light, and we come to this night/morning, so that we remember who we are. We remember we are God's beloved, we remember Emmanuel, God with us. We look ahead with hope, trusting that our brokenness will be healed. 

Life breaks through, love will not be contained, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. This night/day changes things. This birth changes the world. Jesus, born in the muck and the mess of a stable walks with us, not to take away our humanity, but to fulfill our humanity. Jesus, born to ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, walks with us, not to take away the pain and suffering of this life, but to be with us in the midst of the messiness. Jesus, born in an obscure corner of the earth, walks with us so that the fragments of our lives may be made whole. Jesus, born to set us free.

Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. 
This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, 
the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first.

For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.

This birth calls us to change, to transformation. And change can be scary, but thrilling at the same time. This birth, this life that will not be contained, speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time. 

And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love and have heard the good news that "unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord." No wonder we sing, "Let heaven and earth rejoice!"

This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes be with us, delivered into our world 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. 
This God comes to us when all will be fulfilled at the end of time.

This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.

Love wins, Alleluia, Alleluia! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

4 Advent Yr A Dec 22 2013

Audio (mp3)

We have arrived here at the fourth Sunday of Advent whether we are ready or not. The coming of the baby is so very close, and yet not quite here. According to Matthew’s telling of this story, it seems that even before the angel came to Joseph, he already knew that Mary was pregnant, maybe she told him, maybe he just knew; we don’t hear anything about that. What we do hear is that Joseph considered his choices. I've mentioned this before, some of you may remember, 1st century customs about betrothals, which are very different than our ideas about engagement and marriage, were quite clear. If you think the woman to whom you’re engaged is bearing someone else’s child, both the woman and the man whose child it is get death by stoning, assuming you know the identity of the father and that the woman is seized in an area in which someone could have heard her screams if she cried out. Joseph is a righteous man, but he refuses to expose Mary to public disgrace to carry this out. So Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly, this divorce is the measure that would have to be taken to nullify a betrothal. It’s the best option he has to avoid claiming a child that wasn’t his. In the face of common law, tradition, all the cultural forces mounting against him, derision and judgment, Joseph chooses life, Joseph chooses incarnation.
When Joseph had resolved to do this, an angel appears to him too, and says the words angels are famous for in scripture, “Do not be afraid.” I’m thinking angels must be pretty scary looking, not like those cherubic angels we see in paintings, because every time one appears in scripture they start out with “don’t be afraid.” So this angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid because the child Mary is bearing is of the Holy Spirit, and when he is born, Joseph is to call him Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves,” the way Matthew describes it is, “he will save his people from their sins.” The writer of Matthew very intentionally connects this story with the passage from the prophet Isaiah that says there will be a son and his name will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
Joseph could not ignore God’s presence, Joseph could not ignore incarnation, neither can you and I, just like Joseph, we have a choice to make. This was a child who was born of Mary, a child who should not have been born at all, and of Joseph, who had he been so inclined, would have left Mary to public justice, stoning and all. This is a child whose birth, death, and resurrection attest to God’s creativity and power.
I am reminded of a scene that I love in the first Jurassic Park movie. I realize that Jurassic Park is an old movie now, but try and picture this with me. Shortly after arriving on the tropical island that is Jurassic park, the scientists tour the whole park, and then they sit down to dinner with Mr. Hammond the owner, and Ian Malcolm, a mathematician and scientist at the park. They are talking about the cloning that has been done to create the dinosaurs at the park, and that the safeguard to not having more dinosaurs out there is that they created them all female. At the table while they are eating this gourmet meal, Ian delivers a brilliant line. He says, “Life will not be contained! Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is.”
That is what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen with Jesus and incarnation. God breaks into our world, God interrupts our lives. The life that God creates breaks free, it expands to new territories, and it crashes through barriers, sometimes painfully and dangerously. It is the life in Mary’s womb, and in Elizabeth’s womb, that exists not because of biology and despite humanity’s tendency to end life, but because of God’s awesome, creative, power. It is the life to which Joseph joins Mary in saying yes. It is the life in which God pours out upon us the Love that wins.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are ever so close to that inbreaking. How do you prepare your heart and mind and body for the crashing in of God? How do you join with Mary and Joseph and say yes to this incarnation? The question at the mall, the question asked by the culture is “Are you ready for Christmas?” Are you ready for Christmas? This question is asked from the perspective of perceived expectations, not from the perspective of this inconceivable conception. What that question really means is do you have your decorating done, are your lights up, did you get your cookies baked, is your house clean and ready for the guests, do you have all your gifts purchased or even made and wrapped?
But the real question is, are you ready for God’s crashing into our world, are you ready for God’s crashing into your life and into your heart? Are you ready to be transformed into the person God would have you be? Are you ready to say yes? Now those are hard questions.
I am ready for Christmas, and I am not yet ready for Christmas. I have experienced the inbreaking of God into my life and I know that God’s inbreaking continues in new and life changing ways. I know that God has broken into this particular church and the universal church; and at the very same time, I continue to wait and prepare for the cosmic coming of Christ, for all times and all places, and the church continues to wait and prepare, and we have no idea what that will look like. All we have is what we imagine.
But we do know what God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like today, right now. It looks like the clerk at the store, the one who really needs someone to say, “you’re doing a great job in the midst of this madness.” It looks like the guy in the car beside you, who needs a smile and a nod, not a raised finger. It looks like the mom and children who really could use something good to eat in these days, and a warm coat to wear. It looks like the family that works two and three jobs just to make it to the end of the month and still needs a little help from the food shelf. And it also looks like the executive who works 80 hours in a week, and long ago forgot that it’s not about the stuff that he can give to his family, it’s about the time he can spend with his family. Or it looks like the young person desperately trying to fit into a world that values contingency over commitment. Sometimes it looks like the sadness we feel when our loved one has died, and it is so very hard to remember that life will not be contained, life breaks free.
God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like when we gather together around this altar and are made into the body of Christ, it looks like when we invite others, sometimes people who don’t look like us or speak like us, to eat at this table with us. God’s incarnation looks like the gathered church in the diocese of South Dakota, people of all colors and shapes and sizes. God’s incarnation looks like the church gathered across the United States, people from every country, of many colors, and mostly who can agree on something, maybe. God’s incarnation looks like the love we share with one another; and it is made real when we say yes with Joseph and Mary.
For me, the experience of the inbreaking of God in my life and into the life of the church has everything to do with God being revealed in absolutely new ways, in ways I couldn’t have imagined, even in ways the church hasn’t imagined before. Because that is what and who Jesus is, God comes as a lowly child, born in a barn, not as the expected King. The breaking forth of new life is sometimes painful, but always creative. Our waiting and watching is almost complete. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

3 Advent Yr A Dec 15 2013


"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" John asks of Jesus. "Are you looking for someone dressed in soft robes, people like that live in palaces" Jesus says to the people. You see, the people are mightily disappointed with God, the people are looking for a King, a ruler who will take power and subdue all those who are wrong about their worship of God. And what they get is this Jesus, born in a barn, born to poor parents, born without fanfare. A baby, wrapped in rags, to set the people free. As far as they are concerned, and especially to John who is in prison, something is mightily wrong with this picture. Jesus surely does not look like the one they were expecting. The ruler they were waiting for can't be like this, it must be someone else.

In the case of Jesus, power flows from powerlessness. Change doesn't look like what we expect. As we have recently heard and seen the stories about Nelson Mandela, I am reminded again that power flows from powerlessness. Mandela's power was not in wealth, class, or anything he had or owned. Mandela's power flows from his years in prison. Change in South Africa did not come from a powerful leader, change came from a man who after 27 years in prison lived a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, and counted among his friends those who were his jailers. The ruler South Africa got, looked nothing like the ruler many may have hoped for, and was indeed disappointing for many.

