Saturday, September 24, 2016
19 Pentecost Yr C Proper 21 Sept 25 2016 Audio
Luke just doesn't let up on us, at all, ever. One parable more difficult and confusing than the last. The kingdom of God is like... layers of meaning, what it seems like on first blush may not be what it really is about. There was a certain rich man, who feasted luxuriously every day, and at his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus, all Lazarus wanted was to eat the crumbs the rich man dropped. Well, remember one of the themes of Luke's gospel is wealth, so is this parable about wealth, and it's proper use?
Well, Lazarus died, and was carried by angels to Abraham's side, Abraham, the father of Israel. The rich man died, and was tormented in the place of the dead. This is clearly a judgement about the proper use of wealth, and the rich man gets it in the end, right? There's more to prove that, Lazarus is being comforted, and the rich man is in great pain, the crevasse between is unbridgeable. There is a chasm between good and bad, rich and poor, it is all clear and easy to understand. Well now, that would not be a parable, would it?
So the rich man does not want his five brothers to come to this place of agony, and he wants Lazarus to warn his brothers to repent. It must be about repentance. Is it about wealth, judgement, repentance? It is about all of these things, it is a parable after all.
But in the end, is it about resurrection? In the end, is it about how life is to be lived while living. Abraham said, "If they don't listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead." In the end, is it really about living? It is not about the reward at the end, it is about the life that Jesus inaugurated on the cross and in the resurrection. It is about the whole new life and the whole new world that Jesus makes real for us, for God's creation. It is about the amazing and abundant love now, in this life, that causes us to be workers for justice, for peace, for healing, for compassion. And is it about Luke's counsel and concern regarding wealth.
It is about our riches, our wealth. My friend Lyn, who is a priest in the Diocese of Utah told me this story, it's a story about incarnation. It's a story about showing up with and for people. It's a story about the real presence of Jesus. It's a story about an embarrassment of riches, and it's a story of gratitude. Lyn says, one day she answered the phone at her church, and there was an unfamiliar voice at the other end. He said he needed some help. Now, in this business, when you get a phone call like that, you stop listening and wait for the ask. Sometimes you want to stop the speaker and just say, how much money do you need? Lyn listened, and was surprised that want the caller wanted was prayer. He had just seen a doctor, and was afraid of what the doctor might tell him, he had a young daughter, but no one else. He just wanted someone to pray with and for him. Lyn did, she prayed with him. He told her he would let her know how it all turned out.
Rich and poor don't always look like we think they should look like. We are rich. We are rich in our community. Any one of you comes right here, to this place, and asks for prayer. And we, your community, envelope you in love, in prayer, in support. We accompany you on your healing journey. You have family, you have friends, you are rich. After your diagnosis, or after your surgery, you have a list of people to call to tell about how it's going. A whole list. This man, who asked for Lyn to pray with him, had one phone call to make after the doctor gave him the news, one phone call, to Lyn. And the news he delivered was good. Lyn could celebrate with him.
This is what incarnation looks like. It looks like showing up with and for others. It is bearing God's love and God's hope and God's dream for the world in our very beings. It is bring healing into brokenness, and it is bringing love to bear when hate is all around.
It is seeing, really seeing, The rich man in our story never paid heed to Lazarus in life, never. Seeing, is a very big deal. And the rich man's eyes are blind to Lazarus. Before you can have compassion for people, you have to see them, look into their eyes, and see, acknowledge their presence, their needs, and gifts, and above all their status as a beloved and blessed child of God.
So I think this is Luke's point, Luke urges us to the abundant life that comes through Jesus' resurrection, the new life that Jesus affects. And that brings us to seeing, really seeing those around us as God's beloved children deserving our care, attention, and friendship. And Luke says to us give, give out of your richness, whatever that richness looks like.
Luke says to us that this reality that we celebrate each time we gather for a meal, each time we come to this table, each time we say together, Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread, we, crumb by crumb, drop by drop, live into the new creation Jesus makes us into. We see, we experience, the fullness of life God intends and offers, and we embrace the people God has set in our path.
