Saturday, March 28, 2015

Palm Sunday Yr B March 29 2015

Audio 3.29.15

I have chosen to say a few words at this spot today because it makes more sense to me to talk about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and then to receive the story of Jesus' passion in silence. Liturgically, we do something very odd here. We begin our worship together with waving palms, with the parade, and with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and we end our worship in quiet, as we prepare for the unfolding of this passionate story through out the week. Please know that it takes all week to hear this story, to participate in this story, to be able to approach Easter and resurrection. This week carve out time to participate, you all have full lives, but this week, of all the weeks of our lives, is the week to be here.

In this culture of go, go, go, the only time we ever seem to slow down, or even stop, is when a loved one dies. We gather, we tell stories, about who they are, about the last time we were together, about the last things they were doing. We grieve and are sad, we cry, we wait, we celebrate their life, we eat, and we do all these things together. This is that week, this death is that death, we do it together.  

But for this moment, I need to reflect on the Palm of Palm Sunday. Jesus and the disciples and thousands of other pilgrims have made their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus hailed as a king. Not Caesar, not the appointed Roman governor. But a new king –  one for the poor, for those without voices, for those left behind. Jesus is hailed as King, yet riding on a colt. The disciples welcome him into their city, Jerusalem, and shout "blessed is the king who comes in the name of The Lord" for now. They lay down their cloaks, holey as they are. And for the time being, we are all willing to follow. But are we also willing to follow into trouble, controversy, trial and death?

The colt, the disciples, the cloaks laid down. When we look closely we see the people gathered for this parade, this entrance into Jerusalem, are not the important and powerful, but the poor and marginalized, Jesus' disciples. This very important but very brief story shows us that Love does not win by the world's standards. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the nation's hopes, answering our longings for a king who would bring peace to earth from heaven itself. Jesus brings the peace that surpasses understanding, and much of what is about to unfold in the next few days will be the price he pays to bring it. His disciples, of course, have seen things that have changed their lives forever 
and have raised their hopes. Indeed, our lives our changed.

This is not about the powerful Pharisees, grumbling about what will happen if the authorities in Jerusalem think that there's a messianic demonstration going on. From now on we see them no more. It is not about the people of the day who have wealth, it is about the Kingdom of God in which the last will be first and the first will be last. Love wins by God's defeat of evil, and our participation in the new life made possible by the work of Jesus. God gives up Godself for us, those God loves, thus empowering and emboldening us to do the same. 

This is the holiest of weeks. We have prepared ourselves throughout Lent for this journey with Jesus. We come to this Passover festival as Jesus' disciples, we come lean and fit, as that is what our lenten discipline has done for us. We have carried our own cross with us, we have remembered who and whose we are. We have left behind that which keeps us prisoner to the world's wants and wills, we have disassembled brick by brick the walls that we had build to shield us from God's love. We climb this mountain with Jesus, and revel in the pre-Passover party. 

Rejoice in this moment. This moment of welcome, when the shouts of "Blessed be The Lord" are heard throughout the cosmos. This moment is fleeting. It turns quickly to the terrifying shouts of the crowd, "crucify him." 

After the story this morning, we will sit in the silence for a time. As we leave this space today, we enter into a Holy Week. Please don't wait to come back until Easter, come back to walk these steps to the cross with Jesus, and your Easter joy may be complete.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

5 Lent Yr B March 22 2015

Audio 3.22.2015

From the prophet Jeremiah we hear today, I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. What I hear in this passage is that God doesn’t give up. No matter how many times God's people turn away, God doesn't give up, love wins. 

First, let's recall the pattern of the sacred story. This story is told over and over in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. God creates, God blesses the creation, and God promises always to be our God, creation turns away from God, and God calls us back. God reconciles creation, and restores the relationship. 

