Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015 Audio
There's a wonderful video wandering its way around youtube, called An Unexpected Christmas. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to look it up. As the story is told, the little angel exclaims "that's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!" God decides it's time to send his son to help the people remember that God loves them. But how will they pay attention, seeing as how it's clear they haven't been paying much attention. God decides the way to get the people's attention is to send something so surprising, so unexpected, the people would have to take notice. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
It seems to me that we've put Christmas in a nicely wrapped package with a beautiful bow, and completely lost the surprising and the unexpected. We've tried so hard to experience Christmas as a time of romance and nostalgia we've pushed the astonishment of the inconceivable incarnation under the rug. We get so absorbed in the stuff of Christmas we've lost the unreasonableness of a baby born in a barn. A baby born in poverty to parents uncertain of their own future. Parents who soon will have to flee their home to avoid persecution. A baby who would be king, born in the muck and the mud of a stable. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
This story that we tell as each Christmas comes and goes, the story of the baby born in the manger, the angels singing and the shepherds coming to see him, the wise men who read the stars and recognize this world changing event. This story is not about comfort, or nostalgia or romance. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us and all of creation to know that Love wins. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants to meet us flesh to flesh. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us to join with Mary as she says yes to the difficulty and pain and joy of new life and new birth.
They won't be expecting that! Mary says, he scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he brings down the powerful from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly, he fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty.
We continue to experience much violence far away and near, we wonder about how to make peace in our homes, our communities, our countries. This Christmas event, this wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, shows us the way. This Christmas event, this Galilean carpenter, shows us the way. This Christmas event, these angels and shepherds and prophets, show us the way. This Christmas event, shows us the way.
Christmas is about God showing us the way to love. Christmas is about God showing us the way to peace. Christmas is about God showing us the way to hope. God shows us through this birth, this new life, this new beginning, this powerless baby and these powerless parents in this ordinary stable. God came to dwell with humanity to show us about love. God comes to dwell with us in the flesh so that in the flesh we live life fully and completely. Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. God came to be with us in the flesh not to relieve us of the mess and the muck of this life, the suffering and the pain of this life, but in the flesh God stands by our side, takes our hand, sometimes even carries us, and loves us. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
And that kind of love changes us, we can't help but be changed. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to be perfect because we are perfectly loved. We don't need to consume and acquire to possess worth, we are enough just the way we are created. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to gain attention to earn God's love, God has already loved us into ourselves. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. Our hearts expand, our hearts break, we give, we receive, we grow, we die. We do not despair, or lose hope, we do not harm, we work for the good of the others with which we share this rock, because we know that love wins. Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. We come here on this night/morning seeking God in the flesh, and we receive God in the flesh, Jesus, in the bread and the wine around this table, at these steps, and we are made into that flesh which God is. We are made into God's body in the world. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
We go home, and share our own meals, we gather around our own tables, we spend time together, we give and receive presents. And we go out into the world bearing God's love, bearing the light that grows and grows and grows. We go out into the world as God's transformed body, God's flesh in our flesh, making a difference in every dark corner, in the places that need healing and wholeness and love. We go out into the world as God's body, God's flesh in our flesh, and we show the world that love wins. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
This birth more than 2000 years ago matters as much to us today as it did then because there continues to be those who don*t understand the nature of God*s love for all of God*s creation. There are people who continue to think that hate can defeat love, there are those who continue to think that violence is a solution when we disagree, but we know differently. We know that the God who created all that is seen and unseen, the God of love, dreams for us a world in which all people are treated with dignity and respect and compassion. The God of love, who comes to us as a baby born in a barn, who comes to us as the child who must flee it*s home, who comes to us as the one whose arms of love embrace the hardwood of the cross, dreams for us a world in which we keep Christ in Christmas, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving the unforgivable, welcoming the stranger and the unwanted, caring for the sick, loving our enemies.

We are to be the surprise, we are to do the unexpected. We are to say yes with Mary to this inconceivable incarnation. We are to say yes to God made really present in you. We are the light bearers, we are the peace bearers, we are the love bearers. Amen.   

Saturday, December 19, 2015

4 Advent Yr C Dec 20 2015

4 Advent Yr C Dec 20 2015 Audio

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. What would be like if we greeted one another in this way? Each of us are God-bearers, just like Mary and Elizabeth, should we not greet one in expectation and hope? Our advent waiting draws us ever closer to fulfillment. 

Elizabeth, barren and too old to conceive, Mary, too young to conceive, both of these child-bearings are inconceivable. Our response to this inconceivable conception calls forth some Holy Imagination. I turn to one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle, when I ponder these things. She writes in a book called Bright Evening Star, “It is not that in believing the story of Jesus we skip reason, but that sometimes we have to go beyond it, take leaps with our imagination, push our brains further than the normally used parts of them are used to going.” She goes on to write “I had to let go all my prejudices and demands for proof and open myself to the wonder of love. Faith is not reasonable because it wasn’t for reason, but for love that Jesus came.” 

It is for love that Jesus came, and we need to respond like Mary, like Elizabeth. We need to respond with shouts of joy, with dances of gladness. This Good News changes us forever; it changes our world forever. It is as inconceivable and unreasonable that each of us is a God-bearer as it is that Mary is a Christ-bearer. It is inconceivable that God has burst into our world. And yet, all of Advent we wait in active anticipation of the moment that God bursts into our world as a baby, and that God bursts into our world to bring our history; our lives, to fulfillment. We cannot continue to respond to this Good News with business as usual. We cannot respond to the sacredness of each other the same as always. Just saying Merry Christmas is not enough. The Good News is Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him! 

This inconceivable conception that God bursts into our lives must change us. It changed Mary, it changed Elizabeth, it changed Zechariah, it left him speechless, it changed Joseph, he had to defy the law in order to love and support Mary, it changed a community, it changed an entire people. Mary responds to this inconceivable conception first when the angel Gabriel comes to tell her, and it is reported that Mary says “let it be to me according to your word.” My hunch is that maybe it took her a little while to come to this kind of brave acceptance, initially she probably said something a little more like “no way, I can’t have a baby, I’m too young, I’m not married.” By the time we catch up with her in the story we read today, Mary is singing “my soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary’s response to this inconceivable conception progresses from brave acceptance to joyful praise. I wonder if Mary needed some time to get used to the idea that she is the Christ-bearer so that she could move from brave acceptance to joyful praise. I wonder if Mary didn’t have a little advent waiting of her own. 

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps and Mary is filled with such joy and hope that she sings and dances. Mary and Elizabeth lived in a dark time under Herod the Great, whose casual brutality was backed up with the threat of Rome. And yet Mary’s song is a song of freedom, a song of liberation for her people, it is subversive and it is revolutionary. It is joyful and it is hopeful. Advent waiting calls us into this paradox, the paradox that Mary embodies, that finding involves losing; that hiding involves revealing; that birth involves death. 

While our culture has been celebrating Christmas since Halloween, we continue to wait. This fourth Sunday of Advent is oh so difficult, we just want to be there, we just want to have it now, and it is so hard to resist the pressure to just say Merry Christmas. But Advent waiting as Mary shows us, forms us and shapes us, so that the inconceivable conception can take hold of us, and can give birth to the Holy Imagination that bears God into this world. 

Mary spent most of her life waiting; from the moment the angel Gabriel comes to her and announces do not be afraid, through the final moments as she waited for her son’s death on the cross, and the hours up to the inconceivable resurrection. Mary waits. I think Mary’s waiting can teach us that Advent is a time that summons us to embrace waiting as a way of life. Advent summons us to practice waiting, and by doing so to put down the foundations of a life shaped by waiting, so that when those times come when we have no idea what to do, those times of sadness, times of joy, times of difficulty, times of division, we fall back on that deep, still waiting in the present moment that opens up a space for God’s interruption in our midst. 

