Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter

Jesus is not here, but raised up. They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn't believe a word of it, they thought they were making it all up. These are the same people who sat at the table with Jesus, who were there when Jesus got up and washed everyone's feet. Unbelievable, unreasonable, unexplainable.

What is it about this story that is so unbelievable, so unreasonable, so unexplainable? It is that Love wins, not power, not wealth, not revenge, not lies. Love wins. Jesus is raised, so God's new creation has begun and we his followers, like the women who first witnessed the empty tomb, have to tell others. Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven. This is a message that is effective now, not at some future time. This is good news about now, not some reward at the end of life.

And what is the story we tell? What is the story the women told? What is the story the disciples told? The story is Love wins. The story is that death does not triumph. The story is that God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, the creator of the universe, the God we just heard about as we rehearsed the ancient stories, walked this earth just like you, just like me. This same God, lived, and loved, suffered and died, just like you, just like me. The story is that God loves you so absolutely and completely that your life is changed.

And just what does a changed life look like? What does eternal life look like? It looks like partnership with God, it looks like taking seriously our responsibility to care for the earth and one another in deeply loving ways. It looks like mercy and compassion and justice, because God's dwelling place is now among the people, not in some far off place. You see, when we take that seriously, when we take resurrection seriously, it changes everything. We no longer live for ourselves or for a reward at the end of life, instead we live as agents, as partners with God, creating a merciful, compassionate, and just world, right here and right now. The women had to run and tell all the other disciples, that everything is changed, that the tomb is empty.

Jesus calls disciples, that's you and me, in order to teach us how to be and what to be. Jesus intention is for us to be growing and changing toward generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth-telling, and responsibility so that as these things take over our lives we participate with God in creating the world God longs for. The world God longs for, the kingdom of God.

And who belongs in the kingdom of God? You do, we all do. There is no one outside of God's love, there is nothing any one of us could do that would make God love us any less. Any stories you have heard that suggests what you do, or who you are, or what you look like, puts you outside of God's love are lies. The truth is that God loves you, God loves each and every one of us no matter what. You may turn your back on God, but God never lets go.

We have just spent this holy week in the reality of this life, in the reality of pain and suffering, of love and death. The truth is born out in the story of life, death, and resurrection. There is a pattern that leads to life, the pattern is that we must lose our life in order to find it. The truth is that we must die to lies of self importance, the lies of autonomy, the lies of individualism, and rise again to the truth of interdependence, the truth of community, the truth of the Body of Christ. The truth of resurrection shows us that dieing to that which is killing us is the only way to life a live that is worth living.

At the center of the cross are the stories that show us that healing and reconciliation, renewal and return cause God's greatness to shine through the universe. The empty tomb shows us that love, in the end, wins. But, we have a choice. Love demands freedom, we are free to resist, to reject, and to rebel against God's ways for us, we can choose hell on earth. We do that every time we isolate ourselves, give the cold shoulder to someone who has slighted us, every time we hide knives in our words, every time we harden our hearts in defiance of what we know to be the loving, good, and right thing to do. And each one of those choices collects others, our hearts get harder, our minds get duller. But God says yes. Yes, there is water for that thirst, food for that hunger, light for that darkness, relief for that burden.

Tonight (this morning) we baptized Bentley (Soren) into this household of faith. We also renewed our own baptismal promises. We are given all that we need to choose the empty tomb to choose the love that wins.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Is it really Good Friday?

Recently we had Sonshine Saturday and we participated in Stations of the Cross. In the middle of the day, Benjamin Lust asked the burning question, why is it Good Friday, it sure doesn't seem good? It's not just Benjamin wondering about what is good about Good Friday? I’ve heard many people ask this question, I’ve asked it myself. It is a difficult questions to answer truthfully. What is good about Good Friday? I think what is good about Good Friday is that it shows us something about holy dying.

In our fast paced, gotta have it now, there’s an app for that, high tech lives, the worst possible thing to happen is death, or sickness. Our language reflects that. We fight and battle with cancer, we overcome disability, we rarely speak of death as a part of life, we rarely speak of sickness as the opportunity for life in a new way. Good Friday shows us that death is dying to that which is killing us, resurrection only and always happens after death. Good Friday shows us that something must die before the green and growing thing can take root and bear new life. Good Friday shows us that forgiveness is about pruning that which is dead anyway, so that God can effect in us the new life that God promises.

Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is Lord, not my will but yours be done. Giving up our will is not a bad thing. In our culture that is all about you, all about what you want and when you want it,
obedience is a bad word. But it is being who God wants us to be that is a good thing, and that requires that we die to whatever it is that is killing us.

