Saturday, April 27, 2013

5 Easter Yr C April 28 2013

“The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to one. He advanced toward it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape. ‘Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, ‘answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?’ Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood. ‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’ The Spirit was immovable as ever. Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE. ‘Am I that man who lay upon the bed?’ he cried, upon his knees. The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again. ‘No Spirit! Oh no, no!’ The finger still was there. ‘Spirit!’ he cried, tight clutching at its robe, ‘hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’ For the first time the hand appeared to shake. ‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: ‘your nature intercedes for me, and pities. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.’”

Barbara Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed, describes Revelation by comparing it to A Christmas Carol. She said that the visions in Revelation are like the visions Scrooge has. The ghost of the past, present, and future warn Scrooge that if he doesn’t wake up and change his ways, these visions are the way it is. The book of Revelation serves to show us the very same thing. If we don’t wake up and change our ways, if we don’t reconcile our relationships with one another and with this earth, our island home, the consequences will be dire.

And then we come to chapter 21 that we hear today. This chapter is the chapter of hope. In this part of the story we hear Good News, we hear that what could be is that the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with us as our God and we will be God’s people. God will be with us and will wipe every tear from our eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am making all things new.

This is hope. This is where all our visions and dreams come into focus. The whole message of the bible is that God loves the world so much that God comes to earth to dwell with us. Revelation proclaims this message. God’s home is no longer up in heaven, but here in our midst, incarnate right here on earth. This is a message that is not just about the future; it is a message that is operative right here, right now. “See, I am making all things new.” New life is about now; new life is available to each and every one of us right now. We don’t live our lives for the reward at the end. We live our lives because we have this chance of new life, of a different way of being, right here, right now. And what is this new thing, what is the gift we’ve been given. Why does any of this make any sense at all? It is the gift of God with us, the gift of Jesus Christ who lived this life, just like you and me. Jesus who suffered and cried, Jesus who loved his friends, Peter who denied him, and Judas who betrayed him, Jesus, who would not give into the cultural pressures of his time. Jesus who was God who is God and who will be God forever, whose work in his life in his suffering in his death and in the resurrection gives us something new, gives us the truth of a transformed life, calls us into a life that is about hope and growth and love and forgiveness, it calls us away from a life of self-centered and self-serving narcissism. Hope is what revelation is about.

When we embark on the journey of transformation, we enter the land of hope. When we enter the land of hope, we are in fact transformed, made new, given the gifts for living this life fully alive, where out of death comes new life, out of sadness comes hew hope, out crying and pain come new love.

The vision of revelation is meant to be God’s vision by which we live our lives right now, as followers of the Lamb in our world. According to Barbara Rossing, “The Lamb is leading us on an exodus out of the heart of empire, out of the heart of addiction to violence, greed, fear, and unjust lifestyle or whatever holds each of us most captive. It is an exodus we can experience each day. Tenderly, gently, the Lamb is guiding us to pastures of life and healing beside God’s river.”

The theme of exodus runs through the entire book of revelation, and it is the theme that guides us through our Christian lives. Each of us, and all of us together wander through the wilderness of all that which enslaves us, all that which hurts us and causes us to protect our hurts and fears at all costs. That is what the scary stuff of revelation is. It is the powers that enslave us. The powers of empire that demand worship and adoration at all cost. The powers of possession that cause us to fool ourselves into believing that people and things are ours to possess. The powers of self doubt that fool us into believing that we are not worthy to be loved by God. But it is also the theme of exodus that assures us that God is God and we are God’s people, and we can do nothing to cause God to break that covenant. That is the liberation, that is the freedom.

The vision of Revelation also is a vision of God’s realm right here right now, as well as that which is yet to come. We live in the tension of this vision always. You and I have been claimed by and for God’s realm at our baptism. We build God’s realm on earth by sharing the love of God in Christ. They truly know we are Christians by our love. This 21st chapter of Revelation has been paired with the gospel of John chapter 13, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you have love for one another. We know that according to John, being a follower of Jesus is to love one another. Nothing more, nothing less.

You and I participate in God’s realm when we love one another. You and I change one life when we love one another. You and I change people around us when we love one another. You and I can change the world when we love one another, because it is Love that wins. You and I can participate in the new creation described in Revelation when we welcome God in our midst, when we treat each and every person as if that person is created in God’s image. You and I can be an incarnational community, a community of love, of hope, of resurrection and of transformation right now, we don’t have to wait until some time in the future. Welcoming God among mortals, expecting Jesus with us, this is our call, this is the Christian life we are to be about.

