Saturday, February 23, 2013

2 Lent Yr C Feb 24 2013

During the season of Lent, we are challenged by our memory of what is to come. We know that Good Friday is ahead and that crucifixion comes before resurrection. We know what is to come because we already have been this way. Nonetheless, we are called to care for one another, just as a mother hen cares for her chicks. Just as God cares for us. And we are called to respond to that love through action toward others, reciprocating that love. Jesus challenges our notions of who God is and our visions of God’s kingdom. We are also challenged to expand our understanding of God to include images of a strong, nurturing presence.

We know what is to come because we already have been this way. Isn't that the truth. The pattern that is shown forth in the stories of the Old Testament shows God's creation, blessing, humanity's turning away from God, God calling creation back to healing, wholeness, and reconciliation. In the midst of pain and sadness, Abraham needed God to remind him who is was and what his role would be and that God was with him. In the midst of the wandering in the wilderness and certain death, the Israelites had to be reminded at every junction that God was with them.

And that is the pattern of our lives. Each one of you has experience personally and with your friends and family of this truth. The reality of life is death, the reality of love is loss. But the reality of life is also resurrection, that's what the pattern shows us, that's what God's love tells us. What makes that so hard is that what the world counts as death, what the world counts as loss, is not at all to God. Every where we look, we are encouraged to change the way we act and feel and look to keep away our wrinkles or our sagginess or to increase our stamina or virility. Those things may be well and good and help us feel better, but God's kingdom is about being fully human, fully alive, knowing full well these bodies of ours will die.

Death is what happens when we are trying so hard to stay alive, life is what happens when we live in the reality of resurrection, when we live in the reality that Love wins. And that is the new life that is gift, and to which we must respond yes! Yes, Lord, in the midst of this pain and loneliness I will continue to love, because it is love that wins. Yes, Lord, in the midst of this heartache I will continue to love, as a mother hen loves her chicks, as you lord, love me, because it is love that wins. Yes, Lord, in the midst of the joy and gladness of my life and my heart, I will spread your love and mercy and compassion to those who have lost hope, because I am grateful.

In this passage, Jesus’ use of the mother hen image is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for all of us. It expands our imaginations. It is a mother’s love that is revealed here. And it is also a love that might seem unjustified. The people Jesus was reaching out to were known to “kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” We may say they were unworthy of Jesus' love, that they didn’t deserve it. And the truth be known, they didn’t deserve it, none of us deserve it. But that is the truth of God's kingdom, it is not about what we deserve, because it is not about us at all. It is about God's amazing and abundant love for all of us, and for each of us, just like that mother hen and her chicks.

This passage from Luke shows us what God's kingdom looks like. Indeed, we are called to care for one another as God cares for us, as the mother hen cares for her chicks. That is God's kingdom. God's kingdom is not necessarily something waiting for us at the end of our time or the end of all time. God's kingdom is what God yearns to create with us right now, in this place, in this time. God gathers us in, cares for us, brings life to us. God's kingdom welcomes all, cares for all, nurtures all, regardless of whether or not we deserve that amazing and astounding love. Can we do any less?

During Lent we are particularly called into relationship with Jesus, just like that mother hen calls her chicks to herself so she can care for and nurture them. We are called into relationship, not because we are deserving, or wonderful, or perfect, we are called into relationship because we are loved.

So Rick and I went to a concert last night by the School of Mines Jazz band and Master Chorale. I have gone on before about how impressed I am with these engineer's musical performance, and last night I was impressed again. I heard voices that were lovely, and beautiful, and fun. They sang very complex arrangements together unaccompanied. The only way they could pull that off was to listen to each other. No one voice was more important, or less important, better than or worse than, any other. It was about all the voices, blending and soaring and supporting, that made the music. Listening to one another made the music beautiful. The relationship of all the voices, made the music even possible. I think that is a glimpse of God's kingdom. I think that is God's call into relationship. I think that is what Lent is about.

Listening to God, listening to one another, building something beautiful that not one of us can do alone. That is the journey we take with Jesus. So in the middle of one of the songs, one of the microphones completely fell apart, with a big popping noise the thing fell apart in the young man's hand. You see, it's not about perfection, it's about what we do in the midst of the reality of the journey, and how we lift one another up. It's about how we listen to each other, those we blend with well and those whose voice may be hard to hear. It's about how we listen to Jesus, whose deepest desire is to call us into himself, so that we know in the depth of our beings, that Love wins.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of The Lord.

