Saturday, December 31, 2016
The Holy Name Jan 1 2017 Audio
Today is the feast of The Holy Name. Jesus, name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord. Emmanuel, God is with us, blessed Redeemer, Living Word. The Angel told Joseph that the child should be called Jesus, which means Emmanuel, God is with us.
"What's in a name?" asked Juliet. Everything, my dear, everything. "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In the beginning was the word, lest we forget. And the word was made God, and God was the word. What's in a name? Who is this little child, born in a barn, to upset the accepted order of things. Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus, name above all names. Emmanuel, God with us.
The story we have before us today from Luke is the Hebrew naming ritual, and a marking ritual. It is the thing that makes a Hebrew boy, a Hebrew boy. Christians have a similar ritual, we call it Baptism. The first thing we do at Holy Baptism is to name the child. And then our children are marked as Christ's own forever. Naming is very important. Many cultures understand a name as that which a child will become. It must be chosen carefully, it may even be prophetic. Some of us are named for our ancestors, we carry the name of those saints who went before us, we may honor that person by the way we carry that name. At a recent Monson family reunion I learned about the Norwegian naming conventions. The first born male was named for the paternal grandfather, the second born male was named for the maternal grandfather, as the first born female is named for the paternal grandmother, and the second born female is named for the maternal grandmother. In many families, the boys are all Ole's and the girls all Lena's because of the names of the grandparents. We may laugh at that, but to be named for one who went before you is an honor, and there is a responsibility to carry that name with dignity.
Each of us carries the name of Jesus by virtue of our baptism, maybe even by virtue of our shared humanity, Emmanuel, God with us. That's what is accomplished in the incarnation. This very God is re-presented in our world, born just like we are, with hands and a heart and eyes, with desires and expectations and fears, and given a name. Jesus. A name which both identifies him, that is, sets him apart from us, and meanwhile joins him to us. God no longer is located just in the Ark of the Covenant, or in the Temple, but God is located in all of creation, in you and in me. Each of us carries the holy name of Jesus, Prince of peace, with us, wherever we go, wherever we are.
So not only do we live our lives confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, at the very same time we live our lives filled with the divinity that is God with us, God in our midst. The name of Jesus makes the ordinary holy. The name of Jesus makes ordinary bread and wine the holy body and blood of God. The name of Jesus makes ordinary water holy and blesses our very life's in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The name of Jesus makes ordinary people into sons and daughters of the Creator God.
This Good News is transformational. It changes us, and all that we are and all that we do. The God who is love, the God who is creator of all that is seen and unseen, the God who this human story is all about, is also the God who lived, and loved, and suffered and died, so that we, humans, may be joined together to effect God's love, God's peace, God's compassion, God's mercy in this life. Love wins, love incarnate, wins.
You and I are covered, enveloped, by God's love, we are indeed imbued with God's holy name, Jesus. And that name calls us to be people of mercy and compassion, it calls us to be God's peace right here and right now. Not only are we assured of God's love, assured of being fearfully and wonderfully made, we have all we need to show forth God's love, Jesus' holy name, mercy and compassion, peace, in all that we are and all that we do. We are God's new creations, we are brought back into wholeness with God.
On this first day of the year, how will you bear God's holy name? In this new year, a year into which we enter with some trepidation, how will love be born in you? How will love be born by you? How will incarnation transform you?
We were made for times such as these, we are named as God's beloved for the work that God calls us to. This year, at this time, your response is critical. Today, this is a year of possibility. It is new, and so are you. Yesterday, some of us Trinitarians were making and serving lunch at St. John's Lutheran church. Rick was wearing his Trinity tee shirt, Love God, Love People, Show it. A fellow came up to him and told him that there was the whole Gospel on the back of his shirt. God calls us to wear the Good News, God calls us to wear Jesus' Holy Name, and the ordinary is made holy. And God calls us to see Jesus' Holy Name in one another. Our ordinary neighbor, the one who voted for the other guy; the ordinary immigrant, looking for a better life; the ordinary kid down the street, just trying to negotiate her way in a world that would label her odd; the ordinary person sitting next to us in the pew. In Jesus name, the ordinary is made holy. We were made for times such as these. Find Jesus in the ordinary, the holy will emerge. Amen.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
It feels really dark these days. Not only is it really dark, we just passed the longest night, but it seems like so much of our cultural speech and actions are so dark, mean even. And Isaiah tells us, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. I am reminded that Dr. 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.” That is really the thing. In a world of darkness, light shines; in a world of hate, love is born.
That is what we are doing right here, right now. We are making room in the darkness for the light. We are making room in our hearts for the love. We are making room in our church for all those who need this good news of light and love and inclusion. The light, the love, the space, is Jesus. Don’t be afraid, I bring good news, your savior is born today.
The Divine Love Story begins again. God so loves the world, that God is born into our world to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how many times I come to this place, this celebration, each time I am awestruck at the Love that wins.
God, who is the baby born in a barn, the King on a bed of straw, Jesus, enters our world, our lives, our hearts, because God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, loves us. God, the creator of the universe, interrupts history, to show us the way to mercy and compassion and justice. In this night/morning, all of creation, the sheep and shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, join together singing the love song of the ages, Holy, Holy, Holy.
We prepare for this birth each year, we wait in the quiet, we are illuminated by the increasing light, and we come to this night/morning, so that we remember who we are. We remember we are God's beloved, we remember Emmanuel, God with us. We look ahead with hope, trusting that our brokenness will be healed.
Love breaks through, love will not be contained, sometimes painfully, sometimes dangerously. This night/day changes things. This birth changes the world. Jesus, born in the muck and the mess of a stable walks with us, not to take away our humanity, but to fulfill our humanity. Jesus, born to ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, walks with us, not to take away the pain and suffering of this life, but to be with us in the midst of the messiness. Jesus, born in an obscure corner of the earth, walks with us so that the fragments of our lives may be made whole. Jesus is born to set us free.
Incarnation. Inconceivable, incarnation. Unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation.
This birth means no more business as usual, signified by the events of that night and the circumstances of this birth. They were waiting for a King and all those kingly things, and here was a child born in a barn with shepherds in attendance. They were looking for the Messiah, the one who would rescue them, and they received a boy, who brought his father's message, Love one another, as you have been loved first.
For us that means that even our lives, sometimes filled by regret and disappointment, sometimes colored by cynicism, sometimes fueled by revenge, are transformed by this birth. It means that God even comes into our deepest sadness and pain and bears it for us, so that we may begin again.
