Saturday, November 29, 2014

1 Advent Yr B Nov 30 2014


The church year turns to another beginning, another new year, filled with hope, expectation, anticipation of better relationships between people, and even countries. Advent invites us to turn. There is a Caribou coffee tag line - life is short, stay awake! I feel that way about Advent, Advent is short, stay awake, stay alert, or you'll miss it.

Indeed, our culture has already missed it. Christmas carols, christmas trees, christmas decorations. Christmas is all around us, and today I encourage you, at least in this sacred space, to make room for Advent.

In the cacophony of Christmas, make room for quiet. In the race to Christmas, make room for waiting, preparing, anticipating. Advent really isn't that foreign to us, it is where we live most of our lives, in the tension of what has been and what is to be. Advent calls us to live that tension intentionally. Rather than be lulled to sleep by the shiny balls and blinking lights, stay awake, stay alert, listen.

Advent calls us to occupy the space between the inconceivability of incarnation and the mystery of resurrection, the messiness of birth and the hope of new life, the reality of brokenness and the joy of healing. Advent calls us to be fully present in each event and activity, and to be fully present with each person. Advent calls us not to walk through this time with indifference, but to shine the light of love and hope in all places and at all times. Advent calls us to sit with the other, to look into the eye of the other, and to listen, not to talk. Advent calls us to stand next to the one that you really cannot stand, the one you really disagree with, and look toward love and hope together.

This is the very darkest time of the year. We look for light, that's why we hang twinkly lights on everything, that's why we light candles. But here, in the church, we don't light them all, not yet, we light them one at a time, watching the light build, preparing for the light that is Jesus to be fully blazing.

And, on this first day of Advent this year, and next week as well, we have before us the gospel of Mark. This is a story of assurance. We know that God is love, and love drives out darkness and fear. And, some of these passages we read during Advent may be pretty scary reading. This chapter in Mark actually begins with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It continues with images of war, earthquake, and famine, of family members betraying one another, of great suffering. But Mark says very clearly and emphatically that these things are not predictions of doom in the distant future. The truly frightening stuff described in this chapter is not a prediction to frighten future generations, but for Marks readers they are words of comfort in a generation that used this vivid kind of language, the language of sky powers and sky beings mixed with literal retellings of the kinds of betrayal and threats facing members of Jesus' community, to describe what theyd already seen brothers and sisters in Christ going through. Jesus went around calling women and slaves and tax collectors to follow him, and leaving out any hint that they need to get someone elses permission to do so. His followers after the resurrection called him lord or master, and thats not the kind of thing you can say, let alone a way of life you can live without getting into trouble, and so Jesus' followers were dragged before local authorities and punished. That is what we hear in Mark.

And it is the Good News, the Incarnation, that is spoken into that fearful time, as it is the Good News and the Incarnation that is spoken into the fear of our time. It is god-in-our-midst that is hope and promise. It is into all of this that Mark cries stay awake! Stay awake!

So maybe that is what staying awake during Advent can be all about. Maybe in the midst of the cacophony of Christmas, in the quiet we can hear the voice of Good News.
When the herald of consumerism speaks more loudly than does the angel Gabriel we need to stay awake to hear the announcement that a child will be born and that the world is about to turn.
When the blast of trumpets announcing sale after sale drowns out the voice singing my soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait we need to be quiet to hear the music.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the beat of our own heart, and the beat of God's heart within us, the beat that says there is nothing you can do that will make me turn my love from you.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the love of Jesus moving in our blood, giving nourishment to our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.

Maybe we even need to be quiet to hear the movement of the Spirit, enlivening us with new birth, connecting us to one another, connecting us to the ones who have not yet said yes to the Good News of Jesus, connecting us to all those who are broken and hurting on this most amazing day, at the beginning of this, most amazing season.

Today we light the first candle of Advent. We watch its quiet light flicker in the darkness, anticipating the light and the love and the hope of Jesus.
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent,
to hear the word of Love?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent,
to share the Light of Jesus?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent,
to speak love and hope into fear and darkness?
How will you make room in your busy life this Advent

to proclaim the love that wins?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

23 Pentecost Yr A Proper 28 Nov 16 2014

Audio 11.16.2014

The kingdom of God is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He handed everything over to his servants according to their ability, and then he left on his journey. After the man left, the servants did as they pleased with what they were given. When the man returned, each servant gave an accounting for what they had chosen to do with what they had been given. Kathy's translation/interpretation. In this parable a question that gets asked is, is the man, the landowner, God? I think that answer is up to you, I'd like us to look at it just a little bit differently before we get there.