Luke tells us in this parable that through the gift of incarnation, the gift of resurrection, God with us in the flesh, God with us in the spirit, we are made new creations, and the character and quality of our live's today matter. Not because we do good things to earn a reward, but because we are loved. Eternal life is not a distant reality, it starts now. It starts with with us. Give from your richness, from your abundance, and really see the people around us, Jesus, in our midst. And show up for yourself, show up for others, be the church you are meant to be.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
I have had a few conversations recently about the hard texts, the hard Bible passages that we have heard in church. I have had some questions about why we read those hard texts, and some have said maybe it would be better not to read those, especially from the Old Testament, some of the Psalms, and lately, the Gospel has been a worthy wrestling partner. The rota of readings we use is called The Lectionary, and using the Lectionary, we read the entire Bible once through every three years. That’s one reason we read them all. But even more importantly, we do not get to pick and choose the Bible passages we like and support our position, while leaving others we don’t like or don’t agree with unread and unexamined. It keeps us honest. We must grapple with them all, like it or not.
We have an especially difficult one coming up on October 2nd, Psalm 137.
1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, * when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up * on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: *
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song * upon an alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, * let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, *
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
7 Remember the day of Jerusalem, O Lord, against the people of Edom, *
who said, “Down with it! down with it! even to the ground!”
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, *
happy the one who pays you back for what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, * and dashes them against the rock!
The most difficult verse in this Psalm, is the last one, “happy shall he be who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock”! Not only do we read this text, we sing it! One of my Bible professors once said to our class, all bible passages will be appropriate at some time and in some place. As I hear this Psalm, I remember.
Psalm 137 comes out of the time of the Exile, when the Hebrew people were thrown out of their lands, their homes, and banished to Babylon, the land of foreigners, of foreign gods, of pagans. “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept, when we remembered our home, O Zion.” Wouldn’t you, thrown out of your country, your land, all that you know, just want to lay down and weep? The Hebrews wondered how they could sing anymore, so why not just hang their harps in the trees. And to make it even worse, those pagans wanted to be entertained with their songs, not happening, the Hebrew people said.
This reality is in our world today. Refugees are thrown out of their own countries, they must leave their own countries for fear of their lives, and are lead away captive. Refugees don’t want to be in that new place, they would much rather raise their children in the land of their birth, but can’t, for fear of torture and death. Which is worse? Staying home with the fear of death, or leaving home and all that is dear, for a foreign land? It must feel like there are people who would be happy to take their children and throw them against a rock. It must feel hopeless. It must feel like you are dying. Where is God in all that?
The reason we don’t just ignore these Bible passages, is that they continue to show us the truth of our brokenness. The truth that on our own, we believe we are the best creation has to offer, and therefore can treat anyone and anything any way we want. These passages show us the pattern. God creates and God blesses, we turn away from God and begin to believe we can do it on our own, we worship idols and ourselves. This is what gets us into deep, deep, trouble. God calls us back, God loves us back into wholeness, God puts us back together. These passages continue to call us to repentance. Turn around, God loves you, love each other, treat each other with dignity, respect, justice and mercy.
These passages we must listen to, especially today, especially now.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
18 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C Proper 20 Sept 18 2016 Audio
Most parables begin with either the words, the Kingdom of Heaven is like...
or those words are inferred. But then we have this from Luke. What does the preacher do? A parable has multiple interpretations, a parable has layers of meaning, a parable allows the listener to access it from many entry points. So this preacher finds these verses terribly vexing, even confusing. Probably much like a joke, we all should be laughing, like we did reading about the lost sheep, he's gotta be kidding.
But there is one thing I know about the gospel of Luke, and that is besides being the gospel of hospitality, one of the other prominent themes in Luke is the proper use of wealth. So we'll go with that as a theme today. Except that it’s not just the use of wealth; it’s more like Luke is concerned with our relationship to wealth and how that affects our relationships with others. With this in mind, I'm still not sure we have a clear way forward with this text, but Jesus has something to say, and Luke has something to say, so let's try to listen.
Wealth itself is not assigned a moral position, like good or bad, wealth itself is neutral, although there are better and worse ways to use money. Jesus tells us about this dishonest manager, or shrewd manager, it's hard to know which it really is. I think I can hear Jesus say, are you kidding me? You don't get it? It's about what you do with money and wealth, and maybe even more importantly, what money and wealth do with you. And Luke seems to be concerned with relationship and how wealth affects that. So, lets talk about wealth and money and stewardship and consumerism today, and see where it gets us. Most likely, talk about wealth and money put us right on that slippery slope ethicists and theologians and politicians talk so much about.