We wait in this present moment with Mary, with Elizabeth. We wait with quiet and confident expectation for this inconceivable conception to come to fruition and fulfillment. In the waiting we may be changed. We may be filled with hope, hope that God indeed is turning the world around. But we also know that waiting is not doing nothing, so we must act with justice and mercy, knowing that indeed with Mary we are bearing God to this world. In this present moment God turns each of us around. 

It is no coincidence that the way that God interrupts our world is to be born into our world, it is no coincidence that God interrupts our world to live and love, and suffer and die just like each and every one of us. Being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love, and to help us live every present moment fully alive. It is in the waiting for the births and the deaths, and in the moments in between, that God breaks in and surrounds us and lifts us with love. 

I am reminded of my own pregnancies during Advent waiting. I am reminded of the joy and hope and dreams of bringing a baby into the world. I am reminded of the fear and trepidation of bringing a baby into the world. I am reminded of the blissful ignorance of what the future would hold. As I look backward to that time I am filled with nostalgia at its wonder, I am forever changed and cannot respond to the world with anything less than compassion and hope. And I look with hope to the possibility of what the lives of our sons will bear. But it is the present moment that is pregnant with possibility, the present moment that bears God in their lives, in my life, in our lives. 

Do not be afraid; listen for God to be born in this present moment. Do not be afraid; act with justice and peace and kindness. Do not be afraid; find the people who need your works and actions of assurance that they are loved as you are loved. The world is about to turn. Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

3 Advent Yr C Dec 13 2015

3 Advent Yr C Dec 13 2015 Audio
John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. Remember, the repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Remember, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be.
As you know, there's always a lot of chatter about wishing folks a Merry Christmas at this time of the year. The problem with that conversation is that it misses the point. The point being that we are not there yet. I prefer to wish people a Blessed Advent. We are not at Christmas. The problem is that when it finally is Christmas, and it's time to wish one another Merry Christmas, many are already tired of the whole thing, and their Christmas trees and Christmas wrappings are in the trash.
So why bother with the whole thing? Why not just give into the cultural Christmas? Why bother with the waiting, the preparation, the anticipation? We are not really "merry" at this time anyway. We are hopeful, expectant, and joyful, but not really "merry." Diana Butler Bass, a well known contemporary writer on the church in society, wrote in the Huffington Post, "Christians recollect God's ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together. The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing. Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born. The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression. Hymns anticipate world peace and universal harmony." Not really very "merry" at all.
We bother with Advent because we human beings need to spend time waiting and preparing for this event that turns the world, this event that brings light into the darkness, this event that makes the first last and the last first. We can't just jump into it. We can't just jump from Halloween to Christmas without some time to be immersed in the mystery of incarnation; this mystery that we struggle so to understand, this mystery that seems unreasonable, this mystery that takes leaps with our imaginations. In Advent, we get glimpses of it, but it takes time for that mystery to grow in our hearts, and in our souls, and in our lives. It takes space for God who is with us, to sit down next to us and teach us that Love wins. It takes quiet to hear the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, and to hear the voice that calls us to transformation.
And it is not easy. We want desperately to make it easy, and romantic, and nostalgic. We want it to be about feeling good. Indeed, some of that is part of what Christmas is, but that is not what this story is about. John calls us to a change of direction in mind and action. John calls us to Advent transformation. John calls us to be ready for the one who is coming, the one who has come, the one who turns the world. God in our midst, Emmanuel, the baby born in a barn, the one who shows us that Love wins, calls us to deepen our commitment to loving one another, calls us to deepen our commitment to compassion and to mercy.
These winter days are dark. They are short, the light is with us for only a few hours. These winter days are dark, there is much violence and sadness that may lead us to believe that the light really has gone out of the world. But Advent reminds us that the Light is never extinguished. Advent reminds us that even if it seems dark, the Light is there, and the Light will brighten even the darkest corners of our lives. Advent reminds us that God walks with us, God does not take away our sadness and our pain, but God walks with us through the sadness and the pain.
We live in this in-between time, in this time of the already but not yet. We live in this time where we tell the story of Jesus birth, we await Jesus birth, and we imagine the end, God's fulfillment of all time. There is where our hope is. It is in the already but not yet. We know what God has done in creation, we await what God will do in creation, and we live our lives in God's grace. There's no guarantee of happiness, there's no guarantee that pain and sadness will not visit us, there's no guarantee of prosperity. But there is love, there is hope, there is joy.
So what do we do in this dark time, what do we do as we wait for the Light to fill the room? What do we do as all around us we hear hate filled speech? What do we do when we hear calls to exclude and mark the ones who are not like us? What do we do when those who seek power rile us up by spewing fear? We don't do nothing. Waiting is not doing nothing. We love one another as God has loved us. We speak out, and we live out, against exclusion and hate. We speak out and we live out, our belief that God loves all of God’s creation, heck, God loves us, it’s certain that God loves all the others as well.  We stand up with and for our neighbors, the neighbors who live next door and the neighbors who live across the world.  
We hold one another, we listen to each other, we bring light into each other's lives, we do not wait alone. We are God's household, you, and me, and all of us. We bear God's light and love into every corner of our lives. We bring healing and wholeness to those whose lives are torn apart. We bear the Good News that Love wins. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

2 Advent Yr C Dec 6 2015

2 Advent Yr C Dec 6 2015 Audio
Nine months Zechariah was quiet, nine months he could not speak, nine months Elizabeth didn't hear him complain, nine months he had to think about what his first words would be. And those first words out of Zechariah's mouth were "Blessed be The Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them." Zechariah was a priest in the temple. What did he do for those nine months of silence, those nine months of preparation for this child who could not be, this child to be born to his barren wife Elizabeth, this child who who was an impossibility, this child who would prepare the way for the one to come after him. Silence. Silence in the face of mystery, silence in the presence of new life, silence, as the world is about to turn.

John the Baptist, son of the priest of the temple and his wife Elizabeth, was as different from his father as different could be. John, son of Zechariah, lived in the wilderness, not in the temple confines like his father and mother. John, an itinerant preacher, son of Zechariah, priest of the temple, proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not temple sacrifice, not temple piety, but repentance. John, son of Zechariah, preparing the way for the one who is to come. The one who changes everything.

The world is about to turn. The coming of Christ into the world changes everything. Blessed be the Lord God. 

You see, what is happening here has far reaching effects. This story of John, and the story of Jesus, is set squarely in the political context of it's day. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. It is at this time and this place that God is doing something new, that the world is turning, that change is happening. We are being pointed toward this absolutely new thing that God is doing in the world, we are to prepare for it, we are to stay awake, keep alert, be ready. The birth of two baby boys, first John and then Jesus, have everything to do with everything, Luke is saying. What seems so insignificant changes the world, Luke knows that and is telling us that. 

Luke has John say these words from Isaiah. In Isaiah these words are about God leading God's people out of exile, back to their land. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return -- in essence a new "exodus" -- bringing the people of Israel out of bondage and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. And in Luke, John points to Jesus, who comes to empower and finish the re-turn of God's people to their God. John points to Jesus who shows all humanity that Love wins.

These two bundles of promise, John, born to Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, bring God's love into time and space. These two bundles of hope, show us that the world is about to change. These two bundles of peace, speak truth to power. These two bundles of joy, bear such grief to their mothers. These two bundles show the world that love wins. 

John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. That is the repentance that John calls us to. You see, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be, whether or not you know who that is. The repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Repentance is being who God calls you to be, and who God calls us to be. And being who God calls us to be is what we do in the waiting, it is what we do in the preparing. And who God calls us to be may be surprising, indeed, if it is not surprising, it may not be God doing the calling.

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. God's voice that says you are already loved, you can do nothing more or less to earn my love. Let go, give up control. Put up your tent, make camp right here. Enjoy what this is, right here, right now. The one next to you is also already loved, just as much as you are. Give her a smile, buy his coffee, make their day. 

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. Take time to pray, to listen, to wonder, to invite God into this day, this circumstance, this ordinary stable we live in. Give up the busyness, the worry, the noise, the stress. Be filled with the Love that is born in the mess of the stable, the Love that is born in your heart, the Love that is born here each time the one who is looking for something more finds their way to this table. Be filled with the Love that wins your time and attention, your pocketbook, your heart and your mind and your soul. 