This birth calls us to change, to transformation. And change can be scary, but thrilling at the same time. This birth, this life that will not be contained, speaks to a place deep down inside each of us that wants something more, something more than a better job or higher income, something more than a more comfortable home or enjoyable retirement. These things may all be good, but they don't satisfy for long. We desperately want a sense of meaning and purpose, we desire to believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye, we need to hold onto the hope that despite all appearances we are worthy of love. This birth is about that love, this birth shows us that Love wins, every time.
And so God comes into the muck and the mess that is this barn, and that is our lives, to speak quietly but firmly through the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor pains of a young mother and cry of her infant that God is absolutely for us, joined to our ups and down, our hopes and fears, and committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something more. Christ comes, that is, not just to give us more of the life we know, but new and abundant life altogether. For in Christ we have the promise that God will not stop until each and all of us have been embraced and caught up in God's tremendous love.
This incarnation, this unreasonable, inconceivable, incarnation, this birth, is about this God who creates us, who loves us so very much, this God comes be with us, delivered into our world 2000 years ago as a baby just like us, crashing into our world as the miracle of birth. This God comes to us as a still small voice that we may only be able to hear at the most desperate times in our lives, when we fall to our knees and give it all over. This God comes to us in the indescribable words of prayer. This God comes to us crying in the voice of those who continue to be hungry and thirsty. This God comes to us singing in the voice of the child. This God comes to us in the multitude of voices calling for reason in unreasonable time. This God comes to us in the unfamiliar voice of the immigrant, looking for a better way. This God comes to us in the howling voice of the wind and the rain, redrawing the landscape of our lives. This God comes to us in the voice of the one who cries, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
This is the God who loves you so very much, unreasonably so, not because of what you've done or not done, not because of who you are or what you're worth. Not because of anything, other than you are a wonderfully and fearfully created child of God. And it is this love that wins, it is this love that transforms your heart, and your mind and your soul. It is this love that grows in you, that gives you reason to live fully and completely alive. It is this love that doesn't judge whether you have enough, are enough, or even give enough. Indeed, it is this love that makes dead people alive.
And this is the God who says to us, love one another, as I have first loved you. This is the God that gives us the spirit so that when we see fear and pain and need around us, we head toward it and enter into it freely, risking ourselves to bring hope and healing into the world.
So we were made for times such as these, these dark times, these times in which the truth of love is vital. So we were made for times such as these, these dark times, these times in which the truth of justice is necessary, these times in which our words do indeed matter. We were made for times such as these, these dark times, these times in which our love for one another, our community, will be our hope.
Unto us a child is born, come, let us adore him.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
4 Advent Yr A Audio
We have arrived here at the fourth Sunday of Advent whether we are ready or not. The coming of the baby is so very close, and yet not quite here. According to Matthew’s telling of this story, it seems that even before the angel came to Joseph, Joseph already knew that Mary was pregnant, maybe she told him, maybe he just knew; we don’t hear anything about that. What we do hear is that Joseph considered his choices. 1st century customs about betrothals, which are very different than our ideas about engagement and marriage, were quite clear. If you think the woman to whom you’re engaged is bearing someone else’s child, both the woman and the man whose child it is get death by stoning. Joseph is a righteous man, but he refuses to expose Mary to public disgrace to carry this out. So Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly, this divorce is the measure that would have to be taken to nullify a betrothal. It’s the best option he has to avoid claiming a child that wasn’t his. But in the face of common law, tradition, all the cultural forces mounting against him, derision and judgment, Joseph chooses life. Joseph chooses love. Joseph chooses God with us, incarnation.
As Joseph was thinking about all of this, an angel appears to him too, and says the words angels are famous for in scripture, “Do not be afraid.” I’m thinking angels must be pretty scary looking, not like those cherubic angels we see in paintings, because every time one appears in scripture they start out with “don’t be afraid.” So this angel appears to Joseph and tells him not to be afraid because the child Mary is bearing is of the Holy Spirit, and when he is born, Joseph is to call him Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves,” the way Matthew describes it is, “he will save his people from their sins.” The writer of Matthew very intentionally connects this story with the passage from the prophet Isaiah that says there will be a son and his name will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
Joseph could not ignore God’s presence, Joseph could not ignore incarnation, neither can you and I, and just like Joseph, we have a choice to make. This was a child who was born of Mary, a child who should not have been born at all, and of Joseph, who had he been so inclined, would have left Mary to public justice, stoning and all. This is a child whose birth, death, and resurrection attest to God’s creativity and power.
I am reminded of a scene that I love in the first Jurassic Park movie. I realize that Jurassic Park is an old movie now, but I have such fond memories watching it with our kids. So try and picture this with me. Shortly after arriving on the tropical island that is Jurassic park, the scientists tour the whole park, and then they sit down to dinner with Mr. Hammond the owner of the park, and Ian Malcolm, a mathematician and scientist at the park. They are talking about the cloning that has been done to create the dinosaurs at the park, and that the safeguard to not having more dinosaurs out there is that they created them all female. At the table while they are eating this gourmet meal, Ian delivers this brilliant line. He says, “Life will not be contained! Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is.”
That is what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen with Jesus and incarnation. God breaks into our world. God interrupts our lives. The life that God creates breaks free, it expands to new territories, and it crashes through barriers, sometimes painfully and dangerously. It is the life in Mary’s womb, and in Elizabeth’s womb, that exists not because of biology and despite humanity’s tendency to end life, but because of God’s awesome, creative, power. It is the life to which Joseph joins Mary in saying yes. It is the life which God pours out upon us the Love that wins.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are ever so close to that inbreaking. How do you prepare your heart and mind and body for the crashing in of God? How do you join with Mary and Joseph and say yes to this incarnation? The question at the mall, the question asked by the culture is “Are you ready for Christmas?” Are you ready for Christmas? This question is asked from the perspective of perceived expectations, not from the perspective of this inconceivable conception. What that question really asks is do you have your decorating done, are your lights up, did you get your cookies baked, is your house clean and ready for the guests, do you have all your gifts purchased or made and wrapped?
But the real question is, are you ready for God crashing into our world, are you ready for God crashing into your life and into your heart? Are you ready to be transformed into the person God would have you be? Are you ready to say yes? Now those are hard questions.
I am ready for Christmas, and I am not yet ready for Christmas. I have experienced the inbreaking of God into my life and I know that God’s inbreaking continues in new and life changing ways. I know that God has broken into this particular church and the universal church; and at the very same time, I continue to wait and prepare for the cosmic coming of Christ, for all times and all places, and the church continues to wait and prepare, and we have no idea what that will look like. All we have is what we imagine.