It is out of these humble beginnings and challenging lives, that healing may begin. Because isn't that where most of us live? We live trying to hold it together, trying to do our best, loving our kids the best way we know how. Sometimes we let the drive to show a perfect front, a well laid out plan, a secure future, have such a tight hold on us we just eventually have to break. Break up, break apart, break down. But it is into those fissures that the power Jesus has to heal can seep. It is in the breaking apart that Love wins and Love heals and Love forgives.

I am also reminded of another theme in our readings today, to which Nelson Mandela's 27 years of imprisonment also speaks. Twenty-seven years seems like a lifetime to me. Twenty-seven years is about how long it takes to raise children into independence, 27 years is a good chunk of time to work at one job, 27 years is about a quarter of one's life, 27 years is about one generation. Our readings show us that God's work in the world, God's promise to humanity isn't just to one generation. God's work in the world spans all of time. What's 27 years to that? And yet, you and I want the change now, immediately. That is evidenced so clearly in our cultural jump to Christmas as soon as we were done with Halloween. Four weeks of waiting, a mere 24 days, 24 days of preparation, of expectation, of quiet, of building hope, promise, love. Our impatience is stunning. Twenty-seven years of imprisonment, and the man is released and quietly changes his world. And God's work spans generations. 

This conundrum is stunning. God's work spans generations, and looks nothing like we expect it to look. The world is about to turn. Twenty-seven years feels like a lifetime. We want Christmas now, 24 days seems like forever. And at the very same time, we are so afraid of change we feel like we may break apart. 

Into this, Love bursts. Into this messy, complex, hurt-filled, broken, joyful reality, Love bursts. This is our hope. The prophet Isaiah, generations past, knew it. "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing." Mary, generations past, knew it. "Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name." The world, in very recent generations knew it. Nelson Mandela created hope where there seemed to be nothing to hope for. 

You, in this present generation know it. You in your darkest times, know the hope of the One who loves you no matter what, the hope of the One who is born in a barn, and nailed to a cross, the hope of the One who can free you from your own prison, the hope of the One whose body and blood seeps into your brokenness and makes you whole, the hope of the One who calls us together, here at this table, to hold one another up, shoulder to shoulder. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who gives you strength to share your coat, your food, your warmth with those who have none. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who gives you the patience to listen to the one whose hurt is deep. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who binds us together, generation after generation. 

Jesus, born in a barn, born to poor parents, born without fanfare. A baby, wrapped in rags, to set the people free. Jesus, a man who eats with outcasts, sinners, and women, who welcomed children. Jesus, a man who heals, teaches, feeds and forgives. Not what we expect of the One who turns the world. 

Twenty-seven years, twenty-four days, wait for it. Amen.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2 Advent Yr A Dec 8 2013

This season we call Advent, and the secular world calls Christmas, is full of expectations. We feel  expectations put upon us during this season, by family and friends, we have our own expectations of what we should do, what we want to do, what we have time to do. And in the midst of all this, I ask you to sit in the quiet and listen. But this morning, I'd actually like you to write for a few minutes. I want you to write a to do list. You have paper and pencils there in the pew. What do you think you need to get done in these two and a half weeks before Christmas. 

John, in Matthew's gospel, calls us to repentance. At the risk of laying on some guilt, which is what we seem to feel when we hear the word repent, and which I do not intend to do, I want to help you reframe that word. Repent simply is to turn. It is to change direction. Repent is reorientation, particularly, reorientation toward God. So our opportunity in this season of Advent is to reorient ourselves to God. The Canticle we are singing/saying during this Advent helps us to reorient ourselves to God. "My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. My heart shall sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn. Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me." 

So now take a look at your to do list. In the midst of all that you feel you have to do, or that you want to do, or that you think people expect you to do, how may you turn, or reorient yourself to God? I'm not saying that the items on your list are not worthwhile, but I am asking you to consider how you may make room in that list to embrace the holy pregnancy, the new life, of this Advent season. 

The prophet Isaiah, has something to say about that. "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Picture that stump. We have tons of them around here these days, left from the Big Snow. Stumps of trees that look like they are dead. But a branch shall grow out of the roots. There shall be new life, delicate and fragile, like a newborn baby. What if we believe this fragile sign is God’s beginning? Perhaps then we will tend the seedling in our hearts, the place where faith longs to break through the hardness of our disbelief. Do not wait for the tree to be full grown. God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to turn, to reorient ourselves, to slow down and be quiet, to give room for the branch that emerges, ever so slowly and small, from the stump. We may want to sit on the stump for a while, and God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us: “Look! Look -- there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?”

Turn around, reorient yourself to God this Advent season. See that green shoot growing. Watch the new life take shape. Keep awake as the light grows bright. Is it possible for you to look at your list of everything you need to get done, and day dream about what you hope Christmas will be like. What kind of day do you want to have? More than that, what kind of relationships do you want to be a part of? Even more, what kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond? The world is about to turn.

The prophet Isaiah is all about hope, change, turning toward God. "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." Our hopes, after all, surely aren’t limited to our immediate wants and needs but reach out to include our larger families, communities, and world. 

So maybe Advent is about leaving our familiar and well-trodden path, making a turn, maybe venturing out on another way. Maybe Advent is about trying something different this time, something that gives us a sense of the grace and glory of God, the babe in Bethlehem, the Word made flesh. Maybe Advent is a time of doing less, not more. Maybe Advent is the hustle and bustle of preparation, maybe Advent is the quiet and anticipation of waiting. Definitely Advent is a time to turn toward God, a time to reorient ourselves to the holiness of this birth. 

And as John alludes to in the gospel this day, that turning toward God, that reorientation, will bear good fruit. It will bear the fruit of compassion, and we will be free to give our time to others. It will bear the fruit of mercy, and we will be free to give our love to others. It will bear the fruit of justice, and we will be free to give food and shelter to others. Now take a look at your list again. When you put it in your pocket, and take it home with you, remember the quiet, remember the holy pregnancy, remember the birth.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christ the King/St. Andrew (transferred) Nov 24 2013

It is our patronal feast celebration, which makes it a big day for us. It is like our birthday. Jesus said to Andrew and his brother and some other fisher people, follow me, and they did. What was that about? What in that moment and in that time caused Andrew to say goodbye to fishing, and leave everyone and everything behind to follow Jesus. It may well have been that the fishing was bad, but more likely it was that the vision was better. 

This Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent, is designated as Christ the King. The Feast of St. Andrew actually falls on November 30th, but we decided it was time to celebrate that all together on Sunday morning. And what Andrew must have seen in Jesus must have had something to do with who Jesus was and is. Over the centuries one of the ways we have come to know Jesus is through this image of king. Andrew gave up everything to follow this man. Did he see a king? Did he see a leader? Did he see a savior? Who did he see, who did he follow? And, did Andrew have any interior struggle in coming to the place where he could leave his life behind to follow Jesus? 

Jesus, King and carpenter. Jesus, King and fisher of people. The designation King came much much later than this story. Come, follow me, and I promise you a life of hardship and joy, I promise you a life of heartache and compassion, I promise you a life that will end in death, don't they all, but I promise you a life worth living. I promise a kingdom of imperfect people, made perfect in God's love. I promise a kingdom of people who miss the mark, a kingdom of sinners, forgiven and free. I promise a kingdom of truth tellers, even when the truth is hard to tell and hard to hear. I promise a kingdom in which love wins. I promise a kingdom where you are included, no matter what, just the way you are. And I promise to show you the way. 