But in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, in this in between time that is the now and not yet, we are bombarded with violence. So much violence that it seems we can do nothing about. What does God call us to do? What does this inconceivable incarnation say to us and to this world in which we live? How do we live in the promise of God's peace when there is no peace? 

We continue to do what followers of Jesus do. We pray. Prayer connects us to those around us, prayer connects us as the community that follows Jesus to those we know and those we do not know. Prayer is important. 

And we love one another, those we like and those we do not like. We welcome, we welcome the ones that look like us and we welcome the ones who are very different from us. And we do these things not because we are right and others are wrong, we do these things because we are loved by God, as is every creature in this reality we know. We do these things because we continue to live in the in between, in the now and not yet, in the Advent that is not nothing. We do these things not because we have all the answers, but because we believe in God's heart's desire that we may be people who love. We do these things despite being sick and tired of the violence that must stop. Amen.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

1 Advent Yr C Nov 29 2015

1 Advent Yr C Nov 29 2015 Audio

Happy New Year! You all know that, right? Today is the first day of the new year. We begin again on this day, the first day of Advent. We count time differently in the church. Time in the church looks much more like a circle than a line. Our beginnings look like endings, and our endings look like beginnings. Our church year looks much more like a circle than like a line so that we would always remember that for every ending there is a beginning, and for every beginning there is an ending. This time is the time for getting ready, this time is the time for preparing, this time is the time for waiting. What is it we wait for? We wait for the great mystery of Christmas, the inconceivable incarnation, the baby born in a barn, Jesus born in our hearts, the Cosmic Christ that turns the world. 

What are you waiting for? Some of us are waiting for presents. Some of us are waiting to see our families and our relatives. Some are waiting for great destruction and endtimes. Some of us are waiting to die, some of us are waiting to be born again. Some of us are waiting for the economy to collapse, some are waiting for the president to fail. Some of us are waiting for the president to succeed. Some of us are waiting for the world to change, some of us are waiting to change the world. 

Advent is a time of waiting, and I think the waiting in and of itself is valuable. In this culture where most everything is immediate, waiting is important. I think Advent may be about creating some room in our very loud and busy lives, for the surprise. The surprise that Christmas is. The surprise of Love born anew, Love born again, Love born. 

I do think it is much like the waiting for a baby to be born. There is nothing you can do to make it go any faster or any easier. The baby just grows. And once that baby starts growing, it will change your life forever. Nothing will ever be the same. You, will never be the same. And, no matter how much we think we know about that new life growing inside, the birth itself is surprising, the baby itself is surprising, and we can never be fully ready for the changes to our lives the baby will bring. At every moment, we are changed by that new life. At every moment we are surprised by that new life. At every moment the possibilities will change us.

Advent comes to us every year. In that way it is a gift. We need Advent. We need to pull away for a time, from the cacophony of the cultural Christmas, and be quiet, and wait. We need to be in a space where God can find us and surprise us with new life and new birth. We need to hear the wonder of new birth, we need to hear the mystery of God with us, we need to hear the thunder and the roaring sea. We need to taste the fig from the tree. We need to ponder the mystery of Jesus, of God with us, and God who will fulfill all time. 

We are in this middle place, a time between time. We live in the time when God is bringing all of creation, all of humanity, to Godself. God’s reign on earth is what we anticipate, the birth of God into the world more than 2000 years ago and the raising of Jesus from the dead, inaugurated God’s reign. We live in the time between the beginning and the end, and advent is the time we are given to wonder about and to anticipate God’s reign. 

What are we waiting for? We wait for birth, and then we can’t wait for a child to grow out of being two, or six, or thirteen. We can’t wait to finish college and get a real job, we can’t wait for our children to finally make it on their own. We wait for a parent or loved one to die. 

Part of waiting is in anticipation of what life will be like when the waiting is over. As we wait, we may have the opportunity to reflect on life as it is and possibly to come to appreciate the glimpses 
of the wonder and beauty of life as it is. Maybe, we begin to see life differently, more clearly. Maybe, all the things we thought were important aren’t so important anymore. Maybe, the falseness is being stripped away, and what is left is a truer person, a person who wants to plunge into every moment of life, no matter what, instead of sleepwalk through it. Maybe there is actually transformation in the waiting. At its best, Advent waiting transforms us. We are shown a glimpse of “what if.” What if we approach our Advent waiting as a radical time of transformation? 

The Good News is that Advent transformation isn’t born out of fear, fear of the end of the world, fear of war and destruction, fear of those who are different than us. Advent transformation comes from joy because the promise has already been given. Advent transformation comes from the hope that Love wins. For those with the eyes of faith, “what if” has already happened. God is already with us. The reign is at hand. Heaven is already here. And nothing will break God’s promise.

Our Advent waiting may then be about making the world look more like the heaven that we already see by faith. We do this by focusing on the essentials—the basic things every human needs in order to reflect the divine. The poor have to be cared for, the hungry have to be fed, the homeless have to be sheltered, the refugee has to be welcomed, and the sick need to be healed. Forgiveness has to be offered, those at war must stop, and peace must be our legacy.

It’s almost as if Advent calls us to faith in the Real Absence of Christ—to believe in Emmanuel even in our darkness, in God-With-Us even when we hear no answer, and in the Incarnation even when we feel nothing at all. And so during Advent waiting, we may abstain from the flurry of Christmas not as a penitential punishment, but as a way to train our eyes to see God even without the angels and trees, crèches and stars. We focus instead on the basics of light in the darkness, silence in the chaos, and stillness in the turmoil. Advent waiting is waiting for Love to be born, again. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christ the King Yr B Nov 22 2015

