Saturday, July 26, 2014

7 Pentecost Yr A July 27 2014

Audio 7.27.2014

I am thankful for this season we call Ordinary; these Sundays after Pentecost, these summer Sundays. This is the green and growing time. I am thankful for this season, because when the grass turns brown, and a fire may start at the drop of a spark, I need to be reminded of this ordinary time of green and growth. It is the time when we read a book for the pure pleasure of reading a book. It is the time when we take a walk for the pure pleasure of walking; it is the time when we go to a concert for the pure pleasure of sitting in the park to listen. 

The parables we have before us today from the gospel of Matthew are like this, they are about things that are organic, things that are part and parcel of daily lives. They are also parables of growth. They are stories, albeit very short stories, that begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like”. And they are stories that give us a glimpse and point us to the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. 

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that is the smallest of seeds, but becomes a great tree.
The kingdom of God is like yeast that was mixed in with the flour until all was leavened. 
The kingdom of God is like treasure that is hidden, and when found, increases the finder’s joy. 
The kingdom of God is like a merchant who finds a pearl and sells all that he has to buy it.
The kingdom of God is like a net thrown into the sea and comes back full of fish.

These stories are mostly of ordinary things. Seeds, leaven, a net thrown into the sea. We don’t know much about the treasure or the pearl, just that they must have some value, because they seem to give joy to their owners. Ordinary things, like ordinary time, are occasions for growth; occasions for transformation; occasions for thanksgiving; occasions for blessing, because they point to and give us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. 

Ordinary things point us to God; ordinary things show us the Kingdom. Kingdom language is rather churchy language. I wonder what you think of when you hear God's Kingdom? When I say God's Kingdom, when I refer to God's Kingdom, I mean that ordinary existence which God makes extraordinary. Because it is not in the extraordinary that God finds us. It is in the ordinary, it is in seeds, it is in bread, it is in fish, and it is in whatever our treasure is. The ordinary is fully capable of showing us the way to God. The ordinary is where you and I live most of the time. God's kingdom is when we, you and me, make the ordinary seeds, and bread, and fish, and treasure, be the extraordinary things that bring healing, and peace, and reconciliation into the real places in which we live. 

And yet, this is a message that runs counter to the message that our culture sends us. There is much pressure to live in the extraordinary, so much pressure to be extraordinary. Rick and I like to watch America's got talent. Sometimes those people really are talented. But I am saddened when someone is interviewed and tell us that if they are sent on to Radio City Music Hall it will change their life, it will make their career, it will make them no longer ordinary, but extraordinary. Somewhere along the line they have not heard and experienced the reality that they are loved by God just the way they are, you are loved just the way you are, that is what makes you extraordinary, you are loved absolutely and abundantly, whether or not you can balance on your head, or sing a song on key. 

The Television and Movie fare of which we may partake are filled with images of extraordinary. I like them probably more than most, Doctor Who, or Star Wars, but the portrayal of “kingdom coming” in stories like these are just that, fantasies’, they are nothing like what God has for us now or at the final kingdom come. 

God finds us in the ordinary. Ordinary points us to God. And sometimes God makes the ordinary extraordinary. Every time we gather together for common prayer, when we gather to hear God’s word, and when we gather to eat our meal together, God makes the ordinary extraordinary. We bring our ordinary broken and blessed lives to this table. We bring some ordinary bread made from ordinary wheat made into ordinary flour, which has been combined with yeast and kneaded by loving hands. We bring some ordinary wine made from ordinary grapes. 

And God makes all that ordinary into extraordinary. God takes our broken and blessed lives and fills us with love and compassion. God makes the bread and the wine into a new reality. God shows us that right here in our midst we are loved extraordinarily.

Ordinary may be common, but ordinary is not static. God changes the ordinary bread and wine into the extraordinary body and blood of Jesus, and God changes our ordinary lives into lives transformed by extraordinary love. 

Ordinary time is a time of growth even when it seems like growth is impossible. We know that growth comes only with care and pruning. Rick has been working hard in the garden this summer, aided by the wonderfully wet weather, the roses are growing, after having been pruned within an inch of their lives and then having been left on their own last summer. Oh, but we’ve had such glorious roses. The Kingdom is like roses that must be pruned before they show forth new life. 

The Kingdom of God is God breaking into our ordinary lives, making our lives extraordinary. We pray everyday for “your kingdom come.” I could be wrong, put what I am praying for is growth and change, what I pray is that in the ordinary of my life, God finds a place to build the kingdom. 

My life is pretty ordinary, a lot like yours. I rise in the morning, and greet my husband. I get some exercise by walking in Canyon Lake Park; I greet the others who are there regularly at that time of the day. At the same time I’m walking, I say my morning prayers. When I return home I get on with my day, eat breakfast, get washed and dressed, sometimes read the paper, and head off to work. 

My work is particularly meaningful to me. At the end of my work day, I go home, greet my husband, relax for a little while, make dinner, do dishes, read a little, maybe watch some television, go to bed, and repeat. It’s a good life, I’m a very lucky girl, like most of you. 

