Saturday, December 28, 2013

First Sunday of Christmas, Dec 29, 2013

Audio 12.29.2013

What a wonderful set of readings we are given this morning! In Isaiah we hear, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” And in Galatians is the Good News that we are children of God. Indeed we are God's beloved. 

How do we begin to understand the awesomeness of God? I don't think we always understand God’s nature in an intellectual or a cognitive way. I think sometimes we understand God in a much more organic way, a way that touches the very truth of our being, and of our mortality. 

Our humanness is tied directly to language. We really are formed and shaped by language, however adequate or inadequate. That is why it's so important to read to our children and grandchildren. Expansive language has the ability to expand our imaginations. How we understand God, our relationship with God, the Divine Love Story, how we understand Jesus human and divine, how we understand the presence of the Holy Spirit, is all about the words that we employ to describe that experience, that relationship. For example, those who say they are atheists, are not necessarily people who do not believe in God, rather they may be people who cannot assent to a particular way of describing God. There are many ways to describe God, to imagine God, and our language is just not adequate.

Postmodern thought suggests that what is real is only what we put language too. But I differ with postmodern thought because I think that what is real is God and our relationship with God, whether or not we have the words to describe that. That relationship exists whether or not we have the language to describe it. The challenge is to find the words and the symbols and the actions to describe God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God. We do that every Sunday we gather together. It is not just the words we say together that invite us into the Love that wins, it is also what we do together, the meal we share together, the symbols we use, and the people who are here. 

The first chapter of the gospel of John “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is an absolutely beautiful and poetic song helping us to not only understand about God, but to feel and to see how we are related to God, and who Jesus is in that relationship. Jesus is the Word, and Jesus is the baby. But Word and baby are nouns that hardly begin to describe fully the incarnation of God.

Every time I read these words from John I hear the language of music. Some of you have heard me say this before. Sometimes for me the language of music speaks more clearly than words. When I hear this passage from John, I am encircled, enveloped, swaddled, if you will, in the awesome and abundant love of our creator. When I hear these words I hear a symphony. I hear the bass, the tuba and the tympani and the baritone, beating as the heart of creation. I hear the bass clarinets, and the bassoons, and the saxophones joining in the building of the harmonies. I hear the flutes and the clarinets with the melody of love and hope. And I hear the trumpets and the French horns with the blast of the proclamation that God has created the world and come into it as one of us. And I hear the sadness of the oboes, with the news that this world in which we live is not perfect, we are not perfect, and there is sadness and tragedy. 

But music is organic; as is the love of God. It is in the fiber of creation, the stones shout it out, the wind hums the word, the rain keeps the beat, the grace and truth of Christ is made real in the dance of the spheres. 

In A Wind in the Door, the second in a series of books by Madeleine L’engle, the first being A Wrinkle in Time, the author writes that for growth to happen there is a necessary death. The passage I quote this morning is a passage late in the book, when Meg O’Keefe, the main character, and her friend Calvin are really beginning to understand the interconnectedness of all things, and they are beginning to understand, birth, death, and resurrection. The reason I quote from this story and from this passage is that in it I hear what John is saying. 
“We are the song of the universe. We sing with the angelic host. We are the musicians. The stars are the singers. Our song orders the rhythm of creation. Calvin asked, “How can you sing with the stars? There was surprise at the question: it is the song. We sing it together. That is our joy. And our Being.” 

The Light has come, is coming, and will continue to come into the world. Not only is Christmas  about the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, who enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. It is about God, the creator of the universe, who breaks into history. It is about Light that overcomes darkness. It is about the Word who is with us, the Word in our midst, the Word singing the song. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas, 2013

Audio mp3
Love breaks in, Love bursts through. We are here, we waited, ever patiently, ever watchfully. And love is born. The Divine Love Story begins again. God so loves the world, that God breaks into our world to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how many times I come to this place, this celebration, each time I am awestruck at the Love that wins. 

God, who is the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. God, the creator of the universe, breaks into history, to show us the way to mercy and compassion and justice. In this night/morning, all of creation, the sheep and shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, join together singing the love song of the ages, Holy, Holy, Holy. 

We prepare for this birth each year, we wait in the quiet, we are illuminated by the increasing light, and we come to this night/morning, so that we remember who we are. We remember we are God's beloved, we remember Emmanuel, God with us. We look ahead with hope, trusting that our brokenness will be healed. 

