Saturday, August 30, 2014

12 Pentecost Proper 17 Aug 31 2014

Audio 8.31.2014

During the 9 o'clock hour this summer we have been reading and talking about a book called Making Sense of the Cross, by David Lose, a former professor at Luther Seminary. It has been a lively discussion about what it is that God has done and is doing through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. We are still not exactly sure that it all makes sense, but we're reasonably clear on the reality that this life takes a lot of death. In Matthew's gospel we hear, "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life." 

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, Jesus is charged with sedition, and is sentenced to death on a cross. In the eyes of the culture, then and now, death, and especially death on a cross -  was not only terminal, but counted as failure as well. We know that Jesus' mortal life ends on a cross, hung between two thieves. But the reality of this story, this story of life and death and resurrection, is that what the world counts as loss, what seems like failure, what looks to the world as death, is really something amazing, something astounding, something completely new. When a new doorway is entered, another doorway is closed. When a seed is planted in the ground, it comes up looking nothing like it did when it went into the ground. When a branch is pruned, it makes way, it leaves space for completely new growth. For every new thing, something dies.

The reality is that this life takes a lot of death. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's also not necessarily a good thing either. It is usually painful, but it's most definitely not failure. It just is. The world shifts under our feet, it is not exactly what we expect, it is not what the world expects. The shifting is literal, earthquakes and hurricanes, the shifting is violent, wars and shootings, the shifting is heart-wrenching, broken hearts and broken lives, the shifting is decisive, the death of our loved ones. 

And that, you see, that is what Peter is railing against. Even to Peter, Jesus' impending ordeal and death looks like failure. What a disappointment this must have been, what a baffling shift in expectations. Clearly, this is not what Peter had imagined. Peter says something like, "listen, Jesus, this cannot be what God intends for you. There must be a different way. This is not what our deliverer ought to do. Suffering and dying is what we have all endured, prophet and ordinary person alike. You are supposed to be different. You are supposed to save us from all our enemies!"

What does it look like to follow the Messiah, the anointed of God? That path is lined with crosses and paved with Jesus’ passion. This is a matter of life and death for his followers as much as it is for Jesus. It is the making space for the new thing that will grow, that must grow. We usually don't really even know what that looks like until we are facing it head on, or until we trip over it, or until we step in it. You know what I mean, what is it you must lose, so that you may live fully alive? What is it you have to die to, or let die, so that you can live fully and completely the new creation that God promises?

These are the things that place demands on our time and attention that adversely affect our relationships. These are the things that pull us away from mercy and compassion, and cause us to judge and criticize. These are the things that harden our hearts and keep us from forgiveness and healing. These are the things that hold on to us so tightly, we cannot see beyond them. They are seductive, like all things which divert our attention from the one who loves us to the things that will destroy us. They are not intrinsically bad things, they may in fact seem like good things, but their claim is so strong on us that we can not pay attention to that which has the ultimate claim on our lives and our souls, which is Love. The Love of the creator for all of creation, the Love of the creator who is willing to show us how it's done, the Love of the creator who gives up all power to show us the way of the cross, to show us the way of Love, and mercy, and compassion, and reconciliation, and healing. 

That is what is happening in this passage from Matthew. Peter and the disciples, and you and me, are witnessing this powerful thing that God is doing in our lives and in our world, then and now and in the age to come. As followers of Jesus we are called to lay down that which is killing us, and to pick up the new life that Jesus offers. It is not really easy. 

And yet we learn that suffering and death, each and every death that is part of this life, this cruciform existence is not all that there will be. The Son of Man will return and bring justice in this world. Such justice is not merely the paying off of old debts or the settling of bitter scores. Instead, this justice is a promise of deliverance.

The cross will appear to span finality. The cross will appear to be the end of the story for us all. But the promise Jesus makes here and the promises God has made from the beginning assure a future, a future in which justice blooms, a future in which the hungry are fed and the imprisoned are comforted. And that future is not a long way off. 