And that kingdom will change you. It will transform you. In that kingdom you will become a servant, you will become one who looks to the best interest of the other. You will become a lover for whom the beloved is most important. You will become a friend who is merciful and compassionate. You will become a listener. You will become a truth teller. You begin to see that we are in the same boat. By recognizing how similar your failure to love is to your enemy’s failure to love, we may not be capable of warm fuzzies toward our enemy, but we can at least begin to respect his or her dignity as a human being. We can at least begin to see that we are probably more alike than we would want to think.

Makes sticking with fishing look darn attractive.

You see this kingship of Jesus is not like what we have come to understand about kingship. It's not about power at the top of the food chain. That's all backwards and turned around and upside down. That kind of power does not understand, or make room for, the grace, the mercy, the compassion of brokenness. Because the goal of that kind of power is to make sure that no one sees your weakness. And the effect of that kind of power is to exclude, abuse, and exploit. Jesus' kingship is about the one whose very life heals. Jesus' kingship is about the one whose very body creates bonds of love. Jesus' kingship is about the one whose very blood seeps into our skin and makes us whole. Jesus' kingship is about the one whose very body is a gift for you.

That's why lowly fisherpeople follow Jesus. Somehow Andrew and his brother Simon get a glimpse that the world is not about who's got the most fish or the biggest boat. Or at least the world they would like to be a part of creating is not about who's got the most fish or the biggest boat. The world they would like to be a part of creating, by following Jesus, and bringing their friends with them, is a world in which those who are on the margins are brought to the center. That world is about the love that is unconditional and available no matter what. That world is about the life that really gets started when we're at the end of our own strength, and God's grace and love make their appearance. That world is about all of us being in the same boat. 

Come, follow me, says the one who shows us the way. Come, follow me, and your life will be filled with heartache and happiness. Come, follow me, and you will loose your life, and gain a body that will carry you when you are broken, support you when disease visits you, love you when the world will not, celebrate when you come home after loosing everything. 

Come follow me and you will never go hungry. Your emptiness will be filled. Come follow me and you will find great power and strength as the bread and wine seep into the fragments and fissures of your heart and soul and make you whole. Come follow me and you may listen to the truth of broken hearts, broken lives, and offer the love that wins. 

Jesus, who we call King, Jesus who we call friend, Jesus who we call communion, Jesus, who we call Love, Jesus calls us to follow, and to bring our sisters and brothers. Jesus calls us to a new way, a way of love, healing, hope, wholeness. Amen 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

26 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C Proper 28 Nov 17 2013

I've given many tours to people who come to St. Andrew's. I'm proud of our building, so I show people around. Folks come for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they come looking for a church home, sometimes they are just curious, sometimes I'm just unabashedly Episcopalian, so I'll take a visitor by the hand and make them follow me around. People have one of two observations. Either they also think we have a warm and beautiful sanctuary and they tell me so, or they keep quiet and I know they prefer a more traditional structure.

But you all know as well as I do that church is not about the building. We may be unabashedly proud of our building, but we know at the same time that church is something else. Church is God's work in the world, church is people who profess God's love for them and for all, church is body and bread, blood and wine, church is forgiveness and reconciliation, church is people who agree and disagree with each other, church is messy and beautiful. Church is all of the above. 

And it is these things that we hear about in Luke and in Isaiah today. Luke writes, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." And from Isaiah, "For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth, the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind." Church without a building. Who are we then?

We need to remember that this good news was told after the events of Jesus' life and death. The events are already known to the author, they tell of what happened, not of what will happen. The temple in Jerusalem which was the place where God lived, was destroyed. Not one stone was left upon another. So in the story, the people are asking Jesus, what does this mean? What does it mean to not have a place for God to live and a place in which to worship God? The destruction of the temple was life changing for the Jews, but Jesus in this story, is reassuring them that all will be well, do not be afraid. As it is written in Isaiah, which Jesus knows well, something new is happening, and it is happening in the person of Jesus.

We live in that place as well. Here is our church building, and we love it and take care of it and it is beautiful. Humans do this over and over. We erect a beautiful building, and eventually it is the building that becomes important, and we become afraid of losing it. And our focus shifts from doing the work of reconciliation and healing that God calls us to, to keeping the institution alive, we become afraid of dieing.

But God calls us to live, God calls us to love, God calls us as agents of resurrection. The new heavens and the new earth are being created right now, and we are agents of that new creation. We have a part to play. Our job is to bring the love that wins to the world so that the world will know God's love and be transformed. As we do that, the world turns, the world turns toward love and away from hate, the world turns toward wholeness and away from fracture and fragment.

It's messy though, it's not this or that, one or the other, black or white, good or bad. Just like it's not only about heaven or hell at the end of time. It's about living fully and completely as God's new creation right here, today. And that is not clear or certain. God reveals Godself on the path we are on, and it is our job to pay attention, and to help the one who is walking next to us, to give them our coat if they need it, to share our food. We will fall down, every one of us. Whether it's because we turn our ankle, wear ourselves out, or goof around too much, we will fall down. It is those who accompany us on the journey, our church, who help raise us up again, and show us the way forward. How we are with one another on the road matters. How we respond to the challenge and joy of the journey matters. That we share the challenge and joy of the journey matters. 

God is at work with us. God is already about healing and reconciliation that changes the world. We respond to that work by giving of ourselves. We give our love, our forgiveness, our mercy and our compassion. When we are members of a church, we give of our treasure as well, because that is what we must do, not because of what we get out of it. Giving because of what we get out of it makes it a transaction, not a relationship. Our relationship with God, with one another, and with this church is not about the exchange of a commodity, it is not transactional. Giving, being a steward of God's creation and all of God's abundance, is who we are and what we do. Giving our love, our care, and some or even all of what we have is what we must do in response to God's amazing and abundant love for us. We don't give because we have to pay the heat, paying for the heat is good but it is not the reason. The reason is love, God's love for us and our love for others. 

Yesterday, Amber, David, Curtis, and I, helped by Tim, Kaitlyn and Kiara, with food provided by the Donhisers, and a financial donation from another wonderful family, had a group of eleven children at Sonshine Saturday. We listened to the story of Noah's Ark, and God's dream for us, we did some great crafts that helped us remember those stories, we worshipped God and had communion together, we sang songs and we even got to play the bells under Curtis' instruction, and we had lunch. Together, we did the work that God calls us to do, and we are changed in the doing.

We are living the reality of the new heavens and the new earth. We are living the reality that God loves us and all of creation so much, God walks with us in this life making us new, transforming our sadness into joy, our pain into hope, our death into life. Amen.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

25 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C Proper 27 Nov 10 2013

Oh Luke, what were you hoping to accomplish by including this passage in your gospel? Confusion? Heartache? Polygamy? Just what is it? Since I have been asking this question all along our journey with Luke, we'll keep asking it. What does this show us about God and God's relationship with God's people? Because scripture is really a divine love story about God and God's relationship with us. 

How do we even begin with this? The Sadducees pose this question to Jesus, in the resurrection, whose wife is this woman, who has married seven brothers and remained childless. And yet they say there is no resurrection, so what are they doing posing this question in the first place? From the get go we know the Sadducees are really just trying to trip Jesus up, they have no intention of listening to any good news Jesus may have for them. It's not about this woman at all, it's not about marriage at all, it's about something else entirely. 

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who is seen and unseen, the God of the Universe, the God who is here in the flesh, is the God not of the dead, but of the living. That is the Good News, the rest is description. The rest gives us glimpses into the reality that God is the God of the living. The rest shows us what it is to live. NT Wright, theologian, writer, and former Bishop of Durham, writes in his book Surprised by Hope, that Resurrection is life after life after death. The work that God does in Jesus is to defeat death, not by resisting it, but by absorbing it and redeeming it. Resurrection is living that truth today. Resurrection is life after life after death. Resurrection is living presently without fear of death, because God has transformed death and therefore life. Resurrection is the promise of a future self animated by God's breath of new life. Resurrection is both at the same time. All history is equally present in the moment, this is the way God sees things.