Life breaks through, love will not be contained, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. This night/day changes things. This birth changes the world. Jesus, born in the muck and the mess of a stable walks with us, not to take away our humanity, but to fulfill our humanity. Jesus, born to ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, walks with us, not to take away the pain and suffering of this life, but to be with us in the midst of the messiness. Jesus, born in an obscure corner of the earth, walks with us so that the fragments of our lives may be made whole. Jesus, born to set us free.

Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation. 
This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, 
the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first.

For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.

This birth calls us to change, to transformation. And change can be scary, but thrilling at the same time. This birth, this life that will not be contained, speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time. 

And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love and have heard the good news that "unto you this day is born a savior, Christ the Lord." No wonder we sing, "Let heaven and earth rejoice!"

This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes be with us, delivered into our world 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. 
This God comes to us when all will be fulfilled at the end of time.

This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.

Love wins, Alleluia, Alleluia! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

4 Advent Yr A Dec 22 2013

Audio (mp3)

We have arrived here at the fourth Sunday of Advent whether we are ready or not. The coming of the baby is so very close, and yet not quite here. According to Matthew’s telling of this story, it seems that even before the angel came to Joseph, he already knew that Mary was pregnant, maybe she told him, maybe he just knew; we don’t hear anything about that. What we do hear is that Joseph considered his choices. I've mentioned this before, some of you may remember, 1st century customs about betrothals, which are very different than our ideas about engagement and marriage, were quite clear. If you think the woman to whom you’re engaged is bearing someone else’s child, both the woman and the man whose child it is get death by stoning, assuming you know the identity of the father and that the woman is seized in an area in which someone could have heard her screams if she cried out. Joseph is a righteous man, but he refuses to expose Mary to public disgrace to carry this out. So Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly, this divorce is the measure that would have to be taken to nullify a betrothal. It’s the best option he has to avoid claiming a child that wasn’t his. In the face of common law, tradition, all the cultural forces mounting against him, derision and judgment, Joseph chooses life, Joseph chooses incarnation.
When Joseph had resolved to do this, an angel appears to him too, and says the words angels are famous for in scripture, “Do not be afraid.” I’m thinking angels must be pretty scary looking, not like those cherubic angels we see in paintings, because every time one appears in scripture they start out with “don’t be afraid.” So this angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid because the child Mary is bearing is of the Holy Spirit, and when he is born, Joseph is to call him Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves,” the way Matthew describes it is, “he will save his people from their sins.” The writer of Matthew very intentionally connects this story with the passage from the prophet Isaiah that says there will be a son and his name will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
Joseph could not ignore God’s presence, Joseph could not ignore incarnation, neither can you and I, just like Joseph, we have a choice to make. This was a child who was born of Mary, a child who should not have been born at all, and of Joseph, who had he been so inclined, would have left Mary to public justice, stoning and all. This is a child whose birth, death, and resurrection attest to God’s creativity and power.
I am reminded of a scene that I love in the first Jurassic Park movie. I realize that Jurassic Park is an old movie now, but try and picture this with me. Shortly after arriving on the tropical island that is Jurassic park, the scientists tour the whole park, and then they sit down to dinner with Mr. Hammond the owner, and Ian Malcolm, a mathematician and scientist at the park. They are talking about the cloning that has been done to create the dinosaurs at the park, and that the safeguard to not having more dinosaurs out there is that they created them all female. At the table while they are eating this gourmet meal, Ian delivers a brilliant line. He says, “Life will not be contained! Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is.”
That is what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen with Jesus and incarnation. God breaks into our world, God interrupts our lives. The life that God creates breaks free, it expands to new territories, and it crashes through barriers, sometimes painfully and dangerously. It is the life in Mary’s womb, and in Elizabeth’s womb, that exists not because of biology and despite humanity’s tendency to end life, but because of God’s awesome, creative, power. It is the life to which Joseph joins Mary in saying yes. It is the life in which God pours out upon us the Love that wins.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are ever so close to that inbreaking. How do you prepare your heart and mind and body for the crashing in of God? How do you join with Mary and Joseph and say yes to this incarnation? The question at the mall, the question asked by the culture is “Are you ready for Christmas?” Are you ready for Christmas? This question is asked from the perspective of perceived expectations, not from the perspective of this inconceivable conception. What that question really means is do you have your decorating done, are your lights up, did you get your cookies baked, is your house clean and ready for the guests, do you have all your gifts purchased or even made and wrapped?
But the real question is, are you ready for God’s crashing into our world, are you ready for God’s crashing into your life and into your heart? Are you ready to be transformed into the person God would have you be? Are you ready to say yes? Now those are hard questions.
I am ready for Christmas, and I am not yet ready for Christmas. I have experienced the inbreaking of God into my life and I know that God’s inbreaking continues in new and life changing ways. I know that God has broken into this particular church and the universal church; and at the very same time, I continue to wait and prepare for the cosmic coming of Christ, for all times and all places, and the church continues to wait and prepare, and we have no idea what that will look like. All we have is what we imagine.
But we do know what God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like today, right now. It looks like the clerk at the store, the one who really needs someone to say, “you’re doing a great job in the midst of this madness.” It looks like the guy in the car beside you, who needs a smile and a nod, not a raised finger. It looks like the mom and children who really could use something good to eat in these days, and a warm coat to wear. It looks like the family that works two and three jobs just to make it to the end of the month and still needs a little help from the food shelf. And it also looks like the executive who works 80 hours in a week, and long ago forgot that it’s not about the stuff that he can give to his family, it’s about the time he can spend with his family. Or it looks like the young person desperately trying to fit into a world that values contingency over commitment. Sometimes it looks like the sadness we feel when our loved one has died, and it is so very hard to remember that life will not be contained, life breaks free.
God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like when we gather together around this altar and are made into the body of Christ, it looks like when we invite others, sometimes people who don’t look like us or speak like us, to eat at this table with us. God’s incarnation looks like the gathered church in the diocese of South Dakota, people of all colors and shapes and sizes. God’s incarnation looks like the church gathered across the United States, people from every country, of many colors, and mostly who can agree on something, maybe. God’s incarnation looks like the love we share with one another; and it is made real when we say yes with Joseph and Mary.
For me, the experience of the inbreaking of God in my life and into the life of the church has everything to do with God being revealed in absolutely new ways, in ways I couldn’t have imagined, even in ways the church hasn’t imagined before. Because that is what and who Jesus is, God comes as a lowly child, born in a barn, not as the expected King. The breaking forth of new life is sometimes painful, but always creative. Our waiting and watching is almost complete. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

