Saturday, March 29, 2014

4 Lent Yr A March 30 2014

Audio 3.30.2014

Walking down the street with the disciples, Jesus saw a blind man. Maybe they were in the marketplace, or the village square, probably a place where lots of people walked by and through. 
Probably a place where the poor, the crippled, the blind, go to beg. 

Rather than giving thanks for the miracle of sight, the first thing out of the mouth of the disciple who asked is, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? And Jesus’ answer is that this man’s blindness is not due to his parents’ sin or his own sin. In fact, to Jesus, this is not about sin at all, many people of Jesus’ time thought that a physical ailment was do to you sinning or inheriting your parents’ sin. Jesus says, it’s not about sin at all; it’s about sight and seeing.

Jesus heals a blind man. Here is a man who has just had his sight restored, truly a miracle, and all the disciples can talk about is whether this man is the man who used to sit and beg. They really can’t quite place him, even after he says who he is, even after all the years they’ve walked by him in the marketplace. They want to take him to his parents’ house so that his parents can identify him, and then his parents don’t seem to be overjoyed at the miracle either, it seems they don’t want much to do with their son. 

Eventually the conversation turns to who the man is who healed the blind man, and the blind man says, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” It is an astonishing thing that they don’t know who Jesus is; and, that Jesus healed this man who they all know was blind, and they still don’t believe him. 

This is a story about who is really blind; it is a story about seeing and not seeing. Jesus saw a man blind from birth. The disciples looked right through the blind man, they had seen him sitting in the same place for years, but had never seen him. When Jesus healed the blind man, the blind man saw Jesus for who he really is, the One who is from God. The Pharisees could neither see the blind man, nor could they see that the one who healed the blind man is the One who is from God. The blind man is the one who sees, the disciples and the Pharisees are the ones who are blind.

What is it we are blinded by? What is it that is right in front of us that we don’t see? All of us are born blind in one way or another. Some of us have blindness of body: a crippling disease, cancer, diabetes, or bad bones. Some of us have blindness of heart, and that is a terrible blindness. The blind of heart can’t love another beyond a superficial level and usually can’t even love themselves. The blind of heart often live lives corroded with addictions to material things, 
possessions, and work, to cover up the empty hole. And worst of all is blindness of the soul, which wraps all the rest of life in gloomy darkness.

We have our screens in front of our faces much of the time. Our phones, our tablets, our laptops. Are we blind to the people in our lives? Do we ever say to ourselves, “I just can’t see my way through this.”

Or maybe we are blind to our own self-indulgence, when the messages we constantly get are messages of possession and consumption. When competition for our dollars spurs networks to charge millions of dollars for seconds of advertising time, advertising that forms us into people who believe that the aim of our life is to acquire more, to have bigger, better, newer.

Or maybe we are blind to our own pessimism. This culture of fear we live in has a tendency to take our hope away. Sometimes it is difficult to see who we really are, people who are chosen and marked by God, delight of God’s life. Perhaps we are blind to the pain of a neighbor’s sorrow, or the loneliness of a child, or the needs of a spouse. Perhaps we are blind to the other who is different, whose life seems so foreign to our own, that we just don’t understand. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in making a living, pursuing the good life, or running from our fears that we just don’t see. 

What kind of blindness lives inside you?

Jesus notices our blindness. Jesus sees. Jesus invites us to see. Jesus invites us to see with our very blind eyes, with our wounds and brokenness. Jesus uses our weaknesses as grace. 

On our Lenten journey we are called to be healed of our own blindness, and we prepare for celebrating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the bread broken for us, and we celebrate that through Jesus we come to see others, all creation, and ourselves as wonderful gifts. This is the Good News that shines brightly through our blindness. The Good News that Love wins. Jesus has offered us a new view of life, death and resurrection. We have been called and chosen, but not because of distinctions, achievements, family lineage, or personal attractiveness, not because God sees us as any more beautiful or deserving as anyone else. God’s love is blind to such plastic categories. 

