Saturday, February 28, 2015

2 Lent Yr B March 1 2015

Audio 3.1.2015

Eugene Peterson, who we know best from his bible translation called The Message, wrote a book called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. What a curious title. And yet the title describes what I have come to think Lent is about, a long obedience in the same direction. You see, Lent is this opportunity we are given to practice what it is we really do for our whole lives. It is a long obedience in the same direction, and that direction is God.

We focus particularly during Lent on the discipline of prayer, fasting, and alsmgiving. The discipline of prayer; putting ourselves in the posture of listening. The discipline of fasting; giving up that which keeps our attention away from love, giving up that which keeps us hostage to fear, giving up that which seduces us into a sense of superiority. And the discipline of almsgiving. The discipline of Almsgiving is sharing our wealth, all of it, not just the money. Sharing our wealth of compassion, sharing our wealth of joy, and sharing our wealth of food and shelter.

So in his book Eugene Peterson writes something I find rather odd, he says, "people submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel as if they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no one they meet. Such dissatisfaction with the world as it is is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship. The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God. "

I have a sense of the culture we live in today as not only deeply dissatisfying, but also fearful. And as long as we are afraid of what might be, or around the next corner, we are held hostage to immediate fixes and short sighted solutions. 

We are afraid of not being the best, so we come up with short term solutions to long term issues. We are so sure of our status, and of course we are better than the other, and we are so afraid of our differences, we come up with ways to exclude people from benefits the rest of us take for granted, or we make laws that disregard the dignity of every human being. But fear is not the way God would have us live our lives. God would have us live our lives in Love and Hope, that is what is in our gospel today. Lay it down, Mark says, lay down all of that fear and anxiety, and take up the cross of God's love. Lay down all of that fear and anxiety and inner angst, so that there is room for mercy and compassion.

We have a cross in our pocket to help remind us of the long obedience. And that takes a long view, not an immediate or instant conversion. Lent gives us some practice in that long view. We can't just beam up to Easter and resurrection. We need to be on this journey, we need to carve out some time and space where we can let love in, let truth in, where we can set our minds on divine things. The truth we hear today is a very hard truth. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for God's sake and the sake of the Good News, will save it. 

We get so convinced that our way is the right way, we tend to walk in front of Jesus, we think we can show Jesus the way. Jesus even is reported to say to Peter, "get behind me Satan." It's as if we say to Jesus, "our way, the way of the world, the way of greed, of power, the way of status and honor, these are the way Jesus. You'll never get ahead in the world if you don't take advantage of every situation, if you don't step on and over the ones who are too slow or too weak. You'll never get ahead if don't exert yourself as the best, the fastest, the most important. Following is for losers, being out in front where winners find themselves."

But that's not the way this story goes. We are to follow Jesus on a journey that just takes time, a whole lifetime, and even more than that. That's what Abraham and Sarah's story is about. God is calling Abraham to God's future, not Abraham's wealth or our wealth, success, or even failure. Abraham and Sarah's story surely is a story that has a long view of things. No baby according to their plans and their timeline, but according to God, they are the parents of a nation. 

So what is this journey about? Why do these stories that seem so odd, that seem so counter cultural, that seem so topsy turvy, hold any meaning for us at all? This journey is to freedom, that is what God offers. Over and over the old testament stories show God's people that they are free, and for a while they live in freedom. But they always seem to fall back, miss the mark, making bricks for Pharaoh is a sure thing. Wandering in the wilderness, looking for food and a place to make camp, pitch their tents, is so much more uncertain. God's freedom is a lot more uncertain than the certainty of riches. 

So you see, creating the quiet space, making camp, pitching your tent, is to listen to God's call to love and freedom. Those who lose their life for God's sake will save it. As we make this pilgrimage, and practice this long view of things, as we become followers of Jesus, rather than try to tell Jesus what to do, we begin to be transformed and formed in God's image. We become the people who include rather than exclude. We become the people who love no matter what. We become the people who fall on our knees in repentance when we miss the mark, and rise up in praise to give God glory. We become the people who carry the light for someone walking in great darkness and we will walk beside someone who can carry the light for us. We will stand shoulder to shoulder at the table with a whole bunch of imperfect, but perfectly loved, people of all ages—and we will leave renewed, strengthened and forgiven.