Christ the King Yr B Nov 22 2015 Audio

The Feast of Christ the King is a great paradox. Christ, whom we claim as King, who never claimed that for himself. Christ the King. Just listen to it, Christ the King. Jesus, the baby born in a barn to parents of no status or honor, who spent his life with no roof over his head, always on the road, foraging for his next meal. Whose message is consistently, love one another. Jesus, whose friends were never quite sure of him, and whose reputation was suspect as far as those who had power were concerned, the scribes and pharisees and others who ranked high at the temple. Jesus, whose life ended hung on a Roman cross, the most degrading, torturous death imaginable. Jesus, the King.
For me a helpful image to illustrate this paradox is in a movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That's the one where Indiana Jones goes to seek the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from. Remember, Indy and his dad and the bad guys found the ancient knight guarding the cup, Indy had to find his way through the maze that could kill him. When he got there, there were many choices, gold cups, platinum, silver, terra cotta and wood. The old knight who has guarded the cups for ages says "you must choose, but choose wisely, for as the real grail brings eternal life, the false grail brings death". The bad guy comes in and chooses a glittering golden cup. "Truly the cup of a king", he says, and drinks from it. Shortly later, with several horrific transformations, he deteriorates and turns to dust. The knight looks at them and simply says "He chose poorly". Indy then selects a wooden cup "The cup of a Gallilean carpenter" he says, and with much fear, having seen the results before, drinks from it. "You choose wisely" says the knight.
The cup of a King, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter. There is the rub, there is the paradox, Christ the King, servant to all. As the parables in scripture show us, all is not as it seems. History shows us Kingship, and Kingship throughout history has had it's megalomaniacs. Many of the kings that make our history books are Kings that have grabbed power. Kings that have subdued the people. Jesus shows us an entirely different kind of Kingship. Jesus shows us a Kingship that doesn't take power, but that empowers. Jesus shows us a Kingship that doesn't take life, but gives new life. Jesus shows us a Kingship that is not about being first in battle, but about being first in Love. Jesus shows us a Kingship where laying down his life creates life for all. Jesus shows us a Kingship where might does not win, but where Love wins.
The cup of a King, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter. Throughout history we've wanted so desperately to make Jesus into a cultural King. Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king." And then Jesus continues, "for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." We want Jesus to sit on a throne and judge. Often, we want Jesus to sit on a throne and judge others deemed not worthy of life in Jesus' kingdom. Especially those who we think do not deserve the kind of Love Jesus offers us. Love, unconditionally, no matter what, unless, of course you disagree with me, or are different from me. Unless of course you've done something dastardly. Unless of course you love someone of the same gender. Unless of course you believe in a different God I believe in, or don't believe in God at all.
Kings and thrones, judgement and justice, forgiveness, mercy and compassion. What is the truth that we hear from the voice of Jesus? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your mind and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Feed my sheep, clothe those who have nothing to wear, visit the imprisoned. The Good News is that no matter what or who we want Jesus to be, Jesus loves, and Love wins. Kingship, for Jesus, is about being a king that serves, that sacrifices, and that loves radically. A king that looks the complete opposite of virtually any king any of us has ever read about. Jesus, whose example is humble, not glorified; generous, not treacherous; hospitable, not exclusionary. The cup of a king, or the cup of a Gallilean carpenter?
Kingship, or something like it, was all the people knew about ruling a people. It was either a King, an Emperor or some such ruler who lorded over the people, or it was chaos and anarchy. The God the Jews knew brought order out of chaos, this Jesus who was said to be God's son, therefore was King. But the Kingdom is of mercy and compassion, the Kingdom is of peace and reconciliation, the King knows each by name.
So it is this paradox that we must somehow reconcile in our own lives. The cup of a King, or the cup of a Galliliean carpenter. Choose wisely my friend. But I think the wisest choice is not one over the other, but it is the Episcopal way, the via media, it is somewhere in between. We must hold both realities in tension. Christ the King, whose throne is a cross, and when we do, we see a fuller picture. We bandy about that image, Christ the King, on a throne, the seat of judgment. But do we really have any idea what it means? Jesus indeed sets out a standard of judgment, an expectation if you will, but this King shows us the way, this King doesn't leave us alone to figure it out ourselves, and it is right here that our lives our transformed.
Because Jesus, the one who comes to show us the way to God, Jesus, the one who is King of all creation, is at the very same time the one who lived life just like you and me, who loved his friends and family, who suffered and died, just like you and me. For what good is a God who sits back and watches, what good is a God who rules from afar, what good is a God who holds power over people. Jesus is the one who loves the criminal who hangs next to him, the mother who cries below him, the friends who betray him.
In the beginning, and the middle, and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, Kingship for Jesus is giving himself totally and absolutely for the love of his people. It is this love that you and I must respond to. It is this love that is transforming love. It is this love that reconciles and redeems. It is this love that includes all, the alien and the other. It is this love that gives us hope. Jesus' love changes us, and we are to choose wisely.
We are changed through the realization that each one of us is loved completely and absolutely, that is the truth of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. We are changed through the realization that when we fall short of the kind of love Jesus demonstrates for us, and we will fall short, that is part of being human, and we are forgiven. Just like Peter, who denied Jesus three times. Forgiveness takes practice, not just once, but time and time again. Not even just until we get it right, because it's not about getting it right. Only trying to get it right just makes us into self-righteous snobs and misses the point of Jesus' kingship entirely. It's about responding to hate with love, it's about seeking reconciliation not revenge, and when we don't, because we won't, it's about asking for forgiveness, again. We are changed through the realization that Love wins, every time.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

25th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 28 Nov 15 2015

25th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 28 Nov 15 2015 Audio

Beginnings look a lot like endings, and endings look a lot like beginnings. Anxiousness, excitement, fear, trepidation, joy. The birth of a child is like that. The actual birth is a point in time that represents all that went before it, the preparation, the hopes, the pain, the morning sickness. And all that will follow, dreams, sadness, joy and pain. The actual birth is something that we blessedly forget, or we'd never do it again. Birth ends the one phase of carrying a child, and begins the next phase of carrying a baby. The birth of a child changes our lives completely and absolutely. Nothing will be the same, ever. Our lives are not our own. We are wrapped up and around and in and through our children. And that brings us much joy, and much grief. We worry, we hope, we cry, we call poison control, we make trips to the emergency room, we beam as they walk across a stage. And we would never trade it in for anything.

Jesus talks about this new thing that is happening as the beginning of birth pangs. With Jesus something entirely new is happening and the world cannot, will not, ever be the same. Not one stone is left upon another, all are thrown down. Jesus tries and tries to make the disciples, and us, see the magnitude of the change that is taking place, Jesus uses metaphor upon metaphor to help us see. Buildings being torn down, something new rising up in its place. Seeds being tossed to the ground and finding the proper earth to grow. Women healed, children included, nothing will be the same, Love wins. New life is being born, this is a new beginning. Out of the pain and joy, out of the sweat and tears, out of the womb of God, new life comes. And as it is with new life, it isn't easy, it's hardly ever pretty, and it looks nothing like the life that came before.

Hope, joy, love, are all contained in new birth. But that's also where fear is born. The transformation is utterly complete, and fear lives for so many of us in the midst of change. The disciples were fearful of losing Jesus, they were fearful of what would happen to them in the aftermath of Jesus' death. They were fearful that life would return to the same ol' same ol', and they were afraid that none of it was even real. They were afraid of the turmoil Jesus' death would cause. The disciples fears are not different from our own. We are afraid of change, we are afraid of transformation. We are afraid of what it is that Jesus calls us to do, who Jesus calls us to be, what burden Jesus asks us to lay down. We are even afraid of living the new and full life Jesus affects for us. 

But, who can blame us really. We live in a culture of fear. Every time we turn on the news the stories are about what storm is coming, what leader is doing crazy things, what toxins are in our food, what harm the containers we drink out of will do to us. Our ability to parent is in question because we are so fearful of the outcome. Parenting itself is increasingly an arena of fear and anxiety in part because family life in general now lacks any cultural consensus about norms and standards. It's not just that we don't know if we're getting it right, but we don't even know what right might look like. So in the absence of agreement about good parenting, we increasingly find solace in safe parenting. We embark on a journey of living safely rather than fully.

And there's the rub. In the midst of our fears, whether they are around parenting, or the Newsweek lead article That Little Freckle Could be a Time Bomb, or Why drinking too much water could send you to the emergency room, or some prediction of the end times, we are surrounded by fear to the extent that we are surrounded by people who profit from fear. 

And although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or 1000 years ago. The types of dangers have changed, no one had to worry about plane crashes a hundred years ago, but in general we in the west at least, are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. And yet in our darkest and most fearful moments, our greatest fear is our fear of death. 

And today we have witnessed fear and death with our brothers and sisters so very far away, and yet so very close as we watch over and over again the tragic events that have taken place in France. The only reason for bombings and mayhem is to create fear in everyone, far and wide. Creating fear, and power go hand in hand. 

How do we follow Jesus in a culture of fear? What is the fitting response, the ethical response to fear, the kind of fear that is with us today, and the kind of fear some garner from a biblical passage like this one in Mark? Now, fearlessness is not a good thing. But that is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong things. Putting fear in its place is being freed from fear to being empowered to love. The quieting of fear is exactly what is required in order to hear and do what God asks of us. 

Quieting our fear is not easy, but these overwhelming fears need to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things, by a sense of adventure and fullness of life that comes from locating our fears and vulnerabilities within the larger story that is ultimately hopeful and not tragic. The story of God’s abundant and amazing love that resides with us in the life and love, the pain and suffering, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And only by facing death, our most primal fear, and as far as we know, the ultimate change, can we move ahead to embrace life with the great nevertheless that is God’s gracious word to a broken world. 

At our baptism, we were united with Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever. We entered the tomb with Jesus, through baptism we have already faced death, and seen it overcome. Every time we gather together here to celebrate Christ with us we acknowledge the work that God does in Jesus on the cross. Jesus collects all our fears, all our pain and suffering, and Jesus takes it out with him, not by responding in kind, not by seeking revenge, not by invoking fear, but responding in love. Jesus shows that in the beginning, and the middle, and the end, Love wins. Resist being overwhelmed by fear, resist blaming others who worship differently than us, resist hating because you are afraid. 