We have been called and chosen despite our tendency to blindness. We have been called and chosen even though we trip over those we cannot see. We have been called and chosen despite looking directly at someone, and not seeing who they are, their pain and suffering, or their joy. 
But, in this new view of life, we recognize that life, death and resurrection means that we must look at people in the eye, and that we take a new look at ourselves. It takes time to see clearly, and we must be patient in our recovery.

When we see with the healed eyes that Jesus gives us, we will recognize that each and every one of us is a wonderful creation of God. When we look into the eyes of our neighbor, we may see a person who is hurting and lonely just like us; and we may see a person who is blessed and joyful, just like us. When we look into the eyes of the one who we think is wrong, we may recognize a person who has come to their convictions through prayer and bible study, just like like us. When we look into the eyes of the one we hate, we will recognize someone who God loves, just like us. 

And when someone looks into your eyes, do they recognize who you truly are, a new creation, a person healed and transformed through love by God? Can they see your life, can they see your struggle, can they see your sadness, can they see your joy, can they see your integrity, do they recognize you, washed in the waters of baptism, clean and pure, a reflection of the creator God. 

Do they see one whose life, right now, attests to Jesus, the light of the world? Do they see that you love Jesus? When someone looks into your eyes, do they recognize the fruits of your new life, 
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In what ways, during the rest of this Lent, can you open your eyes to Jesus? 
Lord God, heal our vision, so that we may see you more clearly, right here, right now.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

3 Lent Yr A March 23 2014

Audio 3.23.2014

This story from the gospel of John is amazing. I think it is one of the most important stories of the entire collection of stories we have about Jesus. Imagine the setting. Noon. In the desert. Absolutely the hottest time of the day. Nobody would go out at that time, everyone would stay in their cool stone homes and siesta until the day grew cooler. And yet, here we are, at the center of the village, a lone women, and Jesus. Neither of them belonged there. Neither of them should have been speaking to the other.

The sun was bearing down on the dry, parched ground. Jesus, a good Jew sits at the well, he is terribly thirsty, his throat is dry and parched; he has just arrived at this well after walking miles in the desert, in a foreign land, to get there. He sits at the well, but does not have a bucket or dipper to get any water. 

She arrives, bucket on her head, dipper in her hand, a Samaritan woman. She may have spent her morning cooking over an outdoor fire, and washing clothes in her bucket of water. The Jewish man asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. 

This is a scandalous encounter. Two circumstances make it scandalous. First, it is scandalous because they are a man and a woman, at a chance meeting at a well, and he talks to her. She has a reputation, otherwise she would not be at the well in the heat of the day. The women would go to the well in the cool of the morning and evening. She was there in the heat of the middle of the day so she did not have to encounter the jeers and catcalls of the others in the village. The story says that she has had five husbands and she is living with a man who is not a husband. The problem here is that this status does not necessarily make her promiscuous, but it is true that the only way for a woman to be protected in this society was to be attached to a man. To be unattached is certain abuse and maybe even death. But a man could discard a woman by just saying so. We just don't know and should not make assumptions. But what we do know is that men and women just did not talk to one another in public. This is in violation of the Law they both lived by. 

Secondly, he is a Jew, and she, a Samaritan. The enmity between Jews and Samaritans is notorious. They traced their lineage similarly through Rachel and Jacob, Sarah and Abraham, and Miriam and Moses, but a split had caused them to worship in two different places, the Jews in Jerusalem, the Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim. Each tribe devoted to its own place of worship, and completely intolerant of the other. Intolerance is an understatement here. These tribes fought and killed each other over the proper place to worship. 

A Jewish man, a Samaritan woman, and he asks her for a drink of water. She states the obvious. "Sir, you have no bucket, how did you expect to get that living water?" He responds by describing the spring of water that gushes up to eternal life, and that will quench the thirst eternally. There is no turning back from this scandalous encounter. She places her tentative trust in him, "Sir," she says, "give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty again." And instead of judgement from Jesus, Jesus knows who she is and shows her she has value, and she remembers the truth of who she is, God's beloved, marked and claimed by God. This living water and living word, transform her. Jesus gives her freedom, and gives her community freedom to know who Jesus is, to remember who she is, and to remember who they are. She goes away with such excitement she forgets her water jug. She says to the people who have been deriding her “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves. 