We are these people. We are these people who risk uncertainty, who risk imperfection, who risk being open-hearted, for Jesus' sake. We are the people who encounter Jesus in the mess and the muck, we are the people who encounter Jesus in children among us, we are the people who sing mostly together and mostly on the right notes, whether we know the song or not. Because the kingdom is not about perfection or certainty or judgment, the kingdom is about love and freedom, the kingdom is about encountering Jesus in the here and now, the kingdom is not about us and our institutions and our judgments and our morality, the kingdom is about God. 

Following Jesus on this journey is to follow the way of love, and freedom, it is to accompany one another on the way, no one is excluded. It is to fall down, and to take the hand of the one who reaches out to us in love, it is to reach out in love to the one who has fallen down. And then we can take out the real cross, made not of pretty stones but of our own arms spread out to welcome and to embrace. Now that's a cross we can carry.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

1 Lent Yr B Feb 22 2015


Audio 2.22.2015

Lent begins with this story of Jesus' baptism. And Lent ends with our own recommitment to our own baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil. And in between, we have quite a journey with Jesus. Actually, we heard part of this story not long ago, just after Christmas as we observed the baptism of Jesus. With this story the gospel writer shows us the true identity of Jesus. Jesus is the beloved son of God. During this journey of Lent, we also see our own true identity. We too are beloved children of God. What we see is that Jesus is who God says he is, so also we are who God says we are, in Christ we are beloved sons and daughters of God. All the rest of the gospel of Mark shows what that means and what that looks like. 

You all that I love to get you all wet when we reaffirm our baptismal promises. I think that means so much to me because encountering water has always been a very powerful experience. I have lived my life in and around water. When I was a little girl I would spend my summer days at the neighborhood pool, we swam and sunned and played. I learned to swim there, and eventually I taught others to swim there. I lifeguarded there and I coached swimming there. And I swam on the synchronized swimming team in high school. Eventually I moved on to lifeguard at a Minneapolis lake, and I was waterfront director at a YMCA camp, where Rick and I met.

During our early married years, my dad had built a place on a beautiful lake in north central Minnesota. We would spend weekends there. By then my favorite water activity was to go out into the deep water and float, the quiet and calm of the water did much to renew my spirit. Tom and Willie learned to swim before they could walk. They would be by my side when I coached the swim team at the Y.

Water is powerful, it is intoxicating, and it can kill as well as thrill. Did you know that the human body is 60% water, and that too much water can kill you? The power of water can take away life as easily as it can give life. When we live here on this piece of land and we give thanks for every drop of water that falls from the sky, even if it is as snow. Did you know that water is a closed system. The rain drops that do fall on us are the very same rain drops that fell on Noah and his wife and children. The Power of Water is amazing. We spend the first nine months of our lives afloat, and the rest of of lives trying not to drown.

Water is this powerful symbol of baptism, the powerful symbol of life in Christ. This powerful symbol is capable of containing the meaning associated with life, death, and resurrection. That is why stories are told about water and it’s intoxicating influence.

In the story of Noah, water took away life, and in the story of Jesus’ baptism water gives life. It is quite appropriate that we begin our journey through Lent with Jesus in the water. The water washes us clean, and in the water we teeter on the brink of death, and in the water we hear with Jesus “with you I am well pleased.” At the beginning of our Lenten journey, we have an opportunity to look squarely at the power that is life and death, and choose to walk this road, equipped by our identity as baptized people, as people who have died with Christ and risen with Christ.

In the gospel of Mark, there is no time between Jesus' baptism and the time in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. No time to reflect on who he was or what he was doing. He didn't have time to figure out what a good person, a good teacher, a good friend, a good leader would say or do then try to say or do that. I believe that Jesus sought the living God, claimed his identity as the son of God, and let his life, his words, his relationships and his love, even to giving of himself on the cross, flow from that identity as God’s beloved. Perhaps that’s what God is calling us to do this Lent; to follow Jesus out of the water and into the desert to listen deeply for what God has to say to us through Baptism. 