But we do know what God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like today, right now. It looks like the clerk at the store, the one who really needs someone to say, “you’re doing a great job in the midst of this madness.” It looks like the guy in the car beside you, who needs a smile and a nod, not a raised finger. It looks like the mom and children who really could use something good to eat in these days, and a warm coat to wear. It looks like the family that works two and three jobs just to make it to the end of the month and still needs a little help from the food shelf. And it also looks like the executive who works 80 hours in a week, and long ago forgot that it’s not about the stuff that he can give to his family, it’s about the time he can spend with his family. Or it looks like the young person desperately trying to fit into a world that values contingency over commitment. Sometimes it looks like the sadness we feel when our loved one has died, and it is so very hard to remember that life will not be contained, life breaks free.
God’s inbreaking, God’s incarnation looks like when we gather together around this altar and are made into the body of Christ, it looks like when we invite others, sometimes people who don’t look like us or speak like us, to eat at this table with us.
God’s incarnation looks like the people and the politicians we disagree with. God’s incarnation also looks like the water protectors on the Standing Rock Reservation, as well as the representatives of the oil pipeline company. God’s incarnation looks like those who advocate civil rights for all Americans, and God’s incarnation looks like those whose sense of rights only pertains to themselves. You see, God’s incarnation is not exclusive, it is us, all of us. God is with us. God’s incarnation looks like the love we share with one another; and it is made real when we say yes with Joseph and Mary.
For me, the experience of the inbreaking of God in my life and into the life of the church has everything to do with God being revealed in absolutely new ways, in ways I couldn’t have imagined, even in ways the church hasn’t imagined before. Because that is what and who Jesus is, God comes as a lowly child, born in a barn, not as the expected King. The breaking forth of new life is sometimes painful, but always creative. Our waiting and watching is almost complete. Amen.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
3 Advent Yr A Dec 11 2016 Audio
"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" John asks of Jesus. "Are you looking for someone dressed in soft robes, people like that live in palaces" Jesus says to the people. You see, the people are mightily disappointed with God, the people are looking for a King, a ruler who will take power and subdue all those who are wrong about their worship of God. And what they get is this Jesus, born in a barn, born to poor parents, born without fanfare. A baby, wrapped in rags, to set the people free.
As far as they are concerned, and especially to John who is in prison, something is mightily wrong with this picture. Jesus surely does not look like the one they were expecting. The ruler they were waiting for can't be like this, it must be someone else.
Jesus had no power, at least not the way the world measures power. Jesus didn't command troops of warriors, Jesus didn't make crowds bow as he approached. Jesus healed, Jesus loved, Jesus accepted sinners and outcasts. That's not how those with power behaved in first century Mediterranean culture. What are our examples of power in 21st century American culture? People who take in millions of dollars, people who command large corporations, people who make decisions for the rest of us. As I thought about an example of power that is more like the kind that Jesus shows us, Nelson Mandela came to mind. Nelson Mandela is maybe most notable for being South Africa's first president. He was the country's first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. Mandela's power was not in wealth, class, or anything he had or owned. Mandela's power flowed from his years in prison. Change in South Africa did not come from a powerful leader, change came from a man who after 27 years in prison lived a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, and counted among his friends those who were his jailers. The ruler South Africa got, looked nothing like the ruler many may have hoped for, and was indeed disappointing for many. Change doesn't look like what we expect.
It is out of these humble beginnings and challenging lives, that healing may begin. And isn't that where most of us live? We live trying to hold it together, trying to do our best, loving our kids the best way we know how. Sometimes we let the drive to show a perfect front, a well laid out plan, a secure future, have such a tight hold on us we just eventually have to break. Break up, break apart, break down. But it is into those fissures that the power Jesus has to heal can seep. It is in the breaking apart that Love wins and Love heals and Love forgives.
I am also reminded of another theme in our readings today, to which Nelson Mandela's 27 years of imprisonment also speaks. Twenty-seven years seems like a lifetime to me. Twenty-seven years is about how long it takes to raise children into independence, 27 years is a good chunk of time to work at one job, 27 years is about a quarter of one's life, 27 years is about one generation.
Our readings show us that God's work in the world, God's promise to humanity isn't just to one generation. God's work in the world spans all of time. The arc of God's dream for creation is wide and long. What's 27 years to that? And yet, you and I want the change now, immediately. That is evidenced so clearly in our cultural jump to Christmas as soon as we were done with Halloween. Four weeks of waiting, a mere 24 days, 24 days of preparation, of expectation, of quiet, of building hope, promise, and love. Our impatience is stunning. Twenty-seven years of imprisonment, and Nelson Mandela is released and quietly changes his world. And God's work spans generations.
This conundrum is stunning. God's work spans generations, and looks nothing like we expect it to look. The world is about to turn. Twenty-seven years feels like a lifetime. We want Christmas now, 24 days seems like forever. And at the very same time, sometimes we are so afraid of change we feel like we may break apart.
Into all of this, Love bursts. Into this messy, complex, hurt-filled, broken, joyful reality, Love bursts. This is our hope. The prophet Isaiah, generations past, knew it. "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing." Mary, generations past, knew it. "Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name." The world, in very recent generations knew it. Nelson Mandela created hope in a country where there seemed to be nothing to hope for.
You, in this present generation know about hope. You in your darkest times, know the hope of the One who loves you no matter what, the hope of the One who is born in a barn, and nailed to a cross, the hope of the One who can free you from your own prison, the hope of the One whose body and blood seeps into your brokenness and makes you whole, the hope of the One who calls us together, here at this table, to hold one another up, to love one another, to work together as we discern God's work for us.
You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who gives you strength to share your coat, your food, your warmth with those who have none. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who gives you the patience to listen to the one whose hurt is deep. You in your most joy-filled moments know the hope of the One who binds us together, generation after generation.
Jesus, born in a barn, born to poor parents, born without fanfare. A baby, wrapped in rags, to set the people free. Jesus, a man who eats with outcasts, sinners, and women, who welcomes children. Jesus, a man who heals, teaches, feeds and forgives. Not what we expect of the One who turns the world.
Twenty-seven years, twenty-four days, wait for it. Amen.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
2 Advent Yr A Dec 4 2016 Audio
This season we call Advent, and the secular world calls Christmas, is full of expectations. Lights on the house, the perfect Christmas tree, baking, apple pies, lefse, shopping, wrapping, and meaningful family time.
