Saturday, February 22, 2014

7th Sunday after the Epiphany Yr A Feb 23 2014

Audio 2.23.2014

Our relationships matter to God. We are reminded again and again as we continue to hear this Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' words are about God's relationship with us and our relationships with others. God delights in you, and loves you unconditionally and desires the best for you always, especially in and through your relationships. This passage from the sermon on the mount continues to be about how we treat each other in relationship. It is an extension of the ten commandants, which is about how God loves us and is in relationship with us, and how we treat each other. It is a deepening of the law, not about the letter of the law. 

So today we hear more, and let's hear it from Eugene Peterson's The Message. “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously."

Does that sound outrageous or what? Outrageous, irresponsible, foolish even. Surely that is not what we learn and what is valued in the marketplace of our lives. Transactional interactions are what is valued. Transactional interactions define much of how we are with each other in our places of work. Transactional interactions are what is portrayed by the people who populate most of the stories that come across our screens. If you do that for me, I will do this for you, that is the only way to get ahead. What's really hard, is that those kind of interactions are usually sold to us as real relationship. It was no different when Jesus taught on the mountain. That's what this is all about, and Jesus is speaking against the kind of transactional interactions that demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. 

But that's not how God is with us. God's love is not transactional. God's love is not a reward for good behavior. God's love is unconditional, undeserved. God's love is amazing and abundant. God's love is transformational, not transactional. God's love is how we love others. And that is how we may even begin to live generously. Not because we have a lot, but because we are loved. Because God's economy is nothing, absolutely nothing like the economy of the marketplace, the economy of this life. God's economy has nothing to do with if/then transactions. God's economy is not about a reward for doing good. You are beloved, you are God's delight. Jesus calls the powers of the day into question by describing an entirely different way to relate to each other, inviting us into relationships governed not by power but by vulnerability grounded in love. Jesus calls us to relationship. In God's kingdom, things are done differently, in God's kingdom, the values of the world are turned upside down, because you are beloved, you are God's delight. Love alone transforms, redeems, and creates new life. As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

And again from The Message. “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that."

God's love for you makes you lovable. God's love for you is transformational, not transactional. God's love for you makes it possible for you to love yourself and others. And that love spills over and out. God's love is not containable, it is not controllable, it is messy and chaotic. Even when we miss the mark, even when it seems like there is nothing in us that is lovable, even when the pain feels unendurable, even when the brokenness looks like it well never be healed, even when the world looks at us and says go away, hide, we don't want you, God's says, you are my beloved, you are my delight. And in that place of healing, in that place of forgiveness, love is born, love overflows, love wins. And that is the place of perfection. You are not perfect, but you are perfectly loved. In that place, transformation happens. 

In that place, we can begin. In that place, our new life begins. In that place, we can show up with and for God, and pray. Prayer is one response to God's amazing and abundant love. But, contrary to popular belief, in that place prayer is not to change the other. "O lord, please change that nasty person I don't like, please make him nicer, please make her better, please show him that his ways are hurtful." All prayers we have prayed. But, our prayer is not to change our enemy, prayer is not change the ones who are so different than us, prayer is not to change the sinner across the room. 

I think that's why prayer is so hard. Prayer is about changing us. "Lord, help me love, Lord, help me be patient, Lord, help me see you in them, Lord, help them see you in me." Prayer is about showing up with God, and being changed in that time and space. Prayer is about showing up with God and basking in God's love for you, basking in God's love for all of us. Prayer is about showing up with God, and God putting our broken hearts back together. Prayer is about showing up with God and God healing the fragments and fissures of our lives. Prayer is about showing up with God, and being forgiven. Prayer is about showing up with God and learning to listen with ears of compassion and mercy and justice. Prayer is about showing up with God and learning to act with the hands and feet of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

6th Sunday after the Epiphany Yr A Feb 19 2014

Audio 2.16.2014

Our relationships matter to God. This part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel really tells us that. Our relationships matter to God. Our healthy relationships, our broken relationships, all matter to God. God delights in you, and loves you unconditionally and desires the best for you in and through your relationships. So this passage is about how we treat each other in relationship. This is an extension of the ten commandants, which is about how God loves us and is in relationship with us, and how we treat each other. The Sermon on the mount, of which this passage we have today is a part, is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament. The whole sermon on the mount, is about how we treat each other. These words can help us create health and healing in our relationships. There is no hierarchy of sin here, breaking relationship is always painful and often tragic. These words remind us that all of our relationships are possible only with God's help.

