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? 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 20 Sept 20 2015

 17th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 20 Sept 20 2015

Leaving there, they went through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” The disciples didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. Jesus sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

In the gospel of Mark, whenever the disciples and Jesus were passing through, they were on their way to Jerusalem. And you and I know what happens in Jerusalem, Jesus is hung on the cross. The disciples in this story were afraid, as they so often are, but not sure of what it was they were afraid. And, as fear often is expressed as argument and anger, we hear the disciples arguing. On the road, Jesus surmises that they are arguing about which one of them was the greatest, something that Jesus was not concerned with at all. Jesus' concerns had to do with teaching the disciples how to live out God's dream of reconciling love. The disciples were only  concerned about themselves.

And so Jesus tells them that following him is not about them at all, and Jesus sets as the example of the kingdom, the welcome, the embrace of a child. Jesus shows us that following him is about that sort of welcoming embrace, following him is being the servant of all, following him is not being the greatest, but being vulnerable. This is truly a radically counter-cultural image. 

History shows us various views of children in society. In contemporary American culture we have gained much around the protection of children in families and with child labor laws in the workplace. Children were taken out of factories and the public education system was established only recently, as late as the 19th century. Children have been variously valued as workers in the fields, as extra mouths to feed, and as dispensable commodities.

In the first century Mediterranean world, where space is divided into women's space and men's space, men's space was public space, women's space was private space in the home. A child was most definitely not seen and not heard in public space, and not in men's space in the home. For a child to be in the same space as these men is quite odd and unusual. For Jesus to embrace the child is a radical statement of the change that takes place because Jesus is in the world. What Jesus does in this seemingly tender embrace is to show that even a child, with no status, no possessions, no honor, is loved abundantly by God. What Jesus does is to confer new life on this child.

Jesus also sets as the example of the kingdom a description of what it looks like to be a follower. Followers of Jesus are to be like servants, followers are not to be the greatest, but are to be vulnerable, like the child.

You'd think after reading these stories about Jesus and the disciples we'd have it all figured out by now. But is seems like we have to keep being reminded what discipleship looks like, it seems like we keep forgetting that following Jesus is not about being the best, or the greatest, or the most honored. But following Jesus is about being vulnerable, following Jesus is about being a servant. The disciples kept forgetting, the disciples needed reminding, so do we.

It's tough, in this world where we just keep seeing and hearing about people who grab power, who grab attention, who grab money, for us to follow the path of giving, of serving, of laying down our selves. But that's what following Jesus looks like. And that is where Love really does win. what we really want to do is to hide our true selves. The self that is not perfect, the self that gets hurt and hurts the ones we love most. We try to stuff our brokenness and our warts and our shallowness, and our inability to forgive and our desire for life to be all about me, into our briefcases and our backpacks, or maybe under our beds or into the dark recesses of our basements, so that we don't have to look at all of that darkness, and so that no one else need see our imperfectness. We work so very hard to keep all of that away from the light of the world, away from those who love us most, because, like the disciples, we are afraid. But Jesus says, "take the last place, be the servant." Jesus says, let go of your control, put down your burden, be vulnerable, let my love seep into the hard places of your heart, let my love soak through that hard exterior, let love win.

When we do, amazing things happen. Discipleship is not just about doing the right thing, it is that but it is so much fuller, so much more complete. Following Jesus is about being loved and offering love. Following Jesus is about being treated to grace, and mercy, and compassion, and treating others with grace, and mercy, and compassion. Following Jesus is about being broken, and being healed. Following Jesus is about laying our selves down, and when we do that, we can truly be ourselves and be filled with God's spirit. We then can truly be disciples.

And following Jesus is not just about you, but about all of us. Which brings us back to the children. Here at Trinity, we are one part of the body of Christ, and one of the ways we live that out is in offering hospitality to all who come, no matter what, no matter who, because we believe that Love wins. We believe that God's love, grace, and mercy are available to all, no matter what. We believe that God calls us, as individuals and as a community, to participate in the building of God's kingdom. God's kingdom that looks like embracing children, and everyone. God's kingdom that is revealed in the wisdom and the innocence of the youngest of these. God's kingdom that is made real in the bread and the wine, in the body and the blood. God's kingdom that looks like the community of children sitting in a circle, embraced in the word of God. God's kingdom that looks like hands held up, to be filled with Jesus. God's kingdom that looks like the least who are first. God's kingdom in which Love wins.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost Proper 19 Yr B Sept 13 2015

16 Pentecost Proper 19 Yr B Sept 13 2015 Audio

The Vikings and the Packers had an ice fishing tournament. 
The first day the Vikings caught 100 fish 
and the Packers didn't catch any. 
Oh yea, that's right, I can't tell that joke anymore!