When I was much younger, some of my siblings, and our mom, would go Christmas tree shopping. I actually don't have fond memories of that experience. We were expected to get a perfect Christmas tree, just the right height and width, a Norway pine, with the long needles, and a good, straight trunk, and not too expensive. It seemed to take hours, and I'd be so cold, frozen feet and hands. Finally we'd get the tree strapped to the top of the car, or stuffed into the back of the station wagon. We'd get our chosen tree home, let it thaw out in the garage, and finally get it into the house. Inevitably it was not right, too tall, too wide, too crooked. At least one of those trees fell right over, after it was fully decorated. It was hard to set all of those perfect expectations aside, and take joy in the beauty of the tree.
We feel expectations put upon us during this season, by family and friends, we have our own expectations of what we should do, what we want to do, what we have time to do. And in the midst of all this, I ask you to sit in the quiet and listen.
So this morning, I'd like you to call to mind your "to do" list. What do you think you need to get done in these three weeks before Christmas? Now, just set that list to the side for a few minutes, and listen to what John and Jesus call us to in these readings this morning.
John, in Matthew's gospel, calls us to repentance. At the risk of laying on some guilt, which is what we seem to feel when we hear the word repent, and which I do not intend to do, I want to help you reframe that word and action. Repent simply is to turn. It is to change direction. Repent is reorientation, particularly, reorientation toward God. So our opportunity in this season of Advent is to reorient ourselves to God. The Canticle we are singing/saying during this Advent helps us to reorient ourselves to God. "My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great, and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. My heart shall sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn. Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me."
So now recall your to do list. In the midst of all that you feel you have to do, or that you want to do, or that you think people expect you to do, how may you turn, or reorient yourself to God? I'm not saying that the items on your list are not worthwhile, but I am asking you to consider how you may make room in that list to embrace the holy pregnancy, the new life, of this Advent season.
The prophet Isaiah, has something to say about that new life. "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Picture that stump. Stumps of trees that look like they are dead. But a branch shall grow out of the roots. There shall be new life, delicate and fragile, like a newborn baby. What if we believe this fragile sign is God’s beginning? Perhaps then we will tend the seedling in our hearts, the place where faith longs to break through the hardness of our disbelief. Do not wait for the tree to be full grown. God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to turn, to reorient ourselves, to slow down and be quiet, to give room for the branch that emerges, ever so slowly and small, from the stump. We may want to sit on the stump for a while, and God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us: “Look! Look -- there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?”
Turn around, reorient yourself to God this Advent season. See that green shoot growing. Watch the new life take shape. Keep awake as the light grows bright. Is it possible for you to look at your list of everything you need to get done, and day dream about what you hope Christmas will be like. What kind of day do you want to have? More than that, what kind of relationships do you want to be a part of? Even more, what kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond? The world is about to turn.
The prophet Isaiah is all about hope, change, turning toward God. "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." Our hopes, after all, surely aren’t limited to our immediate wants and needs but reach out to include our larger families, communities, and world.
So maybe Advent is about leaving our familiar and well-trodden path, making a turn, maybe venturing out on another way. Maybe Advent is about trying something different this time, something that gives us a sense of the grace and glory of God, the babe in Bethlehem, the Word made flesh. Maybe Advent is a time of doing less, not more. Maybe Advent is the hustle and bustle of preparation, maybe Advent is the quiet and anticipation of waiting. Definitely Advent is a time to turn toward God, a time to reorient ourselves to the holiness of the birth of this baby, the birth of love, the birth of change.
And as John alludes to in the gospel this day, turning toward God, reorientation, will bear good fruit. It will bear the fruit of compassion, and we will be free to give our time to others. It will bear the fruit of mercy, and we will be free to give our love to others. It will bear the fruit of justice, and we will be free to give food and shelter to others. And maybe we even work toward a time when there is no longer a need to provide food and shelter, because there are no longer any hungry or cold people in our towns. The world is about to turn, but we need to be part of the turning toward mercy, compassion, and justice. So what if our Advent expectations were about turning toward justice, turning toward compassion, turning toward mercy. I still believe we change the world, one person, one phone call, one kind act at a time. Gandhi once said, be the change you wish to see in the world. The world is about to turn, we need to lead the turning toward compassion, and mercy, and justice. Amen.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
1 Advent Yr A Nov 27 2016 Audio
Life is short, stay awake, is the Caribou coffee tag line, and it applies to our readings this morning as well. From Romans we read, you know what time it is, it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. And from Matthew, keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Advent is derived from a Latin word for “coming.” Advent is a time of preparation, expectation, anticipation, and waiting. It is not Christmas. Just want to make that clear. Christmas begins on December 25th. It seems waiting and anticipation are foreign concepts to many today. We wait in a line at the store and we get irritated. We wait at the stoplight and we wish there was not so much traffic. We wait for life to be born, and we wait for death. We, for the most part, are very bad at waiting. No wonder we jump right over Advent to Christmas, why wait when we can have it all today.
And yet, there is an urgency in our waiting. On this first day of the new year, this first Sunday of Advent, are some readings that ask us to stay awake and to wait in urgency for something that is new. We wait for the birth of the baby, we wait for the coming of the end, we wait for the coming of the cosmic Christ, we wait in expectation and anticipation of all that we believe fulfills humanity. Our waiting is urgent waiting, it is not wasted waiting. It is waiting for the reality that we already know, and the reality of the Kingdom that comes. It is waiting that does not negate the joy and happiness in which we live, it does not negate the sorrow and pain that we feel, but it is waiting that calls us to something new. And it is waiting that calls us to stay awake.
The cultural Christmas season has already begun, as we well know. There is this seduction to be busy, not that being busy is bad, but busyness tends to divert our attention from waiting for the gift that is being prepared for us. There are wonderful things to do at this time of year, but we cannot be seduced into believing that is all there is. That seduction pulls us away from staying awake, staying alert to the amazing gift of God’s love that we receive at Christmas.
What would we do differently if we knew exactly when Jesus would come? This is the way we need to live in Advent, because the truth is that Jesus comes and is coming, for all times and all places, into our lives and into our hearts, and we must be prepared. The only way to prepare is to stay awake and see the signs around us. Romans actually gives us some instructions about how to do that. We are to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
I think putting on the armor of light is about paying attention to the love that God gives us, and paying attention to the relationships in our lives. I think laying aside the works of darkness is to let go of all that draws us away from God’s love at this time of the year. There is so much that draws us away from God’s love, sale after sale after sale, these things are not bad, but we can’t let them be all there is. The real event is taking place in a hidden, yet powerful way. Lives are changed every day because of Jesus, people are healed from sin and death, eyes are opened to new realities, and we seldom hear about them because often we’re too distracted by the other stuff.
