Saturday, June 18, 2016
5 Pentecost Yr C Proper 7 June 19 2016 Audio
Again we have a story that shows us, that gives us a clear image of what the new life, this good news that is Jesus, looks like in the world. Just as we have read in the last two weeks, about the women to whom Jesus gave new life by bringing them back into the community and restoring their honor, we read about this man. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him, and it did. By doing this, Jesus restores this man to new life.
So this story is like the others, it is a story about restoration to the community of the one who is on the margins, a story of transformation. This time though, it is a man, whose dis-ease puts him on the outside, makes him uncles. Let’s take a closer look at this man who is presented to us in Luke’s gospel today, where he is and why he is important.
First, we learn that this story takes place in Gentile territory, already we are not at “home,” we are in the country of the Gerasenes, opposite Galilee. Another marker that we are not at home, that we are on the margins, is the large herd of swine feeding. According to Jewish dietary regulations, pigs are unclean, so we know we are not in Jewish territory. This man did not live in a house, but in the tombs, which are also unclean, and which also makes him homeless. He had no clothes on, and he was possessed by demons. The setting of this story, and the description of the man, alerts us so that we know this is a story that puts Jesus into a non-Jewish setting, it puts Jesus into a place to encounter someone who is just not like the others. This man did not have a chance in Jewish or Greek society. He was tossed out, he didn’t have a chance for any honor or status, he may as well have been dead. In this way he is not unlike the widows we’ve recently read about.
Jesus restores this man, Jesus transforms this man, Jesus brings this man into the community. This is a very clear picture of what the kingdom of God looks like in the life of this one man, and what it looks like in our lives as well. Because of this man’s encounter with Jesus, he is clothed, he is in his right mind, and he can go home. Because of this man’s encounter with Jesus, he is brought into the community; he is no longer cast off. Because of this man’s encounter with Jesus, he is made whole, he has new life, he is transformed.
This is a story about God’s abundant grace and God’s unfailing love that calls us into relationship, and transforms us. This is a story about when we encounter Jesus; we will never be the same.
This man didn’t seek Jesus out. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he happened upon this man. But in the encounter, Jesus truly recognized this man, and knew he was not himself. Jesus brought him to himself. The truth of God’s love and grace and abundance called the real man forth, and that expelled all that was not real, all that was keeping this man a prisoner in his own body.
Our encounter with Jesus does the same. Sometimes we seek Jesus out; more often than not our encounters with Jesus are accidental, coincidental, or providential, depending on what you want to call it. But, when we do encounter Jesus, we can not be the same. We are clothed anew, our mind is set right, and we find our home.
When we are baptized we are often clothed in a white garment. For some, that garment is the same one many infants before us have also worn for the occasion, for others we get a new set of clothes just for the occasion. The language and symbolism of baptism evokes this. We enter the waters of baptism with Jesus, and are robed in our new garments.
In baptism we pray for each child, we ask for an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. I think that is a description of being in our right mind. We spend much effort in our lives to be right minded. We spend much time trying to be right, we have a need to convince others of our rightness. We even get angry and fearful when our rightness is threatened. When we encounter Jesus our mind is right. When we encounter Jesus we become clearheaded, we are filled with right thinking. Remember last week I described being made right, being justified, like justifying the margins on your page. That illustration still works in this story.
In baptism we find our home. Our home for now is the community of faith, the gathering of people who love and worship God, the assembly in which we share the reality of Jesus in the bread and the wine. Home is the people who patiently wait for us to realize that we are not alone in our faith journey. Home is where we can be fully alive, where we go to find ourselves. Home is where we find ourselves fully alive in Christ. Home is being in relationship with God and with one another.