To claim that our relationships matter to God is to claim two things. First, that this God who creates all that is seen and unseen, is truly the God who not only is God in our midst, but is also God who lived and loved and suffered and died, and who rose from the dead. This God is the God that is not only transcendent, the God who creates the heavens and the earth and all the universe, but also who is deeply and completely immanent, the God whose heart's desire is to be in relationship with us. Secondly, because it is God's heart's desire to be in relationship with God's people, you and me, God is doing something new in this incarnation. God is doing something new with the law and commandments. We hear that in this passage. No longer is it enough just to refrain from murder, or adultery, or lying, or any of the other sins not mentioned in this passage today. No longer is it enough to not do it, God is calling us to go beyond the law, and to be deeply and completely in relationship with God whose love wins.

The effects of turning away from God, the effects of our sin, the effects of missing the mark, are broken relationships, and broken relationships will kill us. Broken relationships and broken hearts kill us from the inside out. The effect of broken relationships are hearts that are hardened and no longer capable of love, compassion, mercy, justice. They are hearts no longer capable of beating. Well, you might as well cut out your eye, or lop off your hand for as much as your body is good for anymore. Do you see what's happening here? God's relationship with us, and our relationship with others is so important in this life that without them we may as well be dead, in effect, we are dead. 

And that has everything to do with how we respect the dignity of every human being with whom we come in contact. Surely first and foremost the human beings we live with, our partners in life, our children, our brothers and sisters, and all the people we encounter day by day. It also has everything to do with how we respect the dignity of those we know only by our common humanity. Those we read about in the newspaper, those we see on our screens in far away places, those who are in our own communities but must hide because of who they are. 

So I'd like you to call to mind one of the relationships in your live that is most important to you. One that is healthy and whole and good and sustains you regularly. Picture that person, that relationship. Think about what makes that a good relationship, why is it so important. Give God thanks for that person and the relationship you share. Now, call to mind another relationship that is important but has suffered some damage. Don’t try to figure out who was to blame for the hurt, but rather hold that person and relationship in prayer. Offer that broken relationship to God as an offering and as an arena of God’s help and healing. Think about what action you can take to move that relationship to greater health. And now pray with with me, Lord God of healing and wholeness, we offer this broken relationship to your care. Show us how to heal and be healed in this broken relationship, give us the words, show us the way, so that your love shows forth, our hearts may be healed, and world may be a better place. Amen.

In these days when our legislature is considering laws that discriminate, I am reminded of those who have gone before us, those who have spent their lives being loved by God, and loving others, those who have spent their lives not in fear of showing God's love to the world but proclaiming God's love for all to the world. Those whose hearts could have been hardened because to continue to love was not only difficult but dangerous. I am reminded today of the first black Episcopal priest, Absalom Jones, whose life we celebrate each year on February 13th. Absalom Jones bought his wife's freedom, and went on to buy his own freedom, and became a priest at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Absalom Jones was known for his abolitionist preaching, in God's kingdom, there is no owning another human, there is no prejudice, there is no bigotry. 

But of course, I'm preaching to the choir. You know these things, you do your best. Today I want to encourage you. I want to encourage you to take this love that wins even farther. Take it to people whose hearts have been hardened, and show them that it is love that wins, not hate, not prejudice or bigotry. Show them that Jesus took all that fear into his own body and replaced it with his love. Show them what eternal life looks like, it's not some reward after we're dead, it's the life God gives us, life fully lived before we're dead, it's a heart that is living and breathing and loving, not cold and hard. Show them that you will not live your life in fear of those who are different from you, but you live your life loud and proud for God's love.  




Saturday, February 8, 2014

5th Sunday after the Epiphany Yr A Feb 9 2014

Audio 2.9.2014

You are the light of the world. You are the light that shines in the darkness. This is an amazing declaration. Not only is God in our midst, God in the flesh, the light in the world, but that light, God in the flesh, God in our midst, is in us, shines through us, and as we bear that light into the world, darkness cannot overcome. That's not nothing, that's something. God's love, the love that wins, gets communicated to the world through you. Martin Luther King Jr. said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."  And, something more, you are the light of the world, that is who you are, you are a child of God. This is not about what you must do, it is about who you are, you can't help but be the light and drive out darkness.