As we begin this Lent together, in the waters that are of Jesus’ baptism, and as we complete this Lent renewing our own baptismal promises, we remember who we are. We are is God’s beloved. We are people who are beautifully and wonderfully created by God. We are people who are blessed by God. We are people who have a tendency to turn away from God to worship idols, we tend to hurt ourselves and each other, we tend to build up our own wealth instead of working for peace and justice for all. We tend to build up our walls so that we don't have to be honest with one another. But we are people who God calls back into relationship, God loves us so much that God is willing to be one of us to show us the way.

On Ash Wednesday I asked you to consider what it is that holds you hostage? What is the thing that keeps you afraid? What is the thing that keeps your attention away from important things? What is the thing that keeps you from being whole? And today I ask you, what gets in the way of living fully the creation that God has made you to be. What causes you to forget who you are? What must you put aside, so that you may be fully and completely who you are created to be? What must you die to, so that you can be free to live?

I found this a couple years ago, and I find it continues to illustrate so well what it means to lay aside what keeps us hostage, so that we may walk this journey with Jesus. 

Holy Spirit, Holy One, Creator Spirit, God of all....I lay aside my key ring, a sign of my car and house, of my main possession. I lay aside my cell phone, my means of communication. I lay aside my credit card, my source of finance and money. I lay aside my pen, my way of writing down my thoughts and intentions. I lay aside my glasses, my perspectives, my frames for seeing the world. I lay aside my watch, my timetables and timeframes. I lay aside my comb, my way of looking at myself. I take off my shoes, my method of transporting myself, the way I walk in the world. Then, stripped in this way of most of my securities and techniques for coping and functioning in the world, I try to simply acknowledge the presence of the One who made all things, in whom we live and move and have our being. I am seeking to be alone with the only true God, the one true reality behind and within everything, and making that quiet space. Then I pick up my key ring, praying, “Use my car and house, my main possessions, for your purposes”. I pick up my cell phone, praying, “Use my means of communication, to share messages of your goodness and grace”. I pick up my credit card, praying, “May I spend and be spent in the ways of righteousness and justice”. I pick up my pen, praying, “Guide me to write your thoughts". I pick up my glasses, praying, “Help me see the world through your eyes”. I strap on my watch, praying, “May I live in your time.” I pocket my comb, praying, “May I see your beauty around me”. I put on my shoes, praying, “May I walk in your ways ”.

I think claiming our identity as God’s beloved is what Lent is all about. If you haven't already taken a rock with a cross on it, from the basket, make sure you take one today, and keep it with you all during Lent, so that you may be reminded, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday Feb 18 2015

Audio Ash Wednesday

We so quickly, so easily forget who we are. In this fast paced world where all information is instantaneous and where photographs travel across the world in minutes, sometimes we believe that we must look like and talk like everyone else in order to be seen or heard. And when violence and hatred are the stuff of our headlines, and images of people being executed are in our news and on our screens, we suffer compassion fatigue and we quickly forget. We put aside the truth that we are indeed created in God's image, for God's love and delight. 

The cross that we were marked with at our baptism is the very same cross that we trace this day. The cross that we trace over with these ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us especially that we are God's delight, we are God's beloved, we are claimed and marked as God's own forever. And in this holy season of Lent, we have a chance, we have an opportunity to remember that. We have an opportunity to turn around, to face God, to face others, to face ourselves and to lay down that which keeps us away from God’s love. We have an opportunity to remember who we are in our baptismal covenant and to live that out in the world in every time and in every place. 

The invitation of Ash Wednesday is to go deeper into the heart of God. The whole point is not that we are just dust, but that we are precious, beloved children of God. The whole point is that we are precious enough to God that God would send God’s only Son to be with us, to repair and reconcile us to God, to bring us back to God, our source, our heart. The point is not that God wants us to be buried in dirt and dust but that God wants us to be buried with Christ. Being buried with Christ is the baptismal action, but it is not all that happens, we are also risen with Christ. 