The promise is that there is life after death. The promise is that the story doesn't end with death, even death on a cross. The promise is that Love wins.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

11 Pentecost Proper 16 Yr A Aug 24 2014

Audio 8.24.2014

Who do you say I am, Jesus asked Simon Peter. And Simon Peter announces, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. 

Who do you say I am, Jesus asks each one of us. Who do you say Jesus is? We come here, every Sunday morning, and who do we say Jesus is? Who do we say Jesus is when we arrive at work on Monday morning? Who do we say Jesus is when we arrive at school each day? Who do we say Jesus is when we are sitting in traffic, or deciding how to spend our hard earned money, or wondering about what government services should be cut, or when considering the violent events in our country and our world?

Who do you say I am? Like Peter, I announce Jesus is the son of the living God. But I also think those are just words, unless they are backed up by what I do with my time, my talent, and my treasure, how I make my decisions and how I treat people. You and I aren't the kind of people who have a ready answer to the question, who do you say I am? The words don't come easily, but I guarantee the words don't really matter if our lives don't speak of mercy and compassion. 

Jesus is teaching disciples in these stories. Jesus is trying to impart all he knows and all he is as he prepares for his last days in Jerusalem. Jesus is developing ambassadors of the kingdom, you and I are ambassadors of the kingdom, our work is to live the answer to the question, who do you say I am, with our words and with our lives. 

What you do this week will change the world. In the Exodus story, 
a single act of resistance saved an entire people. The King had commanded that all male babies be killed. The baby in our story, Moses, was hidden from that awful fate, by the midwives who caught him, until the daughter of Pharoah found him and raised him as her own. Moses went on to lead his people out of Egypt into a new land and a new life, Moses led his people from slavery into freedom. Like Shiphrah and Puah, what you do this week will change the world. We just don't know how what we do will effect that change, but it will, and it does. Who do you say I am? How your life answers that, makes a difference. 

Last week I said to you that our words matter. This week I say to you that what we do matters. Jesus’ teaching is to love your enemies, to come before God in prayer and in worship, and to forgive one another. And that Jesus’ life will be given for ours. This is the kingship in which the God who created the heavens and the earth inaugurates a new creation. And even the ancient story of Moses shows us that what we do matters to God and matters to the world.

Who do you say that Jesus is? This question presupposes that what we believe about Jesus matters. What we believe about Jesus matters to you and to me, it matters to our church, and most importantly it matters to the world. 

It also assumes a relationship; there is no way to begin to say who Jesus is without the relationship. And in this relationship with Jesus, we learn who we really are. In response to Peter’s naming Jesus, Jesus tells Peter who he really is. You are Peter, a rock. In this relationship, Jesus knows who we really are, we are named and marked as Christ’s own forever, you are my beloved, the delight of God’s life. 

I think this is the most important part of this story. It is not so much about the right answer to the question who do you say that Jesus is, but it is very much about the relationship the question presupposes, you are the delight of God’s life. We might not be very good answering the question with words, but we can begin to show the world that Jesus matters, that this relationship with Jesus matters. 

That brings us to the image that is presented in Romans, we, who are many, are one body in Christ. This is an amazingly counter cultural image, one body, with different graceful gifts. This new creation that God inaugurates in Jesus is all about a completely new way to live on this earth. We live not for ourselves, but for the greater good of God’s creation. Do not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the amazing and abundant love that God has for you. 

How do we live in the world as the body of Christ? How do we live in the world as the delight of God’s life? How do we live in the world as people to whom Jesus matters? How do we live in the world as agents of new creation? How do we live in the world as a people transformed by God’s love? I think we do that by showing forth love not only for those it is easy to love, but for those we count as enemies as well. I think we do that by showing mercy and compassion. I think we do that by caring for God’s creation. 

