Saturday, January 24, 2015

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany Yr B Jan 25 2015

Audio 1.25.2015

We have been hearing stories for the last couple of weeks, stories that remind us that God loves us, that we are the delight of God's life. Stories of baptism, God claims us, and we are marked as God's own forever. God calls us, God shows up with us and for us. God calls us wonderfully and fearfully made. 

In the gospel of Mark, there is no pussy-footing around. There is no nativity story as there is in Luke, there are no begats like in Matthew, and no metaphorical language like in John. No, Mark gets right to the point. In the first sentences the writer says, this is about the Good News, who is Jesus the Messiah. John announced Jesus, Jesus is baptized, and the next thing you know Jesus is calling disciples. Not even enough time to get strapped in before we hit the first 200 foot climb followed by a one second drop. Mark gets down to business.

It's not much different for these fisher people. Just imagine this. Just imagine being in that fishing boat with Simon and Andrew, with James and John, having fished all night. You're exhausted, and you must fix the holes in your nets before you can call it a day. You just want to get the work finished, take your haul home, and go to bed. And Jesus passes by. He yells from the shore, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Who is this guy? How can you make a living fishing for people? How's that going to pay the bills? How's that going to put food on the table? How's that going to bring any honor to the family? This is just crazy. And yet you go. And yet you step out of the boat and follow. What is so compelling about this man that causes you to leave your father, to leave your livelihood, to leave your honor, and follow. 

Mark doesn't give us a whole lot of clues about what is so compelling about this man Jesus, except to tell us that this is the Good News of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus is the truth, Jesus speaks the truth, Jesus knows your truth. And that is compelling. And when you say yes to the call, you don't really know what to expect, except that your life will be changed. You will be transformed. When you say yes to the call, Love wins, mercy prevails, compassion lives. 

Because that is the way it is with Jesus, it isn't easy, comfortable, or clear. So what does saying yes to the call look like? It looks like a guy who walks to the other side of the road to help someone who had been attacked by strangers. It looks like a woman who gives a man a cool drink of water at the well. It looks like the soil that is rocky, that is thorny, and that is fertile. It looks like the tiniest of seeds. 

Being perfect, or even having our act together, is not a prerequisite to saying yes to Jesus' call. Remember the Old Testament story that is before us today from Jonah. What we heard is the conclusion of God calling Jonah. The beginning of that story goes like this. The word of the Lord came to Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah's response to God's call was to turn tail and run. Not unlike most of us when we hear God's call. Jonah ran from God until he could run no further, Jonah said no to God for as long as he could. The result of Jonah's eventual yes, was that everyone turned away from their evil ways, maybe in other words, they turned toward mercy and compassion. 

Saying yes to Jesus' call is what frees us to be who we are, and to live the truth of who we are, beloved and forgiven. I think the reason people say no to God, and say no to church, is because of the mistaken believe that you have to be perfect to stand before God and others. I think the reason that has happened is because some who call themselves Christian have set up some sort of perfection checklist, some sort of standard of behavior that no one can live up to, and everyone begins to live a lie. 

Saying yes to Jesus, is to say yes to the truth. The truth of who we are, We are people who are broken, we are people who make mistakes, some huge mistakes, some not so much. We are people who betray. We are people who love and who fall short of love. We are people who get ourselves into trouble with wanting too much and expecting too little. We are people who believe we can make it on our own and forget we are not the center of the universe. We are people who erect and worship idols. We are people who build walls around us so thick to guard our brokeness and to look perfect. 

Saying yes to Jesus, saying yes to the truth, looks like the guy who spent some time in jail, and who can listen to others trying to find their way. It looks like the mom who struggled to live through addiction, and who can listen to other moms who are so afraid to face up to their own lies. It looks like couples who work through the depths of sadness, recommit to each other, and listen to those who can't see the possibility. It is each and every one of us knowing we are just inches away from losing our job, or losing our home, or losing our spouse, and living in the midst of hope and joy anyway, because Jesus lived it all too.

Saying yes to Jesus is to say yes to the truth. And the truth will set you free. Saying yes to Jesus is to let love win, it is to let the mercy and the compassion seep into our scars and heal us. It is to let love win and let the the mercy and the compassion transform us. When you say yes, your life begins to change, you are in the presence of God, and your truth begins to invite others into healing. Jesus' truth, your truth, your life in God's presence invites others to live a live fully alive, a live filled with truth, with love, with mercy and compassion. Your life begins to show forth the moral decision making that is apparent in the baptismal covenant. You begin to do what is right, instead of what is selfish or greedy. You bear Jesus' light in the world, and those you encounter, those who encounter you, witness the truth of your life and are invited to be healed by Jesus. Come and see. 