Who does she think she is? The world has convinced her of the lie that she is worthless, that she is a throw away, that she is unlovable. In the living water of this well, Jesus reminds her who she really is. She is God's beloved, marked and claimed as God's own forever. And that changes her life. This encounter, Jesus' words and the life-giving water have literally restored her to new life. She was dead, dead to her community, dead to her family, dead to herself. Until in the water, Jesus reminded her and she remembered she was God's beloved, marked and claimed as God's own forever.

It happens to us too, all the time. We begin to believe the lies of the world, the lies about who we are. You are worthless, you can't do anything right. Your happiness is dependent on how much money you make. You will be successful when you have a good job, you will be successful when you command a big staff. You will be happy when you feel good, so go ahead, take the purple pill, change the way you look, drink the whole bottle. 

We forget so quickly that we are God's beloved, marked and claimed as God's own forever. But the living water is here to remind us that we don't have to be perfect, but we are perfectly loved. And when we miss the mark, we fall on our knees, ask for forgiveness, are reminded that we are human, and do it differently the next time.

And that changes our lives, just as it changed the life of the woman at the well. We are freed from the constant need to be perfect, or to be something that we are not, we are freed to be loved completely and absolutely. We are put back together, made whole, healed. 

She leaves her bucket at the well, goes into the city and tells everyone about the man she met at the well, and that this man who said such amazing things, was the One sent from God. 

Each time we come here, to this place, we encounter Jesus. Each time we confess all that we have done, and all that we have left undone, we encounter Jesus. Each time we come to this table to eat and to drink we encounter Jesus. Each time we put our hand in that water, and splash it on our face and hands, each time we baptize another child, we remember who we are, God's beloved, marked and claimed.

May we be like the woman at the well and go out and tell everyone of the Good News of Jesus, the One who is from God.  Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2 Lent Yr A March 16 2014, Deacon Marty Garwood

Do you know what I like about the Gospel passage this morning?

I like the fact that Nicodemus wasn't afraid to ask Jesus to explain what he meant.  Nicodemus was a respected leader of the Pharisee community.  By the words and actions of Jesus, Nicodemus recognized that,  at the very least, Jesus was a man of God.  He also realized that coming to hear the message Jesus had would not be acceptable to his own contemporaries.  So he came to Jesus after dark.  His curiosity, his search for understanding, was so strong that Nicodemus ventured out of his comfort zone to seek answers.  Even sitting with Jesus, he didn't just nod and smile and pretend to take it all in.  It is obvious from the story as it is recorded that Nicodemus didn't "get it".  So he kept asking Jesus questions - he kept asking for clarification.  

Many of us have questions about what exactly it means to live in God's kingdom.  Often times when our lives are not on the smooth and easy, those questions come to us in the middle of the night.  In the dark of night when Light seems so far away, we ask God the hard questions - the why, the how - questions.  The questions that we are almost embarrassed or ashamed to ask because maybe, just maybe, that by asking, it might mean we are not good enough Christians.  Those are the questions that come from deep within our sorrow, our fear, our torment.

But hopefully we also have questions that come in the Light of Day.  Questions that come out of what we hear, what we read, and what we see in the world around us.   I am thankful that in the Episcopal Church we are not only allowed to ask questions but in fact are encouraged to ask questions.  The Book of Common Prayer sets forth a pattern of questions and answers.  Our Baptismal Covenant follows that pattern.  The Catechism, located near the back of the Book of Common Prayer, is set out in a series of questions and answers.  

I think that one of the most important questions we, as Christians, can ask is how do we make all of what we learn from the Old Testament readings and everything we hear about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection relevant to our lives right here and now.  This is the sign of Christians striving to answer the call we have been given to live as holy men and holy women.

Some of the questions we often shy away from are those questions we fear the answers to.   Questions that we already know the answers to but we don't want to admit we know the answers. 

Answers that may make us squirm or call us out of our comfort zones.  Questions where we reveal our innermost desire to share in the  work God has given us to do.  

God, what would you have me do today?  

God, how do I love that person the way you love me?  

God, how do I feed the hungry or clothe the naked when my own resources seem so few?  

God, how do I strive to seek and serve you in others?  

