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.
Friday, October 14, 2016
22 Pentecost Yr C Proper 24 Oct 16 2016 Audio
Here's another parable, and they sure don't get any easier. Every time we hear a parable, we ask ourselves again, what is this really about? What is the kingdom of God like? What does this show us about God? And, there never is just one answer to any of these questions when we hear a parable, there are multiple answers and multiple levels. In this parable today, I want to consider a possibility. I think this parable is not about God being like the judge, but much more like God being like the persistent widow. I think this parable is about God's hearts' desire to be in relationship with you and me.
At the center of the relationship with God is prayer. That is what this parable is about. Jesus is telling the people who have gathered to listen to him, to pray always and not to loose heart. Prayer is one way God communicates with us. Sometimes people wonder about prayer and what good it does. Sometimes people are frustrated because God doesn't seem to answer prayer, or the answer is not the one we want. When the answer isn't the one we want, we decide God isn't listening, or God isn't even there. The problem is that somehow we've gotten it into our heads that God is transactional instead of relational. God, if you rescue me out of this situation, then I'll go to church every Sunday. God, if you get me this great job, then I'll give all this money to those less fortunate than I. God, if you do this, then I'll do that. Transactional, it's a deal God, I'll hold up my end of the bargain if you hold up yours. Who wants a God who's only interested in a transaction and deal making? No wonder there are so many atheists, so many "spiritual but not religious." If that was the God I had to believe in, I'd turn and run too. God's hearts' desire is to be in relationship with you and me, not to be the back end of a bargain.
Prayer involves words, prayer involves silence, prayer involves posture, prayer really involves our entire being. And prayer involves relationship. There are times when you think you pray on your own. When I am out walking and getting my exercise in the mornings, I incorporate morning prayer, I'm praying by myself, but I'm also praying along with all the others around the world who are praying their morning prayers. And there are times we pray in a group. Sometimes we all say the same words together, sometimes we make space to deposit our own words, sometimes we make silence so that we may just listen. Sometimes we sing our words, some may even dance their prayers. But all of this prayer is born of relationship. Even when I think I make my prayer alone, it is born of the place and the time and the creation in which I find myself. Prayer is one way that makes it possible for God to get ahold of us. And God's hearts desire is to be involved in our lives, and our loves, and our sadness and our grief.
And yet, there are times we cannot pray, it is at those times we trust that someone is praying on our behalf, carrying God's hearts desire to be with us to us. You do that all the time when you pray for someone else. My favorite author, Madeleine L'engle tells a story about a near fatal car accident in which she was involved. She lay in the hospital for days and weeks afterward, and she says she could no longer pray, the only thing that kept her alive was the knowledge and trust that others prayed on her behalf, and in there somewhere, the seed of hope bloomed, and she remembered God's love for her, and was re-membered in God's relationship.
So this story may be a story about praying always, and about persistence and hope, but I think it is a story about God's persistence and hope. I think it is about a God who just will not let us alone no matter how much noise and movement and busy-ness we create in our lives to drown out God's voice. Maybe it is us who, even though we fail to fear God or care about people, are finally worn down by the persistence of a God who longs for justice, a God who yearns to love us completely and absolutely.
It is this that makes it so hard for me to hear about those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious." The relationship that God yearns for is not a solitary relationship. Individualism is not a value in the sacred story. Being successful all by yourself is unheard of in the stories in scripture. The very essence of God is relational. God's relationship with us and all of creation is God's very being. Our Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, is relational and relationship. And God persists, God keeps coming to us, God never gives up on us, God's love wins.
And as we pray, we become more connected to God, and we become more connected to one another. We become connected to God and to one another in our joys and in our sufferings. And sometimes that is hard, and sometimes that hurts. But the more you see suffering and injustice around you, the more you pray, and the more you pray the more connected you are to that suffering, and the more connected you are to that suffering the more connected you are to the crucified and risen Christ. You can't very well look into the eyes of those around you who are in great need and do nothing. We create connections among us, prayer connections that link us together forever and always. These are the connections that begin to put us back together and make us whole. These are the connections that begin to result in healing, and forgiveness. And isn't that often what it is we pray for?
So church, pray without ceasing and do not lose heart. For God has work to do through you and among you. Amen
Saturday, October 8, 2016
21 Pentecost Yr C Proper 23 Oct 9 2016 Audio
It seems to me that the phrase "an attitude of gratitude" may seem a bit cliche, but I do believe this passage from Luke is all about that. Jesus is going about the region healing and teaching, which is all well and good, but even Jesus would get tired and cranky I imagine, and really would love to hear a thank you. You've been there, right? You bailed your kid out of one more jam, you helped again with the homework, you made a great meal, you did the dishes, all expectations of parenthood sure, but still, a thank you would be nice, but you would never say that out loud. You volunteered for the school fundraiser, you shoveled your neighbor's driveway, you donated money to the Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Way, and really, a thank you is all you want.