One of the things that is very important to me as your rector here at St. Andrew’s, is that we be a witness to the diversity of the body of Christ. What that means is that we stay in the conversation, we stay at the table with people who hold very different views about God than we do. This is not to say that everyone here at St. Andrew’s has the same view and understanding about God, in fact it is to say that here at St. Andrew’s we may have very different views, and that is exactly who we are. We witness to the diversity of the body of Christ. 

So by staying in the conversation, staying at the table, even when that is challenging, difficult, and sometimes infuriating, the whole body shows forth. And by staying in the conversation, the whole body is transformed. We all begin to see with transformed eyes and hear with transformed ears, and love with transformed hearts. We are better able to respect the dignity of every human being; we are able to show forth the love that God has for us. 

The same is true on the congregational level. We stay in the relationship, we stay around the table, no matter our disagreements, because we are the body of Christ, and the body is lessened when we don’t show up. The question then, who do you say I am, may be answered by our presence, by our showing up at the table, by the mercy and compassion that we show to all people, by our showing that we love one another because we are all of God’s creations, to show that Love wins. 

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

10 Pentecost Proper 15 Yr A Aug 17 2014

Audio 8.17.2014

It's been a hard year. There has been fighting and conflicts all over the globe, do we send troops or do we not? There is senseless violence in our own country. People are behaving badly all over the place. We've been stretched to breaking with the demands on our patience and on compassion. People we know and people we hardly know dieing senselessly. There is disease that we don't understand. We have experienced so very closely the broken world in which we live. There is goodness all around us, in so many places and in so many people, but it is a broken world, and we have seen much of the brokenness in these days. 

And we have before us a hard lesson from Matthew and this continuing story in Genesis of Joseph and his brothers, brothers who sold him into slavery because they didn't like that he was a dreamer. What are we to make of it all? What are we to make of the readings and what are we to make of the reality? 

In the verses from Matthew we have before us today, Jesus really seems mad. He's been spending all of his time teaching the disciples and other followers, parable after parable, story after story, trying to impart everything he can about humanity's relationship with God, and God's relationship with God's people. Jesus experienced the tragic death of his relative, John. Jesus has fed thousands of people, and all he wants is to get away by himself for a little R and R. He's got to walk on the water out to the boat to save those hapless disciples, and after all that, the Pharisees come all the way from Jerusalem to entrap him. I imagine that the telling of this story has quite of bit of censoring and editing, I imagine Jesus' language may have been much more harsh than we hear today. 

Jesus says that what comes out of our mouths and from our hearts can be disastrous when we don't speak with love and truth. Jesus says, our words matter. Our words have the power to create a compassionate reality, and our words can challenge the darkness, our words can even be the light in the darkness. Our words and our actions even have the power to dispel the darkness. One of my favorite books by my favorite author is A Wrinkle in Time, it is a story that is all about about using our gifts, following in the footsteps of the saints who came before us, about daring to be different, it's about foolishness, faith and free will, and the greatest call and commandment, loving one another. That story shows us, like scripture tells us today, what we say to one another matters, our words matter. 

The words that dispel the darkness are words that come from a heart that is filled with mercy and compassion, a heart filled with love for each and every gift of God's creation. Even in the midst of sadness, even in the midst of tragedy, we are called to speak words of mercy and compassion, words of God's love for all of God's creation. We are called to speak words of mercy and compassion into every darkness. If we don't do it, if we don't speak words of love, words of mercy and compassion, the darkness will not be dispelled. That is what Jesus is trying to show us in this gospel today, and that is the truth of what God in Jesus has done and continues to do. Darkness does not win. Love wins. Our words can create a compassionate reality. And we are desperate for a compassionate reality. 

The second half of the story from Matthew paints a picture of Jesus that may be even harder for us to understand. He is angry, and mean, and in this particular story, Jesus claims an exclusive mission. He says he is sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. What is amazing in this story is that the Canaanite woman challenges Jesus, and her challenge creates a new compassionate reality. She challenges Jesus to include not just the lost sheep of Israel, but everyone in the known world. 