Studies are showing that people today and especially those under 50 don't so much want to GO to church as they want to BE the church.  I'm wondering how we can empower one another, as we go to church, to be able to live out our calling as we seek to be the church. How do you live out your calling, out there in the world? At work, at school, at play. That is being the church. As you do that, more and more, as you make the invitation into Love, others will come, you will see.

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Frederick Buechner.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2nd Sunday after Epiphany Yr B Jan 18 2015

Audio 1.18.2015

Last week we read about the Baptism of Our Lord, and we remembered our own baptisms. We remembered that we are the delight of God's life and marked as Christ's own forever. We remember who we are and whose we are. This week in these readings about Eli and Samuel, John's story of calling the disciples, and in the psalm, we are reminded that God already knows us, God already knows you, God claims us, God loves us first. A wise one said to me, You may be able to knit a Norwegian sweater, but only God can knit a Norwegian. 

I believe we are mistaken when we think we need to find Jesus. Like Jesus is playing a game of hide and seek with us, and he's been behind the couch all along. "Lord, you have searched me out and known me, you know my sitting down and my rising up, you discern my thoughts from afar," psalm 139 reminds us. We don't need to find Jesus, Jesus calls us, indeed we need to be of a heart and a mind and a posture to listen. We spend so much time and energy building our own walls that we cannot hear, we are blinded to God who shows up, to Jesus. We build walls that alienate and isolate ourselves from the love that claims our hearts. The litany is endless.

You've heard it, you've said it, you've experienced it. There's the I'm not going to church list. I've got better things to do, I don't have time, It's the only time we have together as a family, I'd rather drink coffee, read the paper, look at facebook, I don't like the music they sing there, I don't like the prayers they say there, I don't like the people there, they're hypocrites, I don't like the style of worship there, I don't like the priest there. There's nobody like me there, everybody is like me there. There's no kids there, there's too many kids there, the kids there make noise.

There's the I'm spiritual but not religious list. I don't need organized religion, I can worship God on my own, at home, in nature, on the golf course. There's the I don't believe in God list. That God is violent, punishing. I can't believe in a God who takes innocent lives, I can't believe in a God who causes suffering. I can't believe in a God who doesn't take all of this pain and suffering away. 

And then there's the I'm not good enough list. I've done something so horrible God would not want me, I'm guilty of something, I'm not worthy, I'm no good. And the I'm too good for them list. They don't believe what I believe, that doesn't fulfill my needs, I don't like that music. 

And, there is the fear. If I really listen, I might have to do something about it. And that, my friends is where it really is, isn't it? Listening and responding to God's call, God's claim on our hearts, is scary. It means that we go outside of what is comfortable, it means that we take risks with our hearts, and maybe even our lives. But, in a world torn apart by anger, hatred and conflict, we have the privilege of being living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds. In a families torn apart by the drive for more, and bigger, and better, we have the privilege of being living signs of a love that can lift up the lowly and bring down the mighty.  


The truth is that it is God's hearts desire for us to be in relationship with God, and any relationship takes work, it takes listening, it takes learning, it takes responding. Around here we believe that God loves, we believe that love shows up in Jesus, and in you and in all of us. But, love is just a word until someone gives it meaning, Jesus is the meaning, you are the meaning. 

So we listen to God's call, and we discern God's call to us. We put aside all the excuses, all the reasons why not, and our fear, and we respond. We do as the disciples did, we do as Eli and Samuel did, we listen together, in community, with each other, not alone. We listen together, but we don't necessarily all respond in the same way, because part of our job is to be who we are, fully and completely. Part of our response to God is the way we live our lives, the love and compassion and mercy that we offer to others. 

How do you live your response to God's claim on your life? How do you live your response to God's call to you? How do we, here at St. Andrew's live our common life together, in response to God's call? How do you, how do we, show up and show forth the light, and the love, the suffering and the death, the hope, that is the truth of this life? 

This week we remember Martin Luther King Jr. a man who responded with courage to God's claim on his life. Martin Luther Kings Jr showed us that dreams are made of treating every bit of God's creation with mercy, compassion, and justice. 

Sometimes the violence and the tragedy in our world, in our community seems overwhelming, sometimes we even just stop paying attention. In these turbulent days, respecting the dignity of every human being seems to be in question, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself seem foolish. But we've also seen how love can change a situation, we've seen how a kind word, a compassion act, can be the change the reality in which we live. 