God does not desire separation, and Lent is not about our wretchedness, God desires relationship, Lent is about that relationship. 

So the cross that we trace today not only reminds us who and whose we are, but it also reminds us that by it we are free of the bondage of death. We are freed from the bondage of sin. We are freed from that which holds us hostage. What is that for you? What holds you hostage? What is the thing that keeps you afraid? What is the thing that keeps your attention away from important things? What is the thing that keeps you from being whole? Whatever that is, that is the thing that keeps you from being free. 

This journey that we take with Jesus, this journey to the cross, in the dust and the dirt, and through the cross to new life, this is what Lent is all about. It is about paying special attention to God’s relationship with us, God’s precious love for us. It is about this amazing thing that God has done, and continues to do, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

And the effect of the love that wins, is that we are freed to be loved, to love and to serve, and to be all that God intends for us to be. We are freed of all that keeps us captive, so that we do not need to be afraid to live our lives as God’s new creations. God's love, and Jesus' journey to the cross and on the cross inspires us with the courage to strive for justice and peace, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to offer compassion and mercy to all.

There are three things I am asking of you today. First, if you wish, pick up a piece of paper, and write on it that thing that keeps you from fully loving yourself or others. What is it that holds you hostage. What is it that you are afraid of. And at the appointed time, drop that piece of paper in the brazier, and it will be joined with the rest and burned for our ashes. 

Secondly, think seriously about what it is you might do this Lent so that you put yourself intentionally in God's presence. There is a book of daily devotions you can take home, there are many opportunities for you to have daily devotions online, you could participate in Lent Madness and learn all about saints, people just like you. You could read our One Book St. Andrew's and come on Sunday morning to discuss it, or participate in an online conversation in our facebook group. And there is always Morning Prayer. The possibilities are many. Your job is to chose one and do it.

And thirdly, as you leave today take with you a cross that you can carry throughout all of lent, a cross reminding you that dieing and rising with Jesus is not a burden, but it is freedom to love and to serve, and to remind you that you are indeed, God’s beloved.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Last Sunday after the Epiphany Yr B Feb 15 2015

Audio 2.15.15

This is my son, with whom I am well pleased. These are the words we heard at Jesus' baptism, these are the words we hear today at this experience on the mountaintop. God shows up in each of these stories and claims Jesus as the beloved, God has marked Jesus with love, and God instructs all those who are there, to listen to Jesus. Time has come back around on itself. Soon, Jesus and the disciples will be off to Jerusalem, on the road of suffering, death, and resurrection.  

What if we understood these stories as God's inbreaking kingdom? What if we understood these stories as glimpses of incarnation, as glimpses of glory? What if we understood these stories as a disruption in life as we know it? And what if we understood Peter, James and John as witnesses to that inbreaking, that incarnation, that disruption?

These are stories that show us that God has everything to do with us. God's glory, and God's kingdom, and God's love breaks into our lives, in surprising times and places, we get glimpses, and sometimes we recognize those times as God's presence, like Peter did. And like Peter, when that happens we want to make it permanent, we want to build a building to contain it, and we want to keep God in that place. But it doesn't seem like that is the way God would have it.