In this story, the Canaanite woman is absolutely and completely the other, the foreigner, she doesn't look like us or talk like us. But she's also a mother. Jesus is speaking to a mother whose daughter's life is at risk. Many of you know that when your child's life is at stake, you will do most anything, go to any lengths, you'll stay by their bedside, you'll take them to the hospital in the middle of the night, you'll pray and ask everyone you know to pray, you'll even bargain with God. This is that mother. She's not an insider, she's not an Israelite, she's a foreigner, and even Jesus, this Jesus who I have always believed includes everyone, says no. Maybe he's just too tired, maybe he's had a hard day, maybe he's fed so many people he's just spent. I've felt that way. 

But then, when you don't think you can do one more thing, help one more person, listen to one more story, something happens. Something shows forth the light, the love, the healing, the hope. Lord, help me she prays. And he does. Something breaks through. And the break through expands the love, she challenges Jesus, and the result is not just her baby being healed, but it is healing for everyone, for all of us. The light shows forth, mercy and compassion are possible. 

We are desperate for this compassionate reality. Our words matter. Love wins. What we do and what we say in the midst of sadness and tragedy, are capable of healing. Remember, what Jesus does on the cross is to take evil out of the world with him. He does not look for revenge, and surely he is the one who would have the right to. Instead he loves. Instead he forgives. Instead he heals.

It is our job to bear Jesus' love, forgiveness and healing into the world, it is our job to speak words of compassion into the world. This is our mission. To build bridges of love and compassion, to build bridges of healing and hope. Today, we will send a missionary into the world to build those bridges. And we will do that centered in our baptismal covenant, because all of us are called to be missionaries, all of us are called to be bridge builders, all of us are called to be love bearers, all of us are called to build a compassionate reality. This is our mission, the one we send bears our mission, our love, our words. Because, love wins. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

9 Pentecost Yr A Proper 14 August 10 2014

Audio 8.10.2014

I get to tell one of my favorite jokes when we read this story. A priest, a rabbi and a minister were all in a boat out in the middle of a lake. The Priest says, "I’m thirsty. I’m going to shore and get something to drink." So she gets out of the boat walks across the water to shore, gets a drink, walks back across the water, and gets back in the boat. The minister says, "I’m thirsty also. I’m going to shore and get something to drink." So he gets out of the boat, walks across the water to shore, gets a drink, walks back across the water, and gets back in the boat. The rabbi thinks to himself "pretty cool. I’m trying it." So he says, "I’m thirsty also. I’m going to shore to get something to drink." He gets out of the boat and falls in the water and sputters around. Then the priest said to the minister, "Do you think we should have told him where the rocks were?"

The walking on water story goes like this in Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message. Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, Master, save me! Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand. Then Jesus said, “Faint heart, what got into you?” 

This story is the story that has given rise to the expression “oh ye of little faith.” But I’m not convinced it’s a story about a lack of faith, as much as it is a story about having a little faith. Peter actually has a little faith in this story, what he needs is courage after he steps out to keep on going. I think Peter is the quintessential human being. Peter is just like me. There are days I have a little faith, and days I need a lot of courage. Peter gives me hope. 

Let’s check this out. We heard the mustard seed story just two weeks ago. Jesus says in a version of that story, “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Now we know that a mustard seed is a mighty tiny seed, so having faith the size of a mustard seed is a little faith. But these are stories not about what faith is lacking, and it is not about not having enough faith, it is about the faith that Peter has that causes him to courageously step out of the boat. And they are stories that include you and me, who, on most days, like Peter, have a little faith. 

So how much faith do you need to make a difference, to change the world, to move mountains, and, like the rest of the disciples in the boat that day, to know that Jesus is lord? You need a little faith. Faith is not about having enough, faith is not about knowing for absolute sure, faith is not about clarity or certainty. Faith isn’t about shouting most loudly about knowing exactly what God’s specific plans for everyone are, faith isn’t about knowing the future. 