Thanks be to God, Amen. Alleluia.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Big Adventure

It's getting awfully close to Big Adventure Time. It's nearly May 1, and soon after the Big Taize Event comes The Big Adventure. Most of the travel purchases have been made, the plans with the kids and husband are firm. The only thing left is the time I am on my own, and today I made a reservation for a hostel on the island of Iona. It's all real. This picture is of the hostel I'll stay at.



The picture that is behind this text is of the cabin all of us will stay at in Flam, Norway. And this picture is of the valley where that cabin is.





Saturday, April 20, 2013

4 Easter Year C April 21 2013

"Kathy, John, Mary, Joe, time to come and eat!" My mom would yell out the back door and we would come running from the schoolyard, or the neighbors yard, knowing there was a wonderful dinner waiting for us. "Kathleen Ann Monson" was not such a pleasant way to be called, if that was what my mom was yelling I knew I was in trouble. "I Rick, take you Kathy to be my wife" brought tears to my eyes. "Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Kathleen, fill her with grace and power, and make her a priest in your Church," are the words of ordination.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," are the words that William Shakespeare put in Juliet's mouth as she tells Romeo that she loves him, regardless of his family. In a little novel called "The Little Prince," knowing ones name connects or ties one to another, and in a novel by my favorite author Madeleine L'engle, called A Wind in the Door, naming is that which calls a person into existence, unnaming, or xing, allows a person to just vanish, to be annihilated, negated, extinguished, xed. In that story, Meg, the hero, is trying to save the life of her brother, Charles Wallace. Meg meets some very bad characters, called the echthroi, who take life out of the world by unaming them.

"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish," the story in John tells us. Let that just wash over you. Jesus knows you. Jesus loves you. Jesus knows your name. Love wins.

We take a step backwards this week. For the weeks since Easter, we have been reading stories about Jesus after the resurrection, and the question I've been asking is how do we recognize Jesus. Our lectionary returns us today to the time before Jesus the events of Holy Week and Passion, to the festival of Dedication. It is winter, Jesus was in the portico of Solomon, and there were many gathered around him, maybe listening to his stories. They seem impatient, maybe even bored after being there all winter, they want Jesus to spill the beans to them, they want Jesus to give them the breaking news, they want Jesus to tell them if he is the one they have awaited since time began. Is Jesus the Messiah they have been waiting for. Is Jesus the leader, the one appointed by God, the descendant of David, the one who will free them from the tyranny of empire?

Jesus responds "My sheep hear my voice." Maybe that too is an answer to the question how do we recognize Jesus. "My sheep hear my voice." We recognize Jesus as Jesus calls to us, as Jesus breathes us into being, as Jesus says our name, as Jesus gives us life. In the gospel of John, eternal life has a specific meaning. Being known by God is eternal life. Eternal life is realized in the present, it is that which God gives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus calls each one of us by name and we are known.

But the question many others ask, may be why bother? Why bother listening? Why bother with this shepherd thing? Why bother with Jesus at all? The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff --- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of The Lord my whole life long.

Why bother? Because it's true. It's not true like 2 plus 2 equals 4, but it's true like caterpillars turn into butterflies, and seeds turn into flowers, and wheat turns into bread. You know it's true because you have walked with your family, friends and neighbors through pain and sickness, and you know that there is new life on that path. You know it's true because you have known loss, after your spouse has died, when you didn't think you could ever live life again, someone calls your name, and picks you up and takes you out to dinner. You know it's true because you have not felt protected or safe, and someone gave you hope, someone gave you sanctuary. You know it's true because people run toward the bombs to help each other. You know it's true because someone calls your name, tenderly, lovingly, courageously, encouraging you to be fully and completely human, fully and completely loved. You know it's true, because you have that indelible mark on your forehead, and you have been named beloved daughter, beloved son.

Beloved daughter, beloved son, I am your shepherd, follow my voice, follow me. To listen to Jesus' voice, to follow Jesus, is to be a disciple. And remember, in the gospel of John, love is the definition of discipleship. Following Jesus is all about loving one another. Following Jesus is about pointing people toward hope. Following Jesus is about being the one who calls another's name, following Jesus is about providing a way out of the lostness -- by providing again or for the first time a chance to be invited into a relationship with God. You are called by name, you are absolutely and abundantly loved. You are perfectly forgiven. You are nourished and fed by the bread and the wine.