Well, the good news is that this passage isn't about us and what we want, it's about Jesus. Jesus who healed ten lepers, including a Samaritan, an alien, a foreigner, an immigrant. Jesus didn't even ask to see his green card, wasn't worried about whether he could adequately speak the language, Jesus just healed him, and nine others. This outsider, this alien, this foreigner, this immigrant shows us all up. He's the one who thanks God, he's the one who gives God the glory. Not that any one could blame any of us for not remembering to give thanks, just look at the state of things.
But really, we know with our heads, that God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse, all that, and a million things more, are good gifts from God's abundance. There is an old spiritual discipline of listing one's blessings, naming them before God, and giving thanks. It's a healthy thing to do, especially in a world where we too often assume we have an absolute right to health, happiness and every possible creature comfort. Give it a try, make your list.
Additionally, this story shows us something else as amazing as gratitude and thankfulness. It shows us what new life and resurrection look like. Lepers were banned from their communities, they said good-bye to family, husbands, wives, children, and they go live with other lepers until their deaths. Not only did Jesus restore this man to health, he was restored to the community, and in a society in which honor was conferred by one's place in the community, that restoration was maybe even more life giving than the restoration of health. This man was dead and is alive again. Faith and gratitude travel hand in hand.
Last week, the gospel reading was all about faith. When I read that passage in Luke I wondered if the story was not about not having enough faith, but about God's absolute and abundant faith in us. I wondered if the story isn't about being worthless, but about God's absolute and abundant love for us. I wondered if the story is about the awesome wonder of God's grace, the grace that makes us feel a might bit small in comparison.
Have you ever felt alone? So alone that you just sit down and weep. So alone and so afraid and so alien, that you feel like you are backed against a wall and there are no choices, no options, and that you are in a kind of prison, you can't see a way out. Last weeks readings, the Psalm especially, and Lamentations as well, are incredibly sad songs about feeling separated from God, about being in exile. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept, when we remembered our home and those who love us, and maybe if we would put down roots, plant some flowers, it would feel more like home. These songs remind us about our own condition when we feel so totally isolated, and alienated, like we just don't fit in, like there is no one in the whole world who understands the pain of our own life. Not unlike the lepers in our reading today, banished, alone, isolated.
God calls to us in that place. The Good News is that no one is cut off from God's love, God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's healing, no one. No matter how horrible, or insignificant, or disenfranchised we think we are, no matter how far away from healing we think we are, we are not cut off from the love that wins. Sometimes, we, as did the apostles, say to The Lord, "increase our faith!" And the Lord's response is even with faith the size of a mustard seed, which is mighty small, hardly even enough to see, is enough. Indeed it is not even about how much faith you have at all, the story we embody, the story we enact, the story of Love, is the story of God's faith in us.
You see, our relationship with God is never about us at all, so it is not about how much faith you or I have. Our relationship with God is about God's faith in us. And God does have faith in us, that is shown in the pattern of the sacred story. God creates and blesses all of creation, creation turns away from God and we wander in the wilderness, God calls us back into relationship and comes into our lives in a real and incarnational way, there is forgiveness and reconciliation and transformation.
We know the truth of this relationship in the reality of death and resurrection. God accompanies us through the pain and the suffering and the joy of this life. Jesus is God in the flesh, and walks this journey with us, Jesus suffers through pain, hangs on a cross, and through Jesus God shows humanity what new life looks like. Jesus is broken, and wholeness looks nothing like life before death. It is all about death and resurrection. Talk about faith, God has faith in us.
I don't get up in the morning and ask God for more faith, I get up in the morning and know that because God has faith in me, God is faithful, I can do the work God calls me to do. Sometimes I wonder where God is, sometimes I wonder what God is up to because I sure can't figure out the plan, but that doesn't change God's faith in me. With that, some semblance of faith returns. And that faith looks like love. Love as an act of the will, love as mercy and compassion, love as justice and peace. Lord, help me to be your love in my part of the world today, Lord, help me to treat each person whose path I cross with mercy and compassion, is my prayer. Lord, help me to get on board with what you are already accomplishing in the world today. Lord, you have faith in me, help me to have faith in myself.
This world is broken, most of us are broken, and Jesus, in flesh and blood, in the bread and the wine, seeps into our very being and heals us, we are made whole in the bread and the wine. We are made whole by the love that is shown forth in this community, love that is Jesus in our midst. Jesus prepares supper for us, Jesus invites us to the table for food and drink, Jesus gives Jesus' very self so that we may be put back together, we are re-membered in a meal, in a community, that is Jesus' body.
It doesn't take much faith at all, indeed, it doesn't take any faith at all, to see the truth in these stories. We are humans, broken and loved back into wholeness. We are humans, worthy of God's love, the love that wins. And that reality causes us to give thanks and praise in all places and at all times, just like the outsider, the foreigner, the immigrant, who gave thanks to God. Amen.