Well, with that Good News, how does the love of God get communicated in the world through you? You are commissioned to be God's light in the world. As I use communicate in this context, I mean the fullness of that word, not just words. Some of the synonyms of communicate are connect, interface, make known, network, and relate. For me the ultimate meaning of communicate is in communion, "be known to us Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread." God's love gets communicated in the world through you and the light that you bear. What does that look like?

These words lead me to picture God's communication through you as a light in the world like a web of relationship. You shine in your workplace, and God is present. You shine in your school, and God is present. You light up the darkness, and God's love is communicated. But that seems all rather ethereal, right? What does it really look like? 

The theme of light shining in the darkness is a universal human theme, we all know that from scripture, from Genesis and from John and from Isaiah. And we may get some direction from popular culture. The epic stories of our time show us how light shines in the darkness, and the best of those show us how that light is multiplied in community. 

In Madeleine L'engle's book, A Wrinkle in Time, our main characters travel through a wrinkle in time to the dark planet of Camazotz which is entirely dominated by the Black Thing. The father of our main character, Meg, is trapped on this planet, after a time Meg is able to free her father, but only after finding her own strengths, her own giftedness, her own light, and engaging in the web of relationship that is community. In the Harry Potter stories, the power of light in the darkness is a dominant theme. Dumbledore even says, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” And then he goes on to say, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." Again, the light in these stories is found in the web of relationships among Harry and his friends. I could go on and on and bore you completely with these references, stories I hold dear, but instead I'd love to hear about your own understanding of the light shining in the darkness in the places you go for meaning.

The question is, what does it look like for you to be God's light in the world? What does it look like for your light to be the only light shining, what does it look like for your light to join with and be joined with others to create a brighter light? Again, it is not what we do, but who we are, God's beloved, that shines. But for others to see the light, sometimes it is what we do. So many of you are lights in the world. Your light shines when you give a compassionate word at work, your light shines when you give an encouraging word at the check out counter at the store, your light shines when you shovel your neighbors walk. These light shining moments are so important. And your light, your voice matters in a world that has seems to have left compassion and justice behind. You are indeed, a light in the building of the kingdom. But what about when we join our lights in the web of relationship, when we join our lights in a community of light? 

When we do that, when lights shine on the darkness of the injustice of racism, when lights shine on the darkness of the disregard for human dignity, when lights shine on the darkness of the lack of access to education, we begin to see the building of God's kingdom. During this month that is designated Black History, we are reminded of the witness of this kind of light, in the persons and the web of community of the people who sat on buses and wouldn't give up their seats; the people who sat at lunch counters and endured the indignity of insults and attacks; the people who knocked on doors to register others to vote; the people who worked day in and day out at their jobs, so they might provide education for their children.

And why is being God's light in the world so important? It important because God's love is what brings us back together, puts the fragments of our lives back together. It is God's love, borne by your light, that can bring healing and wholeness to our broken world. Indeed, it is God's mission to heal our world, and it is our mission to be a part of that healing. 

At our annual meeting we proposed an idea that arose out of the conversations on scripture during the Sunday morning adult formation time between services. Again, I invite you to come and be a part of that. Explicitly or implicitly we ask the questions, What is Jesus saying to you in the Gospel? What is Jesus calling you to do? And it seems one answer that is appearing is about a Community Garden, right here in our yard. And because we believe that it is in the web of relationship that our lights shine bright, we have made some phone calls and made some contacts with West Middle School and Stevens High School, and they are thrilled to partner with us in this project. The purpose of this community garden is to foster community involvement, to feed the hungry and to involve our neighbors on a variety of levels. The goals of our community garden are  to actually grow something, to engage the neighborhood, and to be thoughtful stewards of God’s abundance. We will also invite our neighbors, our physical neighbors, those across and down the street from us.