Last week we baptized Kiara Wolber, and I poured oil on her head, and marked her as Christ's own forever. Kiara smelled of that oil for some time. Her towel will smell of it for some time. The scent of heaven permeates all of life, the scent of heaven changes us today and for all time. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches again and again that the good news is about a death that leads to life. It's a pattern, a truth, a reality that comes from losing your life and finding it. Dieing the death that must be, so as to be raised, changed, transformed. 

And how do we know what that looks like? It has something to do with that scent of heaven that permeates all of life. It has something to do with love that embraces the terribly difficult life that we are so fortunate to live. Dorothy Day, an avid preacher of a social justice gospel, said "'Every time I'm tempted to give up on my messy self or a messy person or a messy group of people - I say this to myself: "Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us but it is the only answer.'" And in response to this, a very favorite blogger of mine, writes, " Love is NOT fluffy or perfect or easy or pretty or common. Real love is jagged and lurching and heavy and unattractive and HARD. If it wasn't so much harder than war- more people would choose it. The good news is - You can do hard things." (Glennon Melton)

Resurrection is what this love looks like. Resurrection is this harsh and dreadful love that God has for God's people. Resurrection demands that we let go of our preoccupations, our idols, our obsessions  and our compulsions, our addictions, so that the love that gave up everything on the cross, can embrace us and make us new, and equip us to love ourselves and others. 

Each one of you knows about death. You know that your heart breaks at the death of your spouse, or your parent, or your friend. You know that your heart breaks when someone you love and care for leaves you. There are all sorts of other kinds of deaths as well. When your health dies, and you must live with disease. When your self dies a little each day with harsh words that are spoken. When your dreams die and you must live with a reality you never even imagined. When your livelihood dies, and your life is not the the same. Deaths that are out of our hands, out of our control. And sometimes, even though it breaks our heart, death is necessary, because it is only then that new life, resurrection, can begin to take hold. But it is in all of these moments where God's love seeps into us and makes us new, heals us, changes us, transforms us.

And it is this hard kind of love that God calls us to in our lives, and our families, and our neighborhoods, and our church and our world. It is this hard kind of love that speaks the truth of life, in all it's messiness and chaos. 

The Sadducees could not imagine resurrection, maybe because they could not imagine a love that would give itself away for the life of the other. But Jesus would not have it. Jesus proclaims the God of resurrection, the God of life, the God of love, the God whose scent permeates all of life.  

Love is hard, and you can do hard things. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Saints Sunday, Nov 3 2013

We celebrate All Saints Day each year on the Sunday closest to Nov 1.  Elizabeth Johnson, theologian, writes, "This is the day when the church recalls the great tribe out of every nation and people, proclaims the following of Jesus according to the beatitudes, and allows the subversive memory of the friends of God and prophets of all ages and the hope of our communion with them to take center stage. This is a feast of the greatest solidarity, a fundamentally joyous day that takes note of historical suffering within the overarching theme of that the last word belongs to divine love."

Today, as we began our worship, we recalled the great tribe out of every nation. We named those who have walked this path before us, and those who walk this path with us, as we look toward those who will walk this path after we have gone. All Saints is a time when all time comes together in a single moment and we may enter the mystery of Christ particularly as a communion and a community of people who hold hands across time to witness to the ministry God calls us to. 

All Saints is our day to find ourselves in the community that attests to the love that wins. It is not to find ourselves wanting because we aren't good enough or perfect enough. All Saints is our day to experience the awesomeness of those who walked this path before us, and to count ourselves as part of that great cloud of witnesses. It is an opportunity to call on this cloud of witnesses, Abraham and Aquinas, Madeleine and Marion, Perpetua and Felicity, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, as people who show us the way of fearless love, mercy, and compassion.

We celebrate all saints because death does not have the final word. In a culture where the greatest fear is the fear of dying, death does not win, Love wins. The work that Jesus did on the cross, and continues to do and will continue to do, wins. Rick and I saw Gravity last night. I wondered aloud about what would motivate anyone to go into space like that. But I answered my own question. No one gets out of this life alive. And the astronaut's answer was to live fully and completely without fear while you have still have life. And besides the amazing cinematography, the story is really about living without fear. 

This cloud of witnesses that stand with us this day, show us how to live without fear, and die with love. They show us how to love ourselves, and to love others. They show us that love has the final word. Today we baptize Kiara Ann Wolber into this community of saints, this cloud of witnesses, this collection of people who will love her and raise her up as the child of God that she is. Today, she is marked as God's own. Amen.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

23 Sunday after Pentecost Oct 27 2013 Proper 25

We continue in Luke with this parable, no easier than any that have come before it. The kingdom of God is like both the Pharisee and the tax collector who pray before God. Last week I said the parable was about The kingdom of God is like the persistent widow who shows us that God never gives up on pursuing us, God never gives up on loving us, God never gives up on us. The parable we hear today follows directly on the heels of that. The Pharisee stands by himself and says, "thankfully I am not like those other people, I fast, I give a tenth of my income, and I'm just down right good." Or words to that effect. The tax collector is standing off on his own, beating his breast and lamenting his wretchedness. As is usual, I don't think this parable tells us that the kingdom of God is all about the pharisee, or all about the tax collector, I think this parable tells us that the kingdom of God is in a place somewhere that is not quite either the pharisee or the tax collector. 

We are pointed to the sentence that finishes this piece of scripture, "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted," as if this is easy and straightforward. But parables just cannot be read that way, they are never easy and straightforward, there are always layers of meaning, and even innuendo. Jesus does not teach in easy and straightforward ways. 

The problem with that interpretation, and the place we will focus our attention today, is that as soon as you decide you are humble like the tax collector, you become prideful like the pharisee, as soon as you decide you are not like that braggart pharisee, you again, become prideful. There is some danger with this passage as well. Some have decided that it is their place to keep someone else in their place by reminding them how wretched they are, like that tax collector. 

So, what do we do with the pharisee and the tax collector? This parable is not clearly don't be like the pharisee and be like the tax collector, as soon as we do that we are in danger of puffing ourselves up with humility. It is important to remember that the story is not about us, but about God, and God's relationship with us. So what does this story show us about God? I think it continues the story we read last week, that God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with us. What gets in the way of that relationship is judging others about their behavior, those thieves, rogues, adulterers or even this wretched tax collector. What gets in the way of that relationship with God is being dishonest with yourself.

God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with each of us and all of us together. God's hearts desire is to love us into our true selves. What that means is that we don't have to be perfect before coming into God's presence. That means that we don't have to have our lives all put together before coming into this church. That means that we are imperfect and sinful people. That means that this Pharisee, and the tax collector and all of us who are like him, are equally welcome in God's presence and loved by God. When are you like the Pharisee? We are like the Pharisee when we come to the conclusion that there is nothing we can learn from those with whom we disagree. We are like the Pharisee when we put up a wall around us so thick and so tall that no one and nothing can get in. We are like the Pharisee when decide that we are right and everyone else is wrong. When are you like the tax collector? We are like the tax collector when we sit in the lowest seat only because we hope we will be invited into the highest seat. We are like the tax collector when we don't speak up for those who are oppressed because we don't want anyone to know that we are followers of Jesus. 

God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with both the Pharisee and the tax collector. God's hearts desire is to love us into our true selves. And our true selves are imperfect and perfectly loved. God's invitation to us is into relationship, and that relationship is through prayer, and song, worship and learning God's word. That relationship is through one another, because when one with another, we are Christ for each other. In our lives and in our witness to the love that wins, we are in relationship with God.