The very hard part of encountering Jesus, is that we must open our eyes to living the transformed life that Jesus calls us to live. And the very hard part of living this transformed life that Jesus called the man with the demons into, and that Jesus calls us into, this life of being clothed in Jesus’ new clothes, being right-minded, and in coming home, is that our culture would have us believe a very different story. Transformation turns us away from ourselves, turns us away from being full of ourselves. Rather than looking out for ourselves, we look out for the other, we look out for our neighbor. We are in our right mind when we spend time in prayer, when we listen through prayer and scripture study, and when we listen to others to what God would call us to, to what God would have us do, to whom God would have us be. Rather than convincing others that we are right, that our way is right, we listen to other peoples stories, we encounter Jesus in the story telling, we are filled with the real presence of Christ.
This encounter with Jesus brings us home, when we are transformed we no longer turn away from God, but are bathed in the hospitality that Jesus offers. Home is the fullness of our relationship with God, and with our neighbors. Home is not acquiring stuff, home is not even the place we live. Home is living fully in the unfailing love of God, home is the abundant life God has for us. Home is being a wonderful and beautiful creature in God’s eye’s, no matter what, each and every one of us, not just some of us.
Like the man in our story today, who by his encounter with Jesus is restored and made whole, who is clothed in a new garment, who is right minded, who is brought home, God loves us abundantly and unfailingly so we too are clothed with a new garment, made whole, restored to fullness in God’s amazing kingdom. Today, we are invited to live the abundant life that God has for us.
So much of what we see in our culture in these days, people put out on the margins because of who they are, people killed because of who they are, call us to listen to this story and the stories that precede it with hearts of compassion. These stories show us what life in God's kingdom look like, what new life in Jesus look like. Everyone, everyone, has a place in God's kingdom, because love wins.
Thanks be to God. Amen, Alleluia.
Friday, June 10, 2016
4 Pentecost Yr C Proper 6 2016 Audio
Many of you have welcomed my family and I into your homes. You have fed us; you have offered us friendship and hospitality. In my home as a child, there were people coming and going all the time, everyone was welcome, anyone could just walk on in to our house, but the rule was that you were on your own. If you waited around to be served, you just kept on waiting, if you rang the doorbell, we would assume you were there to sell us something. Even in our small part of the world, hospitality is shown in different ways and I think has changed with a more fearful culture. That open door of my youth is suspect today.
Hospitality in 1st century Mediterranean culture was a matter of honor. There were rituals to be observed. Just as when someone comes to your house you would offer them something to drink, and if you are eating together a place to wash their hands, a 1st century Mediterranean would offer to wash his guests’ feet. Although this may seem odd to you and I, we have to imagine the situation. It is so very hot and sticky; lots of dust and dirt. No shoes and socks, but sandals. Feet were dirty. Compounding that situation is that folks did not sit around a table on chairs as you and I do with feet out of sight. Folks lounged on pillows, so feet were right there in full view. Not only a matter of hospitality, but a matter of practicality as well.
Today our story hinges on a blatant lack of hospitality. Jesus turns to Simon, the host, and rebukes him for neglecting to show him hospitality, he did not welcome Jesus as the host should, he did not wash Jesus’ feet.
This story we hear in Luke is very similar to the story we heard last week in Luke. If you remember, there was a widow whose son had died, and Jesus gave new life to her son. As I talked about that story, the point I tried to make is that it is about the Good News that Jesus brings to the poor. It is about how the widow, a woman on the fringes of the community, a woman who in that culture is nothing and has nothing, is restored to the community. Essentially, it is a story about the new life Jesus brought to her, as a widow, she was dead to the community, and Jesus gave her new life.
The story we hear in Luke today proclaims a similar message. Today’s story shows us that love causes forgiveness and love is the result of forgiveness. Our main character, other than Jesus, is a woman who is not attached to a man, a woman in the city, by cultural standards, a sinner. She is a woman on the margins, but it seems that she freely approaches Jesus, and in a most intimate way. Simon, the host, sat watching and judging. This unnamed woman washes his feet with her hair, and then anoints them. This woman shows Jesus the hospitality that his host blatantly denies. Once again, Jesus restores to the community one who the community deems a sinner. Jesus gives her life back to her; she is freed to use her gifts for the good of the community.