Beginnings look a lot like endings, and endings look a lot like beginnings. Fear not, hope much, Love wins.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

24th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 27 Nov 8 2015

24th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 27 Nov 8 2015 Audio

What would it be like if any of us here were eating our last bite of food, or putting our last pennies into the collection plate? Those are the stories that we hear today, stories about widows, on their very last bit of hope, two widows who embrace the question of where will my next meal come from, where will my next penny be, and they do not act out of fear, but instead act out of God’s abundance. 

The Hebrew word for widow connotes one who is silent, one unable to speak. In a society in which males played the public role and in which women did not speak on their own behalf, the position of a widow, particularly if her eldest son was not yet married, was one of extreme vulnerability. If there were no sons, a widow might return to her father’s family if she could. Left out of the prospect of inheritance by Hebrew law, widows became the stereotypical symbol of the exploited and oppressed. Old Testament criticism of the harsh treatment of these women is prevalent, as well as texts that describe God’s special protection of widows.

These widows, though their voices were silenced in their own time, speak loudly to us today. These stories speak to us of our relationship with wealth, our treatment of money. I think they speak over and against the worship of money that we see and experience in our culture. We see many, many people treating money as it were a God; worshiping wealth and sacrificing themselves to wealth, and believing it can give them joy, make them whole, and ensure their security. But money cannot do any of those things.

Money begins as a morally and spiritually neutral medium of exchange. However, it becomes something morally positive or negative, and something spiritually liberating or destructive because of the ways we feel about it and use it. 

What can the widows in these stories teach us? First they teach us about the movement from fear to love and generosity. Our cultural narrative is one of fear; we are taught that if we don’t have enough money we will not be able to have what we believe we must have. We must invest or we will end up old and broke. If we don’t spend and buy the right stuff we will be inadequate or just unimportant. The widows teach us that when we share we will have plenty. God provides for all creation. When we live in joy and gratitude for what we have, and we share with others, that is the path of transformation, that is the path to wholeness. And we can live this way because we are convinced that God’s grace and care for us moves us from fear to love. 

The widows teach us that our money will be with what we care about most. We could ask ourselves the question, where do we spend our money? What Jesus tells us is that the ways we spend and invest our money can create obligations that may come to dominate our attention and energy, and in so doing draw our commitments and loyalties away from where we want them to be. Our hearts will follow our money. We become devoted to the things we spend our money on, rather than spending our money on that which we are devoted to. The question is, “Do we possess our things, or do our things possess us?” 

And the widows teach us that wealth is about much more than money. Wealth is everything we are, everything God has given us, all of our gifts and talents, everything we have learned and will learn. How do we put all of that wealth into the mission of reconciling all people to God? How do we put all of that wealth into this counter cultural mission of love?

We live in a culture in which marketers spend more than $1000 per person per year for every man, woman, and child, that’s more that $250 billion to convince us that we should put all we possess, or at least a lot of it, into comfort, status, excitement, self-aggrandizement and a desperate search for security. Somehow we just do not see the same kind of advertising effort to convince us that the purpose for our lives is not possessing, but loving. 

Where are we putting our treasure? Individually and as a people of faith. Where is wealth leading our hearts? If we look into our bank account registers, we can read the story. Here at Trinity I’d love to see a big chunk of our budget spent on Life-long faith formation and carrying Jesus message into the neighborhood. I’d like to see us budget for advertising in new and different ways, a way to connect with people who don’t use the traditional means of reading the newspaper, so that we can let people know about this wonderful place where God is loved and where people can know that we are Christians by our love. 

One way if testing whether our possessions have begun to possess us would be to reflect on the fear we have of losing them. When we have a high level of fear at the thought of losing our stuff, it is likely that we are holding on to our stuff a little too tightly, refusing the open hand of generosity, thinking of ourselves as owners of our property rather than as stewards of God’s property. Today’s marketing preys upon our fear of losing what we have, on loving what we should not, on our caring more than we should about money, pleasure, and status. I'd like to share a story that shows me what it's like to divest of that which possesses us. The dean at my seminary was a book hound, like many of us. The walls of his office were dense with books. His spiritual practice was to touch each of his books as he counted off ten, every tenth book he would pull off his shelf, whether it was one of his favorites, one of his oldest or most valuable, to give away. This practice freed him from being possessed by them, freed him to be grateful, and freed him to give away that which he loves. And we were the grateful recipients of many good books.

I’d like us to move from fear, to continue to move from a stewardship of scarcity, to love, a stewardship of abundance. We have so much here, we have people with amazing gifts and talents, each one of us is wealthy in such a variety of ways. I’d like us to be like these widows, who gave out of love and abundance, not out of fear of not enough. There is so much that we can do. God is busy in our world, and our job is to get on board with God. We need to move from fear to love; we need to be transformed as individuals and as a community of faith. We need to be about our mission of reconciling all people to Christ. 

Go out and share God’s love with everyone you meet. Do not slave for things that are not live giving, but trust in God’s provision, and give generously of all you have. Amen

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Feast of All Saints, Yr B November 1 2015

The Feast of All Saints, Nov 1, 2015 Audio

The Feast of All Saints is a celebration of family, a household celebration, and a celebration of all our relations. It is about the cloud of witnesses, Lazarus and Martha and Mary and the witnesses that stood at Lazarus' tomb and watched Lazarus come out, and those in the stories we have been reading for weeks now, the witnesses whose names we spoke aloud in this morning's litany, and the witnesses that sit right here beside us in these pews. And it is about the reality that none of us gets out of this life alive, at least by the world's definition.

Oh Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, stand here beside us. Oh Martha and Mary whose grief was complete, stand here beside us. Oh people who stood at the tomb, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us and show us the way. Stand here beside us and witness to the freedom from bondage that Jesus offers. Stand here beside us and shout before the whole world, Love wins. O cloud of witnesses teach us what it means to be a disciple, show us how to follow the way.

Lazarus came out of the tomb bound with strips of cloth. Following Jesus is about throwing off that which binds us. Following Jesus is casting away that which is killing us. Following Jesus is being freed to live the new life Jesus' life, death, and resurrection affect for us. Oh Lazarus, stand here beside us and show us what it is that binds us. Show us what it is that is killing us.

What is it that binds you? What holds you hostage and keeps you from the new life that Jesus promises you today? For most of us what holds us hostage is fear. What does that look like for you?

The pursuit of bigger and better, the pursuit of the big house, the fancy car, so much stuff, the fear of not having enough, gets in the way of real relationship with God and with others. Lay it down. Perfection, expecting ourselves to be perfect, expecting others to be perfect, just one of many idols that we erect between ourselves and God. Lay it down. Control, what an illusion. Lay it down. Immortality, none of us gets out of this life alive. Lay it down.

Lazarus, stand here beside us, show us the way. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us. Their brother has been dead and in the tomb for four days. The grief washes over them in waves of misery. There must be someone to blame, there has to be someone to blame. Jesus, if only you had been here earlier, none of this would have happened. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us and show us the way to faith, the kind of faith that lets Jesus in, even in misery and grief. The kind of faith that does not build walls, but instead builds relationships. The kind of faith that lays down sorrow and grief so that the new growth, new life may emerge. Martha and Mary, stand here beside us.

Oh unnamed widow, who gave every penny, stand here beside us. Stand here beside us and show us how to respond to God's amazing and abundant love with all that we are, with all that we have, even when we think we have so little. Oh unnamed widow, who gave out of her poverty, show us our poverty. Is time our poverty? We have so little time, not enough time to do all we wish to do. Not enough time to spend it with those we love. Not enough time to travel. Not enough time to volunteer. Not enough time. Is mercy and compassion our poverty? We are quick to judge. We are quick to seek revenge. We are quick to explain our rightness. Is forgiving our poverty? We are slow to forgive when we believe we have been wronged. We will not forgive when we believe we are right. Oh unnamed widow, stand here beside us, and show us our poverty. Show us that all belongs to God, all that we are, all that we have, the earth we walk upon, the sky that is above our heads. Show us how to be stewards, those who care for all that has been entrusted to us, show us how to give.