As I pondered this passage for the last few days, I wondered about us, here at St. Andrew's. I wondered about how we show people in our community how God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with each and every person. My heart breaks because somehow we aren't getting that message out to people. We, here at St. Andrew's are not perfect. Our worship is not perfect, it's sometimes messy, but everyone is welcome. All of us are not perfect, sometimes we come sad or angry, but we always are forgiven. 

You see, the invitation to worship the God who is love is God's invitation, and there are thousands of people who still haven't heard the invitation. Today I encourage you to invite someone you know into God's love. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's for a cup of coffee and conversation, and to stay for the community. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's to experience the God whose hearts desire is to love them. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's to find meaning and acceptance for themselves and their children. Invite someone you know to St. Andrew's  who is searching and has lost their way.

Invite the Pharisees, invite the tax collectors. You know that here they will find themselves, here they will find the love that wins, here they will be home. It is God's invitation, only you can bear the invitation into the world. Not because you have to, but because your heart breaks as well as mine, that they haven't yet gotten the invitation. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

22 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C Proper 24 Oct 20 2013

Here's another parable, and they sure don't get any easier. Every time we hear a parable, we ask ourselves again, what is this really about? What is the kingdom of God like? What does this show us about God? And, there never is just one answer to any of these questions when we hear a parable, there are multiple answers and multiple levels. In this parable today, I want to consider one possibility.  I think this parable is not about God being like the judge, but much more like God being like the persistent widow. I think this parable is about God's hearts' desire to be in relationship with you and me. 

At the center of the relationship with God is prayer. That is what this parable is about. Jesus is telling the people who have gathered to listen to him, to pray always and not to loose heart. Prayer is one way God communicates with us. Sometimes people wonder about prayer and what good it does. Sometimes people are frustrated because God doesn't seem to answer prayer, or the answer is not the one we want. When the answer isn't the one we want, we decide God isn't listening, or God isn't even there. The problem is that somehow we've gotten it into our heads that God is transactional instead of relational. God, if you rescue me out of this situation, then I'll go to church every Sunday. God, if you get me this great job, then I'll give all this money to those less fortunate than I. God, if you do this, then I'll do that. Transactional, it's a deal God, I'll hold up my end of the bargain if you hold up yours. Who wants a God who's only interested in a transaction and deal making? No wonder there are so many atheists, so many "spiritual but not religious." If that was the God I had to believe in, I'd turn and run too. God's hearts' desire is to be in relationship with you and me, not to be the back end of a bargain.

Prayer involves words, prayer involves silence, prayer involves posture, prayer really involves our entire being. And prayer involves relationship. There are times when you think you pray on your own. When I am out walking and getting my exercise in the mornings, I incorporate my personal prayer. And there are times we pray in a group. Sometimes we all say the same words together, sometimes we make space to deposit our own words, sometimes we make silence so that we may just listen. Sometimes we sing our words, some may even dance their prayers. But all of this prayer is born of relationship. Even when I think I make my prayer alone, it is born of the place and the time and the creation in which I find myself. Prayer is one way that makes it possible for God to get ahold of us. And God's hearts desire is to be involved in our lives, and our loves, and our sadness and our grief. 

And yet, there are times we cannot pray, it is at those times we trust that someone is praying on our behalf, carrying God's hearts desire to be with us to us. You do that all the time when you pray for someone else. My favorite author, Madeleine L'engle tells a story about a near fatal car accident in which she was involved. She lay in the hospital for days and weeks afterward, and she says she could no longer pray, the only thing that kept her alive was the knowledge and trust that others prayed on her behalf, and in there somewhere, the seed of hope bloomed, and she remembered God's love for her, and was re-membered in God's relationship.

So this story may be a story about praying always, and about persistence and hope, but I think it is a story about God's persistence and hope. I think it is about a God who just will not let us alone no matter how much noise and movement and busy-ness we create in our lives to drown out God's voice. Maybe it is us who, even though we fail to fear God or care about people, are finally worn down by the persistence of a God who longs for justice, a God who yearns to love us completely and absolutely. 

It is this that makes it so hard for me to hear about those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious." The relationship that God yearns for is not a solitary relationship. Individualism is not a value in the sacred story. Being successful all by yourself is unheard of in the stories in scripture. The very essence of God is relational. God's relationship with us and all of creation is God's very being. And God persists, God keeps coming to us, God never gives up on us, God's love wins. 

And as we pray, we become more connected to God, and we become more connected to one another. We become connected to God and to one another in our joys and in our sufferings. And sometimes that is hard, and sometimes that hurts. But the more you see suffering and injustice around you, the more you pray, and the more you pray the more connected you are to that suffering, and the more connected you are to that suffering the more connected you are to the crucified and risen Christ. You can't very well look into the eyes of those around you who are in great need and do nothing. We create connections among us, prayer connections that link us together forever and always. These are the connections that begin to put us back together and make us whole. These are the connections that begin to result in healing, and forgiveness. And isn't that often what it is we pray for? 

So church, pray without ceasing and do not lose heart. For God has work to do through you and among you. Amen

Saturday, October 12, 2013

21 Sunday after Pentecost Proper 23 October 13 2013

It seems to me that the phrase "an attitude of gratitude" may seem a bit cliche, but I do believe this passage is all about that. Jesus is going about the region healing and teaching, which is all well and good, but even Jesus would get tired and cranky I imagine, and really would love to hear a thank you. You've been there, right? You bailed your kid out of one more jam, you helped again with the homework, you made a great meal, you did the dishes, all expectations of parenthood sure, but still, a thank you would be nice, but you would never say that out loud. You volunteered for the school fundraiser, you shoveled your neighbor's driveway, you donated money to the Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Way, and really, a thank you is all you want.

Well, the good news is that this passage isn't about us and what we want, it's about Jesus. Jesus who healed ten lepers, including a Samaritan, an alien, a foreigner. Jesus didn't even ask to see his green card, wasn't worried about whether he could adequately speak the language, Jesus just healed him, and nine others. This outsider, this alien, this foreigner, shows us all up. He's the one who thanks God, he's the one who gives God the glory. Not that any one could blame any of us for not remembering to give thanks, just look at the state of things.

But really, we know with our heads, that God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse, all that, and a million things more, are good gifts from God's abundance. There is an old spiritual discipline of listing one's blessings, naming them before God, and giving thanks. It's a healthy thing to do, especially in a world where we too often assume we have an absolute right to health, happiness and every possible creature comfort. Give it a try, make your list.

Additionally, this story shows us something else as amazing as gratitude and thankfulness. It shows us what new life and resurrection look like. Lepers were banned from their communities, they said good-bye to family, husbands, wives, children, and they go live with other lepers until their deaths. Not only did Jesus restore this man to health, he was restored to the community, and in a society in which honor was conferred by one's place in the community, that restoration was maybe even more life giving than the restoration of health. This man was dead and is alive again. Faith and gratitude travel hand in hand. 

Last week, the reading we missed because of the Big Snow, was all about faith. I wondered about that passage in Luke if the story was not about not having enough faith, but about God's absolute and abundant faith in us. I wondered if the story isn't about being worthless, but about God's absolute and abundant love for us. I wondered if the story is about the awesome wonder of God's grace, the grace that makes us feel a might bit small in comparison. 

Have you ever felt alone? So alone that you just sit down and weep. So alone and so afraid and so alien, that you feel like you are backed against a wall and there are no choices, no options, and that you are in a kind a prison, you can't see a way out. Last weeks readings, the Psalm especially, and Lamentations as well, are incredibly sad songs about being separated from God. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept, when we remembered our home and those who love us. These songs remind us about our own condition when we feel so totally isolated, and alienated, like we just don't fit in, like there is no one in the whole world who understands the pain of our own life. Not unlike the lepers in our reading today, banished, alone, isolated.

