Saturday, May 24, 2014

6 Easter Yr A May 25 2014

Audio 5.25.2014

Rick and I were married 30 years ago this November. If your math is as good as mine, that makes it 1984. We met through YMCA camp, I was the waterfront director and he was a camp counselor. But the point of this is baseball. When Rick and I met and were dating, we went to the Metrodome for Twins baseball. Now, in those days, I rolled my eyes at baseball, boring! And actually fell asleep during baseball games. But I went, because he seemed to enjoy it and I loved him so I went. We got married, and had kids, and brought our kids to the Metrodome for Twins baseball. As long as the kids could walk under the turnstile, they were free, we packed our own hotdogs in our picnic basket, and got to the dome early so we could sit way down in front, or on the third base line to watch batting practice. Before the game began, we'd move up into the nosebleed section into our own seats. I grew to love baseball, our kids love Twins baseball. These days, the only reason we pay for cable is to get FoxSports North, to watch Twins baseball. It's crazy what we'll do for love. 

In the fifteenth chapter of John, following what we hear today is, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." And what we have from John this week is a follow up to what we heard last week. John is reminding us, you know how to do this, love is hard, and you can do hard things. John reminds us that love is about a relationship, love God, love yourself, love others. And in John, Jesus reminds us that we will not be left alone, love is a hard thing after all, and so Jesus gives the Advocate. Advocate is one way to translate the Greek word, Paraclete. Paraclete can function relationally by designating one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. All of these meanings however, derive from the most basic meaning of the word to “come along side another.” My friend Ted Huffman, pastor at First UCC downtown, was telling me that there was a time when a person who was standing for trial literally stood in the box the entire time. A Paraclete is the one who stands with, the one who holds up, and the Paraclete was the one to come along side to help the person stand throughout the trial, and if needed, to stand in for that person. This is the image that John evokes in this passage, this is the truth of what Jesus does in this passage. Jesus shows us what God's love for God's people looks like, we are not left alone, we are not left to our own devices. 

What is hard about love, is that our world has led us to believe that love is about a feeling. Love is the same as romance, or passion, or sex. Love comes and goes. You can fall into and out of love. But that is not this love that God commands, that is not the love that this story shows us. A real love story is a story that shows a relationship that endures, a relationship in which the lovers treat each other well, respectfully, compassionately, lovingly, even when they don't feel like it, even when they don't want to. A real love story is a story in which a father pushes his son's wheel chair for the whole race, so that the son will know what it is like to run. A real love story is when one friend, who is blind, puts his friend who has no legs, on his back and they go about living life together. A real love story is when a couple watches baseball together, because they've grown to love baseball together. 

Love is holding another person up, when all we want to do is fall down. Love is holding another person up when it seems impossible to stand another moment. Love is standing there for another person, speaking on behalf of the other, being the voice for the voiceless, love is showing up. And it is hard, so Jesus leaves this Spirit, this Advocate, this Paraclete, with us, we are not left alone. 

Love is hard, and you can do hard things. Have you ever known that Spirit, that Advocate, that Paraclete coming along side of you? This Spirit, this Paraclete is hard to identify. But it lives somewhere in the wind and the flame of compassion, of grace, courage, faith, peace, laughter, music, strength, and joy.  

Love is hard, and you can do hard things. When is a time when you have wanted to just lie down and die, but someone came by your side and held you up? When have you been broken and spent, and someone came by your side and gave you words of encouragement? When have you been ready to throw in the towel, when have you been ready to call it quits, and someone came by your side and said, that's why a baseball game is nine innings. When have you stood by the side of one you love, when doing so may have seemed doomed. 

An understanding of Advocate is "to speak on behalf of another." In John, this is a manifestation of the third person of the trinity that is different than the more familiar Spirit, wind or fire. The Advocate will stick up for you, and you will stick up for others. You will bear witness, you speak on behalf of love, you will stand by the side of the other or the beloved, you will hold one another up, because you can do hard things, because God loves you, and because Love wins even when the Twins don't.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

5 Easter Yr A May 18 2014

Audio 5.18.2014

Just like last week, we again hear a story from John's gospel that is from before Jesus' death and resurrection. And again it is a story that shows us how to live as Easter people, this is a story that shows us what John's understanding of eternal life looks like. Eternal life, the life that Jesus promises, the life that Jesus affects. We are Easter people, we are love carriers. And this story shows us that.

