Saturday, January 26, 2013

3 Epiphany Yr C Jan 27 2013

Jesus proclaims from the prophet Isaiah, "God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” Have you ever had that experience when you say something and those with whom you are speaking look at you like you have three heads? Or they fall silent and everyone gets nervous and then someone laughs, and no one knows what to say? Happens to me all the time, and it happened to Jesus in this story. The room fell silent and I'm sure it says somewhere that they all thought he was a crazy man. Most of them grew up with Jesus, or were parents of the kids he grew up with, or they were relatives. I'm sure they were thinking to themselves, did he just say what we think he just said? Isn't he just Joseph and Mary's son? Did he really say what we think he just said?

What did Jesus just say? With his life, Jesus is saying, God is acting right here, right now. Jesus is saying God's promises are not out in the future, they are right now. Jesus is saying, God is with you in the the flesh. Jesus is saying, what is important is what we do right now. Jesus is saying, you are forgiven, you are free, you can see. Jesus is saying, love wins, this good news changes you and changes the world.

You see, we are captive to our ways of thinking, our idolatries, our fears, our expectations about the way things ought to be. The people listening to Jesus in the synagogue that day expected Jesus to be a certain way. They knew he was the teenager who had scared his mother to death when he stayed back in the temple when Mary and Joseph had taken him there for the passover. They expected him to be that child, that boy, that man who they thought they knew so well. But Jesus was acting outside of their expectations. Jesus was saying to them that God is accessible to them right here, right now, right in this community.

This new thing that happens with Jesus is God with us. Emmanuel. That is why we read this story during the season of Epiphany, the season that we rest in the part of the story about incarnation, God in the flesh. It's hard for us to imagine, because you and I are so familiar with Jesus. For the Jews before Jesus, God was always contained. God was carried from place to place in the ark of covenant, and then God was in the temple in the holy of holies. And the stories of God were fearsome.

So this message that Jesus is bearing, the message that God who is the creator of all that is seen and unseen, is here among us, and that Jesus in some way embodies God's real presence, is a world altering claim. The silence must have been deafening. So how does that make things different?

To be honest, I'm not quite sure. I too, am silenced by this amazing news that God is with us in Jesus. But I think it has something to do with how we see each other. I think it has something to do with how we treat each other. I think it has something to do with life and it's value. I think God comes to us to show us the way because we are God's beloved, and yet somehow we keep making a mess of things.

And I think that that's where the truth is, somewhere in the mess and muck of life. Because no matter how much we mess things up, God continues to love us. No matter how poor we believe we are, poor in spirit, poor in friendship, poor in how much money we have, poor in skills, the good news is that God continues to love us and count us worthy. No matter how much we continue to be captive by greed, no matter how much we continue to be captive by power, no matter how much we continue to be captive by the need to acquire, no matter how much we continue to be captive by the need to be at the center of attention, no matter how much we continue to be captive by the need to please others, God sets us free. No matter how tight we keep our eyes closed to the the needs of our neighbors, no matter how tight we keep our eyes closed to others who are different from us, no matter how tight we keep our eyes closed to those who can't afford to pay the rent, or pay for health care, no matter how tight we keep our eyes closed, we are forgiven.

So that's it really, that's all I know. God loves us, no matter what, God sets us free to love ourselves and to love others, Jesus walks with us in this life to show us how to keep loving even in the mess of our lives. We don't have to have it all together before we are worthy to be loved. And that is transformational. The reality of God's love is in the present, in our midst. It is made known to us in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. It is made known to us in the people who we gather together with each Sunday right here, and it is made know to us in the people with whom we share our meals and our homes and our communities. The reality of God's love is in the present, and it is made known to us in forgiveness, God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. The reality of God's love is in the present, and it is made known to us in the messiness of our lives. The reality is that Love wins.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2 Epiphany Yr C January 20, 2013

When we listened to the first verses of John just a couple weeks back, we were reminded that the gospel writer very explicitly patterned the beginning of his story after the very beginning of the story in Genesis. The first verses of John are "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." And the first words of Genesis are "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good."