Good Friday shows us holy dying, it is not easy, but it is a part of life. You see, the truth is that being human means being born to die. Again, none of us gets out of here alive. Jesus’ life, and suffering and death on a Roman cross not only show us how to do it, but Jesus, on that Roman cross, takes our place.

On this night we remember all this. We enter into the story of the passion. We hear the story in the voices of those who were with Jesus that terrible night. We do so not to be macabre, not to glorify Jesus’ death or any other death, we do it so that we may be healed, we may be reconciled, that we may have the absolutely new and abundant life that God offers in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The people who populate this story, and the events of this passion, the betrayal, the lies, the apathy, the bad luck, allow each of us to enter the story. You and I are these people, we are people who have betrayed and been betrayed, we are people who have lied and who have been lied to, we are people who have shown apathy, and we are people who experience just darn bad luck. We are people who have experienced sadness and pain, we are people who feel isolated and alienated at times. We are human beings who live in the muck and mess of this life. What we do together this evening, and the foot washing and holy communion of last evening, even the joyous resurrection we will celebrate together tomorrow evening, doesn’t take away the reality of the muck and mess in which we live. We carry these burdens, they are part of who we are.

So what does happen when we walk the way of the cross with Jesus, when we enter into the events of this holy week and this holy day? Why do we all show up all these evenings to walk the way of the cross with Jesus? We grow toward Holy Dying and transformation happens. I surely hope we are changed by our encounter with the people on the way, the people in the stories, and by the amazing love that God has for us that we know because God is willing to be one of us. Because only a God who is willing to be one of us, a God who has such faith in us, is a God in which I can place my love, my loyalty, my attention.

You see, what Jesus does at this moment is to let evil wreak its fury upon him; Jesus does not fight violence with violence, hatred, or revenge. Love wins. Jesus takes on all of our betrayal, all of our lies, our apathy, all of our pain, sadness, loneliness and isolation, and Jesus defeats it, not by resisting it with the sort of violence that was visited upon him, but by absorbing it and removing it through the power of love. On the cross, Jesus ultimately collects all of the violence of this world, takes it and holds it so that the stream of hate and hurt will flow no farther. Jesus takes in all of our pain and our suffering, all of our betrayal and lies; all of our isolation and sadness, and Jesus contains it. Jesus’ life and death says to our world, it all stops here. It all stops with me. It is indeed, a Good Friday.

And Jesus’ dying on the cross looks to the world like failure. Jesus suffered, Jesus died. But Jesus did not fail. Jesus redefined death and life. Death does not have the final word; death does not have the victory. The Word of God has the final word.

What Jesus did on the cross was to make it possible for us to have new life, a life that our words cannot begin to describe, a life that our minds cannot begin to imagine. What Jesus did and does is to make it possible for us to be transformed.

Winning and losing have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; love and forgiveness are gifts. Success and failure have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; sharing and walking together are gifts. Isolation and alienation have no meaning in Jesus’ Kingdom; relationship and connection are gifts.

Jesus does not take away pain and sorrow and isolation. The reality that you and I know is that to be human is to feel, to feel pain, to feel joy, to feel isolation, to feel intimacy. And, being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love.

Death is real and grief hurts and sometimes we just have to sit in the silence and cry and wait. Can we do that? Can we sit in the pain and loneliness with those who suffer? That is what this Good Friday is about. We have some experience in this. It is very like when we sit with our loved ones in hospital, as the result of illness or accident, waiting, quite unsure of what to do or what to think, silence and sadness and tears, are our only activity. Holy Dying.

Too many Christians want to go straight from the garden of Gethsemane to the garden of the empty tomb without going by way of the hill of crucifixion and the stone-cold body. It seems too painful to sit in silence, waiting and grieving. And yet nothing of the reality of Christ’s victory over evil on the cross, or our faith in the resurrection to come soon, must be allowed to shield us from the awful brute fact that Jesus died.

And yet, as we sit in the silence to cry and to wait, we sit with this company. The disciples sat together in the silence to cry and to wait. Our only comfort right now resides with one another, with these relationships to each other and to God. Hold one another, grieve with one another, and remember, give one another the gift of hope. The cross does become the place where transformation and holy dying is possible. Love indeed wins.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday, March 28 2013, Foot Washing and Holy Communion

Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. Jesus got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.

In this fourth gospel, during the last meal that Jesus spends with his disciples before his death, he does not command his friends to eat the bread and drink the cup "in remembrance of me" but to wash each other's feet. In this fourth gospel, John, the gospel writer points us to to these two central activities that show us who we are. Washing one another's feet, and eating together. God provides for God's people and God's people serve one another. It is also significant that this is what we do as we participate in these final days of Jesus' life. We eat this meal together, and we wash one another's feet.

