Saturday, October 26, 2013

23 Sunday after Pentecost Oct 27 2013 Proper 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

22 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C Proper 24 Oct 20 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 12, 2013

21 Sunday after Pentecost Proper 23 October 13 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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