Friday, February 15, 2013

1 Lent Yr C Feb 17 2013

So he stands by the refrigerator, with the door open, looking inside, and says, I'm starving, there's nothing to eat. Then he goes to the kitchen cupboard, opens the door, and declares again, I'm starving, there's nothing to eat. I go to the grocery store, stock up on everything I think he likes to eat, get it all home, and there's still nothing to eat. He eats a delicious meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an hour later says, I'm starving, what is there to eat. Some of you have been there done that, for others, if you don't know what that's like yet, you will.

And then there's that late afternoon grumbling in your tummy, and if you go too long you get a little light headed and maybe even ornery. What luxury we live in, every one of us is pretty sure we won't go for more than a few hours before our next meal. What a bunch of first world problems.

In this story, Jesus has been in the wilderness for a very long time, and I would imagine he is hungry, tired, and stinky. Forty days is significant as it is a signal to us of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Remember that story? Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and in the wilderness they began to distrust Moses, they began to distrust God, they began to whine about the food, the living conditions, the weather. But who wouldn't, right? After forty years and another generation, who wouldn't lose hope? After years of oppression, who wouldn't lose hope? After years of being mistreated, who wouldn't lose hope?

That's what The Devil is counting on in this story from Luke. The Devil is counting on Jesus having lost hope and trust in God. The Devil is counting on Jesus believing that God just does not care. Each one of the suggestions The Devil has for Jesus, names the temptation to give up on God, to come to believe that God is not sufficient to meet one's needs. It's not really about right and wrong, Jesus' decisions are not really black and white. So while Jesus is incredibly hungry, even if he had some survival skills, eating bugs for forty days, one would think he's ready to deal. The Devil says to Jesus, just have something to eat, you know how hungry you are. Which one of us wouldn't want a good loaf of bread? Then The Devil says to Jesus, you can have all the power and authority in the world, just think what you could do with that. This could all be yours. And lastly, after The Devil may be getting somewhat frustrated, he says to Jesus, just test that God of yours now, just see if he'll whisk you out of death if you throw yourself off this cliff.

You see, The Devil's proposals are just like the promises of the world, and they look so attractive. You will be filled and fulfilled, you will have power and prestige, you will have immortality. It is so seductive. It is so tempting. We don't even know it's happening. But when the pills, or the promiscuity, or the power, don't deliver the goods, we tend to continue to look further for fulfillment by increasing the frenetic pace of finding something that will make us happy. It is that inferno into which our hope, our happiness, our joy, get sucked. Thus, the expression, it sucks. And, we may give up, or we may be so caught in the cycle of trying to make ourselves happy, that we give up without ever knowing we've given up.

But, even when we give up hope, even when we give up on God, even when we give in to the glitter and glitz the world offers us, God never gives up on us. Love does indeed win. That's what so amazing about God. No matter what, God does not give up on us. That is what this story is about, that is what this story we hear all the way through Lent tells us. It's not an easy story to hear, there's heartbreak and death, but there's also healing and new life.

Jesus experiences his relationship with God through the stories in sacred scripture. Jesus knows those sacred stories well, and in them hears God's love, he hears hope and healing and health. You see, this thing we do with God is not transactional. Though we do want it to be that way. God, if you pull me out of this mess I've gotten myself into, I will go to church every Sunday. But isn't that the very same thing The Devil is doing? This thing God does with creation is not transactional, it is relational. The Devil wants us to think it's transactional, that it's about bargaining with God. That's where those temptations from The Devil come from. The Devil says to Jesus, if you turn these stones into bread, if you take this power and authority, if you jump off this cliff, then I will give this all to you. With The Devil it is transactional, with God it is relational, and at the center of that relationship is the Love that wins.

The relationship call's us to turn away from all that is killing us and turn back to God. As we hear that call, and as we lay down our burdens, as we lay down our own heartbreak, and as we fall to our knees, we realize we are already forgiven. We realize Love and Hope and Joy have never been absent from us, we've just had our backs turned, we've had our hearts hardened.