What meaning can Advent waiting have for us today? The best illustration I can think of is pregnancy. Nine months of waiting, or in my case 91/2 months of waiting, nothing can make it go faster, there is no way you want it to be over early, and nothing can change the absolute change that pregnancy brings to lives. A new life, being knit together in the darkness of the womb, a new life being created, absolutely and completely out of your control. But this kind of waiting is a profoundly creative act. It is in no way passive; indeed it is quite active as this new life grows. This is the waiting of Advent. It is to be joyfully and fully present to new growth. Advent becomes a way of being.
Advent is a time to put away the distractions. So maybe this is the time to put away our iPhone’s and mobile devices for an hour or a day. Maybe it’s time to turn off for a while. This is a time to find some solitude. In fact, insist on it. This is a season to draw apart for a little while, to read scripture, to take ten minutes and breathe slowly, letting the promise of God fill your lungs with fresh air. This is a time for staying awake to what really matters and letting go of some things that don’t. Advent offers some alternatives to all that doesn’t matter: an Advent wreath on the table, and its increasing shine as a new candle is lit each week; an Advent calendar to mark the days of waiting; a brief passage from scripture with the evening meal. These are anti-stress times when people’s souls get restored among those they love. Those who live alone can sit in front of a lighted candle and remember loved ones and friends who have surrounded them in the candlelight. Most of all, we can recall a God who loves us so much that we are offered a time to prepare, a time to wait, a time to remember that underneath all that seems to be crumbling is a firm foundation, and the One who is to come.
During Advent we will be singing the Canticle of the turning. It is based on Mary's song, the Magnificat, at the beginning of Luke. This is a time in our civic lives that are full of talk about change. The world is about to turn. Turn toward Christ, walk toward those who need love, and mercy and compassion.
Stay awake to the love that brings light into the dark. Stay awake to the love that forgives and heals. Stay awake to the love that brings us together, the love that feeds us. Stay awake to the love that brings us peace. Stay awake to the love that prepares us for new birth. Stay awake to the love that anticipates our homecoming.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Christ the King Yr C Audio
Christ the King Sunday, the ultimate paradox. Christ the King, whose throne is the cross. What we see is not what we get. This particular paradox is difficult for me. Kingship as we have learned through out history has been much more about tyranny
than about justice and mercy and charity.
You may have gathered that my favorite reading material is science fiction and fantasy, with some historical fiction thrown in. There are two books in which I have learned most about the kingship of the cross. In The Horse and His Boy, book 5 in the Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis, King Lune says to his son Prince Cor, “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land to laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”
And the other book is a trilogy of stories called collectively The Song of Albion, by Stephen R Lawhead. This is an epic story about a young man who enters into an alternate world, a world of kings and queens, of quests and wars, an alternate world that is quite related to our own world, what happens in one affects the other. Our main character enters this alternate world through one of the thin places of Celtic mythology. Upon entering, he begins to live a new life with new hopes and dreams. Eventually it becomes clear that he is to be the king of this land. He becomes a king who understands his kingship as constituted by the people, he is only king as much as they are his people.
He leads his army into the battles, he gives up his coat, his food, for those of his land that need it. Eventually he comes to the time when he must ultimately sacrifice his life for his people, it brings him great sadness, but he does so out of mercy and compassion.
Is there a king that is recorded in the history books like these kings? Most often, history books are about the winners, not the kings who gave their lives for their people. Those kings would be regarded as weak, noneffective, and are quickly forgotten.
Christ the King, whose throne is the cross. Jesus, the shepherd through whom we know God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created. In Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Jesus God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the the cross.
One of the criminals who was hanged there with Jesus said to him “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” And it is as if Jesus thought to himself, “I am King of the Jews, but I can’t save myself because I am saving you.” Here is the paradox. This is kingship as presented by God through Jesus. It runs absolutely counter to Messiah as it had been conceived in those times, Messiah as those who waited were prepared for.
Jesus, born in a barn, proclaimed as a King, as Mary’s song proclaims, he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
We use Kingly language, like sovereign Lord; we use Kingly images, like Christ who sits on a throne, and yet we also tell the story of the baby born in a stable, to parents who had nothing, who grew to be a man who was thrown out of the temple and whose throne is a cross.
Jesus announced the kingdom of God was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. The world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus is about mercy and compassion. The rulers of this world may be about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation.
I think this paradox of Jesus as King, and Jesus as the one who eats with tax collectors and women, whose closest friends were of bunch of smelly fishermen, is the most difficult image for me to reconcile. I am much more comfortable with the Jesus who wears Birkenstocks and jeans and a tee shirt, than Jesus who wears a crown and a robe. Kings spent all of their time building up riches of gold, silver, and jewels, but Jesus owned nothing at all. Kings surround themselves with servants; Jesus chose to be a servant. But, today, we are asked to hold both images in tension, Christ the king, whose throne is a cross, and in so doing we see a fuller picture.
Worldly kingship implies power; power over others, authority over people. But Jesus did not exercise this sort of power and authority. Jesus’ power and authority are shared, not possessed. Jesus’ power is not over people, but with and through people. Kingdom is the inbreaking of a new order, an order that doesn’t just drive out the old order, but that reorders all relationships. The criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus recognized this power and authority, the power and authority to love absolutely, the power and authority to forgive. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
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 that 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.
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 causes us to love ourselves, it is this love that causes us to love one another, it is this love that gives us hope. Jesus’ love changes us.
We are changed through the realization that each one of us is loved completely and absolutely, just like that person on the cross next to Jesus, not for what we’ve done or not done, but for who we are. What kind of change happens in us for us to declare, Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom? It is the kind of change that causes each one of us to know that none of us is in this life alone, and none of us gets out of this life alive. It’s the kind of change that causes us to know that perfection is not the way, but love and forgiveness are. It is the kind of change that causes us to serve, like Jesus serves, the person next to us. Whether that person is next to us in our pew here in church, or that person is next to us in line at the grocery store, or that person is the one with whom you disagree most vehemently.
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, we are forgiven. Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Forgiveness not just once, but time and time again. Not even just until we get it right, because it’s not about getting it right. It’s about responding to Jesus love with love, and when we don’t, we ask for forgiveness. It’s about responding with love to the encounters along our paths, and when we don’t, we ask for forgiveness.
We begin our Advent journey next week. We begin our preparations for the coming of Christ into our hearts, and into our lives, for all time and all places. We begin our waiting in hope at this place of the cross, and this place of paradox, at this place where kingdom comes, and where love and forgiveness prevail. We begin at the place of remembering, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. We begin at the place of forgiveness, today you will be with me in Paradise. We begin at the place of grace, for you are absolutely and abundantly loved. Thanks be to God.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
26 Pentecost Yr C Proper 28 Nov 13 2016 Audio
You all know what a beautiful church Trinity is, it's beauty helps us to connect to the ancient and to the future. Here we see, and hear, and feel all that has come before us. We are present to what is right before us, and we can celebrate what is to become.