Oh blind Bartimaeus, stand here beside us. Show us what we cannot see. Show us that which blinds us. Who do you work with, whom you do not really see? Who sits at your lunch table, whom you do not really see? What words and actions of others cause you to close your eyes to seeing those with whom you disagree? 

Oh, James and John, stand here beside us. Show us how the first will be last and the last will be first. 

Oh witnesses that have gone before us, stand here beside us and show us the path. There are so many in our lives who are examples of giving. Our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. There are so many in our lives who are examples of loving no matter what. Our fathers, our sons, our brothers. There are so many in our lives who were broken and put back together by God's love, Jesus' gift. There are so many in our lives who believe in us, who teach us to believe in ourselves, and who show us God's love. Our teachers, our preachers, our coaches, our friends. There are so many in our lives who show mercy and compassion, who show us that Love wins. Oh witnesses, stand here beside us.

Household of Trinity, stand here beside us. Hold each other in our grief. Cheer for each other in our joy. Help each other when we fall. Teach each other about ourselves. Encourage each other in our compassion. Pray for each other when we cannot pray ourselves. Tell the truth to each other when the truth seems hard. Be the light and the life and the love that shows that Love wins.

All the saints of God, stand here beside us.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

22nd Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 25 Oct 25 2015

22nd Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 25 Oct 25 2015

We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. We've been on this road for a while now, along with those in the story who are on the way. Before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were, we are, people of the way. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry, before the cross and the passion.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus’ question of Bartimaeus is the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago. But the contrast between the request of James and John and the request Bartimaeus makes is cavernous. James and John were somewhat confused, they ask Jesus for power, they think the kingdom is about a seating chart. Bartimaeus asks to see. Not at all like the power and status that James and John were all about, and Bartimaeus wasn’t even officially a disciple.

Jesus called the disciples, Jesus said to them, come, follow me, and they did, they left everything to follow Jesus. But somehow there's a difference here between James and John, and Bartimaeus. It seems the healing; the transformation of James and John was a bit long in coming, not unlike most, if not many of us. It takes time to be changed by God’s amazing and abundant love. For most of us that doesn’t happen immediately, it happens gradually. I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the importance of examining what it is that we hold most dear. What is it that we hold on to so tightly it becomes idolatrous? What are the barriers that we set up in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others? Are there burdens that we need to set down so that we may follow God’s love in Jesus Christ? We are much more like James and John than we are like Bartimaeus. For most of us, our blindness is not immediately noticeable to others, unlike Bartimaeus whose blindness was obvious. Our hurts and pains are buried deep and wide, and instead of being healed, like Bartimaeus, we look to taking power and hope to sit next to Jesus, like James and John. Jesus' call to us, the call to be followers, to be people of the way, is to open ourselves up, to reduce our baggage, to lay our burdens down, to let Love win. It’s hard to hear the call when there's so much noise, it’s hard to follow when what we carry is so heavy, it’s hard to move when we’ve built our sturdy wall. Being healed isn't easy for us.

Being healed changed Bartimaeus’ life completely. There’s some good and some not so good about being healed. The good part for Bartimaeus was being restored to the community. As a blind man in that culture he was outcast, on the margins, unseen by any who walked by him on that road. His work was begging and as a man restored to society, he had to get a job.

There is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in transformation. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, it's nearly impossible to give that up to an identity as beloved of God. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity may hurt and is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ. The Good News is that when we do let die what is killing us, we make room for Love to interrupt our precisely organized patterns, we make room for Love change our path, we make room to go home by a different way. And there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.

Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. The way at this point is to the cross, which is where the rest of the story takes place. Not easy, no more business as usual, always death before resurrection. Discipleship, following Jesus on the way, to the cross, all the way to resurrection, is not about gaining or wielding power and status, it's not about a seating chart, and it is not about pain and suffering for suffering sake, or for the sake of martyrdom, but is about embracing this life with all it entails. It is as much about joy, thanksgiving and gratitude, as it is about pain,  suffering and tragedy. It is about our God’s willingness to be with us in the middle of it all.

Bartimaeus is called, and healed, and in faith follows Jesus. Had Bartimaeus known what lie ahead for Jesus and for the rest of the followers, he and the others might have bailed, who knows. Thank God our minds don't know what is ahead of us, the fear would surely cripple us. 

The journey to and through the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating, following Jesus is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Bartimaeus could easily have decided it wasn’t worth it, thought to himself, why bother. 

So discipleship as Bartimaeus shows us is not about the reward, it is about the journey. It is about being accompanied by Jesus on the road, it is about accompanying others on the journey, it is about seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us. Unlike Bartimaeus and the others, we know the end of the story. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope. There is hope. And yet, it is still so very difficult, and fearful for us, to be on the way.

Following Jesus is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Following Jesus is seeing healing right in front of us; following Jesus is seeing the divine in one another and joining with one another on the journey. Following Jesus is being willing to be interrupted in the midst of our best laid plans, being interrupted to see the beauty of this creation, being interrupted to help our neighbor. Following Jesus is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Following Jesus is answering yes to God’s call to come, even when the road ahead seems treacherous. Following Jesus is giving all that we have and all that we are because in the beginning, in the midst, and in the end, Love wins.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

21st Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 24 Oct 18 2015

 21st Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 24 Oct 18 2014 audio

Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us. James and John ask Jesus. Arrange it, they said, so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory - one of us at your right, the other at your left. Jesus, I have something I want you to do for me. I want you to grant my wish for a better job, a bigger house, a wonderful spouse. I want you to get me out of this mess I'm in. I want you to make sure that with this investment, I make a lot of money. With this ticket, just make sure I win the lottery. Jesus, I know you can do this for me, and if you do, I will be a better person. I will give ten percent away. I will never again use your name in vain.

James and John, you and me, we get confused about who Jesus is. Sometimes we think Jesus is more like a genie in a lamp, instead of the one who walks this life with us and gives his life for us. James and John are confused, they think this is about seating order at a party, not life in God's kingdom. If Jesus were anything like me, and thank goodness he's not, Jesus would say to James and John, who in the heck do you think I am? But Jesus, in this story, is too polite to say to James and John, since when did you believe this is about you? And we need to hear that too, since when did you believe this is about you?

Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will be put to death. They all know this, but the disciples are unwilling to accept the inevitable death of their friend and teacher. Jesus says to them, if you want to be close to me, if you want me to be present with you, serve one another, serve your neighbor, serve those with whom you most vehemently disagree. This is the model of discipleship.

Jesus says it is not the order in which you sit at the table at the party. Dwight Zscheile, in a book titled People of the Way writes, "In the household of God, no one can claim privilege of place; we are all adopted children by our baptism." And this is the image Jesus invokes with James and John. It is all about diving into the water. "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." We are baptized into Jesus' life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Taking Jesus' cup is about diving into the waters of our baptism, waters that bring the dead to life, waters that fill an empty soul, waters that give a heart the only thing worth living, and worth dying for. We get completely wet in these holy waters. We take each others hands and dive in.

Diving in to the waters of baptism is dangerous. We take the risk of dying. But you and I both know that death is necessary for resurrection. We must die to that which is killing us so that Jesus can raise us to new life. Right now, not later, not after you die, but right now Love wins. Jesus' work on the cross brings new life now. You see, what is true for each and every one of us is that there is that thing that is out there beyond us, that goal we construct our lives around, that dream that demands every ounce of our being, that job that demands all of our attention, all of our energy, or the revenge that consumes us, that is our idol. For James and John it was the prize of sitting next to Jesus at the banquet table. They couldn't see that the prize was an idol. They couldn't see that getting the prize would kill them. Or at least destroy everything they cared about and all their relationships.