And as we begin to live the new life that is gift, it dawns on us that we must respond to God's love. It dawns on us that there is pain and suffering and injustice in our world, and the new life that is God's gift really isn't about any one of us anyway. We can respond to God's love with prayer, we listen to God and God's movement in our lives. That's what relationship is all about. We can respond to God's love by fasting from that which keeps the relationship from flourishing. We can respond to God's love by giving our love, our wealth, our time. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that give life to our relationship with God. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that enact God's love, God's justice, in our world. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that remind us that God is always has hope and faith in us. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that show that Love wins.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Last Epiphany, The Transfiguration, Feb 10, 2013

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him. At the very beginning of these Sundays after Epiphany we heard the same voice at Jesus' baptism say "you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." In that story John the baptizer was there to show how important that event was, and in this story Moses and Elijah show up to let us know that this event is really important, and Peter and James and John are there to witness this transfiguration. The stories we have been hearing these Sundays have been showing us who Jesus is. Jesus, the carpenter's son, Jesus, the boy who reads from the scroll in the synagogue, Jesus, the one who would be hurled off the cliff, Jesus, the beloved, listen to him.

In the midst of the cacophony that surrounds us, in our work, in our school, as we play, in our homes, at our tables, we are to listen. Can we even do that, can we even listen to Jesus? Where do we listen? How do we listen? When do we listen? It seems like a fairly small ask, listen to him, and yet we do everything we can to not listen. We fill our spaces with sound and noise and motion. We fill our days with stuff to do, errands to run, accomplishments to fulfill. That is what our lives are made of. We wear our earbuds, we listen to our Pandora stations, we are inundated with sound. I don't think that is necessarily bad, but I do think we don't really know what to do with quiet and silence. I also don't think that it is only in silence that we can hear God. God will have us listen, and sometimes God knocks us around so that we do. But I do think our spirits' yearn for quiet.

Maybe, as we begin our shift from the glory of Epiphany through this moment of transfiguration that transforms time, to the journey of Lent, we may choose to find some time to listen.

We may listen to stories of Jesus. The gospel readings we will hear are not stories about sweet, gentle Jesus, but about strong, brave Jesus who calls us to be like him. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus tells the truth about Herod's depravity and Pilate's oppression, Jesus shows us what real love looks like, and that Love always wins. Last week I told you that this life is about flying boldly and courageously, these stories of Jesus show us what that looks like. Read the stories, tell the stories, know the stories of Jesus. You might find a way to listen to the stories of Jesus each day.

We may listen to God in prayer. Prayer is really about listening to God. It is good to thank God, and ask God, and bless God and bless people and things. But really, prayer is about listening. Prayer is about carving out some time to intentionally listen to God's movement in our lives. My personal mantra most recently has been, "more silence, less words." But, my favorite author, Madeleine L'engle, says it much more beautifully in her poem "Word".

I, who live by words, am wordless
when I try my words in prayer.
All language turns to silence.
Prayer will take my words
and then reveal their emptiness.
The stilled voice learns to hold its peace,
to listen with the heart
to silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered,
all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.
I leave, returned to language,
for I see
through words, even when all words are ended.

I, who live by words,
am wordless when I turn to the Word to pray. Amen.
(quoted in Praying Our Days: A Guide and Companion by Bishop Frank T. Griswold)

I do encourage you to find the time to pray, to sit in silence, and to listen. Now, when I was a younger mother, and exhausted most of the time, I would try to sit still for a while, and listen in prayer. I would inevitably dose off. And I believe in a God who believes in me, and I believe there is a time and a season for everything, that was my season for dosing off prayer, this is my season for attentive silence. You need to find your own kind of silence. And if you need words, there are plenty in your prayer book, use them. Those of you with young children at home might consider praying the Lord’s Prayer together each day especially during Lent. Maybe before or after meals, at bedtime, even in the car (if that is when you have quality time together).

We may listen to God in other people around us and around the world. Jesus listened and responded to the people around him and calls us to listen to the people around us and those all around the world who need us to hear them. What do we hear from people around us and around the world that transforms us? How do we listen to the needs of others and respond in ways that truly help? Sometimes when we listen to the needs of others, our own world is disrupted, we are transformed in the listening. Listening, deeply listening to others, changes us. Another of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis writes, I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me.

As you listen to God, maybe you want to select a project that you and your family want to collect your coins for. Episcopal Relief and Development is a project that you might think about. Putting your coins into your box would provide the opportunity of listening with Jesus to the needs of the world.