But you all know as well as I do that church is not about the building. We may be unabashedly proud of our building, but we know at the same time that church is something else. Church is God's work in the world, church is people who profess God's love for them and for all, church is body and bread, blood and wine, church is forgiveness and reconciliation, church is people who agree and disagree with each other, church is messy and beautiful. Church is all of the above.
And it is these things that we hear about in Luke and in Isaiah today. Luke writes, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." And from Isaiah, "For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth, the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind." Church without a building. Who are we then?
We need to remember that this good news was told after the events of Jesus' life and death. The events are already known to the author, they tell of what happened, not of what will happen. The temple in Jerusalem which was the place where God lived, was destroyed. Not one stone was left upon another. So in the story, the people are asking Jesus, what does this mean? What does it mean to not have a place for God to live? What does it mean to not have a place in which to worship God? The destruction of the temple was life changing for the Jews, but in this story Jesus is reassuring them that all will be well, do not be afraid. As it is written in Isaiah, which Jesus knows well, something new is happening, and it is happening in the person of Jesus.
We live in that place as well. Here is our church building, and we love it and take care of it and it is beautiful. Humans do this over and over. We erect a beautiful building, and eventually it is the building that becomes important, and we become afraid of losing it. And our focus shifts from doing the work of reconciliation and healing that God calls us to, to keeping the institution alive, we become afraid of dieing.
But God calls us to live, God calls us to love, God calls us as agents of resurrection. The new heavens and the new earth are being created right now, and we are agents of that new creation. We have a part to play. Our job is to bring the love that wins to the world so that the world will know God's love and be transformed. As we do that, the world turns, the world turns toward love and away from hate, the world turns toward wholeness and away from fracture and fragment.
It's messy though, it's not this or that, one or the other, black or white, good or bad. Just like it's not only about heaven or hell at the end of time. It's about living fully and completely as God's new creation right here, today. And that is not clear or certain. God reveals Godself on the path we are on, and it is our job to pay attention, and to help the one who is walking next to us, to give them our coat if they need it, to share our food. We will fall down, every one of us. Whether it's because we turn our ankle, wear ourselves out, or goof around too much, we will fall down. It is those who accompany us on the journey, our church, who help raise us up again, and show us the way forward. How we are with one another on the road matters. How we respond to the challenge and joy of the journey matters. That we share the challenge and joy of the journey matters.
So we find ourselves today, after a very tumultuous week, half of us are feeling the exultation of a win, and half of us are feeling like the stones just came a tumbling down, like our world has ended, and it's hard to find the hope in our future together. All of us together must imagine a new way. We must imagine the ways we can be God's word of mercy, compassion, charity, and justice in our world. God's word matters, our words matter. It is unacceptable that in our country today, people are afraid of their neighbors, it is unacceptable that horrible and hurtful words are hurled as weapons of destruction. It is unacceptable that children are afraid they will be sent away.
Just in case you hear me advocating a particular political position, I must disabuse you of that. I am advocating the Good News. I am advocating for the Jesus Movement. I am saying, we are followers of Jesus. Love someone who doesn't deserve it. Take the right action, have courage, be bold. You and I have all we need, stand up for those who don't. We are the church, not this building. Give your love, your forgiveness, your mercy, your compassion. Use your words wisely. Speak love into the world, speak forgiveness into the world. Speak on the behalf of those whose voices are silenced through fear and intimidation and violence. And don't go it alone, we are the church. We are all on this rock together, and none of us get off of it alive.
God is at work with us. God is already about healing and reconciliation that changes the world. We are living the reality of the new heavens and the new earth. We are living the reality that God loves us and all of creation so much, God walks with us in this life making us new, transforming our sadness into joy, our pain into hope, our death into life. Amen.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
All Saints and Baptism Yr C Nov 6 2016 Audio
Today, as we began our worship, we named those who have walked this path before us, and when we baptize Emma and Eddy we look toward those who will walk this path after we have gone. All Saints is a time when all time comes together in a single moment and we may enter the mystery of Christ particularly as a communion and a community of people who hold hands across time to witness to the ministry God calls us to.
All Saints is our day to find ourselves in the community that attests to the love that wins. It is not to find ourselves wanting because we aren't good enough or perfect enough. All Saints is our day to experience the awesomeness of those who walked this path before us, and to count ourselves as part of that great cloud of witnesses. It is an opportunity to call on this cloud of witnesses, Abraham and Aquinas, Madeleine and Marion, Perpetua and Felicity, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero, as people who show us the way of fearless love, mercy, and compassion.
Grandmothers and Grandfathers, ancestors and forebears, the entire cloud of witnesses, stand here beside us.
On this day of all saints, we call upon all of those who have taken this journey before us, to stand here with us as we are witnesses today to the love of our creator God, to the life and love and work of Jesus, and the enlivening presence of the Spirit.
Stand here beside us, as we struggle to follow Jesus.
Stand here beside us, as we grieve for our mothers and fathers and our loved ones who have died.
Stand here beside us, as we endeavor to find our identity as the ones who are marked as God's own forever.
Stand here beside us, as we continue to hope and find encouragement in the face of loss and discouragement.
Stand here beside us, as we courageously invite those we love into a relationship with one another and with Jesus.
Stand here beside us, as we strive to be a blessing in the lives of all we encounter.
Stand here beside us, as we wonder about what blessing is even all about.
Grandmothers and Grandfathers, ancestors and forebears,
stand here beside us, we remember your fidelity, your strength, your courage, as we ask our creator God for the same.
On this day of all saints, we will reaffirm our baptismal promises. We remember who and whose we are, we recall our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God. We vow to live our lives from that center, from that identity. On this day of all saints, we remember, we reaffirm, and we renew our courage and bravery to be witnesses to God's amazing and abundant love.
We remember our grief and our losses, whatever they may be. We remember the people we love and see no more. We remember the grief and loss of slowly losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s or dementia. We acknowledge the struggles with illness of body and mind. We remember the loss of employment or dignity. We remember the disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred or hopes dashed. Loss comes at us from so many sources.