What is it for you? What is that prize that you are willing to die for. Lay it down. Lay it down. And take up your most honest and authentic self. Be free. Be transformed, be changed. Because there is where you will find new life, resurrected life, there Jesus will find you. You see, the goal of life is not to have something, to posses something, or someone. Even if that someone may be God. The goal of life is not to gain the reward of an after life. Life is about living fully alive, now, in the midst of God's amazing and abundant love. That's what Jesus' work on the cross and in the resurrection is all about. Life is about living every present moment fully immersed in God's love, and showing forth God's love in your life.

The other part of the good news is that we don't do the work of letting go alone. We do this work in community. I spent a lot of my life by the side of a pool, or a lake, as a lifeguard. In lifeguard training one of the hardest exercises was to dive in and swim up to a person who is acting as if they are drowning, putting that person under control, and then swimming into the shore towing my own weight plus theirs. I truly hoped I would never have to do it for real. But that's actually what we're called to do as a follower of Jesus, as a person who is baptized into Jesus' baptism. You are called to dive into the water, sometimes you're the lifeguard, towing someone else to safety. Sometimes you're the one being saved, and you need to let someone else carry you to safety. But it's together we have a chance to receive the new life that Jesus has for us, together we know that Love wins.

And that's what this community of faith is all about. Diving in and swimming, or thrashing around, whichever it is, we do it together. And swimming takes practice, as does anything that is meaningful. The work of letting go of the idol, letting go of the prize that possesses our hearts and souls is so important, it matters so much, that we need to practice it together, we need each other, we can't do it on our own. We need to be in the company of others also on this path of transformation. We need to practice our prayer and praise together, not so that we make it perfect, but so that God may find us in and through and with one another. This is the body of christ. A whole lot of imperfect people in the presence of holiness and grace, encouraging, serving one another, in love.

And then, God calls us into the world, to feed and clothe, to love and serve others. Amen.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

20th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 23 Oct 11 2015

20th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 23 Oct 11 2015 Audio

Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two thousand and fifteen years, this one was probably the first. This earnest young man wants to hear from Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Wouldn't you like to know that too? Wouldn't you like to sit down with Jesus and find out just exactly what you must do to have eternal life? No more guessing, no more praying that you do the right thing, no more "if I do this God I'd like you to do that," but a clear and concise list that you can check off. Absolute certainty about what it takes to have life after death.

Jesus' first response to this young man is to tell him to follow the law. And this earnest young man reminds Jesus that he is a good Jewish boy and has been following the law since his youth. At this point I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and gathering his spirit together. Jesus looks at him and loves him, and thinks this is not a bad guy, and Jesus says, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The truth is that each one of us gathered here today is that earnest young man. If we have a roof over our heads, if we have a car to drive no matter what shape it's in, if we have shoes for our feet, if we have food to eat for lunch, we are this young man.

And then Jesus goes on to describe the reality that the disciples live in, and the reality that you and I live in. The disciples ask, "who can be saved?" And Jesus answers, it isn't about you at all, it isn't about your wealth or even your poverty, it is not about what you look like, it's not about who you're related to, it's not even about how much you give to or help others. Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible."  What Jesus is saying is that rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, democrat or republican, we are all on this planet together, and none of us get out of this live alive. We can do absolutely nothing to earn, deserve, or in any way change the fact of God's amazing and abundant love. There is no check list for salvation. Love wins. This is an invitation to not look for salvation in your stuff. So stop trying to win God's love, stop trying to earn God's love, it can't be done, it is impossible for us. But it is not impossible for God. The invitation is to live as God's beloved.

So in scripture, when we hear "give all you have to the poor," when we hear "clothe the naked, feed the hungry," we realize that that is how we respond to God's amazing grace, we pour out our love for all those whom God loves. It is at the core of being a follower of Jesus, this is discipleship. And the promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, you will not be bereft, you will not be left with nothing. The promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, Love wins. When you give it all away, you are filled with that which only Jesus has. You will be soaked in God's love, you will be filled with the spirit, you will be re-membered in the body of christ, you will be transformed.

So what keeps us from giving it all away? What is it that is so important to us that we are willing to give up a life in relationship with Jesus, for a life in relationship with all of our stuff? One of the answers is that we are afraid. We are afraid to risk, we are afraid to live our lives fully alive in the love of Christ. We protect what we have, rather than live as a citizen of the kingdom.

So here's a story about a man who had to face his own fear, fear that caused him to work so hard and long it almost cost his marriage. Millard Fuller is the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that many of you know about. Millard Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29, and had experienced the "American Dream." He made it his life's work to pass that dream on, especially through his work with Habitat for Humanity International. This need to serve came upon him when he almost lost his family and his health to the rigors and pressures of the business world.

Fuller's wife abruptly left him at a time he was working too hard and too much. He followed his wife to New York and together they had many soul-searching conversations. The couple finally decided they would sell almost everything they owned. They returned home to Montgomery, Alabama to "sell their home and give away their possessions, donating the proceeds to mission projects worldwide and church-related organizations." Fuller also sold out his share of his business to his partner, and donated the proceeds of that sale to humanitarian causes.

Eventually, the Fullers decided to start a housing partnership plan which would build small houses on plots of land one half-acre each. The homes were to be sold to poor, rural families. Additionally, their faith dictated they follow the biblical edict in Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest." The money would come from Linda Fuller's business, as well as charitable donations, interest-free loans from donors, and later, small mortgage payments from the homeowners themselves.

Fuller later commented, "We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, politically, morally, and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness." They founded Habitat for Humanity International, an organization which was to raise money and recruit volunteers to build homes for those in need. Habitat homes are sold to families or individuals living in substandard housing who do not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels. Some people mistakenly believe that Habitat gives people free homes, but as a Habitat volunteer commented, "We give away nothing but a great opportunity." A small down-payment is required, as is a low monthly mortgage. The mortgage payments go into a fund that perpetuates the program. Additionally, all buyers invest a set number of labor hours in their own home. Fuller calls this "sweat equity" and points out that it builds a sense of pride and ownership in the individuals.

You are already God's beloved, so this isn't about earning your way to heaven. Lay down your fear, and live your live, fully alive, fully immersed in God's love.  Find ways to respond to God's abundant and amazing love with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. Give all that you are and all that you have to bear God's reconciling message, the Good News of God's love. For nothing is impossible in God. Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

19th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 22 Oct 4 2015

19th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 22 Oct 4 2015 Audio

The whole of the gospel of Mark shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like, and throughout the story we learn about being followers of Jesus. Jesus announces the coming of God's kingdom, and Jesus brings to us the embodiment of the kingdom. So this passage from Mark tells us much more about God than it tells us about ourselves, but it does indeed tell us something about ourselves and our role as disciples. It tells us about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to God and to one another. Again Jesus is saying and doing something radical. He shows the Pharisees, and the disciples, in a world where women and children are possessions, that relationship matters. Jesus is saying that relationships with God, and with others, matter. Indeed, not only do relationships matter, relationships can be where our brokenness may be made whole. 

So I start with what it shows us about God. The truth is that God as creator is not just the most powerful integrating force in nature, God is the integrating force in nature. That means that God is wholeness, and in a world of brokenness, in a world of disintegration, it is God who makes us whole. This is how we experience God in the stories of creation, God calls order from chaos, God creates wholeness out of nothing. It is important that we understand that that is the starting point, and that Jesus always points to God's Kingdom as that which is unifying. Kingdom is about wholeness and health, God's kingdom is about compassion and mercy. God's kingdom is about being related to God and to one another. And relationships matter to God. 

So that is how Jesus responds to the questions of law that the Pharisees ask. The Pharisees are concerned with laws in these questions, they are not concerned with love. You and I approach marriage from the standpoint of love, and romance. The Pharisees approach marriage from a legal standpoint. But Jesus says, this is not about law, it is about love. There is a place for law, for protection of the most vulnerable in our society. A very important place. But that is not what this is about. In the 1st century, marriage is a contract by which the man takes possession of the woman from the woman's father. And Jesus responds to the Pharisees, not by upholding or disparaging the law, but by describing God's heart's desire for humanity to live in relationship, relationship that honors and respects the beloved. This kind of relationship is the way God relates to us, and this kind of relationship is God's desire for us in relationship to one another.