Peter, James and John have heard their entire lives the stories of Moses and of Elijah. We just heard part of the story of Elijah from the book of Kings. Moses and Elijah are the prophets, the heroes, of their ancestors. Their stories live in the realm of legend, it’d be like coming face to face with Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, or Madeleine L’engle. Who wouldn’t wish for them to stay, to bask in the glory of their greatness, their wisdom?
This is truly a glimpse of glory. A mountaintop experience. Peter, James and John are witnesses and participants in this amazing time out of time. You may have had an experience that you may describe similarly, a particularly meaningful experience of worship, with music and people who helped you to transcend time. In fact, much of what we may see in a more evangelical church is fashioned with this experience in mind. The point is to bring people to a place where they may intensely experience God’s presence, that they may intensely experience the Holy Spirit. And that is well and good, but what I wonder about is how do you to come down off the mountaintop and deal with life in your world of ordinariness. You may say as Peter says, let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. You may want as Peter wants to hold on to that experience, to be able to revisit it whenever you want, to come back to it whenever you need a shot in the arm, or even to escape to it when the world just seems too hard to handle. But the experience won’t be put into a box. And yet that doesn’t stop you from striving to replicate it, and measuring every subsequent religious experience by it. But that can’t be done, not only can’t it be done, it prevents us from experiencing God in the moment, God in the mundane, God in the ordinary, which is where each of us live most of the time.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is ultimate glory. It is wonderful, it is exquisite, and it is not where we live or where we are to stay. In the transfiguration we see that what we think about time and how God acts in time are different. Peter, James and John, and you and I as we look in, see time all at once, like God sees it. If we were to construct a time line, the story of Moses takes place somewhere around 1500 years before Christ, Elijah about 850 years before Christ. And yet, at this event they are all there together. God shows forth God’s glory, God shows that life with God is without limits. It is like the Eucharistic moment, it may be comfortable and calm, it may be nourishing and refreshing, it may be inspiring and illuminating. It is filled with the people we love and who love us. We really want to stay, but we can’t stay in it, and we can’t repeat the exact moment. But it will give us the ability to persevere, from it we are sent out into the world to do the work we are given to do. We are sent out into the world to live our lives and to bring peace and reconciliation and healing to a broken and fragmented world.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is a touchstone. We may return to it, but we can’t control it, and that can be rather disquieting, actually terrifying as reported in this story. We come to worship and sing God’s praises; we come to find stability in an unstable world. We come to hear the story of our faith that has not changed over time. And yet God’s word and our worship are not comfortable, they are not static. God’s word and our worship are growing and changing, becoming the creation that God has intended for it. The glory that is shone forth should cause us to be terrified, to go down the mountain and confront the comfortable and disrupt the status quo. The glory that is shone forth results in the casting out of demons, the reordering of social status and kinship, the arrest and torture of the one who bears the Good News, the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth with Jesus Christ God’s son.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration promises to accompany us into our mundane lives. We carry that glory into our work and our school and our play. It becomes the spirit that inspires and creates us; it becomes the life that gives us life. It is that which is in the eyes and souls of those whose paths we cross, it is in the respect and dignity with which we treat everyone we meet. It is why we stand with those who have been discriminated against.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration pushes us out into the world so that we may get going with God’s mission in this world. God’s mission is not about preserving the status quo; God’s mission is not about sitting in these pews. God’s mission is not defending the tradition; God’s mission is not doing things the way they’ve always been done. God’s mission is not putting Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in a box. God’s mission is of healing and reconciliation. God’s mission is about putting fractured souls back together in this broken and fragmented world. God’s mission is about loving and serving your neighbor, especially when we don’t feel like it, especially when it is uncomfortable, even when it seems impossible and down right scary.
God's mission is about showing forth the truth that Love wins. What is it, and where is it, that God calls you to show forth God's glory? 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

5th Sunday after the Epiphany Yr B Feb 8 2015

Audio 2.8.2015

Remember, the beginning of the gospel of Mark states that this is the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And then we are off and running. The gospel writer Mark packs so much into so little time. The story moves quickly from John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan, Satan seducing him in the wilderness, and Jesus calling people to follow him. I think it's important for us to realize that what we have before us is a picture of what the Good News of Jesus Christ looks like, and to the gospel writer, this is of utmost importance.

I’m going to tell a mother-in-law story. I did ask permission to tell this. My mother-in-law, Rick’s mom is an amazing woman. She has enough love in her heart for the whole world. She’s worked hard her entire adult life, often working overnights in restaurants as a waitress or a manager. She has been a caterer, and lately she bakes Christmas cookies and cakes for the people in her building. Food has not only been her bread and butter, but food is also the means by which she shows her love and finds her worth. And we love her dearly. We never expect her to prepare a meal for us, but, well you know, she does anyway. She makes garlic toast and roast beef hash, and a dish only a son could like, Cedric’s casserole. Butterfinger bars, pink squirrels, Russian teacakes…. You try to say, no, you know you really don’t have to, and it rings hollow, because really, she has to, it’s who she is. She is whole and complete; she is whom she truly was created to be when she is in her kitchen. 

Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law. And the first thing she does is to get up and serve them. This is a story that has always made me mad. No rest, no recovery, no getting back at things slowly, the fever left her, and she began to serve them. And then I was reminded of my mother in law, and I remembered that what they share is that their wholeness, their health, their being fully who they are, is tied directly to their love of serving. When my mother in law is sick and cannot putz around her kitchen baking this and that, she is not herself. What Jesus did here was more than just healing her, if that isn’t enough, he put things right, he restored the order of things, he made whole what was broken, he brought her to herself, he gave her a new life. The radical nature of this story is not necessarily that Simon’s mother in law was healed, and not necessarily that she served, the radical nature of this story is Jesus’ capacity to restore her wholeness, to restore her value and worth, to give her new life. 

That’s what casting out demons and healing is about with Jesus. It is not just removing disease, as if that isn’t enough, but these are stories about Jesus’ power to bring people into a new relationship, to bring people into right relationship with himself and with others. These are stories about making whole what is broken, these are stories about bringing healing into a fragmented world, these are stories about this absolutely new thing that God is up to. 

The Good News is that in a broken and fragmented world, you can live a life that is whole. That is not to say that the life you live will be perfect, whole and perfect are nothing alike. Perfect is what we see set before us as a standard by those who can sell us something to make us perfect. Perfect is what we will be if we buy the right skin lotion, perfect is what we will be if we buy the right house, perfect is what we will be if we marry the right person, or play the right game or have the right bank account or life insurance or whatever. The harder we work for perfect, the more frustrated, depressed, angry, and resentful we become.

The Good News is that in a broken and fragmented world, you can live a life that is whole. When Rick and I were married, we were given the chalice that was used for Holy Communion that day. On our 10th anniversary, we brought the chalice to church with us to use at communion in celebration of our anniversary. As I was getting out of the car that day, I dropped the chalice. We picked up the pieces, and I set about putting the cup back together. It is whole, but surely not perfect. It is now filled with 30 years of growth, of pain, of happiness, of heartache, of joy and of sorrow. We have lived together through pain and suffering, death and resurrection. We are not perfect, but in Jesus’ love we are whole. 

It is this Good News that we must proclaim to the world. Perfect people have no time for church, broken and hurting people, you and I, come to be made whole, come to be restored to fullness of life, come to be made new in the waters of baptism, come to be nourished by the bread and wine of communion, come to see Jesus in one another, come to be made wholly who we are created to be. 

Jesus is a good Jew, he goes to synagogue on the Sabbath, but then he goes and breaks the law by healing on the Sabbath. What Mark is trying to show us is that the proclamation of the Word of God is active and growing. Jesus knows that there is a danger in people knowing that he is the proclamation of the Word of God. Jesus knows that it is also dangerous for him to neglect his own relationship with the one who gives him life, so he goes to pray. Wholeness involves prayer, into our brokenness comes the Word, alive and active, quiet and contemplative. 

Jesus was fully who he was created to be as he went about healing, casting out demons, turning over tables in the temple, eating with sinners, welcoming the children. It was all in a days work for him, albeit hard work. And he too needed to regain his balance, find his center, kneel before his creator, and pray. 

I don’t think the 1st century world in which Jesus lived is much different than the world in which we live. People are broken, disheartened, there is greed and there is idolatry. Through Jesus God offers us healing and wholeness, through Jesus God offers us the opportunity to be ourselves. Putting ourselves, like Jesus did, in the posture of prayer brings us to a place where we can hear the call to be ourselves, to be whole. Prayer is a place we find our relationship with God, prayer is a place we find ourselves. 

Come and be healed, come and be who you are called to be, come, and find yourself.