Imagine being at this passover meal. Hoards of people have arrived in Jerusalem for the festival. All clamoring for a place to eat the meal. You, being a friend of Jesus, are in this room, with these people, reclining at this table. Bartholomew, James, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John, Mary, Thomas, James, Joanna, Philip, Matthew, Susanna, Thaddeus, Simon, and all the other men and women and children who were gathered that night. The meal is spread before you, the unleavened bread, the roasted lamb, and the bitter herbs. And in the middle of the meal, Jesus gets up, he takes off his robe and ties a towel around himself. How odd, how extraordinary. He pours water into a basin and begins to wash everyone's feet. They surely needed washing, there are no clean feet in all of Jerusalem after a day of walking about, gathering supplies for the meal, visiting friends and relatives. But who does he think he is? That job is not his, it is the servant's work.

Sometimes life's events feel so big, and wide, and broad, and overwhelming. The pain and the joy of life bring us soaring to the mountaintops and to the depths of despair. And much of life is lived somewhere in between, in the mundane moments of making dinner for those we love, or driving our children to dance and music class, or doing our taxes, or taking a bath, or dreaming our dreams. It is in the ordinary Jesus shows us sacred. In the ordinary meal, we are made whole. In the mundane washing, we are filled with mercy and compassion. Jesus seeps into our very being, washes us, feeds us, heals us. Jesus shows us who God is, and Jesus teaches us who we are.

Let me wash your feet, take this bread, and you will be healed. Jesus offers love, and forgiveness, healing and compassion. On this night, the night Jesus is handed over to be tortured, betrayed by his friend, Love still wins. The violence perpetrated on Jesus is hard to hear, hard to watch, because you and I are implicated in it. We have not been perfect. We have judged, we have bullied, we have missed the mark. We have offered ridicule when mercy was called for. We have fallen asleep when we should have paid attention. But, we are loved perfectly. Love still wins.

The gift we are given this night, mercy and compassion, foot washing and food, washes over us, nourishes us, puts us back together. We are re-membered. Come and receive the gift. Come, and remember who you are. Come.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday Yr C March 24 2013

I have chosen to say a few words at this spot today because it makes more sense to me to talk about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and then to receive the story of Jesus' passion in silence. Liturgically, we do something very odd here. We begin our worship together with waving palms, with the parade, and with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and we end our worship in quiet, as we prepare for the unfolding of the passion through out the week. Please know that it takes all week to hear this story, to participate in this story, to be able to approach Easter and resurrection. This week carve out time to participate, you all have full lives, but this week, of all the weeks of our lives, is the week to be here.

So for the moment, I need to reflect on the Palm of Palm Sunday. Jesus and the disciples and thousands of other pilgrims have made their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus hailed as a king. Not Caesar, not the appointed Roman governor. But a new king – one for the poor, for those without voices, for those left behind. Jesus is hailed as King, yet riding on a donkey. The disciples welcome him into their city, Jerusalem, and shout "blessed is the king who comes in the name of The Lord" for now. They lay down their cloaks, holey as they are. And for the time being, we are all willing to follow. But are we also willing to follow into trouble, controversy, trial and death?

The donkey, the disciples, the cloaks laid down. When we look closely we see the people gathered for this parade, this entrance into Jerusalem, are not the important and powerful, but the poor and marginalized, Jesus' disciples. This very important but very brief story shows us that Love does not win by the world's standards. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the nation's hopes, answering our longings for a king who would bring peace to earth from heaven itself. Jesus brings the peace that surpasses understanding, and much of what is about to unfold in the next few days will be the price he pays to bring it. His disciples, of course, have seen things that have changed their lives forever and have raised their hopes. Indeed, our lives our changed.

This is not about the powerful Pharisees, grumbling about what will happen if the authorities in Jerusalem think that there's a messianic demonstration going on. From now on we see them no more. It is not about the people of the day who have wealth, it is about the Kingdom of God in which the last will be first and the first will be last. Love wins by God's defeat of evil, and our participation in the new life made possible by the work of Jesus. God gives up Godself for us, those God loves, thus empowering and emboldening us to do the same.

This is the holiest of weeks. We have prepared ourselves throughout Lent for this journey with Jesus. We come to this Passover festival as Jesus' disciples, we come lean and fit, as that is what our lenten discipline has done for us. We have laid down our burden's, we have cast off the waste, we have stepped up our exercise, we are lean and fit. We climb this mountain with Jesus, and revel in the pre-Passover party.