The gospel writer is very intentionally setting the stage to say something about God, and the story we have before us today does just that. God, who is creator of all that is, seen and unseen, and who calls the creation good, God, who calls the Word into being, is the same God who is the God of abundance.

On the third day of this wedding that Jesus, his mother, and all his friends were attending, the wine ran out. Probably just poor planning on the part of the host, most wedding celebrations lasted a week. Jesus' mother seems to be in a position that she knows right away the wine was gone, maybe it was the wedding of a relative or close friend and she was helping out with the arrangements. Mary believes that Jesus can do something about that, and said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Standing right there were six stone jars that held the water for washing feet, and other ceremonial washings, Jesus had them filled to the brim. Each of those stone jars probably held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, for a total of about 150 gallons. That's enough water to fill a very large bath tub, or the trough that will water your horses for a few days, it's a lot of water.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, he was astonished that the bridegroom had saved the good wine until now, the third day. An abundance of good wine for the celebration. An abundance of good wine flowing out and over the celebration.

John presents us with story after story that show forth God's presence, some people even calls them miracles. Each story points to God's presence with creation, God's presence in humanity, God's presence in and through and among us. God's presence as the Love that you and I know wins. But you and I also know the whole story, and we know it does not go well all the time. We know that creation turns away from God, that's why John the Baptist continually calls us to repent, to turn our hearts and minds and souls back to God. We know that Jesus' journey brings us to the sadness and suffering of the cross. We know that to be the story of our lives as well. Each one of us experiences the sadness and suffering of living and dying. But we also know that that is not the end of the story. Each story in the gospel of John brings us closer to Jesus' death, each story brings us closer to the grief of the death of a child. Because it is, you see, the death of a child. Mary empowers her son in this story, and grieves at the death of her son on the cross. And I believe God grieves as well. I believe the death of Jesus breaks God's heart, and I believe the death of each of God's children breaks God's heart.

Sometimes I think we wish for magic instead of hope for miracles, we wish for resuscitation instead of resurrection. And yet in this time when we want to fight violence with more guns, we forget about God's tears. In this time when we want to sling accusations instead of offer compassion, we forget about God's tears. In this time when we want to acquire and to consume to the detriment of this rock we live on, we forget about God's tears. As I reflected again on this story of the water turned to wine, it occurred to me that the water in these jugs is God's tears. The abundance of God's tears matched only by the abundance of God's love. God's tears flow as freely as the wine.

Recently many have been asking the question where is God? Where is God when children are killed? Where is God in tragedy? Where is God when people mistreat others because of race, or gender, or sexuality? People assume God is absent from school, or work, or play, but they are wrong. You see, that is the miracle of incarnation, it's not magic. That is the miracle of God's tears made into wine, it's not magic. It is God with us. God whose son hung on a cross. God whose heart breaks. God whose tears heal. God's abundance flowing freely into life.

Love wins. Love is worth it, even in grief God's love splashes into everything else. We want the messiah who rescues us and those we love from death, we want magic. But what we get is a God who has gone into grief deeper than most of us, and who walks with us in the midst of the mess and pain of this life. The God who makes this life new and worth living.

In the midst of God's abundant love we respond. We respond by working to change unjust systems. We respond by loving even when we see those who hate. We respond to violence with peace. We respond to tragedy with compassion. We respond to hopelessness with hope. We shine the light in dark places. We offer love over hate, freedom over oppression.

Our country celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. tomorrow. Our church prays this collect, Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Our response to God's abundant love and God's tears of grief, matters. Bearing God's love and God's light into the world, matters. Walking with those who have lost hope, matters. You see, that's where miracles happen. That's where Love wins.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Epiphany Yr C

A New Year dawns, and with it hope and promise, light and love. More light has already begun to shine, I can see it and I can feel it. "Lift up your eyes and look around...you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you." So much hope, so much promise, so much light, so much love. And yet, all of this is tempered by the reality brought to us in Matthew's story about the new birth, and King Herod, who wants to put an end to all that, King Herod, for whom power, instead of love, wins.