God calls to us in that place. The Good News is that no one is cut off from God's love, God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's healing, no one. No matter how horrible, or insignificant, or disenfranchised we think we are, no matter how far away from healing we think we are, we are not cut off from the love that wins. Sometimes, we, as did the apostles, say to The Lord, "increase our faith!" And the Lord's response is even with faith the size of a mustard seed, which is mighty small, hardly even enough to see, is enough. Indeed it is not even about how much faith you have at all, the story we embody, the story we enact, the story of Love, is the story of God's faith in us. 

You see, our relationship with God is never about us at all, so it is not about how much faith you or I have. Our relationship with God is about God's faith in us. And God does have faith in us, that is shown in the pattern of the sacred story. God creates and blesses all of creation, creation turns away from God and we wander in the wilderness, God calls us back into relationship and comes into our lives in a real and incarnational way, there is forgiveness and reconciliation and transformation. 

We know the truth of this relationship in the reality of death and resurrection. God accompanies us through the pain and the suffering and the joy of this life. Jesus is God in the flesh, and walks this journey with us, Jesus suffers through pain, hangs on a cross, and through Jesus God shows humanity what new life looks like. Jesus is broken, and wholeness looks nothing like life before death. It is all about death and resurrection. Talk about faith, God has faith in us. 

I don't get up in the morning and ask God for more faith, I get up in the morning and know that because God has faith in me, God is faithful, I can do the work God calls me to do. Sometimes I wonder where God is, sometimes I wonder what God is up to because I sure can't figure out the plan, but that doesn't change God's faith in me. With that, some semblance of faith returns. And that faith looks like love. Love as an act of the will, love as mercy and compassion, love as justice and peace. Lord, help me to be your love in my part of the world today, Lord, help me to treat each person whose path I cross with mercy and compassion, is my prayer. Lord, help me to get on board with what you are already accomplishing in the world today. Lord, you have faith in me, help me to have faith in myself. 

This world is broken, most of us are broken, and Jesus, in flesh and blood, in the bread and the wine, seeps into our very being and heals us, we are made whole in the bread and the wine. We are made whole by the love that is shown forth in this community, love that is Jesus in our midst. Jesus prepares supper for us, Jesus invites us to the table for food and drink, Jesus gives Jesus' very self so that we may be put back together, we are re-membered in a meal, in a community, that is Jesus' body.

It doesn't take much faith at all, indeed, it doesn't take any faith at all, to see the truth in these stories. We are humans, broken and loved back into wholeness. We are humans, worthy of God's love, the love that wins. And that reality causes us to give thanks and praise in all places and at all times, just like the outsider who gave thanks to God. Amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

20 Sunday after Pentecost, Yr C, Proper 22 October 6 2013

What if this story from Luke isn't about not having enough faith, but it's about God's absolute and abundant faith in us? What if this story isn't about being worthless, but it's about God's absolute and abundant love for us? What if these stories are about obedience? What if these stories are about the awesome wonder of God's grace, the grace that makes us feel a might bit small in comparison. 

Have you ever felt alone? So alone that you just sit down and weep. So alone and so afraid and so alien, that you feel like you are backed against a wall and there are no choices, no options, and that you are in a kind a prison, you can't see a way out. The Psalm especially, and Lamentations as well, are incredibly sad songs about being separated from God. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept, when we remembered our home and those who love us. These songs remind us about our own condition when we feel so totally isolated, and alienated, like we just don't fit in, like there is no one in the whole world who understands the pain of our own life. 

God calls to us in that place. The Good News is that no one is cut off from God's love, God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's healing, no one. No matter how horrible, or insignificant, or disenfranchised we think we are, we are not cut off from the love that wins. Sometimes, we, as did the apostles, say to The Lord, "increase our faith!" And the Lord's response is even with faith the size of a mustard seed, which is mighty small, hardly even enough to see, you have enough. Indeed it is not even about how much faith you have at all, the story we embody, the story we enact, the story of Love, is the story of God's faith in us. 

You see, our relationship with God is never about us at all, so it is not about how much faith you or I have. Our relationship with God is about God's faith in us. And God does have faith in us, that is shown in the pattern of the sacred story. God creates and blesses all of creation, creation turns away from God and we wander in the wilderness, God calls us back into relationship and comes into our lives in a real and incarnational way, there is forgiveness and reconciliation and transformation. 

We know the truth of this relationship in the reality of death and resurrection. God accompanies us through the pain and the suffering and the joy of this life. Jesus is God in the flesh, and walks this journey with us, Jesus suffers through pain, hangs on a cross, and through Jesus God shows humanity what new life looks like. Jesus is broken, and wholeness looks nothing like life before death. It is all about death and resurrection. Talk about faith, God has faith in us. 

I don't get up in the morning and ask God for more faith, I get up in the morning and know that because God has faith in me, God is faithful, I can do the work God calls me to do. Sometimes I wonder where God is, sometimes I wonder what God is up to because I sure can't figure out the plan, but that doesn't change God's faith in me. With that, some semblance of faith returns. And that faith looks like love. Love as an act of the will, love as mercy and compassion, love as justice and peace. Lord, help me to be your love in my part of the world today, Lord, help me to treat each person whose path I cross with mercy and compassion, is my prayer. Lord, help me to get on board with what you are already accomplishing in the world today. Lord, you have faith in me, help me to have faith in myself. 

This world is broken, most of us are broken, and Jesus, in flesh and blood, in the bread and the wine, seeps into our very being and heals us, we are made whole in the bread and the wine. We are made whole by the love that is shown forth in this community, love that is Jesus in our midst. Jesus prepares supper for us, Jesus invites us to the table for food and drink, Jesus gives Jesus' very self so that we may be put back together, we are re-membered in a meal, in a community, that is Jesus' body.

It doesn't take much faith at all, indeed, it doesn't take any faith at all, to see the truth in these stories. We are humans, broken and loved back into wholeness. We are humans, worthy of God's love, the love that wins. And that reality causes us to give thanks and praise. That reality causes us to be awestruck, that reality cause us to fall on our knees and pray, how can I be a part of the kingdom that is yours God, how can I be a part of the new creation you envision?

We are humans called to get busy with God's work of healing and reconciliation in the world. What is it that God is already up to in the world today? How can you get on board with God's work of healing and reconciliation? 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

18 Sunday after Pentecost, Yr C, Proper 20, Sept 22 2013

I have said over and over that most parables begin with either the words, or the inferred words, the Kingdom of Heaven is like.... and then we have this from Luke. What does the preacher do? A parable has multiple interpretations, a parable has layers of meaning, a parable allows the listener to access it from many entry points. So this preacher finds these verses terribly vexing, but there is one thing I know about the gospel of Luke, and that is besides being the gospel of hospitality, one of the other prominent themes in Luke is the proper use of wealth. Except that it’s not just the use of wealth; it’s more like Luke is concerned with our relationship to wealth and how that affects our relationships with others. With this in mind, we sense a profound change in the rather interesting, if not terribly admirable, character of the dishonest manager. For while he once acted in a dishonest way to enrich himself, he now acts to enrich others and thereby establish a relationship of mutual benefit. 

Wealth itself is not assigned a moral position, like good or bad, wealth itself is neutral, although there are better and worse ways to use money. Luke seems to be concerned with relationship and how wealth affects that. So, lets talk about wealth and money and stewardship and consumerism today, and see where it gets us. Most likely, talk about wealth and money put us right on that slippery slope ethicists and theologians and politicians talk so much about.

But today I want to talk about my theology of stewardship and generosity. Wealth is a word, in scripture, that is much broader than money. Wealth describes everything God has given, and we, God's creations are commanded to be stewards of all of that. We are commanded to build relationships that enriching. And yet, like the characters in our story today, that is not clear or easy, and the slippery slope may get us anyway.