Listen to God, listen whether you can hear or not, God will show up.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

4 Epiphany Yr C Feb 3 2013

On a Saturday afternoon, when I was in elementary school, all of us would load up the yellow school buses, our mom's and maybe our dad's, all the kids, and we'd head downtown Minneapolis for the Shrine Circus. What an adventure, people squished together to get in, people squished together in their seats. The smell of cotton candy wafting through the air, hot dogs, and cracker jacks. All of those light up whirring toys tempting us, calling to us, and our mom's saying no. At least my mom saying no. But it's the trapeze that I am imagining today. The men and women climbing all the way to the top of the big top, swinging the swings back and forth, net placed under them. One person on each swing, swinging back and forth. And then the flyer, hands clasped to the swinger, swings back and forth, until it's time to let go and fly. That's it, right there, flying through the air, exhilarating and frightening all at the same time.

That's the place Jesus puts us. That's where this story puts us. It continues the story we began to hear last week, Jesus takes up the scroll in his neighborhood synagogue, the place he grew up, the place he crawled around on the floor as a kid, the place he played with his friends, the place he learned to read. His friends in the synagogue were thinking, this is Joseph's son, isn't he a nice boy. And he knows his Bible so well. And then as Jesus is reading from the prophet Isaiah, he claims that he himself is in the line of the prophets. Just like that the story takes a dramatic shift. The story had always been told about events in the future, the messiah will come, the messiah will be a political event, and all of a sudden the tense changes from Messiah's fulfillment in the future to now, this is happening now. It gets really tense. And it surely doesn't look anything like any of them had imagined.

And that's where we are, like the trapeze flyer, we have left one swing behind, and have not yet grasped the other one. We live in this place of exhilaration and fright all at one time. We live in this presence that Jesus gives us. The past has been, the future is yet, and Jesus pulls us squarely into the present, and claims that God's love and grace are available to you right here and right now.

And the reading from first Corinthians shows us what we are doing while we are flying. We are loving. And if we are not loving, we are falling.

The good news though, might actually be about the net. Now you may think the net is there to catch you when you miss the connection, and that is helpful. But I would suggest the net is there to make us bold and courageous. Without the net we tend to be timid, and you can't be timid and fly, the net helps us to love boldly and courageously. The net helps us to let go and live the life of love that Jesus invites us to live, not in the past, not in the future, but right now. Love is patient and kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, Love wins.

And the net reminds us there is a cost to flying, there is a cost to following Jesus. Because the Word of God is for all people including the poor and the oppressed. And the Word of God threatened and continues to threaten those who are in positions of authority. Jesus tells stories that show God’s grace, available to all, not to some. Like rain, God's grace falls where God wills, touching all – Gentiles as well as Jews, insiders as well as outsiders. To speak and act in God’s name sets one apart, and sets one up for ridicule, sets one up to be thrown over the cliff.

And the net also reminds us that forgiveness is about living boldly and courageously. Loving, loving as first Corinthians encourages us to love, does not mean that we get it perfect or even right. But not loving, not even trying, is to not even live at all. We may miss, but you can't miss if you don't fly, you can't miss if you don't Love. The net reminds us that when we miss, God's forgiveness and grace is there to catch us.

When they realized what he was saying, they got angry, is this not just Joseph's son? Who does he think he is? They led him to the cliff so that they could hurl him off. Now, in the movies what would be really exciting is the hero hurled off the cliff, and somehow he flies, or is rescued with a lot of special effects. And you might think that's where I'm going with the flying image, but no. Jesus doesn't get rescued in a dramatic sort of way, instead, he passes through the midst of them and goes on his way. And that too is bold and courageous.

Jesus is in our midst, Jesus is fully and completely present with us. Jesus didn't get somehow whisked off the cliff, and Jesus doesn't get whisked off the cross. That's not the way the story goes. After some pain and suffering, Jesus dies on the cross. Pain and suffering are a part of living and loving. The new life that is offered goes through the cross, not around it, and Jesus is not magically whisked off of it or out of it. Nor are we. We might fall or fail when we are living and loving boldly and courageously, and as we hit the net there's nothing that guarantees that we don't get hurt, it may even kill us. But that's not the end of the story, because you and I know that Love wins.

The claim that Jesus makes, that God's kingdom is fulfilled in the present, in our presence, is transformational. We are partners with Jesus in kingdom building, and we have our roadmap in Corinthians, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." And as partners with Jesus we love boldly and courageously.