The part of the story we read this morning from the prophet Jeremiah, 
represents one of the many times people turned their backs on God and God reaches out again, as God had done many times, and continues to do today. God reached out to Moses and the people wandering in the wilderness, the people were whining and gripping, and God gave the “ten best ways” to Moses, and what did the people do? They worshipped the golden calf. Then, under Abraham, God promised many descendants, and what did the people do? They continued to worship the Canaanite gods.
The story in Jeremiah is prophecy, and Jeremiah is a prophet. We sometimes get a bit confused about what prophets are and what prophecy means. Prophets were men and women who were and are in relationship with God, and their jobs are to tell the people to return to God, to repent and turn around. Prophet does not mean one who predicts the future, and prophecy does not mean stories about the future. Prophets constantly remind people to return to God, because people are always finding someone or something to worship other than God. The stories of the prophets are not stories that tell the future. They are stories that show the dire consequences for behavior that takes God's people away from God.
In this story in Jeremiah, once again we hear God entering back into relationship with the people who keep turning away. Just think of it, all of these stories tell us that no matter what we do, no matter what we worship, God will call us back, God will not let us go, Love wins.
This time, it’s not commandments on stone, it’s not a promise of many descendants, but this time the law is written on their hearts, the law is written on our hearts. And what is the law that is written on our hearts?  In the other gospels, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, when the question about which law is the most important law is posed, Jesus responds from sacred scripture, scripture all good Jews know by heart, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
How is this law written on our hearts? There is a story that I have heard, 
that is attributed to Madeleine L’engle, my favorite author, I've told this one before.
A mom and a dad had a new baby, and one night after they put the baby to bed, their older child came to them and asked if he could go see his little brother. The mom and the dad being just a little fearful of the older child’s intentions, said that would be fine and one of them would go with him. 
The older child insisted that he go see his baby brother by himself, and his parents gave in. So the older child entered the bedroom of his baby brother and walked over to his crib. His parents, being very curious and somewhat fearful, eavesdropped at the door. In a soft whisper this is what they heard their older child say to his baby brother. Please, could you tell me what God is like, you just came from there, and I’ve been away so long I’m beginning to forget.
God’s law is written on our hearts, we tend to forget it. I think it is part of our humanity to love God with every fiber of our being, and to love our neighbor as well. It is in living that we begin to forget. Our children, who can be prophets too, remind us what love of God really is. When we pay attention, we observe that profound desire to love and worship God.  The sadness is that we learn a very different lesson. Our culture teaches a lie that love is appropriately placed in things and stuff, and that fulfilling our own needs and wants is more important than any God or any neighbor.

But the Good News is that once again God calls us back, and in an absolutely new way. The radical shift in the gospel of John is that God gives up all power to come into our world as one of us, so that we may return to God, so that we may be healed. The Glory of God is Jesus, and in Jesus, in living and loving and dying on the cross, the relationship between humanity and God is restored. But the story doesn’t end at the cross. The story goes through the cross to resurrection, because it is in death and resurrection that we become a people, a community, a body of Christ. And yet today, this 5th Sunday of Lent, we stand oh so close to that cross. 
We stand in the promise of the resurrection. We remember that after the pain and sadness of the cross comes the joy and new life in the resurrection, and we know that we are not there yet. We know that our journey today is in the hope that when that grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it will bear much fruit. That’s what the story in our scriptures tell us, that’s what we celebrate each time we come together here at this table.
We know that love of God and love of neighbor are not easy, in fact, love of God and love of neighbor can be very hard and painful indeed. There is much pain and sadness in our world, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our lives. Pain and sadness are a part of living fully, pain and sadness are realities that we never choose for ourselves, but come part and parcel with the joy of living. We need to intentionally look for Jesus in our midst, we need to focus on God’s divine spark in others,  so that we can find God in our midst, so that the transformation that God promises, will be realized.
Another story. Again, I've told this story before, but I think it speaks so clearly to where we find ourselves. The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other.

"It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years," the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?" "No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you." When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?" "He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving --it was something cryptic—was that the Messiah is one of us. I don't know what he meant." In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words.