Some of you have asked about my family and my mom in Minneapolis, and I have responded with a little story about the household in which they live. My mom continues to live in the house in which we all grew up, and my sister with her husband and children have purchased the house and are committed to caring for our mother there as long as possible. This is where I smile, and continue, my sister has an overly generous heart, and has taken in a little homeless family that they know, who are now living in the basement, and oh yeh, our son Willie is living there as well. The house is a bit crowded and uncomfortable right now. And some of you will nod and remember, not unlike her sister who took in a homeless family who lived in the basement here at St. Andrew's for a time. Sometimes a theology of generosity is the beginning of that slippery slope, but to err on the side of generosity is the error I choose to make.  Thankfully Willie has a place to go, actually Rick's brother and sister-in-law are having him live with them for awhile. We continue to work to find a place for the little family in my sister's basement. 

So part of stewardship is generosity in all things, and part of it is about consuming less. In the last couple of years of tightened budgets I have noticed news programs doing little spot stories about how to spend less. I tend to talk to the television when I watch, and I say to it, "so which rock have you been living under all these years, those are practices that have been a part of my life, forever, and now they're trendy." Once again, it is practicality that gives birth to great ideas, but consuming less whether it is a result of less income or whether it is a result of a commitment to stewardship, is a good thing. Years ago, as a spiritual practice, I made a commitment to myself, as much as possible, to buy clothes and household goods that had already been used. And that is entirely related to my commitment to the St. Andrew's Rummage Sale as a spiritual practice. Collecting the stuff that we no longer use, and getting it to people who will use it again, and getting to know one another better in doing the work, is important and spiritual work. The king of reuse is my husband Rick, I've never met anyone who can see an object and imagine that object's next use better than him, ahh, the slippery slope.

I tell you these stories because I think sometimes we believe that stewardship and giving are up to someone else, and that other people are so very generous, and yet each of us is already doing this very important spiritual work. But we also need to continue to make our commitment to greet the world with a spirit of abundance and generosity. Each one of you has so much to give, each one of you is so very talented. And the good news is that we are not all talented in the same way. Sometimes I lament my complete and utter lack of art skills, I can't draw to save my soul, but I can replace the zipper in a jacket so that the jacket can be worn again and again. 

Here at St. Andrew's we see stewardship as more than simply contributing money to the church; it’s also about contributing time and talents, and volunteering for ministry and mission. It’s about reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity. So today, as we begin our new Sunday school year, and as we begin Bible study, and Education for Ministry, and Adult education, and youth group and everything else, we will commission each of you in your chosen ministry of generosity. And, I ask you to imagine something new for yourself. How can you be generous in a new and different way, how can you give of the gifts God has given you?
Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

17 Sunday after Pentecost, Yr C, Sept 15 2013

My friend Ted Huffman, the pastor at 1st UCC, lived much of his life in Montana, where a lot of sheep are raised. He tells me that he doesn't know one sheep farmer who would leave his whole flock of sheep behind to go find one that was lost. He says any sheep farmer would consider that foolishness. Too great a risk for just one animal. Just foolishness. This series of stories we are reading from Luke, parables they are called, mostly take place with Jesus is the presence of the Pharisees, the law keepers. In this story they are grumbling about Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. In many of the stories the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus doing something that is not of the Law. 

You and I know what happens to Jesus at the end of the story, he gets himself killed. So you would think maybe Jesus could hold off on getting the Pharisees all riled up and play it safe. But you and I also know that's not what Jesus does. He behaves foolishly. He eats with sinners and prostitutes and he heals people on the day he is supposed to rest. 

So Luke sets up Jesus telling this parable. Imagine the crowd gathered, people were coming from all over to hear this teacher. So here you are, part of the crowd, and Jesus asks, "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" Not one of you raises your hand, not one of you shouts "me! me!" Dead silence. You look around the crowd to see if there are any crazy ones among you. Because you know that is crazy talk. That is foolish. No self-respecting shepherd would do such a thing. But Jesus continues, "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices." 

In that crowd of people listening to Jesus, you think to yourself, that is the stupidest thing you've ever heard. How does this guy keep his job? It's the darn sheep's fault that it got lost. It should have known better. Let it die out in the wilderness, it deserves no better. Why should any resources be wasted on a stupid, lazy, good for nothing sheep. But at the very same time you find yourself wondering what it would be like to be that one, that one sheep who was lost and gets found, that one sheep who is lifted up onto the shoulders of this foolish shepherd and brought home again. What would that feel like? Foolishness. 

That is the Good News, in the face of this kind of foolishness, Jesus lifts up that sheep and brings it home. Well, we all know something about parables. Parables tell us what the kingdom of God is like. In this story, the kingdom of God is foolishness. Where do you find yourself in this story? Are you one of the crowd, knowing full well no shepherd worth his money would do such a thing? Are you one of the Pharisees, knowing that you could throw Jesus in jail for inciting a riot? Are you standing there in silence, knowing you are that sheep, lost in the wilderness, whether because you blew it bigtime and made a pile of bad decisions, or whether because of your own bad luck, and for the first time you hear hope of restoration and healing. My hunch is that at various times and places in our lives we are any one of those people or sheep. That's how parables work.

We talk a lot about what people deserve or don't deserve, what we deserve or don't deserve. And mostly we hear that we deserve what we get. Natural consequences for our bad behavior is a good thing in keeping society functioning properly. And if natural consequences are not enough, then we've got the enforcement of laws. Irresponsible behavior results in losing privileges, or even brain cells or freedom, depending on what it is we've done. And that is the way of the world. 

But that is not the same as who we are in God's kingdom, and it is not the way of God's kingdom. In God's kingdom no one gets what they deserve, which is death. In God's kingdom, the shepherd will bring us home. In God's kingdom love wins. 

And what about the second parable we hear this morning? The woman who searches for the one coin she's lost. Where is the foolishness in that story? She would be foolish not to look for that coin, it is one tenth of everything she has. The third story is missing today, it is the story of the lost son. These three stories really need to be understood as a single unit. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The story of the lost son is full of foolishness, the son is foolish for leaving and throwing away his inheritance, the other son is foolish for feeling jealous, the father is the big fool for welcoming his son home again.  

It seems to me there is a clear call to foolishness in these stories. We are followers of Jesus, therefore, we are citizens of God's kingdom, right here and right now. So we too, act foolishly. In the face of a culture that says you get what you deserve, we believe that in God's kingdom love wins, and with that is grace, forgiveness, and healing. We foolishly fall on our knees, and receive God's love and forgiveness, and like the lost sheep, we are brought home. We foolishly live our lives offering the same mercy and compassion to others, and like the lost son, we are welcomed home. We foolishly know Jesus in the breaking of the bread and invite others to know Jesus as well, and like the lost coin, our wealth is immeasurable. 

Foolishness, that's what this is all about. And I thank God for that. Amen. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

16 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C, Sept 8 2013

Luke comes off a little harsh in this passage, don't you think? Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. That's not really what discipleship is about, is it? That's not really what Jesus asks of us, is it? Well, what do you think? Take up your cross and follow. Know what you're getting into before you get into it. 

I think what is being described in this passage is the cost of discipleship. Discipleship is not cheap, nor is it easy.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who knows about paying a price, he was a a prisoner in a concentration camp because he opposed the Nazi's, and wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship, writes, "Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry." 

What Luke describes, and what Bonhoeffer interprets is not any sort of Christianity Lite. A low cost, low buy in sort of Christianity. It's not Christianity only on Sundays, or any days of my choosing. It is not Christianity that is about feeling good and being nice. It is not Christianity that is about getting what I want, or even being successful. The kind of Christianity that Luke describes means giving it all up, laying it all down. Following Jesus means letting nothing, not even our relatives or our possessions get in the way. The cost of discipleship is high, it hits us at the core of our humanity, it is about dying to that which is killing us, it is about rising to the new life that God promises us. Discipleship, following Jesus, demands our transformation.