How do we imagine God? And how does how we imagine God shape our relationship with God and with others and with things? I wonder if we imagine God primarily as an enforcer of rules, do we get hung up by the legalism of religion? If we visualize God as stern and prone to punishment, do we come to believe that everything bad in our lives is punishment from God. If we see God as arbitrary and capricious, and that’s what we experience, do we experience a fickle and unsympathetic God who meets our expectations. Is it possible that this is how the third servant in our story today imagined the master? Since he imagined a hard and fearful man, his response to life was out of fear, so he hid what he was given, he grabbed it tightly, and the reality he lived in was weeping and grinding of teeth.   

On the other hand, when we view God primarily in terms of grace, we are surprised and uplifted by the numerous gifts and moments of grace we experience all around us. And when we imagine God to be a God of love, we find it far easier to experience God’s love in our own lives and to share it with others. What you see, all too often, is just what you get. And so perhaps this parable is inviting us to examine closely the pictures of God I believe we each carry around inside of us. 

What do you think of when you think of God? Is God gracious or stern, loving or judgmental, eager for peace or prone to violence. Does the picture you carry of God match the picture of the God we know in Jesus? What events have shaped your picture of God? Who has shaped your picture of God? All of this matters as we hear these parables told by Matthew. 

So what I wonder about this particular parable today is, how does the picture that each of these servants have of this master or any other master for that matter, shape their response to being given the masters' gold? Does that picture shape the way the third servant deals with the gold? I believe so.  

So let's go to the place today where we think that indeed in this parable the master is God who loves creation, who loves humanity. Let's go to the place where the master is God in our midst, God who loves creation so very much that God is willing and wanting and yearning to be in relationship with God's people. This God whose love is so deep and so wide and so broad, and walks through this life with us, each of us and all of us. In this kingdom God is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He handed everything over to his servants according to their ability, and then he left on his journey. It sounds to me like this is a relationship of trust and of grace. The man entrusts all he has to his servants. No instructions, no lists of what to do and what not to do, nothing. And yet this abundance doesn't belong to the servants. This abundance was not assigned to the servants based on who deserved what and how much. This abundance is not even dependent on my ability today, tomorrow, or any other day to do exactly the right thing with it. 

It seems to me that the kingdom of God is this way. God trusts us with the entirety of creation. At least this part of it that we can see and experience. God entrusts us with the sea and the sky, with the animals and the vegetables. God entrusts us with all that is valuable, and God entrusts us with one another. And God lets go of the outcome, God does not control what we do with any of it. We can do with it what we want. That is what is at the very center of this relationship. God creates us and all of what is seen and unseen, God declares it good, and God loves us. God trusts us, what are we to do? 

Imagine a God who loves us so very much that this God is willing to live and die as one of us to show us the way. Imagine a God who is the creator of all that is seen and unseen, and to whom each and every one of us matters. Imagine a God whose hearts desire is to be in relationship with us. Imagine a God to whom justice matters, the kind of justice that includes everyone having enough to eat, everyone staying warm when it is cold, everyone working to feed their families. 

We are to respond to this abundant and amazing grace with all of our heart and our soul and our strength. It's not about our trustworthiness, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about our ability or inability to use the gift properly, it's about God's trust and love and grace. 
It's not about what we deserve or don't deserve, it's about God's trust and love and grace. It's not about our fearfulness, but it is about fearlessly being about God's business of love, and healing.