The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that's the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. 
But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. 
Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You, could I? As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends. Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Through the life, death, and resurrection we can see Jesus, and the law is written on our hearts. Jesus is right here among us. Amen.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

4 Lent Yr B March 15 2015

Audio 3.15.15

Lent provides us with this opportunity to tell this story of love - to enter into the amazing journey of kenosis - self giving, transformative, love. Now does that sound like the Lent you came to know and hate as a child? The Lent of self-flagellation, the Lent of bruised knees, and displaced egos. Not to make light of it, Lent indeed is a time of self-reflection, it is a time of introspection, and even of denial. Lent affords us this opportunity to lay down that which holds us hostage, to deny ourselves that which holds our attention away from goodness and kindness. But not because we're bad people and we need to be punished. 

But because, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him." (The Message)

This is the truth. And the truth sets us free. God loves us, and the gift of that love is so huge, so unimaginable, so extravagant, that we take forty days every year to bask in it, to pay attention to it, to do something about it. It's enough to leave me breathless, and laughing, and in awe, and speechless. Forty days, it's a good thing we have this opportunity each year, because it takes a life-time, a life-time, to absorb the reality of this love. 

And yet, we continue to behave as if God's love for us is not true. We continue to behave as if we know best and we are in control. Even when we know that is not true. We do our very best to anticipate and control the direction of our lives. We do our very best to build our brick houses. We do our very best to have hefty retirement accounts. And why not? That is what we are told over and over again by the messages we get. Insurance and retirement accounts are the very backbone of our economy. But not of God's economy. Lay that all down, God says to us, lay those worries down, and let my love bear you up. And that is not easy to do.

Sometimes, most of the time, God's way is the more difficult way. The path we are on brings us by still waters, but this path is surely not paved with gold or even asphalt. God's path is more arduous, it is more vulnerable, and it is more challenging than we want it to be. But it is the way of truth, it is the way of love, it is the way of life lived fully and completely. But it is so very hard to surrender to, and that is what this forty day practice of Lent calls us to.

Jesus knew that. On the night his life was given to the authorities, he went to the garden and prayed, "Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However - not what I want, but what you want."(CEB) How often do we pray the first part of that prayer? God, take this away, usually as a bargain with God. God, if you take this away, if you save my live, if you do what I want you to do, then I will come to church, then I will change my ways, then I will do what you ask me, maybe. But we already know that God's love is not a transaction. God's love is not a proposition, if you do this God, then I will do this. No, God's love is freely given, it is unconditional, and it is available to everyone.

It's the second part of Jesus' prayer that is problematic for us, "but what you want." Not what I want, but what you want. That is incomprehensible for most of us. We are so accustomed to getting what we want, we are so conditioned to believe that what we want is best for us and for everyone around us, that the thought of giving over power, giving over control, is inconceivable. No wonder we need forty days every year to intentionally practice that which claims our lives and our hearts and even our heads. When we profess our faith we say that we died with Jesus, and are raised to new life, this is what that means. 

During Lent we spend some time reflecting on that very thing, what dieing with Jesus means, what new life means, what God wants for us and with us. Our baptismal promises point us in that direction. Here at St. Andrew's we have been wondering about what it is our baptismal promises call us to, whom we are called to be. We ask those questions both as individuals and as a community of faith. We also state that we believe God's mission in the world is healing and wholeness. We believe that the wears and tears of the world break us up, pull us apart, fragment us, and God puts us back together. When we submit our lives to God's love and healing, when we say your will be done, we are made whole, and that sort of vulnerability also makes us compassionate and merciful. We eat and we drink the life and the love of Jesus, and we are put back together. With that compassion and mercy, we are sent into the world as God's missionaries, to love and to serve, to walk the path with all those we encounter, to offer God's love. We are not sent out alone, we are sent out as a community of faith, as a community put back together as the body of Christ. 

Now we begin to enter the darker and more violent parts of this story. The time is coming when the crowds will call for Jesus' death. But we enter the darker part of this story armed with the assurance of the light. I am reminded of something Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." And this is what we do. We live in the world as beacons of the love that wins, as carriers of the light that will not be put out, as practitioners of mercy and compassion. Amen.