Jesus says "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." 
I am the Way. The invitation is not to a simple answer, but to a complex relationship. Jesus stands at the sheep-gate and calls our names. Jesus invites every one of us into this relationship that begins now, and continues through the fulfillment of all time, we call this eternal life. Jesus has prepared and is preparing room for us, a place that where Jesus is, we are also. 

This is a relationship that breathes new life, a relationship that is about transformation, a relationship like no other. We know Jesus, and come to God through Jesus, not by a one time conversion, not by saying the right words, and not the same for all of us. Instead, we belong to Jesus, it is in Jesus that we are truly who we are meant to be. We journey together, we are a community walking the path together. The way is a way of continuous conversation and discovery. The way is not a single answer we can teach our children; it is an adventure we share with them and with Jesus, our companion on the way. It is an adventure that will bring us to people in whom we meet Jesus. The way is not a list of conditions we must assent to; it is how we love, it is how we give, it is mercy, it is compassion, it is justice.

Jesus says, I am the Truth. Truth is encountered on this adventurous journey. Jesus is the embodiment of truth. Truth is not defined narrowly. Truth is about a lived reality. Truth is the story of life, death and resurrection. Living in relationship with Jesus is the truth. The truth will accompany us on the journey whose destination is unknown, but is promised to be magnificent. Truth sets us free to make our home in Jesus. We see at the journey’s end a spacious place, open and welcoming, full of grace, far greater than the bounds of our understanding, full of the expectation of our return.

Jesus says, I am the Life. We define life so narrowly. In our culture it seems more and more that the boundaries of life include seeking ways to alter the reality in which we find ourselves. Our culture sells us images of fame, images of bigger and better everything, from homes to cars, trucks, and body parts; rather than inviting Jesus into the midst of that reality and living it fully. Throughout the scriptures we gather and glean that God’s deepest desire for humanity is to live life fully and to know the abundance of God’s love. 

Life is the relationship that Jesus invites us into, a relationship with him and with others. Life, love is the call to us in this world, right here and right now, in our work, in our homes, in our schools. Life is the relationship that Jesus calls us to, a relationship that demands loving oneself and loving others. A relationship that is full of living, a relationship that is full of giving. Giving for others, giving of ourselves, giving because it is the right thing to do.

The way, the truth and the life is not a narrowly defined exclusive club for people who profess a particular way of belief. The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship like many of our relationships, with good days and bad, with joys and sorrows, with arguments and apologies, with forgiveness and new beginnings. 

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is lived out in community, lived out with others who also each day strive to bring their passion about and their love of Jesus into the world.

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship that brings meaning to life and death, and new life. A relationship that speaks the truth in the face of evil and injustice, a relationship that makes possibilities out if impossibilities. 

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation to live a life of meaning, and sometimes that is hard. I think in this story it is as if Jesus says to us, you can do hard things people. Loving me and loving one another is sometimes hard, and you can do hard things. So we come together here, in this church, to remember this. We come together, with all our own hurt, and with all the hurt we've caused others, we show up. We listen to the stories, we share our common prayers, we break bread, and we remember who we are, and something happens. We are made new, somehow the fissures of our hearts and souls are filled with bread broken, love spilled, truth lived, life reborn. 

It is such an expansive invitation, a call to each and every one of us. The house has many rooms, enough for all. The sheep-gate is for us to enter, it is not to keep people out. This house is the place where love wins, it is the place where hearts are healed, it is the place where new life arises out of death. It is the place where we can do hard things. In this house your brokenness is received, the fragments of your life are collected. In this house you don't have to have it all figured out, you can sit in the mystery and your heart will dance. 

And in this house, where all this messiness and healing and dancing happens, your love overflows and fills the cracks for others. The cracks caused by poverty, and hunger, the cracks caused by drugs and alcohol, the cracks caused by power and greed, the cracks caused by fear.  