We can choose.
We can choose in small ways and in large ways how God's amazing gift is made available by our lives and by our love. Choose love. Choose to be a steward of all of God's gift. Choose not only to care for creation and all you have been given, but do something great with it. Don't bury it out of fear, but share it knowing that is was never yours in the first place. Choose to be a part of relationships that do what Jesus asks us to do, feed those who are hungry, love your neighbor. Share your hearts and your lives and your treasure, not because of what you will get, but because of what you have been given. Love. Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

22 Pentecost Yr A Proper 27 Nov 9 2015

Audio 11.9.2014

Again, we have a difficult passage from Matthew. As I read these passages and reflect on what they mean for us, there are always two things I think about. First, what is it that was going on when the writer or teller of the story, Matthew, first told it. And secondly, what is it we, 21st century followers of Jesus, can hear from it. To the first. Matthew’s parables are exhortations to a community that has come through some significant duress to keep the faith, to confess Christ, and to wait expectantly for his return, even though that return has already been delayed beyond what first generation believers anticipated. Considering that the Thessalonians to whom Paul was writing around 51 AD or so are already anxious that they have missed out on Jesus’ return, we can imagine that it’s quite a bit harder to inspire Matthew’s community to vigilance thirty years later. Now, project that out another nearly 2000 years and there we are. We no longer live in a time where we anticipate Jesus' imminent return, we may be waiting, but maybe not so eagerly or anxiously. 

But first, I wonder about this wedding. Weddings then were not what we think of weddings now. Today, one person asks the other to marry, an answer is given, a date set, preparations made, guests invited. There is much planning, and anticipation, and expectation. At the appointed time on the appointed day, everyone shows up, the vows are made, and the party begins. Not so much at a wedding such as we have before us. A marriage was a transaction between two property holders, one property holder, the father of the woman, selling said property to the family of a man. The man and the woman, or the bridegroom and the bride, may never have even met prior to the wedding. The deal has to be struck, and the negotiations may be quick, or may be drawn out, with no way to determine the time for the wedding to take place, people came, milled about, and waited until the deed was done. So in our story today, everyone fell asleep while waiting, and as they awoke, some discovered that they had no more oil in their lamps, and went off to get more. In the meantime, the door to the wedding banquet was opened, and those who were there were let in, those who went away to gather more oil, missed out, hearing the admonition, keep awake. 
What are we to gather from this? What does it mean to keep awake? What does it mean to be ready? What does Jesus ask of us? Those are the questions I think are at the center of what we hear today. And, since I believe that Love wins, and I don't believe Jesus ever closes a door forever and always on anyone, what can this mean? 

There's been a lot of chatter recently about the "bucket list." Travel, and adventure, that list of things to do and accomplish by the time you kick the bucket. Now, granted all that is a lot of fun, but even if this passage from Matthew is about being ready for the end, I don't think checking items off our list is what Jesus asks of us, or calls us to do, to be ready. 

Getting ready is something I'm really good at. I make lists, I accomplish tasks, I think of more things to do so I make more lists. I plan ahead, my calendar for 2015 is already getting filled in. I do research so I know what to expect. I already have my winter emergency stuff in the car, my sleeping bag, an extra hat, extra mittens and scarves, if I get caught in a storm, I'm ready. If I were one of those bridesmaids, I'd have enough oil and then some more, just in case. I know that preparation is the key to success.

But, being ready is different than getting ready, getting ready implies accomplishing things, being ready is much more about staying awake, paying attention, letting go of distraction. And that is what I wonder if this passage is really about. I wonder if this passage is about being fully present to each other, being fully present to creation. I wonder if this passage is about not just waiting for the door to open when the party is beginning, but living completely in the fullness of our humanity, in all of it's joy and all of it's pain. 

I wonder if this passage may be about bringing your authentic self to Jesus? Maybe staying awake is not being perfect or full, but it is about bringing your most authentic, vulnerable, true self to the door. Jesus wants us to bring all of who we are, warts and vulnerability, hurts and joys, our perfect masks removed, our thick wall of protection torn down, the entrails of our addictions that we think fill us, laid aside. Maybe Jesus wants to open the door wide to who we really are, not who we pretend to be, and not even who we strive to be. Maybe Jesus wants to open the door wide to who we really are, not who we present for inspection. I think sometimes we spend so much time running around filling up our lamps, filling up our time, making our lists and checking them off, we completely miss the really important things of staying awake, like being loved and being healed; like being forgiven; like being marked as Christ's own forever. 

It is that primal person, that naked heart, that vulnerable and authentic self whom Jesus loves, that's who Jesus yearns to throw his arms around and welcome to the party. Your self, ready and waiting, bathed in the love of your creator, just as you are. You, no need for primping or planning, no questions of not being good enough, or not having accomplished enough. Just you, absolutely and abundantly loved. 