So today I want to talk about my theology of stewardship and generosity. Wealth is a word, in scripture, that is much broader than money. Wealth describes everything God has given, and we, God's creations are commanded to be stewards of all of that. We are commanded to build relationships that are enriching. And yet, like the characters in our story today, that is not clear or easy, and the slippery slope may get us anyway.
So here's a little picture of my life, and the household I lived in, and the household Rick and I lived in for some time. Before Rick and I moved away from Minneapolis, we lived, with our two sons, and my mom and dad, in the house in which I grew up. My dad died about 5 years into that arrangement, and so we continued to live in the house with my mom, which was mutually beneficial. We moved away some time after that, and my mom continued to live there with my sister with her husband and children who then purchased the house and committed to caring for our mother there as long as possible. My mother died two years ago now. But the story is a good one. My sister has an overly generous heart, and had taken in a little homeless family that they know, who lived in the basement, for a few years, all while mom was still alive. During some of that time, our son Willie lived there as well. The house was a bit crowded and uncomfortable. But her kind heart could not say no. And then there is her sister, that would be me, who took in a homeless family who lived in the basement at St. Andrew's for a time.
Sometimes a theology of generosity is the beginning of that slippery slope,
but to err on the side of generosity is the error I choose to make. The little family that lived in my sister's basement, my mom's basement, have been able to buy their own home, the homeless family who lived in the basement at St. Andrew's, has held together and made a good life for themselves as well. Here at Trinity, we share our home with those who are homeless as well. So part of my theology of stewardship is generosity in all things.
And part of it is about consuming less. We live in this society where we consume so much. In the last couple of years of tightened budgets I have noticed news programs doing little spot stories about how to spend less.
I tend to talk to the television when I watch, and I say to it, "so which rock have you been living under all these years, those are practices that have been a part of my life, forever, and now they're trendy." Once again, it is practicality that gives birth to great ideas, but consuming less whether it is a result of less income or whether it is a result of a commitment to stewardship, is a good thing.
Years ago, as a spiritual practice, I made a commitment to myself, as much as possible, to consume less, to buy clothes and household goods that had already been used. They call that up cycle now. The king of reuse is my husband Rick, I've never met anyone who can see an object and imagine that object's next use better than him, ahh, the slippery slope.
But I tell you these stories because I think sometimes we believe that stewardship and giving are up to someone else, and that other people are so very generous, and yet each of us is already doing this very important spiritual work. We also need to continue and renew our commitment to greet the world with a spirit of abundance and generosity. Each one of you has so much to give, each one of you is so very talented. I saw that clearly recently with our Trinity Country Fair. And the good news is that we are not all talented in the same way. Sometimes I lament my complete and utter lack of art skills, I can't draw to save my soul, but I can replace the zipper in a jacket so that the jacket can be worn again and again.
Wealth is both a blessing and a responsibility. We are blessed to be a blessing, no matter what we have or what we don't have. Perhaps the shrewdness of the manager comes through his recognition that he has put amassing wealth in front of developing relationships. Maybe, finding himself between a rock and a hard place, he cuts the amount others owe by the amount of his surcharge, avoiding further accusation that he is defrauding his master, but strengthening, maybe even establishing, relationships that will sustain him in a time of need.
Here in the church we see stewardship as more than simply contributing money to the church; it’s also about contributing time and talents, and volunteering for ministry and mission. It’s about reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity. It's about showing the world that Love wins. Maybe we are place on this earth to love and care for each other, not to separate ourselves from each other with wealth, status or privilege. It's been said, that St. Augustine asserted that God gave us people to love, and things to use, and original sin manifests itself in our tendency to confuse those two, loving things and using people. And God seems to show up in the places and people we least expect to that we are not tempted to place our faith in the wrong place.
So let's take seriously that God gives us people to love, that we are given all of our resources to care for others, and that none of us know how much time we may have to do that. One way to do that is to think about the person with whom you would like to improve or deepen a relationship, and then, do that, work on that relationship.
As we go forth today, let's see those around us as God's true gifts to us, the "honest wealth" and true riches of life in community. Let us go into the world with a spirit of abundance and generosity, and bless the world, as God has so abundantly blessed us.