God, how do I respect the dignity of all when I so often do not feel respected?  

It seems to me that the season of Lent is a very appropriate time to ask ourselves those questions - to ask God those questions.

Today is only the 12th day of Lent.  Easter is still four weeks away. 

On Ash Wednesday we were invited into a Holy Lent.  How has it been working out for you?  

Do you wake up in the morning thinking how this is just one more day when you will have to struggle to survive without chocolate or caffeine or time on the computer or whatever it is that you decided to give up for Lent?  

Or do you wake up on these Lenten mornings full of anticipation of the new vistas that will open up before you as you walk this journey with Jesus towards the cross and beyond?

I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with giving something up.  It isn't the giving up or the self-denial that is important though.  When we do give up something or when we take on a Lenten discipline - and I hesitate to use the word discipline - what is important about that act is the desire to seek a new nearness with God - to seek out a different path that leads us closer to where we want to be and who we want to be.

We are learning a new hymn here at St. Andrew's during this Lenten season.  Each week we are singing two verses of Hymn 145 'Now Quit Your Care'.  The words were written by Percy Dearmer.  The second verse which we are singing today contains these words:

To bow the head in sackcloth and in ashes,
or rend the soul, such grief is not Lent's goal;
but to be led to where God's glory flashes, 
God's beauty to come near.
Make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear;
Make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear.

I believe that we humans have a pretty good idea of our own wretchedness.  Sometimes we may be fairly accurate in that assessment and at other times we may over-exaggerate just how wretched we really are.  What-ever form of self-flagellation we use to beat ourselves up over our failure to be perfect, I don't believe that is what God desires for us.  God loves us so passionately and so profoundly that despite our human weaknesses, we are called into relationship with God over and over again.  God asks the question of us - Will you walk with me?  

To quote Scott Gunn and Tim Schenck - whose names some of you might recognize from Lent Madness - which is one of my favorite ways to observe Lent - I offer the following:

"This season of Lent is about the journey. We won’t get it all right, but in trying, we will gain something for ourselves. Above all, we must remember that this season is about recommitting to following Jesus, to follow him with lives of worship, prayer, study, and service to others. Lent invites us to set aside unimportant things and to focus on what matters most. The Book of Common Prayer describes Lent as a season to “prepare with joy for the Paschal feast.”

I would also like to share several excerpts from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Shori's pastoral letter for Lent.

"The word “Lent” means “lengthen” and it’s about the days getting longer.  The early Church began to practice a season of preparation for those who would be baptized at Easter, and before too long other members of the Christian community joined those candidates for baptism as an act of solidarity. 

It was a season during which Christians and future Christians learned about the disciplines of the faith - prayer and study and fasting and giving alms, sharing what they have. 

But the reality is that, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, the lengthening days were often times of famine and hunger, when people had used up their winter food stores and the spring had not yet produced more food to feed people.  Acting in solidarity with those who go hungry is a piece of what it means to be a Christian.  To be a follower of Jesus is to seek the healing of the whole world."

Bishop Katharine continues:  I invite you this Lent to think about your Lenten practice as an exercise in solidarity with all that is - with other human beings and with all of creation.  That is most fundamentally what Jesus is about. He is about healing and restoring that broken world. "

As we ask God the questions of what would you have me do today - what would you have me do during this season of Lent, we might be particularly attuned to answers that call us to stand in solidarity - to stand out of love - with our brothers and sisters.  

Perhaps those answers might mean extra items placed in the food basket,  Perhaps what we are called to give up are angry words and snarky comments.  Perhaps the answer to the question might be inviting someone to come to St. Andrew's with you.  Perhaps it is actually mailing a card or making a telephone call to someone rather than just having the good intention to do so.  Perhaps it is holding out our hand and saying Yes, God, I will walk with you.

We hear of Nicodemus only twice more in John's Gospel, which is the only Gospel in which Nicodemus is mentioned.  When plans are being made to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus questions the pharisees about their intent to judge Jesus without first giving him a hearing as was required by law.  Then again we hear of Nicodemus after Jesus has been taken down from the cross.  Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes with which to prepare Jesus'  body for burial.  