You see, the Good News is that with Jesus, nothing is the same. It's not about how much you have, or what you can buy, or who your family is. Remember, honor was the highest good in Jesus' time, and the way to garner honor was to whom you were related. So the admonition to give up family relationship, father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, was about finding value and worth in being children of God. 

Following Jesus is about divesting yourself of all of your possessions and all of your relationships that keep you from relationship with God and with others. Jesus is a proponent of the sport’s quote, “Go big or go home.” Jesus does not seek Sunday-only followers or part-time disciples; Jesus expects our full commitment. Rather than giving God our leftovers, we are compelled to offer God our lives. Jesus asks us to take up our cross, by laying it all down. As another of my favorite philosophers so wisely has said, "Do or do not, there is no try." 

That same philosopher, who is Yoda, by the way, also said to his disciple Luke Skywalker,  "Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose." Fear will kill us, fear ties us up, fear lives deep in our guts and kills us from the inside out. Jesus knows this about us. Jesus knows that it is the fear of losing our possessions that keeps us accumulating more. Jesus knows that it is those possessions that keep us from living fully and completely. And our culture encourages us to accumulate more and build bigger. But the problem is that accumulating more only anesthetizes us to the reality that none of us get out of this life alive, so instead, we live as if we are already dead. It is new life indeed, that Jesus gives us.

You see what Jesus asks of us as followers is to live this life unencumbered. We are to live this life with our pack on our back, nimble and ready to serve. As Rick and I prepared to go abroad, we listened to Rick Steves, the PBS travel expert, on how to pack. He advised, lay everything out that you think you need, and then cut it in half, and cut it in half again. And Rick Steves also says, if you need it, you can get it when you're there. 

That's what Jesus is talking about. What we think we need gets in the way of living our lives wide awake, encountering the amazing world that surrounds us, accepting the hospitality of those whose paths we cross, paying attention to God's gifts, giving thanks for what is right there and who is right there in front of us. When we are carrying too much stuff, we miss the hospitality of the moment, we miss the invitation to rest awhile, we miss the connection to one another and all of God's creation. When we lighten our load, when we divest ourselves of that which we are convinced we must have, when give up our possessions, when we give up our fear and our anger, the world begins to let loose of us, and we are freed to receive the love that wins, the love that blesses, and we are transformed. We are changed into followers of Jesus.

This is your chance. What is it you are afraid to lose? What is it you need to lay down? What is in your pack that you can leave behind? Put it down, put it down. That is the cost of discipleship. And rise up to meet the new day. Rise up to follow the one and only one who can give you the love and life that you yearn for. Rise up to follow the one who loves you.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

15 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C, Proper 17, Sept 1 2013

What to preach about today? Do I give you all a travelogue? As I was wondering aloud about this sermon, someone suggested I give you a top ten of everything we did and saw. We'll have many opportunities to talk about what we did and where we've been. You'll even probably get tired of me talking about it pretty darn quick. But the gospel pulls at me, and I can't just ignore it. And, as some of you know, Luke is my favorite gospel. So today, you get the gospel. 

Luke, the gospel writer of hospitality, tells us a story about Jesus who is going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees, who we affectionally consider the keepers of the Law, to eat, on the Sabbath, a day that is held in high esteem according to the Law, a day set apart from all other days. In the story that Luke is telling us, Jesus observes how the guests take their places, and in response, Jesus tells a story about an invitation to a very special meal, a wedding banquet. We have before us, a story within a story. 

So first of all, I want you to imagine yourself as one of the invited guests. What does that mean for you? Where do you sit? With whom do you sit? Is there ever a time you may think to yourself, surely not saying anything out loud, that person should not be here, that person is not distinguished enough, that person is not good enough, that person is not like me, that person should not be at this table. Jesus says, "give this person your place." Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 

Now, I want you to imagine yourself as the one who does the inviting. When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Remember, this parable is told in the context of a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. You gotta believe the leader of the Pharisees have an agenda in inviting Jesus over, usually, they want to test him, they want to see what he's made of, they want to find out if he is righteous before the law. And so far, Jesus has failed miserably. He heals on the Sabbath, he eats with sinners and outcasts, and now, he's telling everyone in hearing distance not to invite the important people over for a meal, but invite those who cannot return the invitation. Who do we invite to come eat with us here at St. Andrew's? And when we invite them, do we actually encourage them to have something to eat, at this table and at the table in the parish hall. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

And lastly, I want you to imagine the invitation itself. This is an invitation that we cannot pay back. Jesus invites each and every one of us to the table, and somehow, we are transformed in the eating. Somehow, we cannot leave the table without being changed. But it is not our own doing, it is indeed the love that wins, the love that blesses, that changes us. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

You see, this story within a story from the gospel writer Luke, who is all about hospitality, gives us a picture of God's kingdom. What does the kingdom look like in this story? 

We need to back up for a moment, and remember something about 1st century mediterranean context. The greatest good was ones honor. Of course you sat at the head of the table, of course you expected those less than you to sit at the lowest place. Of course you invited the important people, the people who could do something for you, the people who had something you need. You would not have considered any other way. That's the way the world worked. It's really not so much different today. Jesus came into that context as Jesus comes into our context and says there is a new way, a way of God's kingdom. And in that kingdom, everyone has honor, everyone has status, and that is based on God's love, that is based on being created in God's image. It is not about who you are, it is not based on how much you have, it is not based on anything you can do. In God's kingdom, we are all related, and what we do matters. In God's kingdom it is love that wins and love that blesses.

We are called to the same sort of hospitality, we are called to make the same sort of invitation, we are called to build this kingdom, where no one is an outcast, where all of us sinners are welcome. We are called to the table to feed and be fed. As we feed and are fed, we are sent into the world to be the heralds of this kingdom. We are sent into our work, and our school, we are sent into our communities, bearing this new reality. We are sent into the world to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so we entertain angels. By doing so we are the agents of God's kingdom. By doing so we bring God's healing and reconciliation to all who are broken, which is each and every one of us. 

We are followers of Christ. We are invited to the table where there is no preference of place. We are invited to be builders of the kingdom. We are charged to engage every person with mercy and compassion, for by doing so, we entertain angels. 

This is a picture of a stained glass window in the Durham Cathedral.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In the end what matters most is how well did you love, how well did you live, how well did you learn to let go.

As I walked into a shop in Canterbury, this piece of wisdom looked right out at me. It seems to me it may be the theme of this pilgrim journey. Remember, it is a sabbatical in three movements, reclaiming roots, renewing relationship, refreshing the spirit. It seems to me that in renewing roots, spending time with children and family, I am reminded about love, unconditional, messy, hard, exhilarating, painful, joyous. It seems to me that in renewing relationship, spending time with Rick, seeing amazing sites, just being together in places that are older than our imaginations, living together, loving one another and others, has new meaning. And this part of refreshment is really about letting go. As I have let go of what I think I should be doing, and let the journey unfold and make it's own way, I have been awestruck. 
Canterbury and Canterbury cathedral fed my spirit. I went to Holy Communion in the morning, Evensong, amazing Evensong in the evening, and in between I walked, and read, and relaxed. 




A "full" English breakfast. It's all I need to eat for the whole day!

I have been taking photos of doors, hmm, 

A little crooked


very old


not sure where they all lead or what it's all about. 

This afternoon in Durham, I will see the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illuminated gospel written in the community of St. Cuthbert on the Holy Island. As I was reading about that, a question asked itself of me,

Pilgrim, what are you looking for?


And just so you know it's me behind the camera, here's one of me in front of the camera, kind of....


and just for fun...


who knew, Krispy Kreme in Durham!