Listen for the shepherd's voice. Come and be who you are called to be. Love wins.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

3 Easter April 14 2013

Risen Lord, be known to us in the catching of the fish. Risen Lord, be known to us in the hearing of the Word. Risen Lord, be known to us in the tending of the sheep. Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. We have in the gospel of John a series of stories about Jesus after the resurrection. In each of the stories, the disciples do not recognize Jesus. In each of the stories, Jesus does something that causes the disciples to recognize him.

They had been in that room, with the doors closed and locked. It was so hot and stuffy. They were so afraid. And Jesus showed up, right there, in that locked room. They never knew how he had gotten in. But they knew it was him, they knew it because of what he'd said. Peace be with you. The hands, and the feet, the side. They just knew it. But what do they do next? What is there left to do. They might as well go back to fishing. It's really all they knew.

Early in the morning, just after daybreak, they were out in the boats. The sun was a beautiful round globe, glowing with morning warmth. Fishing, at least they knew how to do that well. Cast the net, pull in the fish. Although the night had brought nothing in, this morning not so much either. There seemed to be no fish in the sea on this morning. But the new guy said try the right side. Since what they were doing wasn't working, they gave it a try. They threw the nets out on the other side, and it filled so full and so fast they couldn't even pull the net in. And John recognized Jesus first, he said to Peter, It is The Lord. Peter in his exuberance put on his robe and jumped in the water.

The fire was set on the beach, Jesus already had some fish roasting, and he invited them to bring their catch and add it to what was already there. They roasted the fish, they were so hungry after a night of fishing, and weeks really of being afraid, not sleeping well, and all the rest. Come and have breakfast, come and eat. They knew it was Jesus in the breaking of the bread. And they knew who they were in the roasting of the fish.

We know it is Jesus in the breaking of the bread. The central act of what we do together, is to recognize Jesus in our midst, in the breaking of the bread. We are made into one body in the breaking of the bread. We are made into new creations in the breaking of the bread. We recognize our common humanity in the breaking of the bread. Jesus invites us into being who we are created to be, in the breaking of the bread. God's abundance meets our giftedness in the sharing of the meal.

And, we are invited into discipleship. This story not only shows us who we are, it also shows us what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be a disciple. Discipleship is nourished in the breaking of the bread, discipleship is about the Love that wins. Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. Feed my lambs. Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. Tend my sheep. And the third time, that frustrated Peter so terribly, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you. Feed my sheep. Three times Peter repeats his love, three times for each of the times he denied Jesus by that other fire, just before Jesus was condemned to death.

But there it is. There is discipleship. Just like Peter we disciples deny that we know Jesus, and yet Jesus still knows who we are. Just like Peter we disciples deny that we know Jesus, and yet we are forgiven. Just like Peter. That is exactly what it means to follow Jesus. The Love that wins causes us to go and feed and tend. The Love that wins nourishes us so that we may feed and tend. The Love that wins washes over us and we are made into the people God intends for us to be. The conversation between Jesus and Peter centers around the question, "do you love me?" In the gospel of John, love is the definition of discipleship. Following Jesus is all about loving one another.

And as Peter shows us, love is an action, not a feeling. What you do matters. As parents or friends, employees or volunteers, citizens or neighbors, you are called to look for opportunities to care for the people and world God loves so much. So discipleship is the activity of love. No more, no less. Sometimes people try to make that so difficult. But it's not, really. And the first activity of love is forgiveness. We are not perfect people, and trying to be keeps us from the love and forgiveness that is available to us. We are not perfect, but we are perfectly loved.

This is actually the commissioning story in the gospel of John. In Matthew, the disciples are told to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are commissioned at Baptism to share in the work and ministry of our Lord. And yet, like Peter, we fall short, failing to give witness in word or deed to our faith in the living Lord. And yet Jesus doesn’t just commission and send us, Jesus also forgives us when we fall short. And Jesus doesn’t just forgive us, but calls us to try again. And Jesus doesn’t just call us to try again, Jesus also invites us to share what we have and gives us meaningful work to do. Your work is your discipleship. In your work, your school, your play, Jesus invites you to follow, by loving those you are with.

And, part of discipleship, part of following Jesus, is that Jesus, never, ever, gives up on us. Jesus keeps calling, keeps forgiving, keeps loving, so that we may be Jesus' hands and feet in the world, loving others. Following Jesus is never about judging people. Following Jesus is always about being loved and loving others.