I heard a story, about a boy who responded to some teasing that was inflicted on him, not by being mean. Instead, he got to school early, and stood at the front door, holding it open as the students entered, greeting each one with a good morning. Soon, the students were greeting each other with smiles and hellos. Soon, the students were opening doors for each other all over the building. Soon the culture of the student body was changing. 

Respond to God's claim on your heart and your life by opening doors for those around you, and you too, will change the world. Have courage, do not be afraid, listen, show up and show forth God's love. Amen. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Baptism of Our Lord Jan 11 2015

Audio 1.11.2015

Do you remember your baptism? Not many of us do, we belong to this tradition in which we baptize babies, most of us were baptized at weeks or months. Only a few of us were baptized at an age so that the memory is first person rather than by a story told by our parents. Some of us are baptized by desire, we may never have had the water thrown on us as a child, but we've been here enough times that we've made these vows our own.  Today I want you to think about your baptism, the story you may know about your baptism, a story you tell about baptism, think about Jesus' baptism, and our lives beyond. 

We read this passage from Mark on this day to mark a liturgical movement, the Baptism of Jesus. Mark's gospel gives no birth narrative, it begins with, "this is the Good News", and then John is baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. Throughout Advent and Christmas, we have been wondering about incarnation and what that looks like. We've been talking about incarnation and showing up, God shows up for us, we show up for others. 

Well, God shows up in this story, and when Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit, like a dove, says to Jesus, You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. Wrapped up in these words of love are the blessings of identity, worth, and unwavering regard. And then in the gospel of Mark, immediately following Jesus baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan, and then Jesus calls the disciples, and they get to work. This event, Jesus' baptism, isn't incidental to Mark's story about Jesus, it's foundational. It is the foundation of all Jesus does and is. Again and again, as Jesus casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and welcomes the outcast, he will only do to others what has already been done to him, telling them by word and deed that they too, are beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased. 

And the darkest moment of the story when Jesus feels absolutely abandoned is followed immediately by the story of resurrection, where the messenger testifies that God has kept God's baptismal promise and continues to accept and honor Jesus as God's own beloved Son. So also, at our low moments, we might remember that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same one who promised in baptism to never abandon us and to love and accept us always as beloved children, even and especially when we have a hard time loving and accepting ourselves.

Baptism, Jesus' baptism and our own baptism, and the times we remember our baptisms together, are incredibly important. It reminds us that we are loved by the Creator of the Cosmos, and thereby empowers us to love and accept others in turn. Baptism reminds us that wherever we go and whatever we may do or have done to us, God continues to love us, to hold on to us.

Rick and I have a running joke, and I hope you will not take offense to this, about trophy's and awards. We have been through a generation now, our sons are a part of it, where everyone got a trophy. At the end of the season, there was no championship game played, trophies were handed out all around. Every kid got a trophy for participation, but I think every kid knew the difference. They were keeping score on the bench, I think it was us parents who couldn't handle the winning and losing. But somehow when everyone wins, everyone is affirmed as a participant, we mistake affirmation for love. And each one of us, deep down inside, still knows, we don't deserve it. But in our family, we were fortunate to lose. Many of you know our Willie, who played football from the time he was in third grade until his junior year in college. We lived in Texas when Willie was in 3rd through 5th grade. We were involved in a football league that at times seemed a bit too serious for us, the score was kept in those games. From that time forward, Willie never played on a team with a winning record. And some of those losing scores were like 56 to nothing. Sometimes, the score was so skewed and our team was far enough behind to call the game at halftime. Willie would say to the coach, let's just play football. I learned from Willie what it means to persevere, to keep going in the face of desperate odds, not because you'll win, not because everyone gets a trophy at the end, but because of love. He loved that game, and knew it for what it was, a game. 

Baptism isn't about affirmation. Affirmation is about everyone getting the participation award and everyone knowing that it really doesn't mean much. Affirmation is about how many "likes" you get on your facebook post. Affirmation is about how many followers or friends or fans you have on your twitter feed. Now don't get me wrong, affirmation is nice, but it's not sustainable, it has no depth. Baptism is about being knocked down so many times that you don't know if you can get up again and you do because somebody loves you, in Willie's case that may have been his mom and dad, but in baptism, it's the God who creates us, sustains us, and walks with us. 

In baptism you live the reality that you are a beloved child of God, that you are marked as Christ's own forever, and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that will change that. It is our identity, that is who we are. It is not an affirmation, it is a claim on our lives and our hearts. You, my beloved, are worthy of my life, just as you are.