Love causes forgiveness, and love is the result of forgiveness. This is also the Good News that Jesus brings. You and I, like David in the Old Testament, and Simon in this story, and the unnamed woman, are sinners. Sometimes it is hard to use that word because the experience we’ve had with it may have been judgmental. But it is not judgmental at all, it just is. We are sinners; more often than not we miss the mark. It is who we are. Created in all our beauty, created in all our goodness, created in God’s image, we tend to turn away from God and worship idols, most often ourselves. We tend to believe the world revolves around us. We tend to think, like David, that we can have whatever we want, or like Simon, that just because we’re important we don’t have to treat people with respect. Instead, we have the unnamed woman, whose sin is no more and no less than ours or anyone else’s, but who comes to Jesus and shows great love.
The power in these stories is that love causes forgiveness, and love is the result of forgiveness, love wins. As we hear these stories, we may hear God’s love inviting us to acknowledge that we often miss the mark, that we often turn away and indulge ourselves. It is the abundance of God’s love shown to us in Jesus that causes forgiveness, and frees us to love and use the gifts we have been given.
We come to church, we say our prayers and sing our hymns, read the scriptures, and some even listen to me talk, we try to live good lives, not in order to get somewhere with God but rather because we have already arrived. God has already acted on our behalf. Christ has done for us that which we could not do for ourselves; reconciled us to God, brought us into right relationship with God, justified us. I used to wonder what that meant, to be justified, but I learned from my computer. When you are working in a document, just like as I worked on this, I had choices on how to set up my page. One of my choices is to justify the margins. If I choose to justify the margins, all my words line up nice and evenly, they are brought into line, they are made right. That’s one way I think of what Christ has done for us. Christ has justified my margins.
So, the only thing required of us is the openness to receive the love that causes forgiveness. This is not necessarily easy or pleasant. It does involve a change, a transformation of attitude and ultimately our actions, because love is the result of forgiveness. And, since love is the result of forgiveness, we are free to use the gifts that God has given us. We are free to love others just as they are, no longer are we bound by our fear. We are free to show others the abundant and extravagant love that God offers them, the forgiveness that God offers them, because we can be ourselves, we don’t have to be perfect anymore.
Since love is the result of forgiveness, we can offer the same radical hospitality to those who come through our doors, as the unnamed woman offers Jesus. We can wash one another’s feet, and we can feed and be fed. Because we are all sinners, and we are all forgiven, and love is a result of forgiveness, we can welcome all who come through our doors, without demands of uniformity, without demands of perfection, without demands of adherence to a particular way of thinking. Because love is the result of forgiveness, we stand shoulder to shoulder, we pray for one another. We give thanks and we go out to do the work that we have been given to do.
And, because love is the result of forgiveness, when all is said and done, forgiveness gives you back yourself. You are no more and no less than what you've done, the mistakes you've made, the story told about you. When you are forgiven, and you are, all of those limitations disappear and you are restored, renewed, set free. That is the good news. Amen.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
3 Pentecost Yr C Proper 5 June 5 2016 Audio
We continue in the gospel of Luke following the story we heard about the Roman Centurion. Again we see Jesus showing up, and showing forth compassion. The stories from Luke and the piece we hear today from 1 Kings are about prophets and widows. But in the end they do what all the sacred stories do, they point us toward God. They show us and tell us who God is and what our relationship to God is.
As we listen to these stories, it's important to understand the social structure of 1st century Mediterranean culture, and when we do, we see Jesus as the compassionate benefactor of the poor. The structure of 1st century Mediterranean culture is like a pyramid, with the householder or benefactor at the top, and then all his household and all his servants and slaves below him, the widows and children are on the very bottom. Each person in this structure derives any honor or wealth by their attachment to the householder. A woman is attached to a man in the household. Without that man, she has no status, no honor, no protection, and no means of support; she is effectively dead, unless she has a son. The Luke story assumes that the reader is well aware of the prophet Elijah, and the widow’s son who Elijah resuscitated, and it reidentifies that story with Jesus. But it goes one step further. The widow who is husbandless and sonless and in mourning, she who epitomizes the “poor” to whom Jesus has come to bring good news, is the real recipient of Jesus’ compassionate ministry. In fact, it is not too much to say that “healing” in this instance, although it entails the miraculous raising of this young man from the dead, should be interpreted as the restoration of this woman within her community.