Well then, what is faith about? Faith is a willingness to risk. Faith is about the courage to take that step out of the boat, to respond to Jesus when he says “come ahead,” and to do it whether you think you’ll sink or swim. And faith proceeds from love, the kind of love that makes a person willing to be the first to say “I love you”, not because of a certain expectation of a particular reply, but because of the possibilities that saying “I love you” opens. 

Faith doesn’t connote belief in a particular outcome, and it isn’t an intellectual assent to a particular proposition. Faith is not a wish for more money or a better life. Putting our faith in this particular story about death and resurrection, putting our faith in Jesus does not mean believing that we’ll be successful in a particular enterprise that Jesus is calling us to. Having faith in Jesus means a willingness to follow Jesus, not because we believe that we’ve already got the rest of the story plotted out once we’ve made that decision, but because we take seriously that Jesus is Lord.

So faith is the courage to risk, faith opens up the possibilities, and faith is taking seriously that Jesus is Lord. This faith opens up the possibility that we are fully capable of loving one another, that we are fully capable of respecting the dignity of every person, and the possibility that we must die in order to live again. This kind of faith also opens up the possibility that we may fall, and that we may wallow in the mess. And when that happens, we can look to resurrection and hope, and know that Jesus is right there with us in that mess. 

Faith is not certainty and it is not security in a right future. Faith is living each day knowing that Jesus lived each day. Faith is the courage to risk. Jesus loved, Jesus was hurt, Jesus even hurt others, Jesus risked everything, Jesus died and Jesus rose from the dead. Faith is responding to Jesus’ invitation, “come ahead, have courage,” and being transformed by the relationship. 

Faith is risking it all and being together in the mess. Peter wasn’t alone in that boat. All the disciples were there with him. Faith is finding love and hope here in the body of Christ. Because this risky business of faith is not to be undertaken by yourself. It is to be undertaken together, it is to be undertaken in the body of Christ. We do this together, no one is out there alone undertaking this risky business of faith, it’s too important, it’s too dangerous, it’s too perilous. Every one of us needs a support team. 

The body of Christ, the community of faith, is our support team in this risky venture of faith. I could not be your priest without all of your prayers and words of encouragement. I depend on your prayers, as you depend on my prayers and the prayers of all of us gathered. Not one of us can accomplish the risky work of faith out in the world without the support team that is our community of faith. I go to Sr. Margaret at St. Martin’s monastery once a month for spiritual direction, and I know I am and we are in the daily prayers of the sisters there, they are our support team. 

My favorite author, Madeleine L’engle once said during her recovery after a horrible accident she was in, that she could no longer pray, but that she knew that there were people who were praying on her behalf. We pray for others and on behalf of others all the time. That is the body of Christ, the community of faith doing its work. 

I believe faith is not one sided. Faith is not just about us. I believe that God has faith in me, and in us. Imagine the risk God takes at the creation of each and every child, each and every planet, each and every star. Will it be all that God intends for it to be? Will it be creative, will it be life-giving, will it fulfill all the hope in its creation? God is faithful. God risks everything with each and every one of us. If we have little faith, the size of a mustard seed, God has humungous faith, the size of millions of universes.

It is God’s huge faith in me that enables me to have little faith in Jesus. Little faith is enough to make a difference, little faith is enough to bring Light into the mess, little faith is enough to move mountains, and little faith is enough to find the rocks in the water so that we can make it to the other side. Thank God. Amen.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

8 Pentecost Yr A Proper 13 August 3 2014

Audio 8.3.14

As we begin to listen more deeply to the "Loaves and fishes" story from Matthew that we have heard many, many times, it is important to remember it's context. Marty began with "now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the town." What is it Jesus and the people heard? They were hearing the news for the very first time of the beheading of John the Baptist, and Jesus' disciples had taken John's body and buried it. 