We don't know anything of what happened to Nicodemus or how he lived his life after that brief period of time in which he was affected by Jesus' ministry.  

But I would like to think that he continued asking questions and seeking to understand what it meant to live God's kingdom.

I would like to think that he perhaps joined a first century version of EFM where study and reflection help make connections between scripture, church history, theology and every day life.

I am certain of one thing, that his questions to Jesus on that dark night forever changed his life.

I join with Bishop Katharine by saying "May you have a blessed Lent this year, and may it yield greater light in the world."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

1 Lent Yr A March 9 2014

Audio 3.9.2014

We enter the season of Lent with this story that takes place just after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, and just before Jesus calls his disciples and begins teaching on the hillside. I have said before to you that I think this story is much more about seduction than it is temptation, and I’ll tell you why. I’m reminded of Edmund, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Edmund is the third child in a family of four children. He is overshadowed by his older brother Peter, and Edmund suffers from a lack of confidence that contributes to a rather unfortunate series of decisions. When the children enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe, they encounter eternal winter, brought on by the despicable Queen. The Queen approaches Edmund and tempts him with the sugary concoction, Turkish delight, and some warm and wonderful hot cocoa as well. Thus begins Edmund’s turn toward the despicable Queen, and away from the Lion Aslan, his brother and sisters, and all that represents. 

You see, without an exception, temptation looks and feels delicious. It is part of our very humanity to seek out that which we believe is positive, pleasurable, and good. We always embark on the road to perdition with the belief that it is in fact a good. That is the nature of seduction. It begins with a beautiful face, it begins with a ripe red apple, it begins with mouth watering tastiness, it begins with the promise of relief, escape, pleasure, it begins in wonder and amazement, but it does not end well. And yet, often we are powerless to know it or to see it. 

The great seducer in our gospel today shows Jesus three wonderful and amazing things. First, stones that may become bread. It may be hard to imagine yourself as Jesus, or not, but try for a moment. You are concerned about poverty and starvation all over the known world. Your instructions to those who follow you are to feed the hungry; over and over you ask your friends and followers to feed the hungry. And here you are presented with a solution to world hunger. Command these stones to become bread. That’s it, that’s all it takes. There are enough stones in the world if they all became bread there would be no child going to bed hungry at night. Who wouldn’t say yes? Feeding people is good, isn’t it?

Second, ultimate safety. If you were unable to be hurt, would you not be able to continue to relieve world hunger forever and for always? If you were unable to be hurt, would you not be able to love everyone all the time? If you are unable to be hurt, would you not have to go to the cross to die? Sounds like a good, doesn’t it? 

Third, authority. Everyone and everything answering to you. With ultimate authority, everyone would follow your rules and your rules are good rules. Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. The world would be perfect if you were in charge. 

What’s so wrong with this scene? Nothing at all. Nothing at all. That is the nature of seduction. It looks so good. It tastes so good. It feels so good. It must be right. We are human after all. What makes this story so powerful is that we have been there. Each and every one of us has been there; we may even be there yet today. This is about Jesus, and it is about each of us. You see, it isn’t black and white, right or wrong, it isn’t obvious or clear, and don’t let anyone seduce you into thinking that it is. This journey of life is full of choices, which is God’s gift to us, choice, and a pile of love to go with it, because we know that God's love wins. Even Jesus had the choice, the choice to follow the seducer, the choice to give in to the pain and suffering of his journey, the choice to walk away from the cross. 

So what does this journey look like? We are on a journey together, you and me and all the others. All the best heroes have their posse’s with them. Edmund had his brother and sisters and all the animals of Narnia, Luke had Han Solo, Lea, Chewbacca, and the Holy Trinity of Obi-wan, Anakin, and Yoda, Harry has Hermione and Ron and the whole Weasly family, Woody has Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex and Hamm, you get the picture. We take this journey together; together we share the strength, the wisdom, the courage to make choices, good or bad, right or wrong. 

Us humans live daily, maybe even moment-by-moment in the reality of this seduction. It is being fully human after all, what is so amazing is the love that God has for us and the forgiveness that God is willing to heap upon us time, after time, after time. We miss the mark, and Jesus stands with us, surrounded by our company of friends, loved ones, supporters, and Jesus puts his arms around our shoulders, straightens us out, gives us strength and courage, and shows us how to hit the mark dead center. And, while the enemy arrow comes right at him, Jesus also says, let me step into your place and take the arrow for you. 