So what do we do with that? What do we do with God's loving claim on our hearts and our lives? It changes us, it has to change us. What do we do with baptism? In this world where there is violence and tragedy, right in our neighborhoods and around the world, in this world where people we think are important make huge mistakes, in this world where people go to sleep at night hungry and cold; we walk the road of incarnation, death, and resurrection with Jesus. 

We show up, incarnation. 
We don't give up even when it seems like the world thinks we should.
We wake up each day confident that the love that we bear, the love that wins, the claim God has on us, is enough. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Feast of the Epiphany Jan 4 2014 (transferred)

Audio 1.4.2015

Every good fairy tale begins with once upon a time. As the tale progresses we hear of princesses, princes, witches, fairy god-mothers, good and evil, and happily ever afters. It's pretty clear Prince Charming comes swooping in to rescue the Princess, or the damsel in distress, and everyone lives happily ever after. Sometimes people mistake God's story for a fairy tale. For them God is a magician who will swoop down and rescue them from bad decisions. Or God is someone with whom a bargain can be made. God, if you get me out of this mess, then I will go to church every Sunday. This would be the transactional God. And there's the God of certainty, just like in the fairy tale, good and evil are very clear, you can tell them apart by the color they wear. And, as long as the rules are followed, as long as the other remains the other, as long as good and evil are kept separate, we will live happily ever after and all our wishes will come true.

Recently, Rick and I went to see Into the Woods, a fairy tale mash-up that leads the viewer on a journey through the deep, dark woods. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk Rapunzel, and the Bakers, discover that the journey is not necessarily one of happily ever after, but of joy and pain and suffering. It is a fairy tale that is as much unlike a fairy tale as is our story of incarnation, love, and resurrection. The journey into the woods is fraught with tragedy and deception, broken promises and wishes come true, good that looks like evil and evil that looks like good. Family trees that are organic and families that arise from death and new birth.

Fairy tales and anti-fairy tales may teach us truths, and show us the precariousness of life, but the Jesus story is not a fairy tale, it is the truth. It is the Divine Love Story, in which the God of all creation shows up in human history, God is with us. We are in the midst of incarnation, the baby born in a barn, born to change the world, born to bring new life, new light, new hope. The world is about to turn. And today we are invited into the woods with the magi, we are invited to this journey with Jesus, with all it's twists and turns, with all it's chaos and messiness, in danger and in light. 

These magi, who show up for this birth, are there so that we may see the significance of this baby, this birth. These magi show us that there will be some time when political tyrants will be overthrown. These magi show us that brutal power exercised to control the weak and the vulnerable will be toppled. And these magi show us that those in power need be afraid, because the one who is to overthrow them is here.

And, maybe these magi are like Cinderella, or Jack, or Little Red Riding Hood, or the Bakers. Maybe all of them show us that incarnation, God showing up in our lives, calls us to respond to life's circumstances, the sadness and tragedy that we encounter, with the same kind of love that God has for us, God's beloved. Incarnation, God showing up, calls us to show up for others, not because we have something they do not, like power and prestige, or all the right answers, but because we are just like them, broken and flawed, hungry and tired. God, born in a barn, vulnerable and cold, calls us to show up for others because we are all alike, in need of the assurance of the absolute and abundant love that is only God's. With the magi, we carry that love into the world, not because of who we are or what we possess, but because we are loved.

Perhaps our journey is not so different from that of the magi, with their turns sometimes into safety, sometimes into precarious territory. Perhaps our journey is not so different from those who go into the woods.  Sometimes we may be needing to ask for directions, sometimes divine guidance may be so obvious that we could not miss our destination. Sometimes we may be looking for those with whom to travel, those who are like us, broken and lost, needing family and friends to help us find the way.  

If ever in our lives our long journeys do lead us precisely to the place we have been seeking, to the place where we see Jesus, may we like them also rejoice, becoming overwhelmed with our joy.  But always on the way, may we show forth the love that wins, may we give freely in response to that love. May we follow Jesus and show up to feed one another. 

Sometimes we go into the woods and are overwhelmed by the fear, and the dark. Sometimes we read our newspapers and become overwhelmed by the brutality of our neighbors, the fear of our nations. Sometimes I get exasperated by the need of those who come here to St. Andrew's and ask for help, for food and for gas. And in those dark places we wish it were different. But wishing only works in fairy tales. Our call is to respond to the God who shows up in our lives and in our community of faith. As we respond, as we with the magi go home by the way of love, and compassion, and mercy, we with God are capable of changing the world. That's what incarnation is. Showing up, walking the way, going into the woods, and bringing with us all that we are, all that we have, not because we have more or better, but because we are loved. Love changes us, together, we change the world.