Friday, September 9, 2016
17 Sunday after Pentecost Yr C Proper 19 Sept 11 2016 Audio
My friend Ted Huffman, a pastor at a church in Rapid City, lived much of his life in Montana, where a lot of sheep are raised. He tells me that he doesn't know one shepherd who would leave his whole flock of sheep behind to go find one that was lost. He says any shepherd would consider that foolishness. Too great a risk for just one animal. Just foolishness. This series of stories we are reading from Luke, these parables, mostly take place with Jesus in the presence of the Pharisees, the Pharisees were the law keepers. In this story the Pharisees are grumbling about Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. In many of the stories the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus doing something that is not of the Law, like healing people on the sabbath.
You and I know what happens to Jesus, he gets himself killed. So you would think maybe Jesus could hold off on getting the Pharisees all riled up and play it safe. But you and I also know that's not what Jesus does. He behaves foolishly. He eats with sinners and prostitutes and he heals people on the day he is supposed to rest.
So Luke sets the stage. Jesus is telling this parable to a huge crowd of people. Imagine the crowd gathered, people were coming from all over to hear this teacher. So here you are, part of the crowd, and Jesus asks, "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" Not one of you raises your hand, not one of you shouts "me! me!" Dead silence. You look around the crowd to see if there are any crazy ones among you. Because you know that is crazy talk. That is foolish. In fact, people begin to snigger, to laugh, what is this, a joke? No self-respecting shepherd would do such a thing. But Jesus continues, "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices."
In that crowd of people listening to Jesus, you think to yourself, that is the stupidest thing you've ever heard. How does this guy keep his job? It's the darn sheep's fault that it got lost. It should have known better. Let it die out in the wilderness, it deserves no better. Why should any resources be wasted on a stupid, lazy, good for nothing sheep. But at the very same time you find yourself wondering what it would be like to be that one, that one sheep who was lost and gets found, that one sheep who is lifted up onto the shoulders of this foolish shepherd and brought home again. What would that feel like? Such foolishness.
This is the Good News, in the face of this kind of foolishness, Jesus lifts up that sheep and brings it home. Well, we all know something about parables. Parables tell us what the kingdom of God is like. In this story, the kingdom of God is like foolishness. Where do you find yourself in this story? Are you one in the crowd, knowing full well no shepherd worth his money would do such a thing? Are you one of the Pharisees, knowing that you could throw Jesus in jail for inciting a riot? Are you standing there in silence, knowing you are that sheep, lost in the wilderness, whether because you blew it bigtime and made a pile of bad decisions, or whether because of your own bad luck, and for the first time you hear hope of restoration and healing. My hunch is that at various times and places in our lives we are any one of those people or sheep. That's how parables work.
We hear a lot of talk about what people deserve or don't deserve, what we deserve or don't deserve. And mostly we hear that we deserve what we get. Natural consequences for our bad behavior is a good thing in keeping society functioning properly. And if natural consequences are not enough, then we've got the enforcement of laws. Irresponsible behavior results in losing privileges, losing freedom, depending on what it is we've done. And that is the way of the world. It is the way in which our civic community functions.
But that is not the same as who we are in God's kingdom, and it is not the way of God's kingdom. In God's kingdom no one gets what they deserve, which is death. In God's kingdom, the shepherd will bring us home. In God's kingdom love wins.
And what about the second parable we hear this morning? The woman who searches for the one coin she's lost. Where is the foolishness in that story? She would be foolish not to look for that coin, it is one tenth of everything she has. The third story is missing today, we will hear it next week. It is the story of the lost son. These three stories really need to be understood as a single unit. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. The story of the lost son is full of foolishness, the son is foolish for leaving, and throwing away his inheritance, the other son is foolish for feeling jealous, the father is the big fool for welcoming his son home again.
It seems to me there is a clear call to foolishness in these stories. We are followers of Jesus, therefore, we are citizens of God's kingdom, right here and right now. So we too, act foolishly. In the face of a culture that says you get what you deserve, we believe that in God's kingdom love wins, and with that is grace, forgiveness, and healing. We foolishly fall on our knees, and receive God's love and forgiveness, and like the lost sheep, we are brought home. We foolishly live our lives offering the same mercy and compassion to others, and like the lost son, we are welcomed home. We foolishly know Jesus in the breaking of the bread and invite others to know Jesus as well, and like the lost coin, our wealth is immeasurable.
Foolishness, that's what this is all about. And I thank God for that. Amen.