In our lifetimes, we don’t ever feel the absence of seduction and temptation. We are however forgiven. That is where we begin this journey of lent, in the place of examination and forgiveness. We have this opportunity to turn to God, to examine ourselves, to ask again for forgiveness, to look upon our mortality and fall on our knees and ask for the help we need, because we cannot do it on our own. We cannot walk this journey without the one who created us, the one who walks with us, and one another. To believe we can is to succumb to the seduction of vanity, self-absorption, egotism, and selfishness. 

On Ash Wednesday I invited you to think about that which you may set aside this lent. It is not about giving up something you love, but it is about abstaining from that which gets in the way of your relationship with God and with one another. What seduces you into believing that you can walk this journey on your own? What seduces you into believing that you are right and others are wrong? What seduces you into believing that you are immortal, that whatever you eat or drink or smoke won’t harm your mortal body? What seduces you into believing that you are the center of your life and others lives? What is it that you will abstain from this lent? 

I invite you to journey together; I invite you to a holy lent.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday March 5 2014

Audio: Ash Wednesday

The ashes of this day remind us of who we are. We are God's beloved, God's delight. Every person is named and claimed, marked as Christ's own forever, by the God who created her. The ashes of this day trace the mark of our baptism, the mark of our identity. There is no one or no thing that can change that. No one, no thing. The ashes of this day remind us that we are God's, God created us out of the dust, and to the dust we shall return. 

The Lenten journey is the journey with Jesus and one another to the cross of Good Friday. The Lenten journey is not a personal journey of "I am not worthy", but a journey we take together of discovery of our identity of God's beloved, God's delight. On this journey we experience the God who weeps, the God who suffers not only for us but with us. Nowhere is the presence of God amidst suffering more salient than on the cross. This is a God who does not cause suffering, but a God who bears suffering. This is a God who does not initiate suffering, but God who transforms it. 

God, who loves and names us, who is revealed in Jesus Christ, that is what the Season of Epiphany teaches us, who becomes flesh and walks among us full of grace and truth, this God loves us, and is with us so completely, that God goes all the way to the grave on our behalf. There is nothing we can say, or do, or believe, that makes God's love any less. The ashes of this day, remind us of that.

The ashes of this day remind us of who we are. The ashes of this day remind us that God's love wins. The ashes of this day remind us that God's victory over death, God going to the cross and the grave, does not mean that we do not die, but that we have new life, and freedom in God's love. God is already calling us into relationship, sometimes we need to make room. God shows up, all the time, we though are often just too busy, or too loud, to notice. 

It may take a while, it may take the whole 40 days, but you may make room for remembering who you are. You may make room for remembering that you belong to God, that you have been marked as Christ's own forever. As that reality dawns on you, as the reality of God's amazing and abundant love takes hold in you, as you remember that Love wins, you may feel compelled to respond. 

You may feel the need to ask for forgiveness, for that which you have done or left undone. You may feel the need to forgive someone in your life. You may need to lay down that which is killing you. You may feel the need to serve, or to give. 

On the other hand, you may be in a place where you feel bereft. Feeling God's love is just not where you're at. Relinquish control, let go, trust yourself to be a part of something beyond yourself. Open up the quiet space, be connected to the community of faith, into your hands oh Lord, I commend my spirit. 

Lent isn't just the lead up to the party at Easter. It's actually much more like life itself. We get cleaned up, all ready to go, and the next thing you know we fall back into the mud. Life is hard, it's messy, just like this dirt, just like these ashes, this smudge reminds us of who we are and whose we are, loved, imperfect, forgiven. Everyone one of us the same before God, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There is no getting out of it.