3 Advent Yr A Dec 15 2013


"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" John asks of Jesus. "Are you looking for someone dressed in soft robes, people like that live in palaces" Jesus says to the people. You see, the people are mightily disappointed with God, the people are looking for a King, a ruler who will take power and subdue all those who are wrong about their worship of God. And what they get is this Jesus, born in a barn, born to poor parents, born without fanfare. A baby, wrapped in rags, to set the people free. As far as they are concerned, and especially to John who is in prison, something is mightily wrong with this picture. Jesus surely does not look like the one they were expecting. The ruler they were waiting for can't be like this, it must be someone else.

In the case of Jesus, power flows from powerlessness. Change doesn't look like what we expect. As we have recently heard and seen the stories about Nelson Mandela, I am reminded again that power flows from powerlessness. Mandela's power was not in wealth, class, or anything he had or owned. Mandela's power flows from his years in prison. Change in South Africa did not come from a powerful leader, change came from a man who after 27 years in prison lived a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, and counted among his friends those who were his jailers. The ruler South Africa got, looked nothing like the ruler many may have hoped for, and was indeed disappointing for many.

It is out of these humble beginnings and challenging lives, that healing may begin. Because isn't that where most of us live? We live trying to hold it together, trying to do our best, loving our kids the best way we know how. Sometimes we let the drive to show a perfect front, a well laid out plan, a secure future, have such a tight hold on us we just eventually have to break. Break up, break apart, break down. But it is into those fissures that the power Jesus has to heal can seep. It is in the breaking apart that Love wins and Love heals and Love forgives.

I am also reminded of another theme in our readings today, to which Nelson Mandela's 27 years of imprisonment also speaks. Twenty-seven years seems like a lifetime to me. Twenty-seven years is about how long it takes to raise children into independence, 27 years is a good chunk of time to work at one job, 27 years is about a quarter of one's life, 27 years is about one generation. Our readings show us that God's work in the world, God's promise to humanity isn't just to one generation. God's work in the world spans all of time. What's 27 years to that? And yet, you and I want the change now, immediately. That is evidenced so clearly in our cultural jump to Christmas as soon as we were done with Halloween. Four weeks of waiting, a mere 24 days, 24 days of preparation, of expectation, of quiet, of building hope, promise, love. Our impatience is stunning. Twenty-seven years of imprisonment, and the man is released and quietly changes his world. And God's work spans generations. 

This conundrum is stunning. God's work spans generations, and looks nothing like we expect it to look. The world is about to turn. Twenty-seven years feels like a lifetime. We want Christmas now, 24 days seems like forever. And at the very same time, we are so afraid of change we feel like we may break apart. 