God yearns for humanity to be committed to one another, God wants for humanity to put the beloved before self, God wants for humanity to live together with dignity, respect, love. This is what the kingdom looks like. Jesus knows what happens when relationships are rent, and when relationships are torn asunder. That's what he describes in this passage. Humans are torn apart. Hearts are broken. Children are hurt.

We live in a world of contingency, which is all about the opposite of committed relationships. Contingency and casualness, is a message that is splayed all across our screens. The themes of some of many of our favorite television programs are that if you are not satisfied with the partner you have, you can leave them for another. And even deeper than that. The message that in order to be of value in this world you have to possess a big house, a nice car, a good wife, successful and beautiful children is pervasive, and do whatever it takes to get it.

In the world of 1st century Mediterranean culture the highest value was honor and status, not unlike our culture today. It is into all of this that God invokes relationship and community. In God's kingdom, Here is the highest good is commitment to one another. Where promises are made about always being there for the other.

But it is in this world where humanity lives. You and me in all of our glory and in all of the messiness of life live here, in this place. God yearns for us to be together, to put the other first, and yet God knows how we fall short of that. God knows the pain of broken relationships. God knows the pain of love. Isn't that where we are going with Jesus, on this path of discipleship? Straight to the cross, that's the road we are on with Jesus. Right through that pain and suffering of brokenness. Being human is being broken. And as some might say, it ends badly with death on a cross. But you and I know different. We know it doesn't end there. We know that God loves us so absolutely and completely that something amazing happens, that Love wins. That a new thing happens, resurrection. That's the hope in God's relationship with us, and in our relationship with others. We fail. We hurt. We are broken. But because God shares God's very self with us, and because we share our lives with others, we share the very fiber of our being, we are forgiven. We have a second chance. We live through the pain we cause, we live through the pain others cause in our lives. And God's love seeps into our brokenness, God's love seeps into the fissures of our hearts and the fissures of the fibers of our skin and bones and muscles and organs, and somehow we are healed. Somehow we can live again. Somehow, Love wins.

As followers of Jesus, we live in God's kingdom. We live in the place where relationships matter, where relationships are sacred. Where every person has dignity, where every person belongs. The Gospel of Mark starts in the lonely places and Jesus will end up on the cross. But being alone is not what God wants for us. God says, "I am here, in my Son, to be in relationship with you. Nothing can separate us any longer." That's why we do what we do. That's why we ask for forgiveness every time we come to the table to eat. That's why we gather together and stand and kneel shoulder to shoulder to eat the bread and drink the wine. That's why we share our prayers and deposit them in this holy place, together. And that's why we go out into the world bearing God's yearning for relationship to all who we meet. We are Jesus' disciples, we live as kingdom people, and for us, Love wins.

I write and preach these words within days of another massive killing in our country, another time that violence and disintegration seems to rule the day. Sometimes the brokenness seems so vast, the chasm between us so huge, that we cannot even imagine God re-integrating, healing, calling us back together, calling us to wholeness, dieing to set us free. But I believe with all my heart and my mind and my soul, that we can be healed. But I also believe we need to act on God's love, we need to be God's hands and God's feet and God's heart and insist that no one is left out. We need to be the change wherever we find ourselves. Amen. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 21 Sept 27 2015

Oh my gosh, what's a preacher to do with a collection of scripture passages such as we have before us today? What are they even about? The beauty of the lectionary, the lectionary is the proscribed set of bible passages that we hear each week, the beauty of the lectionary is that we don't get to ignore the parts of the bible we don't like, we must at the very least listen to hard passages, and at our best, deal with them. Today I am somewhere in between listening to them and dealing with them.

So, I'll begin with a little about myself today. I had the amazing opportunity, along with Rick, and our adult children, to go to Norway. I grew up attending Monson family reunions, for a long time we got together every year. I heard my Monson family story. It's a story that has formed and shaped who I am today.The paternal branch on my father's side came from a farming community in the west of Norway, near a little town called Stryn, in a green valley called Nesdahl. The family lived in a small farmhouse in that valley, until the day an avalanche destroyed it. Only one of the sisters was injured,  but after that, my great grandfather Jacob, came to America and ended up in North Dakota. There he married Anna Braaton, and they began to have children. Eventually moving to the cornfields of central Minnesota. This story formed my identity. When I was 23, right out of college, I took off and traveled to Norway to meet my relatives, and see this land upon which they lived. And then recently, at our latest family reunion, we heard another part of the story. This was the story of the maternal branch of my father's side. This family, the Braaton's, Anna's family, farmed much closer to Oslo, in the beautiful Hallingdal Valley. And in the summer of 2013, we went to Norway to be in the land of our ancestors, to walk on the land that our ancestors farmed. It was a profound experience. We stood high up on the mountainside which was the farmland, it was no wonder it was subsistence farming and that many of them came to America.

The point of all this is that these stories form much of my identity. And I wonder if what we have before us is about identity, the disciples identity as followers of Jesus, our identity as followers of Jesus. 
This passage appears to be about Jesus admonishing his disciples to lighten up, to stop worrying about others who are following him (but not, apparently, to the disciples’ satisfaction) and instead focus on what matters or, perhaps even more, on avoiding those things that can cause one to stumble and stray from the narrow road.

Scholars tell us that this particular section reflects some conflicts between early Christian communities. Mark is framing this part of his narrative, in other words, to address some of the problems his folks are having with other Christians. Apparently the early Christian church wasn’t all united in their beliefs, sometimes clashed with each other, and occasionally even berated one another over differences in practice. Sound familiar? In other words, Mark was trying to help his congregation answer the question of who they are. Will they, he asks, define themselves over and against other Christians or will they discover their identity in their attempt to follow Jesus, to care for the vulnerable, and to avoid those things that are destructive to self, neighbor, and community.

Who are you? How did you come to your particular answer? Do you define yourself by your accomplishments, or your history, or particular critical experiences, or your relationships, or some combination of all of this? What is the story you tell about yourself? 

The disciples were trying to figure themselves out by not being like their neighbors. "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." The disciples were complaining because these other people were not playing by their rules or following their lead. One of the funny things about this passage is that it follows on the heels of the passage where Jesus admonishes them because they were arguing about who would be the greatest. These disciples are as slow as we are sometimes!

So Jesus says to the disciples, and to us, you are God's beloved, and with you God is well pleased. This is our story, this is the story we must live and tell about ourselves. This is our identity. You have been claimed as God's hearts desire, you are marked as God's own forever. There is nothing you can do to rub that indelible mark off, there is nothing that you can do that would make God not love you.

And the reality in which we live and move and have our being tries so very hard to dissuade us of that truth. So much tries to convince us that we are not worthy, that we are not pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough, sexy enough, good enough. So much tries to tell us a story that we are so guilty, or bad that we are beyond the possibility of God's love. But that is not the story Jesus' life, death, suffering, death, and resurrection tells, that is not the story we tell.

The story we tell, the story of who you are, is the story that indeed Love wins on the cross. It is the story of Jesus, who could have hardened his heart with retribution and revenge, but instead whose last prayer was "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."

We do indeed identify with this story, because we too are broken, in need of being put back together. We try so hard to do this on our own, but until we fall on our knees and lay down the burden of perfection, or control, or wealth, or whatever it is that keeps the pieces of our heart from being whole, our heart will never be whole, and soft, and perfect. 

Our identity as God's children, as God's beloved is what heals us. And our identity as followers of Jesus is what gives us the courage to do what we are called to do. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless. Our country has been host in these last days to the leader of the Catholic church, the leader who holds before the church and our nation, four people who lived their lives courageously as followers of Jesus. Abraham Lincoln, who struggled with the right thing to do with God's people. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. whose life was given so that all God's children may be equal. Dorothy Day, who fed the hungry and housed the homeless. And Thomas Merton, who taught us about this spiritual journey and discipline. 

Who are you? How are you called? What is your identity? 

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020 Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:1...