It's really the story of our lives, isn't it? That's how we know the biblical story is a true story. The biblical story is our story. The biblical story is the story of God's creation and blessing and abundance. It is the story about how the creation turns away from God, it is about how we begin to believe that it is about us and not God, it is about how we build idols of wealth, and happiness, and power. We even make God an idol when we believe in a God of magic instead of mystery, a God of resuscitation instead of resurrection. But this same God calls us back, this same God in the flesh shows us in the flesh, the way, the truth, and the life. God shows us, that no matter what we do, no matter how bad the circumstances seem to be, no matter how much life hurts, Love wins. The Light will not be put out.

The story we have before us today, this story of the wise ones from the east who follow the Light to the child born in a barn, helps us to see the cosmic importance of this birth. This birth happened in a particular place at a particular time in the context of a particular tribe, but the arrival of these wise ones from the east shows us that it wasn't just for a particular people at a particular time in a particular tribe. Matthew's intent in telling this story is to show us that this birth changes the world, the wise ones from the east know that, and they know the importance of keeping the birth from Herod, so they go home by another way.

God seems to do whatever it takes to reach out to and embrace all people. God announces the birth of the Messiah to shepherds through angels on Christmas, to Magi via a star on Epiphany, and to the political and religious authorities of God’s own people in through visitors from the East. From a manger, where a child lies wrapped in bands of cloth, God’s reach, God’s embrace in Jesus, gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Jesus eats with outcasts and sinners. Jesus touches people who are sick and people who live with pain and suffering. Jesus even calls the dead back to life. Ultimately, Jesus draws all people to himself as he is lifted up on the cross. In Jesus, no one is beyond God’s embrace.

God’s radical grace is wondrously frightening. The Light that shines in the darkness, the Love that wins is wondrously frightening. That is what this story is about. God comes to us in wondrously surprising ways. Ways we do not expect. Ways which we would never choose for ourselves. And we are changed, we are transformed, the world is turned, and we must go home by another way. Or not, the alternative, of course, is to join Herod in not seeing God’s ever-expanding embrace, or feeling threatened by it, and instead giving way to just plain fear: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him”. Herod jealously reached out himself, just far enough to violently protect his place and preserve his power.

But I would suggest not being like Herod, and instead of living in fear of what is next, what is new, what could happen, we live in God's embrace, we live in God's light, we live in confidence that Love wins. Instead of living in fear of what the future may bring to us, we live in God's abundant and amazing grace. Instead of holding fast to that which someday we will loose, we get on board with God's mission in the world of healing and reconciliation.

Taking the way of the wise ones from the east, going home by another way, going home by Jesus' way, surely provides a life of adventure, of risk, of surprise. It is a radical route. It takes us through green pastures, and more dangerous waters, it is a route that is filled with wolves and sheep. This is a route that calls us through transformation to wholeness; it is a route on which the adventure is not about you, but about whom we are together, and how we are related to God. On this route home we are called to be Light bearers. We are called to be Love bearers. We are called to bring God’s Love to dark corners, to mountaintops, to raging waters.

We are called to bring God’s Love to a fragmented society, to a culture that is pulled apart by greed. We are called to bring God’s Love to a culture that engages more and more in name calling and judgement. God’s Love, God’s Power, is the most powerful integrating force in creation. God’s Love moves us from brokenness, from fragmentation, to wholeness, to healing.

How do you bring God’s Love and God’s Light into the world, how do you bring God’s wholeness into your work or your school? It is our call, to bring God’s transforming love to those who have not yet seen or felt or known that love. It is our call to bear the Love that wins into the world. Be the light-bearer, be the love-bearer, just like those wise ones from the east of so long ago, and you will go home by another way.