It is my habit to walk each morning. So, on my first morning here, because I don't know my way around very well, I put an app on my phone so I could map a route, I could know where to go and how far I walked. I reviewed the map, and was pretty confident I knew where I was going. I got out a couple of miles, and the streets weren't quite the same as the ones on my map, I figured I could work out my way back, and, got myself all turned around. And then of course, it started to rain. What was I to do? Well, I pulled out my phone, and google mapped my way back. A little later and farther than I had planned, and soaking wet, I made it back to where I had begun. 

And I was reminded, again, that despite our best laid plans, things go array. The way back was not what I had planned, it was surprising and it was beautiful. And on my very first morning as your priest, God reminded me of my baptism. All ministry, your ministry and my ministry begin in baptism. And  as we follow Jesus together, most assuredly we will plan a path and be rerouted, we will be reoriented, we will be sure of one direction and God will take us another. We will be surprised and it will be wonderful. We will get wet and we will remember that in baptism we are God's children, abundantly and amazingly loved. 

All of the work of kingdom building that we do together begins in baptism. All of the work we do together is in response to the amazing and abundant Love of God for us, God's people, God's beloved. 

It is good to remember these things when we are like Peter, and believe me, I am like Peter quite a bit. Like Peter, I answer Jesus at least three times, yes Lord, I love you, and like Peter, I deny Jesus at least three times, no, I do not know him. Like Peter, I can get so excited about who Jesus is that I jump out of the boat to go meet him, and like Peter in today's gospel, with my words and my actions, I deny who Jesus is. Why is this?

I wonder if it is because this Good News of God's kingdom is so radically different than the world in which we live. This good news is just so very hard for you and for me and for Peter, and for those who are not yet here in our pews, to believe. "You are the messiah" they say. And Jesus says, don't tell them, I think, maybe because this life of following Jesus is so counter-cultural and therefore threatening.

Like Peter, we look for a savior who will get us out of this mess, who will make life easy for us, who will tell us what to do and how to do it, so that we might enjoy the accolades, the notoriety that comes along with showing off our wealth, or our talent, or whatever it is that we have. But following Jesus isn't like that, that's not the way it works, no matter how much we wish for salvation from the difficulty of the situation, no matter how much we wish for prosperity and ease of life, following Jesus doesn't get it for us.

You see, the truth of our lives speak about the path of pain and suffering, the truth of our lives speak about the path of poor decisions, misplaced trust, love gone wrong. The truth of our lives speak about the effects of the ravages of disease. And there is no one and nothing that can just swoop into any of that and make it all pretty.

But the truth of our lives speaks to the truth of the Good News. The truth of our lives points to hope rising out of the ashes of despair. The truth of our lives points to crashing and burning followed by baby steps of recovery. The truth of our lives, the truth of Jesus' life, shows us that there is always resurrection. And resurrection never goes around pain and suffering, resurrection is on the path of pain and suffering.

So today's gospel is all about this path of following Jesus. This path doesn't result in success as defined by culture, it's not about wealth or possession. This path isn't about ease of living or absence of disease. It is not a gospel of prosperity. This path, Jesus says, is to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and follow.

Now, just in case any of you hear that as a call to suffer in silence, or just to take what the world throws at you, or even taking abuse at the hands of the one who professes to love you, that is not what this is about and it is not what I am saying. Jesus is talking about the new creation, Jesus is talking about reorienting the culture as they knew it, Jesus is talking about being the change that makes the world just, Jesus is talking about the kingdom that is God's love for all of creation, no exceptions, no exclusions. Jesus is saying that Love wins.

That reorienting that Jesus does with us, is radically different. Jesus is saying that we indeed must lose our lives to save them. But what looks to the world like loss is not loss at all. You see, as we follow Jesus, new life is what we live on the way. On this path, we lay down ourselves for the sake of the kingdom and relationship, for the sake of compassion, for the sake of mercy, justice, and healing. 

And as we follow Jesus, we are about God's healing mission in the world. When we follow Jesus, together, we bear witness to God's love and healing in this hurting world. We make real to the world God's amazing and abundant love for all of creation. Following Jesus is about breaking bread with outcasts and sinners, healing the sick, and proclaiming good news to the poor. Following Jesus is about changing the structure of this world to be justified with the rule of God's kingdom. 

As Episcopalians we make a unique proclamation as we follow Jesus. People make that proclamation on our behalf when we are baptized, and each time we baptize in the community of faith. And we may be reminded of that proclamation and that promise every time we get wet, whether that is at this font or when we get soaked in the rain. 

I am so very happy to be part of you today, to follow Jesus with you in the world, to bear God's love to all the ends of the earth, to be marked and claimed as God's beloved, to invite all God's children to give worship and praise here at Trinity.

Thanks be to God.

9 Pentecost Yr B Proper 11 July 22 2018

Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And so they went. I had the great...