Abundance and invitation. Here, have all you want, all you need, Jesus says, and give it away. Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Give Jesus' love away, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. Love wins.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

2 Easter April 7 2013

"It is one of the cosmos' most mysterious unsolved cases: dark matter. It is supposedly what holds the universe together. We can't see it, but scientists are pretty sure it's out there." I read that in the Rapid City Journal on Thursday this week. It came from the Associated Press, so it must be true. And earlier in Lent, I read or heard, can't remember which, that we know about 3% of all there is to know. We want to know so desperately, don't we? We want certainty, we want proof, we want it all. And yet, in faith as in science, the story we tell really only touches the mystery of the universe every once in a while. And yet the story we tell, whether it is the story of faith, or the story of science, does a darn good job of pointing us in the right direction, describing the reality in which we live. The story of faith, and the story of science, are not mutually exclusive stories, they are stories that describe different things, and yet, they dance together.

Jesus died, didn't he? And yet we claim resurrection, we claim that God entered time and space and did something absolutely new, something so amazing that all we can do is sing and dance and shout alleluia! All we can do is try to describe it, draw pictures and make music, we can't come close to knowing it. And that amazing thing that God continues to do changes us, transforms us, like Jesus, we are made into something completely new and different. The doors of the house where the disciples met in fear were locked, and Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus came and stood among them, but until Jesus said, Peace be with you, they did not even recognize him. Well would you? He was dead, why on earth would Jesus be standing among them. Remember the women who came running back from the tomb? The disciples didn't believe them, they didn't believe even Jesus himself until Jesus said these familiar words, Peace be with you. Only then did the disciples realize this was Jesus in their midst. How could this be?

You see, this story about Jesus appearing to the disciples after the crucifixion and resurrection, this story about Jesus coming back to appear to Thomas, who missed it the first time around, serves to try to show us what resurrection looks like. It tries to show us what this amazing thing that God does, looks like.

Imagine yourself there. You are in that room, it is hot and smelly and so close, the doors are locked, the windows are barred. You are so frightened, the same people that just killed Jesus are after you. You can't eat, you can't sleep, your stomach is in knots. And then, all of a sudden, without any warning, this man shows up in the room. How did that happen? There's no way he could have gotten in, you locked those doors yourself. Everyone is shaking in their sandals. And then he speaks. "Peace be with you." His hands and his feet were torn from the nails driven into them, his side was pierced. You knew it was him when he spoke again of peace, and forgiveness, when he breathed on you and you felt his spirit.

Thomas wasn't there that day, and just like you, couldn't believe it until he saw it. So a week later, when Thomas was there, Jesus showed up again. The hands, the feet, the side. You knew you had to tell this story, you knew that God had done something so amazing you just had to tell everyone.

Here you are, on this day, the Sunday after Easter, your 60th Easter, your 45th Easter, your 20th Easter, your 10th Easter. We gather together here, in this place. Our doors are wide open, we hope and pray each time we gather that God will show up, that God will send us people to whom we may introduce God. The reality is that God is here, God is showing up. The question is do we recognize God? Do we recognize Jesus in our midst? This story we hear today points us to the ways we recognize Jesus in our midst. Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit, forgive the sins of any, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. This is the way we recognize Jesus, this is the way we serve Jesus, this is the way we follow Jesus. We listen to those around us, we listen to their stories, we listen to who they are, and when we do, Jesus shows up.

When people tell the story about Thomas they tend to end with the admonition to believe without seeing. Somehow, believing without seeing gets equated with certainty and faith. But I think one of the mistakes that is made in Christian talk is that belief and certainty become synonymous. Certainty is never a pre-requisite for belief, and certainty is not a product of belief. There is a place for all of our doubt and uncertainty. Even Thomas shows us that. Certainty actually is not really very important at all. The reality in which we live, and the place I began all of this today, is that reality in which we see and experience very little of the total that is possible in human experience. We place our faith in the story that is true. The story of life, joy, pain, suffering, death, and resurrection, and the God who walks with us in the midst of it all. The God who collects all of humanity's pain, fear, and hate, and takes it into Godself through love. That is not about certainty, but it is about love.

We practice love and God shows up. That is what this life and this faith is all about. We practice peace and Jesus shows up. That is what serving others is all about. We practice silence and the spirit shows up. That is what prayer is all about. Open the doors, let all who would enter come in. Love wins. Amen.