I do believe that I am about the business of kingdom building. I do believe that in the ordinariness of my life, God’s work is being done. I do believe in the conversations I have with others, those at the park in the morning, those with whom I have the privilege of spending my day, God’s kingdom is being built. 

I have a role in kingdom building. I participate in the work that God does each day, each moment. How do you participate in kingdom building? How do you bring God's justice, love, mercy, and compassion into your ordinary life?

The ordinary is made extraordinary. God breaks into our world by making bread into love, wine into compassion. The kingdom is built by you and by me, with God’s help. The kingdom of God is like taking a walk, washing dishes, hugging a friend and finding the treasure right there in front of you.
Thanks be to God. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

4 Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 6 2014

Audio 7.6.2014

Freedom. The holiday we just celebrated is about freedom and independence. We celebrate the wonder of this country, the bounty and riches we experience. We celebrate that amazing event of bravery and courage that gave rise to this country, free from the rule of the British crown, free to govern itself by consent of the people. We celebrate family, and friends, and country, and we celebrate in safety. Our Declaration of Independence insures that we can have our opinions on just about everything, knowing that we can do so in safety. 

And Freedom is what Jesus' life, death, and resurrection affects for us, God's beloved. This freedom is not about independence, but about interdependence. Jesus wants to walk this path of freedom with us, Jesus wants to take our burdens from us, to free us from the oppression of feeling unworthy, and to love us completely and absolutely, so that we are free to love others in the same way. And yet, like Paul in Romans, we just seem to get lost in the muck and mess of our wants and desires, our will and our wretchedness. Our tendency to sin, to miss the mark, is sometimes so strong, it's almost as if we choose to stay in bondage, rather than to live in the freedom Jesus offers.

Jesus says, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is kind, good, useful, which are all better translations than “easy”. The yoke is a symbol of burden, oppression, and hardship. But we can’t forget who is pulling the burden with us, with his head through the other oxbow.

Jesus wants to give us freedom, Jesus wants to take our burdens from us onto himself, and yet, like Paul, we tend to hang on to them for dear life. Why is it so hard for us to trust Jesus? Why is it so hard for us to lay our burdens down? Why do we need to be cajoled and convinced that Jesus' way is the way of freedom?

Our tendency to sin and our inability to hit the mark, sometimes is so strong that the chains that bind us get comfortable. We know it so well - it is so familiar - and as long as we hold tight to it, to our burden, our inadequacy, our addiction, our pain, we don't have to deal with the next burden we don't know. Indeed, maybe even it is fear of the next burden that binds us. We'll even hold on so tightly to the exclusion of the grace, joy, and love that Jesus promises, because we think we don't know what freedom looks like. Or maybe we have our eyes and ears closed to what freedom in Jesus looks like. 

We see this human pattern in our stories, our sacred stories as well as our cultural stories. In our sacred stories. In the story of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have the new life that Jesus talks about, the full life, the eternal life. And Jesus' answer to the rich young man, you have more than you need, give it away, it is your burden, it is keeping you from the relationships, the interdependence that this life is all about. And the rich young man choose to hold onto his wealth, his pain, his loneliness, for fear of the new thing, the new life, that could be his. Which one of us would answer just like the rich young man, no way Jesus, I'm not giving up this comfortable life for a life I don't know, even if it is meaningless and shallow, at least it's familiar.

And in the story of the Israelites we see it. One of my favorite stories is of the Israelites who finally left the bondage of Egypt for the promise of a new land, and at just about every step of the way they were so very human, so very much like me. They whined to Moses and to his brother Aaron, we don't like it here, we are so hungry and we don't like the food you give us. Wouldn't it be better if we had stayed prisoners in Egypt. This freedom in the wilderness is mighty scary. 

And it is all around us. We stay stuck in the things we do that seem to bring us comfort and safety for fear of laying that down to be free for the new thing that Jesus has for us. What is it for you? You can't reach for anything new if your hands are full of yesterday's junk.

Jesus knows us so well, Jesus is one of us, Jesus was one of us. Jesus says, let me walk this road with you, let me help you carry that burden, let me love you. And the way that happens is for you to know that this life isn't all about you. It is about us, together. It is about interdependence. Not independence. Jesus says, I know there is pain and suffering, I've experienced that, let's do that together, you don't have to do it alone. Jesus says, I know the seduction to having it all, having wealth and power is real, remember when I was tempted and seduced, but real living comes from communion and community, sharing our joys and our burdens. This life is about my body broken for you. This life is about a community of faith gathered around bread and wine and prayers. This life is about being sent into the world to love and serve others. 

The freedom Jesus gives us is the freedom to love one another just like we are loved. The freedom Jesus gives us is the freedom to be broken, and healed. The freedom Jesus gives us is the freedom not to be perfect, because we are perfectly loved. The freedom Jesus gives us is the freedom to love the outcast and the marginalized, just because they are worthy of God's love too. The freedom Jesus gives us is the freedom to tell the truth about who we are, peculiar people, odd people, even crazy people, people who are loved. Amen.Audio 7.6.2014