Into this, Love bursts. Into this messy, complex, hurt-filled, broken, joyful reality, Love bursts. This is our hope. The prophet Isaiah, generations past, knew it. "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing." Mary, generations past, knew it. "Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name." The world, in very recent generations knew it. Nelson Mandela created hope where there seemed to be nothing to hope for. 

You, in this present generation know it. You in your darkest times, know the hope of the One who loves you no matter what, the hope of the One who is born in a barn, and nailed to a cross, the hope of the One who can free you from your own prison, the hope of the One whose body and blood seeps into your brokenness and makes you whole, the hope of the One who calls us together, here at this table, to hold one another up, shoulder to shoulder. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who gives you strength to share your coat, your food, your warmth with those who have none. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who gives you the patience to listen to the one whose hurt is deep. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who binds us together, generation after generation. 

Jesus, born in a barn, born to poor parents, born without fanfare. A baby, wrapped in rags, to set the people free. Jesus, a man who eats with outcasts, sinners, and women, who welcomed children. Jesus, a man who heals, teaches, feeds and forgives. Not what we expect of the One who turns the world. 

Twenty-seven years, twenty-four days, wait for it. Amen.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2 Advent Yr A Dec 8 2013

This season we call Advent, and the secular world calls Christmas, is full of expectations. We feel  expectations put upon us during this season, by family and friends, we have our own expectations of what we should do, what we want to do, what we have time to do. And in the midst of all this, I ask you to sit in the quiet and listen. But this morning, I'd actually like you to write for a few minutes. I want you to write a to do list. You have paper and pencils there in the pew. What do you think you need to get done in these two and a half weeks before Christmas. 

John, in Matthew's gospel, calls us to repentance. At the risk of laying on some guilt, which is what we seem to feel when we hear the word repent, and which I do not intend to do, I want to help you reframe that word. Repent simply is to turn. It is to change direction. Repent is reorientation, particularly, reorientation toward God. So our opportunity in this season of Advent is to reorient ourselves to God. The Canticle we are singing/saying during this Advent helps us to reorient ourselves to God. "My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. My heart shall sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn. Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me." 

So now take a look at your to do list. In the midst of all that you feel you have to do, or that you want to do, or that you think people expect you to do, how may you turn, or reorient yourself to God? I'm not saying that the items on your list are not worthwhile, but I am asking you to consider how you may make room in that list to embrace the holy pregnancy, the new life, of this Advent season. 

The prophet Isaiah, has something to say about that. "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Picture that stump. We have tons of them around here these days, left from the Big Snow. Stumps of trees that look like they are dead. But a branch shall grow out of the roots. There shall be new life, delicate and fragile, like a newborn baby. What if we believe this fragile sign is God’s beginning? Perhaps then we will tend the seedling in our hearts, the place where faith longs to break through the hardness of our disbelief. Do not wait for the tree to be full grown. God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to turn, to reorient ourselves, to slow down and be quiet, to give room for the branch that emerges, ever so slowly and small, from the stump. We may want to sit on the stump for a while, and God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us: “Look! Look -- there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?”

Turn around, reorient yourself to God this Advent season. See that green shoot growing. Watch the new life take shape. Keep awake as the light grows bright. Is it possible for you to look at your list of everything you need to get done, and day dream about what you hope Christmas will be like. What kind of day do you want to have? More than that, what kind of relationships do you want to be a part of? Even more, what kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond? The world is about to turn.

The prophet Isaiah is all about hope, change, turning toward God. "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." Our hopes, after all, surely aren’t limited to our immediate wants and needs but reach out to include our larger families, communities, and world. 

So maybe Advent is about leaving our familiar and well-trodden path, making a turn, maybe venturing out on another way. Maybe Advent is about trying something different this time, something that gives us a sense of the grace and glory of God, the babe in Bethlehem, the Word made flesh. Maybe Advent is a time of doing less, not more. Maybe Advent is the hustle and bustle of preparation, maybe Advent is the quiet and anticipation of waiting. Definitely Advent is a time to turn toward God, a time to reorient ourselves to the holiness of this birth. 

And as John alludes to in the gospel this day, that turning toward God, that reorientation, will bear good fruit. It will bear the fruit of compassion, and we will be free to give our time to others. It will bear the fruit of mercy, and we will be free to give our love to others. It will bear the fruit of justice, and we will be free to give food and shelter to others. Now take a look at your list again. When you put it in your pocket, and take it home with you, remember the quiet, remember the holy pregnancy, remember the birth.