I invite you to consider embracing the quiet. I invite you to think about that which you need to set aside so that you may enter a Holy Lent. That is what you will write down. We will take a little time to be quiet, and write.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Transfiguration Yr A March 2 2014

Audio 3.2.2014

We hear this story of Jesus' changing appearance each year at the conclusion of the Sundays after the Epiphany and as we launch into Lent. As I hear the story of Jesus' changing appearance this time, I see in my mind's eye a trailer for a new movie. This is the stuff of pyrotechnic extravaganza. Our main character calls his friends to gather around him, and all of a sudden he dazzles before our eyes. Blazing and shooting and appearing with him are Moses and Elijah. There is so much happening in this trailer we hope it is not all the best stuff of the movie itself. The computer generated affects are big and loud and wild. The significance of the ancestors appearing is not lost on those in the audience watching. The appearance of Moses and Elijah bring us soaring in on that place where time is transcended, and those who came before us are side by side with us in the present and our attention is pointed to the future, but what kind of future will that be. If this is the trailer, what's the rest of the movie like? Oh, the stuff of movies that I love.

Oh, but wait. This trailer in my mind's eye is much like a story already told, at the conclusion of Star Wars, The Return of the Jedi. Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan appear amid the fireworks of celebration as Luke Skywalker looks on and wonders, hmm, this is important, this means something. 

Well, this is important. This does mean something, but what is it, I wonder. What does this story of transfiguration have to say to us 21st century people. In the midst of this pyrotechnic extravaganza, with Moses and Elijah in attendance, I think it means that freeing people from slavery and wandering in the wilderness, is still God's mission. Healing and reconciliation, wholeness and forgiveness, is still God's mission. God's victory over death doesn't mean we don't die, Moses and Elijah indeed have died, Anakin and Obi-Wan indeed have died, but God does something more. God's love wins. God picks up the fragments of our lives and makes us whole. God loves our dark side and our light side, and puts us back together. 

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. These are the very words we heard at Jesus' baptism, these are the words we hear on this mountaintop. Jesus has gathered his friends, Peter and James and John, and they hear these words, they are witnesses to this statement, this claim, that God's love is transforming, that God's love is transfiguring. So beside being an amazing story, we hear it on this last Sunday before Lent, because it points us in the right direction. Lent is really a baptismal journey. We begin on Ash Wednesday with the ashes that highlight the cross that has been traced on our forehead at baptism, when we were marked as Christ's own forever. The journey of Lent calls us to the wilderness, the journey of Lent calls us to die to that which is killing us, so that we may be raised to new life with Jesus, so that we may be transformed and transfigured by God's amazing and abundant love and grace. So that we may live fully and completely the life we are given as God's delight.  

A part of this story I love, is that Peter wants to make the experience last forever by erecting three tents. Peter is one of my favorite people, probably because I am so much like him. When something wonderful happens, don't we want it to last longer? Don't we want the next time to be as wonderful as the first time? Don't we want to pack it all up so that we can do it exactly the same way the next time? I think this is where the expression "mountaintop experience" first came from. But you and I know that's not the way of life. You and I know that you can't stay in that place of pyrotechnic extravaganza, and in the end, Peter realizes it too. And that's where God meets us, in the midst of our humanity, in the midst of who we really are, where we believe we cannot be loved, but are loved, because God's love wins.

And maybe that's what is so important about this story. In the midst of the fullness of our humanity, on the mountaintop, as well as in the depth of our pain, and when we miss the mark, and in all the places in between, God comes to us and claims us. God's claim on us, God's love for us, sets us free. God's claim on us, God's love for us, transforms us, not into perfect people, but into people whose imperfections make us compassionate. God's love remembers our brokenness and makes us merciful. God's love seeps into the cracks of our hearts and we are forgiven. 

Jesus touched them saying, "get up and do not be afraid." God's love for us transforms us and makes us fearless, so that we can go out and be about God's mission. Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; persevering in resisting evil, and, whenever falling into sin, repenting and returning to the Lord; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. 

On that mountaintop, in that pyrotechnic extravaganza, our ancestors Moses and Elijah remind us that we are a part of the timelessness of God's amazing and abundant love for us in particular as well as for all of humanity. Peter and James and John show us the truth of our humanity, both our desire to possess the glitz and glitter of a mountaintop experience, as well as our tendency to be afraid of the vulnerability of being known by God. Jesus shows us that we are beloved, God's delight. Get up and do not be afraid.