Rejoice in this moment. This moment of welcome, when the shouts of "Blessed be The Lord" are heard throughout the cosmos. This moment is fleeting.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

5 Lent Year C

In John's gospel we come into the presence of characters we know. Jesus, Lazarus, Martha, Mary. These people who populate this story we have come to know as friends. Lazarus, who Jesus brought back from the dead, Mary, the one who sat at Jesus' feet to learn all she could, Martha, who prepared the meal, and was a bit resentful of her sister Mary. Both Martha and Mary wept at the grave of their brother, and yet here he is today, all of them preparing for Jesus' inevitable death, rather than mourning Lazarus' death.

It is a bit like showing up week after week to watch your favorite television show. You get to know the characters as if they are friends. You laugh at them and with them, you celebrate their victories and mourn their defeats. You mourn their passing from the television show and your life. Just like the friends that populate my life from Downton Abbey. I root for Bates and Anna and their roller coaster life together. I hope Thomas can figure out his life and find someone to love. O'Brien I like to yell at across the room. Robert and Cora show us so much about long-standing love and commitment, and Edith, poor Edith being stood up at the altar, I can't even think about Sybil, and Tom pining for her. And there is the dowager, with her quick quips and tender heart. But Mary, and Matthew. Ahh, Matthew, you see, I hold out hope that maybe it just isn't so, and Matthew will rise from the dead, just like Lazarus. I return, week after week, to hear the story of this family.

We return week after week and year after year as we hear about these friends and followers of Jesus. And this particular episode is set at Lazarus and Mary and Martha's house as they gather for a meal. There is Martha, preparing what I imagine to be an amazing and abundant feast, she would not settle for less. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house, fresh vegetables from the garden, a slow roasted lamb with garlic and spices, and for desert, a home made sorbet, more than enough for all. And there they gathered, giving thanks for Lazarus, who should have been dead, but is alive, ignoring the reality that Jesus will be dead soon. These are ordinary people, not unlike you and me but for the place and time they lived. Ordinary people, living in and giving thanks for the abundance and new life that has been bestowed upon them. All of which is gift, none of it deserved, or earned. God's grace poured out.

"Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair." Abundant, opulent, luxurious, overflowing. This is grace, freely given, without price. Flowing out, flowing forth, flowing through. Filling the wounds, the cracks, the fissures with healing balm. This story, populated by our friends Jesus, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, is also about you, and me. With the costly perfume, Mary anoints Jesus for death, with love and grace God anoints us for life.

God's love, like the costly perfume made of pure nard, seeps into the fissures of our hearts, flows into the fragments of our loves, permeates the brokenness of lives. God's love, like the costly perfume made of pure nard, transforms the pieces of our lives into an integrated whole and creates us anew. An amazing gift, God's grace, how do you receive it? How are you transformed by it?

God's love, like the love of the cross, wins. God's love, like the love of the cross, returns violence not with revenge, but with forgiveness. God's love, like the love of the cross, flows in and through and among us. God's love, like the love of the cross, does not rescue us from pain, and sadness, and suffering, but gives us Jesus, who walks with us through the pain, and to the joy. God, in the flesh, loves us. Inhale the fragrance of the nard, it is all for you.

But it seems so extravagant, it seems so opulent, it seems so luxurious. Just think of all the people that money that was spent on it could help. Just think of all the food that money could buy. Just think of all the good that money could do. Most of us spend much of our lives believing that we don't deserve God's love and grace anyway. But it's never about what we deserve or don't deserve. There are many people more deserving or less deserving than we perceive ourselves to be. Thank God that's not how God's grace works. It's what's so amazing about God's grace, God's love, it's not about us at all. It is about God. That's why we have so much trouble with accepting God's unconditional love.

That's also why we are not in the business of judgement. It's not up to us to determine who gets to sit at the banquet table, it's not up to us to determine who sits at Jesus' right hand and who gets the left. It's just not up to us. Our work is to put ourselves in a place to be present to God's love and grace and forgiveness and healing. Our work is to be receptive to the transformation that God yearns to affect in us. Our work is to respond to the Love that wins with mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness.

And it's never about how much money is in the bank. Hunger is not about the money. "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." Hunger is about the holes in our hearts that cannot see the needs of others. Hunger is about the holes in our heads that make us not understand it's not about how hard we work or how lazy someone else may be. Hunger is about our own brokenness that doesn't allow us to look into the eyes of those who are different from us and know we are just the same. And hunger is about our sisters and brothers who do not have enough to eat, whose homes are sub-standard, who go to the mission to find a place to sleep. The only thing worse than not caring for the poor is pretending to. We don't care for one another because we have something they don't, we care for one another because Love wins.