Jesus, in his grief over his friend John, had taken some time apart. And in their grief and fear, the people gathered near Jesus, they looked toward Jesus and one another for reassurance, for comfort and for hope. Jesus had compassion. They were all grieving, they were all afraid, and Jesus knew that he could feed them, he heals them, he fills all of their pieces of brokenness including their stomachs.

We find ourselves in a place of grief and fear. There is so much killing in the world around us. There is so much hatred and bigotry. It comes to us through our television news, and our internet news, it is there in our hands on our smartphones. There is sometimes so much I don't even know what to think. And I feel overwhelmed. I feel numb, I feel cold. I feel like I can't even respond because I just don't know how. You may feel this way as well.

But Jesus takes all the shards of brokenness, and sadness, and grief, and fear, and somehow makes it whole. Jesus, puts us back together, and Jesus feeds us.

I am reminded of the Dementors in the Harry Potter stories. A Dementor is a non-being and Dark creature, considered one of the foulest to inhabit the world. Dementors feed off human happiness, and thus cause depression and despair to anyone near them. They can also consume a person's soul, leaving their victims in a permanent vegetative state, and thus are often referred to as "soul-sucking fiends" and are known to leave a person as an 'empty-shell'. Not only does the news makes me feel this way, but each of has personal Dementors that feed off of our happiness. Dementors sense and feed on the positive emotions of human beings in order to survive, forcing their victims to relive their worst memories over and over again. The very presence of a Dementor can make the victim's surrounding atmosphere grow cold and dark, and as the number of Dementors increase, so do the effects. One of the few ways to shield oneself from Dementors is by use of the immensely difficult Patronus Charm to fend them off. The charm summons a Patronus, the manifestation of good will and happiness, so one must summon the most powerfully happy and joyful moment to summon the Patronus. And, Chocolate is an effective first-aid to mild cases of contact, given to a victim to help regain their strength after an encounter with Dementors.

The reason I use this illustration from Harry Potter, is because in the very best stories, the most meaningful and useful stories, such as Harry Potter, we experience the truth of who we are. We humans are often consumed by hate and fear. And because of hate and fear we treat ourselves and others poorly. What frees us from that is the truth. The truth that we don't walk through this life alone. The truth is that the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, has come and is coming into this world in love. In our deepest darkest most fearful times, we are not alone, we are loved absolutely and completely by the one who creates us and sustains us and heals us. We call upon the one who loves us, we gather together to strengthen our joy, and together we are made whole. Because of love we are released from all that enslaves us, because of love our dementors take flight. 

Because of love, we are fed. Whether it is chocolate, or bread and fish, we are fed. Out of what seems like nothing, and what is simple bread and fish and wine, the people eat and are satisfied, they are filled. In a world where nothing seems to satisfy, where we are always wanting more, Jesus fills us. There is enough for all who are gathered, and there is enough to feed even more. Jesus sustains and feeds all those who are present, and there are twelve baskets of leftovers. The number twelve is significant. Twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel, and in this context that means as far as you could walk, and as far as you could walk is the entire world. Everyone is fed, the table is set, all who seek Jesus are welcome. In the bread that is broken, in the body that is Jesus, we are healed.

You are loved and healed, you are loved and the pieces of your life are put back together again. You are loved and fed, you are loved and sustained, you are loved and empowered to love others. So we come full circle. You are loved and empowered to love others. When we feel overwhelmed or numbed by life, when we feel powerless to change the events around the world, or even right here in our own community, we are loved and empowered to love others. Jesus loves us and feeds us and we are sent into the world to love and serve. Remember, love is an action. We talk a lot around here about love, and the reality is that love is about doing something. What is your love? What do you do to feed and to serve? Jesus' healing of you and us and the world happens in every act of love, mercy, compassion, justice, and feeding. And every act of love is an act of healing, every act of compassion puts the world right. Go, love, feed, and put the world right.