And what a party it will be. Just like at this table, room enough an food enough for everyone. Only better. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints Yr A Nov 2 2014

Audio 11.2.2014

Grandmothers and Grandfathers, ancestors and forebears, the entire cloud of witnesses, stand here beside us. On this day of all saints, we call upon all of those who have taken this journey before us, to stand here with us as we are witnesses today to the love of our creator God, to the life and love and work of Jesus, and the enlivening presence of the Spirit. Stand here beside us, as we struggle to follow Jesus. Stand here beside us, as we grieve for our mothers and fathers and our loved ones who have died. Stand here beside us, as we endeavor to find our identity as the ones who are marked as God's own forever. Stand here beside us, as we continue to hope and find encouragement in the face of loss and discouragement. Stand here beside us, as we courageously invite those we love into a relationship with one another and with Jesus. Stand here beside us, as we strive to be a blessing in the lives of all we encounter. Stand here beside us, as we wonder about what blessing is even all about. Grandmothers and Grandfathers, ancestors and forebears, stand here beside us, we remember your fidelity, your strength, your courage, as we ask our creator God for the same.

On this day of all saints, we will reaffirm our baptismal promises. We remember who and whose we are, we recall our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. We vow to live our lives from that center, from that identity. On this day of all saints, we remember, we reaffirm, and we renew our courage and bravery to be witnesses to God's amazing and abundant love.

We remember our grief and our losses, whatever they may be. We remember the people we love and see no more; and we remember the leave-takings, those who have left us and those we have left, through departing for a new jobs and new homes and leave behind beloved friends and colleagues. Or the grief and loss of slowly losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Or in the loss of employment or dignity. Or the struggles with illness both of body and mind or aging. Or the exhaustion of caring for a special needs child and the occasional recognition of all the things given up in order to offer that care. Or the disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred or hopes dashed. Loss comes at us from so many sources.

From Revelation today we hear words of encouragement, hope, and comfort to followers of Jesus who were struggling with enormous loss of identity and the threat of losing their independence and even their lives. Saints are not only those who are robed in white or gathered into the church triumphant but also each of us, as we too have come, or perhaps are still coming, through ordeals great and small. To all of us who are struggling to find hope or healing, Christ’s promise to “wipe away every tear” is hopeful to hear at any time, we hear it often at funerals, but this promise is to us at all times and in all places. We can hope for a future, not defined by our past.

We reaffirm our identity as God's beloved, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever. God continually claims us as children and Jesus speaks of blessings. Jesus blesses all kinds of people, but especially the kinds of people who aren’t normally blessed – the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, and so on. The world typically gives these folk little regard, just as few notice many of our silent losses and grief, and yet Jesus calls them blessed. Jesus doesn’t say, “one day you will be blessed,” but  “blessed are…,” even now, even here. Why? Because blessing isn’t like the flu shot. Blessing doesn’t immunize you from pain or loss, and it’s not a guarantee of safe passage through this life unscathed. Rather, it’s a sense of fullness, of contentment, of joy that is like, but also transcends, ordinary happiness. It is not something you have and others are lacking. And like love and hope and so many other things, it can’t simply be mustered into existence but rather is responsive, springing forth in response to the love and promises of another, of God. 

And we renew and are renewed. As we reaffirm our identity as God's beloved, we are renewed for the journey. This community of faithful saints, along with the cloud of witnesses, the saints who have gone before us, we are renewed by hope and blessing for the journey we take together. We call upon each other and God to stand here beside us as we follow Jesus into the world to do the work that we are called to do, and that work is to be agents of God's healing and reconciliation. We are already, bearers of Jesus' light and love, Jesus' blessing. And it is our own pain and loss, our own grief and sadness, our own joy and blessing, our own forgiveness and healing that enables and equips us for this work.  You have been broken by loss and life, you have been filled by bread and wine, body and blood, you have been loved by God and by this community of faith. You are renewed for this brave and courageous work of being God's beloved. You are renewed for this radical endeavor of following Jesus into the world to feed, and clothe, and love. 

I invite you to stand, with the saints who have gone before us, and the saints who are here with us, and the saints who will carry on after us, and renew your baptismal vows.