In the words of George Herbert, 

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life;
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as killeth death.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleulia.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

4 Easter Yr A May 11 2014

Audio 5.11.2014

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. We have this very funny lectionary thing happening with this story. We've been reading the post resurrection stories, and today we go back. We go back to this story that follows right after Jesus heals the blind man. I think the lectionary gods select this story for this place because it is important for us to hear about what it is that God accomplishes in Jesus in the resurrection. And resurrection has everything to do with abundant life, the abundant new life that the blind man receives as he is healed, and the abundant life that Jesus calls us to. 

Jesus stands at the gate and invites. Jesus stands at the gate and says everyone may enter here. Jesus stands at the gate welcoming everyone of us as he calls our names. This is what abundant life looks like. Resurrection is about abundant life. We are Easter people, Jesus has and does invite us in, and abundant life is available to us, to everyone, right now, not just at the end of our lives, not just at the end of time, but right now. Alleluia, Christ is risen.

Resurrection is a kind of miracle, a miracle of awareness, aliveness, an awakening. We have stories that help us roll away the stone of our tomb-life. We have stories that remind us that others have suffered as we do, and as those we love. We have stories that reassure us unexpectedly and unpredictably, that on the other side of suffering there is life. We have stories that help us to awaken and live. These are resurrection stories. These are the stories that will set us free. 

In the introduction to his book, Celebrating Easter and Spring, Mark Harris says, "If we believe in a creative power that shatters the icy tomb of winter with the life-giving miracle of spring, we have seen a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power that moves tens and then tens of thousands of people to cry out against injustices of society, enabling the downfall of hatred and prejudice, then we have fomented a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power lying within each human breast that enables us to break the bonds of personal pain and know the hope of new tomorrows, then we have experienced a resurrection."

This is what Easter is about; this is why we are Easter people. In the book of Acts, from which we hear this morning, is the story of people who live in the reality of resurrection, who are Easter people, and who formed their lives and community around that reality. Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. The response to resurrection is awe. 

I am in awe because of the wonders and signs of resurrection. It is because of resurrection that we are baptized and we devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. What is it about resurrection that causes such fervor? Resurrection is a present and future reality. Resurrection, what happened at the first Easter, is about God’s interruption of human history, God has created this amazing new thing. God has raised Jesus from death to new life. The promise is that the same will happen to each of us. That is what is meant by the present reality, and the future reality.

It is this reality in which we live and die. It is the promise that on the other side of suffering and pain there is abundant life, life that is unimaginable. It is the promise that in the midst of suffering and pain, in the midst of the muck and mess that sometimes just is life, God is with us, God loves us and cares about us. It is when we say, I cannot bear this suffering, that we remember that God's love for us is so great, Jesus bears that suffering for us on the cross. 

In this Easter season we live on the side of abundant life. We live in the reality of new creation. The Good News is that death does not have the victory, the Good News is that love Wins. Life finds a way. Baptism, teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers is our response to the gift of abundant life. 

We also live in the promise of the new creation of the future. There is a popular story out there about what the future holds. It is a story called rapture, and we have heard it told in the Left Behind novels. That story goes something like this. We are now living in the end times, in which all the great prophecies are to be fulfilled at last. Central to these prophecies, it is believed, is the promise that Jesus will return in person, snatching the true believers away from this wicked world to be with him and then, after an interval of ungodliness, returning to reign over the world forever. In the fictitious scenario of the Left Behind books, the rapture has happened; all true Christians have been snatched away from the earth; and those left behind are now struggling to survive in a godless world. This end time speculation has been closely associated with and connected to the agenda of some of America’s leading politicians. But this scenario is far from resurrection that is the truth of Easter, and it is far from the promise of new creation that we read about in the book of Revelation. 

But what is promised in Revelation 21 is a new heaven and a new earth replacing the old heaven and the old earth, which were bound to decay. So, far from sitting on clouds playing harps, or even floating around as disembodied spirits, the redeemed people of God, that is you and me, in the new world will be the agents of God’s love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of God’s love. 

So at the moment, by the Spirit, the word, the sacraments and prayer, and in those in whom we are called to serve for Jesus’ sake, the absent Jesus is present to us. So in the midst of our pain and suffering, our joy and delight, we are to be agents of new creation. We pray daily to our Lord, that the Kingdom should come, that God’s will be done. That is about the present reality of word, bread and wine, and prayer and the future reality of the new creation right here on earth. 