Breathe the fragrance of God's love, let it wash over you, let it fill your brokenness. It will transform you, it will heal you, it will bring you new life.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

3 Lent Yr C March 3 2013

We continue along this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. Imagine yourself along the road with him, it's a hot and dusty journey. You stop along the way to camp, and people gather to listen to Jesus teach. The journey is made more difficult because talk is they don't like Jesus much in Jerusalem, and yet he insists on making his way there. On this day, the subject at hand is one of the most common questions asked, then or now: Are the bad things that happen to us our fault? Do we deserve them? Are they, in fact, at least the consequence of, if not punishment for, our sinful deeds? We may ask that question in a relatively mundane, even superstitious way, when something relatively minor goes wrong and we wonder, “What did I do to deserve that?” Or we may echo this question in a much more profound, heart-wrenching way when calamity strikes. I’d be willing to bet that almost all of us have sat with someone at the hospital or at the funeral who attributes grave illness or death to God as some sort of punishment. That is not the time to correct incorrect theology, but the story of the fig tree we hear today tells us something very different.

A very different theology is enacted in what we do and say and hear each time we gather together on these Sunday mornings. During Lent each time we begin together, the first thing we do is repent and return to the Lord. We confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and indeed are forgiven. Sin is not really a very popular word these days. And yet, it is sin that separates us from Love, from God. The reality is that our sin causes our vision to curve in on itself, and we begin to believe that we are the center of all things. The corrective to sin is to turn around, to repent, to look outside of ourselves, and to reach out to help others.

Our journey in Lent is not about how wicked we are, it's not about shame, it's not about not being good enough. Our journey in Lent is about the practice of living in God's presence, the practice of loving, the practice of turning around and turning toward God. The parable of the fig tree shows us that when you think God has reached God's limit of forgiveness, God will forgive one more time. We are not perfect, this world is not perfect, but we are perfectly loved, perfectly forgiven. We are broken, but we are not lost, because Love wins.

Remember I told you that with God it is relational, not transactional. It is our mistake when we make it transactional. And humanity has been making that mistake throughout all story telling. Thank God for forgiveness. Thank God for just one more chance. Job made the mistake thinking there were rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior. Roman society was based on the premise that the good was a limited amount, so every encounter was transactional, there was a winner and a loser. We are not so different today. People want so desperately to be rewarded for good behavior. Some want so desperately to make sure those who exhibit bad behavior don't get the reward of heaven. They are willing to use Jesus, God, and the Bible as weapons to keep themselves in the right, but, they're wrong. With God there are no winners and losers, only imperfect people who are perfectly loved and forgiven. Only imperfect people who respond to God's amazing and abundant love and forgiveness by loving their neighbor, by feeding the hungry, tending the sick, visiting those who need companionship.

So back to the question about why do bad things happen to good people? God's love is not about cause and effect. That is a very difficult proposition. God causes people to suffer? God causes people to loose everything they have? God causes storms and accidents alike. That's just bad theology. There are many people who don't believe in a God like that, and I'm with them. There is natural consequence to bad behavior, there is natural consequence to all our behavior, but that is not God's judgement. That said, God does indeed care how we live our lives, and how we treat people, and holds us accountable.

The claim of scripture is incarnation, no less. That is an amazing and astounding claim, and I can believe in a God of no less. God does not rescue humanity from itself, God does not rescue humanity from it's own stupidity, or it's own brilliance. God does not rescue humanity from the depths of grief, or the heights of joy. God joins humanity in the midst of it. The claim of scripture is incarnation, no less. God with us, in all of it with us. And God transforms us. God creates something new out of it. God's grace and love trumps judgement. God's grace and love transform us, and in being transformed we turn away from that which is killing us, that which is causing brokenness and division and fragmentation, and we turn to God and to others. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are changed.

Let it alone for one more year, let me put some more manure on it, give it another chance. Let's be patient with this tree. It may yet produce, let's help it along and wait and see. For all of God's love and God's grace and God's patience and God's forgiveness, there is an expectation that something new will be born, that there will be fruit.

Bad things happen to good people. We read about and hear about tragedy all the time, sometimes so much that we just have to turn our televisions off, leave the newspaper alone. But it not God's doing. God's doing is being with us, among us, carrying us in our weakness, crying with us in our grief, dancing with us in our joy. God is digging around our roots, spreading manure in the hope that we’ll blossom and bear fruit. God loves us, loves us, loves us, enough to hold us accountable for our faults and forgive us our sins as long as this life shall last. And that's what Lent is about.