You know that there are a couple families that we regularly help with food and gas and spiritual support. Friday, as I was talking to one of the moms about this idea and asked her to be a part of it, she offered to get some tomato and pepper plants for us, and some seeds. I believe we are headed in the direction of shining our lights in our neighborhood. I believe we already are part of the web that brings God's healing and wholeness into the world. Amen.  Audio 2.9.2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Feb 2 2014

Audio 2.2.2014

Forty days ago we celebrated the joyful feast of the birth of Jesus. Today we recall the holy day on which he was presented in the temple, fulfilling the law of Moses. And an historical note, the traditional liturgy for the day is called Candlemas, because of its ancient rite of blessing of the candles to be used in the church for the next year, a practice dating from the middle of the fifth century. Today we hear, led by the Spirit, Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as their Lord, and proclaimed him with joy. We recognize Jesus in all sorts of ways as well. We recognize Jesus in baptism, in one another, and in the breaking of the bread.  

This story, the Presentation of The Lord in the Temple is similar, and yet not the same, as our baptism of today. In this story, a Jewish family brings their son to the temple at eight days old and presented, and circumcised. And at the same time, the child is named. Jesus, God in our midst. At our sacrament of baptism, a baby is presented, named, gotten all wet, and marked as Christ's own forever. We trust that God shows up in a particular way at these times, but not once and for all, but to begin the journey with us. When we baptize a baby, we also trust that the community of faith, all of us, takes seriously the promises we make, especially the promise by our prayers and witness we will help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ. 

In our story today we meet Simeon and Anna, very old people who are living the end of their lives at the temple. Separately they understand who this baby Jesus is. Simeon is clear that this child is the light of revelation to the Gentiles, and this child is for glory to Israel. Simeon now can die in peace, because he has seen God in our midst. Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph. Anna, also recognized the child as the one everyone was looking for, for the redemption of Jerusalem. 

Simeon and Anna are you and me. Simeon and Anna are the witnesses to God's grace and love in the world. Simeon and Anna are the witnesses to pain and suffering in the world. Simeon and Anna speak to the hope that rises out of suffering and adversity, the hope that breeds courage, the hope that God is fully capable of doing something new, and indeed is doing something new. Each time a baby is presented here, at this font, and at any font in any church, it is a sign of hope, it is a time to recognize Jesus in our midst and the claim Jesus makes on our hearts and souls. The claim Jesus makes on each of us as we promise to raise our children with the story of life and death and resurrection. The claim Jesus makes on each of us to make us new creations. We respond to Jesus' claim on our hearts and souls by promising to be bearers of the light and builders of the Kingdom. We promise to show the world that Love wins. 

Simeon and Anna are you and me. We, like Simeon and Anna witness God's grace and love in the world, we witness pain and suffering in the world. And we must recognize Jesus in our midst, in baptism, but also in the world. We must recognize Jesus in our midst, we must recognize Jesus in the places in our world where Jesus resides. With those who are poor, those who need food and clothes, those who are broken and in need of healing. Sometimes those people are here in our midst, and sometimes we are those people. We recognize Jesus among us.  

Jesus is presented in the temple, we present our children for baptism, trusting that God claims our hearts and souls and walks with us, showing us the way through pain and suffering, death and resurrection. We recognize Jesus in the water of baptism, water that gives live and takes life, we recognize Jesus in the light of epiphany, the light that brightens the darkness, the light that will not be put out. We recognize Jesus in the hearts and souls of one another.

And we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. This breaking of bread is central to what we do each time we gather here. We pray, we sing, we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, we break bread we give thanks and we are sent out to do the work God calls us to do. The epic story of the love that wins tells us that Jesus broke bread with his friends, and in a like fashion his body was broken for us. With our broken bread, in our broken lives, in our broken hearts, Jesus fills and floods us with the bread and wine, and puts us back together, in a way that alone we cannot. Jesus' love re-members us, and we are not just glued together, but we are enveloped in a love that will not let us go. 

Jesus is presented in the temple, and our work is to accompany Jesus into the world, being the light, and the food, of God's mission of healing and wholeness. You see, Jesus and Mary and Joseph did not stay in the safe and comforting confines in the temple. They went out to be on the journey of God's mission in their world. God's mission has always been the same, bringing each and every one of us and all of humanity into the healing love and embrace of God. God's mission is kingdom building. And in God's kingdom, all are welcome, no one is excluded. In God's kingdom our broken hearts and bodies are made whole. In God's kingdom everyone has enough to eat, everyone has a warm place to sleep. 

It takes courage to be about the work of kingdom building. Courage to step out into the work that God is already blessing. You, at your baptism, at your presentation to God, were marked as Christ's own forever, you have the courage to be a kingdom builder.