Saturday, November 28, 2015

1 Advent Yr C Nov 29 2015


1 Advent Yr C Nov 29 2015 Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christ the King Yr B Nov 22 2015


Christ the King Yr B Nov 22 2015 Audio

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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