In Ephesians we hear words of encouragement, God's power at work in Christ, power that brings life from death. These words are so full of hop and comfort to us today, as they were to the followers in Jesus time, followers who were struggling with enormous loss of identity and the threat of losing their independence and even their lives. Saints are not only those who are robed in white or gathered into the church triumphant but also each of us, as we too have come, or perhaps are still coming, through ordeals great and small. To all of us who are struggling to find hope or healing, we can hope for a future, not defined by our past.
We reaffirm our identity as God's beloved, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever. God continually claims us as children and Jesus speaks of blessings. Jesus blesses all kinds of people but especially the kinds of people who aren’t normally blessed – the poor, the those who are hungry, those who weep. The world typically gives these folk little regard, just as few notice many of our silent losses and grief, and yet Jesus calls them blessed. Jesus doesn’t say, “one day you will be blessed,” but “blessed are…,” even now, even here. Why? Because blessing isn’t like the flu shot. Blessing doesn’t immunize you from pain or loss, and it’s not a guarantee of safe passage through this life unscathed. Rather, it’s a sense of fullness, of contentment, of joy that is like, but also transcends, ordinary happiness. It is not something you have and others are lacking. And like love and hope and so many other things, it can’t simply be mustered into existence but rather is responsive, springing forth in response to the love and promises of another, and of God.
As we reaffirm our identity as God's beloved, we are renewed for the journey. This community of faithful saints, along with the cloud of witnesses, the saints who have gone before us, we are renewed by hope and blessing for the journey we take together. We call upon each other and God to stand here beside us as we follow Jesus into the world to do the work that we are called to do, and that work is to be agents of God's healing and reconciliation.
We are already, bearers of Jesus' light and love, Jesus' blessing. And it is our own pain and loss, our own grief and sadness, our own joy and blessing, our own forgiveness and healing that enables and equips us for this work. You have been broken by loss and life, you have been filled by bread and wine, body and blood, you have been loved by God and by this community of faith. You are renewed for this brave and courageous work
of being God's beloved. You are renewed for this radical endeavor of following Jesus into the world to feed, and clothe, and love.
We will stand together, with the saints who have gone before us, and the saints who are here with us, our newest saints, Eddy and Emma, and the saints who will carry on after us, to receive Eddy and Emma into Christ's love, and to renew your baptismal vows.
This cloud of witnesses that stand with us this day, show us how to live without fear, and die with love. They show us how to love ourselves, and to love others. They show us that love has the final word. Today we baptize Emma and Eddy into this community of saints, this cloud of witnesses, this collection of people who will love them and raise them up as the children of God that they are. Today, Emma and Eddy are marked as God's own. Amen.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
24 Pentecost Yr C Proper 26 Oct 30 2016 Audio
Imagine, It was a day like many other days in Jericho.
Hot. The kind of hot where just standing makes you sweat.
Dry. The kind of dry where your throat feels like two pieces of sandpaper.
Dusty. The kind of dusty that when the sweat drips off your brow
you get muddy rivers in the cracks of your face.
It was a day unlike many other days in Jericho. There was a murmur swelling into a roar about the prophet Jesus who was traveling through town on his way to Jerusalem. All the men were shuffling in the heat of the day into the village square, near the well, to catch a glimpse of Jesus. The women and children remained near the back of the growing crowd, and Zacchaeus tried to remain invisible.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Zacchaeus accepted the fact that people in his village shunned him. Zacchaeus himself thought he was doing only what his job asked of him. He called on the townspeople and collected the Roman tax, well, plus a little bit for himself and a little bit more for his employer. But Zacchaeus also gave half of all of that to the poor, and, if he did get caught cheating, he did what the Hebrew law asked of him, he paid back four times as much. In addition to his sleazy profession, he was also admittedly diminutive, short in stature as some might say. People seemed to look right through him, sometimes right over him; he often had the feeling that he was invisible.
But on this day, he decided to run ahead of the hot and sweaty crowd to the village square, and knowing that he could not see through their backs, he decided to find a better vantage point for viewing the commotion. There was a sycamore tree that gave some shade to the well, and Zacchaeus climbed into it. He made himself comfortable, and from there was able to observe the commotion quite well.
People gathered and buzzed about Jesus, the one who is coming. Zacchaeus had heard about this Jesus. They said he was a prophet, they said he was a teacher, a rabbi; they said he was a healer. He had just healed a blind man, he had healed lepers. But they also said he was radical, that he once told a rich man that in order to follow him he would have to sell all that he owned and give his money to the poor. Imagine that, thought Zacchaeus, why would you even want to follow this guy, he surely didn’t have any power. And the story about that other tax collector, the one who asked for mercy, mercy for what? Doing his job, and making money?
Zacchaeus sat in the sycamore tree, pondering these stories that he’d been told about Jesus, when he heard someone yelling up at him. “Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus, come down here, I’m coming over to your house to eat and stay awhile.” The others were calling out to Jesus, “Jesus, Jesus, come to my house to eat, but it was Zacchaeus that Jesus was talking to. Zacchaeus felt a thrill of excitement that this man whom everyone wanted to come to their house, had just invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. For a moment Zacchaeus worried about what his wife was going to do when he brought Jesus home with him, but decided this was about his good luck and his wife would understand.
Besides, Zacchaeus noticed that everyone else was indignant and annoyed that Jesus was coming to his house, and Zacchaeus liked the attention he received. They all were grumbling that Jesus had no business with this crook, but Zacchaeus had for so long listened to the condemning comments that the townspeople made toward him, and had so long been treated like scum, that he was overjoyed to have this man at his house.
In the middle of that crowd of people Jesus looked right up at Zacchaeus. At that moment, Zacchaeus felt as if Jesus knew exactly who he was. Zacchaeus had spent his life hiding from people. The only way he could do his work was to keep people at a distance, to steer clear of relationships with his neighbors. If he ever developed relationships with people, there’s no way he ever would have made any money, how do you extort money from people if you actually like them, and you let them like you?
Zacchaeus had spent his life being overlooked by people too. Alienation and isolation were the result of being looked at like he was less than a man. Most folks dismissed him before ever finding out about him. Who knew that he gave so much of his wealth away? Who knew that he took only his due, that he didn’t intend to cheat, and if he did, he paid it back fourfold. Who knew that he had a wife and kids? Who knew that he had been climbing trees his whole life. Who really knew Zacchaeus? Sometimes, he thought his wife didn’t even really know him. But the minute Jesus looked into his eyes, he knew, and Zacchaeus was changed. Zacchaeus was called away from himself, when Jesus calls you can’t stay in the same place.
Zacchaeus climbed like a monkey, and he quickly alighted on the ground under the tree, so as not to give this man any time to change his mind. Together they made their way to Zacchaeus’ home, through the crowd, with everyone looking at Zacchaeus with disbelief, how could Jesus even consider going to the home with that tax collector?