What that means is that the restoration of the widow, her “poor” status, her unconnected status, her outcast status, is as important if not more important than the miraculous healing. Luke’s gospel is all about Jesus who brings this good news of new life to the poor. It’s all about restoration to the community and restoration of the community. It is about being made whole. It is about God’s unfailing love for God’s people. I want you to get a sense of this. This story is mind blowing, it is amazing and astounding, this woman was as good as dead, and restoring her son, restores her to life. I hope you're catching this story. If we were Jews of Jesus' time and hearing this we would be gasping, we would be clambering to know who this man is, and if we were a Roman we would be reporting him to the authorities.
So what does this good news mean in our world today? How does God’s unfailing love for God’s people make a difference in our lives? And as importantly, for the lives of all the people outside our doors who are desperately searching for something that makes sense in their lives. In this broken and fragmented world, how does the wholeness that God gives make a difference for us?
Our world is full of disconnections; the message from every corner is that you are not good enough the way you are. It is not unlike the 1st century Mediterranean world of Luke’s gospel, perfection is just attained differently today. You don’t look good enough, you don’t smell good enough, you don’t perform well enough. All of this serves to reinforce a deeper and much more insidious message that your worth is based upon some sort of external measure.
But there is no external message of worth that is true. The gospel story today says that we are truly loved in all our brokenness and that love restores us. Now some may say this is a message of mediocrity. If I am loved just the way I am, why should I bother with the way I treat people, why should I bother loving anyone, why should I bother if ultimately God will not be disconnected from me. God will never break the relationship; I however can turn my back on God. But the question of worth and ultimately salvation, arises out of that external message again. I do what I do because of the reward I will get. If I am good, I will attain heaven, for some it’s as simple as that. But the gospel is not about what I do, it’s about who God is. God is the lover whose love makes us whole, whose love fills us and feeds us. God’s love is about living fully today. God’s love is about relationship, about being connected to one another, and that relationship with God, that connection to God, is what makes us whole. God came into this world to show us that. God came into this world to restore us to wholeness, to free those who are enslaved, to give honor and status to those, in this world, have none.
How we live is in response to that abundant and unfailing love. I go out and love my neighbor, not because I get a gold star, and not even because it makes me feel good, I love my neighbor because I have been loved, because I have been restored to wholeness, because in loving my neighbor I enact healing and reconciliation. I love my neighbor because my life has been transformed, because I am created in God’s image.
The woman in Luke’s story today was restored to wholeness, she was restored to the community, she was cared for and loved, and so our response to God’s love and wholeness also has an ethical imperative. We love one another as we have first been loved, and we show forth that love to others in ways that also brings the good news to the poor.
Who are those in our lives whose lives need wholeness, whose lives need healing and reconciliation? Are they our family members? Are they the people who sit next to us in our pews? Are they the people at our workplace or school? Are they the clerks at the grocery store? Are they the people who work on our streets and roads? Are they the folks that come asking for money and food?
They are all these people.
What if every encounter throughout our day shows forth God’s love and wholeness? What if even just some of our encounters show forth God’s love and wholeness? What if we lived in the reality of our imperfection, and instead of trying to attain some sort of external perfection we embraced the person God created us to be and humbly lived the wholeness God has for us?
We would live in the reality of God’s kingdom here and now. We would live proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, that the poor are given power, that those who seem to have nothing are extended grace. We would live forgiven and freed, without resentment or revenge. We would live without the need for violence, without the need for using others for our own personal gain. We would live as God lives in our midst, rejoicing in the life of the beloved, laughing with us at our folly, crying with us in our suffering, making us whole, complete. We would live no longer in broken fragments but as a beautiful and complete tapestry.
Thanks be to God. Amen, Alleluia!