We need to get to the work that God has given us to do. God's mission is healing and forgiveness of and in the world, and our mission is to bring that good news that God's love wins into the world. God continues to teach us to be compassionate, to listen to others whose opinions and beliefs are different than our own, to listen to each others faith stories, to identify our gifts and talents, to live out our baptismal ministry. We need to walk through that sheep-gate, and invite others to come with us.  

Alleluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

3 Easter Yr A May 4 2014

Audio 5.4.2014

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. From the moment My journey in the Episcopal church began, this is the scripture, the prayer, the action, that made the presence of Jesus Christ real for me. There is nothing about church, about community, about family, about faith, about social justice, about baptismal promises, about a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is not contained in this little collection of words, if only we can recognize. Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.

As a child, I lived in a community of people. I am five of eight. There were most always people around, and the liveliest times of the day were our dinner meal. We would scrunch around our kitchen table, someone would have to sit on a stool at the counter in order to get us all in. I wonder if then I recognized the wonder in all that chaos. When my extended family would gather for holidays there were 23 of us grandchildren. We would enjoy a meal together, but not much quiet. Often many of us little one’s would end up staying the night wherever we were. I wonder if then I recognized the purity and innocence of those relationships. 

And you all know that this summer Rick and I, and Tom and Amanda, and Willie went on an incredible journey, and among many amazing things we did, we met some of our Norwegian relatives. They were as happy to meet us as we were of them. A cousin, Jan, took us to see the land on which our ancestors farmed. We were profoundly moved as we stood on that land, and felt the timeless connection to those who came before us, and those who will follow us. We recognized that connection, that story that joins us all together. At Jan's home, we ate a wonderful meal of Norwegian porridge, and pork, and cheese, and bread, of course. The next day we gathered with my cousins Kjell and MaryAnn, and had waffles with cloudberry's.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. 

It makes so much sense, as we journey together through this life, that breaking bread together is the central activity for us. The most radical activity that Jesus engaged in was to invite people to a meal. And everyone got that invitation. Not only were there religious leaders, there were tax collectors, there were women, single women at that, women who were protected by no one. At table Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. At table Jesus disrupted the social order. At table, Jesus nourished not only the body, but the spirit and the soul as well.

When we gather together at this table we come from home and work and school; we come from far away and down the street, we come and we tell our story, and we tell the story of God’s activity in our lives; we tell the story of creation, blessing, turning away, God loving us back into relationship, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. We tell the story of life, death, and resurrection. We tell the truth.

The story that we know and we tell, is about how God saved God's people from the flood waters, and God freed God's people from slavery in Egypt. God brought God's people out of exile back into their land and God came to live and die as one of us, Jesus is in our midst.

We read and we study and tell these stories. We listen and talk about what God did and continues to do in this world. We tell these stories to our children. And we do because they help us remember who we are. We remember who we are and we recognize one another and we are recognized in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. We give thanks for our blessings; we ask for healing for ourselves and others, we eat together.

That is what happened with the two in our story today, who were walking away from Jerusalem, dejected, alone, afraid. Wondering what it was all about, wondering how it all went so very wrong. And the one who told the story of Moses and all the prophets, who told them the story of Jesus, joined them. They invited him to stay, he did, they ate together, and they recognized him. 

We recognize Jesus in the people with whom we gather to share and tell our stories, and the stories of our faith; we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, we see Jesus in the hands, and in the eyes, and in the faces of the people at our sides as we come to this table to eat. 

But we also recognize Jesus in the stranger, we see and hear Jesus in those who are out there, those who continue to live in isolation, in loneliness, in hurt, in this broken world. We recognize the freedom, the peace, the community, that can be theirs as well.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of bringing the food you all provided to the Habitat for Humanity Apostles build site, and giving the devotional in the morning before the build day began. It was the women's build day, and I knew quite a few of the women who were building. After bringing food for lunch, I stayed and enjoyed the company of those amazing women, from churches all over Rapid City. And it dawned on me, Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. There we were, and there it was in our midst. The reality and the recognition. At times it seems so mysterious, and in this moment it was real, Jesus' real presence in the breaking of the bread. 
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Help us to recognize you in word and sacrament, in story and in food, help us to see you in the midst of this community, and help us to see you in those we greet each day. Help us to be agents of your new creation, standing on the ground that you have already won in your resurrection.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!