Upon entering Zacchaeus’ home, Zacchaeus, being the good Jew that he was, washed Jesus’ feet, and offered him something cool to drink and good to eat. Zacchaeus and Jesus talked, just like they’d been old friends, meeting again after a long time apart, (Zacchaeus had to chuckle, since he had no old friends) but not missing a beat.
It was almost as if Jesus had looked into his soul and knew him for his entire lifetime, and for who he was. A good man, a good Jew, but a man nonetheless, whose tendency toward sin pulled him hard and away from what he knew was right.
The meal they shared together that day was a meal he would not soon forget. After Jesus left, every time Zacchaeus came back to his table to eat, he remembered Jesus sitting there. He remembered what it was like to be known by Jesus, to be completely and absolutely himself, not puffing himself up like he usually did with others to try to pretend he was taller or bigger.
Every time Zacchaeus came back to that table he remembered what it was like to no longer feel alienated and isolated. Every time Zacchaeus came back to that table he remembered what it was like to have a friend like Jesus. Every time Zacchaeus came back to the table he remembered that salvation had come to his house, because he too was a son of Abraham. No longer was he lost, no longer was he afraid, no longer was he alone.
Like Zacchaeus, every time you come to this table, you are re-membered. Every time you come to this table your brokenness is made whole, the fissures of your heart are filled with the bread and the wine of the love that flows from Jesus. Every time you come to this table, you are no longer alone, but connected to the communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses, the broken ones who come with you. You are invited to come, bringing all that you are, and all that you may be, come. Amen.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
23 Pentecost Yr C Proper 25 Oct 23 2016 Audio
We continue in Luke with this parable, no easier than any that have come before it. What is the kingdom of God like? The kingdom of God is like the Pharisee and the tax collector who both pray before God. Last weeks parable was about the persistent widow who shows us that God never gives up on pursuing us, God never gives up on loving us, God never gives up on us.
The parable we hear today follows directly on the heels of that. The Pharisee stands by himself and says, "thankfully I am not like those other people, I fast, I give a tenth of my income, and I'm just down right good." Or words to that effect. The Pharisee is actually just telling the truth, a Pharisee is righteous before the law. The tax collector is standing off on his own, beating his breast and lamenting his wretchedness. But what the tax collector shows us is what being justified looks like. Justified is a word that us Episcopalians don't use too much. But the passage puts the righteousness of the Pharisee at odds with the justification of the tax collector. In this story, what justification means is that the tax collector shows us that we stand before God and recognize that we are recipients of a profound gift. Love and forgiveness are the key elements of justification because they initiate and maintain relationship.
As is usual, I don't think this parable tells us that the kingdom of God is all about the pharisee, or all about the tax collector, I think this parable tells us that the kingdom of God is in a place somewhere that is not quite either the pharisee or the tax collector.
If we go too quickly to the sentence that finishes this piece of scripture, "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted," we might think this is easy and straightforward. But parables just cannot be read that way, they are never easy and straightforward, there are always layers of meaning, and even innuendo. Jesus does not teach in easy and straightforward ways.
So, what do we do with the pharisee and the tax collector? You see, as soon as you decide you are humble like the tax collector, you become prideful like the pharisee. It isn't about not being righteous like the pharisee and being like the tax collector, as soon as we do that we are in danger of puffing ourselves up with humility.
So this story is about God, and God's relationship with us. So what does this story show us about God? It continues to show us that God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with us. What gets in the way of that relationship is judging others about their behavior, those thieves, rogues, adulterers or even this wretched tax collector. What gets in the way of that relationship with God is being dishonest with yourself, being self-righteous.
God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with each of us and all of us together. God's hearts desire is to love us into our true selves. What that means is that we don't have to be perfect before coming into God's presence. That means that we don't have to have our lives all put together before coming into this church. That means that we are imperfect and sinful people. That means that this Pharisee, and the tax collector and all of us who are like him, are equally welcome in God's presence and we are loved by God.
The children’s story Old Turtle and the Broken Truth gets at this nicely. In it, the truth of the universe comes to earth but on its way is broken in two. One half – that we are special and deserve to be loved – gives strength and happiness but over time leads to arrogance and disregard for others. Only when we discover the other half – that so also all others are also special and deserve to be loved – can we live into the peace and goodness of the universe and of God. This is the heart of justification, the empowering word that frees us from insecurity and despair and then frees us again to share that same good news and love of God with others. And for this reason, recognizing that we are justified has the capacity to provide our central identity and to illumine all our decisions and choices, particularly regarding those around us.
When are you like the Pharisee? We are like the Pharisee when we come to the conclusion that there is nothing we can learn from those with whom we disagree. We are like the Pharisee when we put up a wall around us so thick and so tall that no one and nothing can get in. We are like the Pharisee when decide that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
When are you like the tax collector? We are like the tax collector when we sit in the lowest seat only because we hope we will be invited into the highest seat. We are like the tax collector when we don't speak up for those who are oppressed because we don't want anyone to know that we are followers of Jesus.
God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with both the Pharisee and the tax collector. God's hearts desire is to love us into our true selves. And our true selves are imperfect and perfectly loved. God's invitation to us is into relationship, and that relationship is through prayer, and song, worship and service, and learning God's word. That relationship is through one another, because when one with another, we are Christ for each other. In our lives and in our witness to the love that wins, we are in relationship with God.
As I pondered this passage for the last few days, I wonder about us, here at Trinity. I wonder about how we show people in our community how God's hearts desire is to be in relationship with each and every person. My heart breaks because somehow we aren't getting that message out to people. We, here at Trinity are not perfect. Our worship is not perfect, it's sometimes messy, but everyone is welcome. All of us are not perfect, sometimes we come sad or angry, but we always are forgiven.
You see, the invitation to worship the God who is love is God's invitation, and there are thousands of people who still haven't heard the invitation. Today I encourage you to invite someone you know into God's love. Invite someone you know to Trinity for a cup of coffee and conversation, and to stay for the community. Invite someone you know to Trinity to experience the God whose hearts desire is to love them. Invite someone you know to Trinity to find meaning and acceptance for themselves and their children. Invite someone you know to Trinity who is searching and has lost their way.
Invite the Pharisees, invite the tax collectors. You know that here they will find themselves, here they will find the love that wins, here they will be home. It is God's invitation, but you must bear the invitation into the world. Not because you have to, but because your heart breaks as well as mine, that they haven't yet gotten the invitation.
Go out into the world, bearing God's love.
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