Saturday, February 27, 2016

3 Lent Yr C Feb 28 2016



3 Lent Yr C Feb 28 2016

We continue along this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. Imagine yourself along the road with him, it's a hot and dusty journey. You stop along the way to make camp, and people gather to listen to Jesus teach. But the journey is made more difficult because talk is they don't like Jesus much in Jerusalem, and yet he insists on making his way there. On this day though, the subject at hand is one of the most common questions asked, then or now: Are the bad things that happen to us our fault? Do we deserve them? Are they, in fact, at least the consequence of, if not punishment for, our sinful deeds? 

We may ask that question in a relatively mundane, even superstitious way, when something relatively minor goes wrong and we wonder, “What did I do to deserve that?” Or we may echo this question in a much more profound, heart-wrenching way when calamity strikes. I’d be willing to bet that almost all of us have sat with someone at the hospital or at the funeral who attributes grave illness or death to God as some sort of punishment. Those are not the times to correct incorrect theology, but the story of the fig tree we hear today tells us something very different. 

A very different theology is enacted in what we do and say and hear each time we gather together on these Sunday mornings. Before we eat together, before we put out our hands to accept Jesus into our hearts and bodies, we repent and return to the Lord. We confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and indeed are forgiven. Sin is not really a very popular word these days. And yet, it is sin that separates us from Love, from God. The reality is that our sin causes our vision to curve in on itself, and we begin to believe that we are the center of all things. The corrective to sin is to turn around, to repent, to look outside of ourselves, to be bathed in God's grace and love, and to reach out to help others. 

Our journey in Lent is not about how wicked we are, it's not about shame, it's not about not being good enough. Our journey in Lent is about the practice of living in God's presence, the practice of loving, the practice of turning around and turning toward God. The parable of the fig tree shows us that when you think God has reached God's limit of forgiveness, God will forgive one more time. We are not perfect, this world is not perfect, but we are perfectly loved, perfectly forgiven. We are broken, but we are not lost, because Love wins. 

Remember I told you that with God it is relational, not transactional. It is our mistake when we make it transactional. And humanity has been making that mistake throughout all story telling. Thank God for forgiveness. Thank God for just one more chance. Every time we bargain with God, we enter into a transaction, not a relationship. God calls us to relationship. Even Roman society was based on the premise that the good was a zero sum, a limited amount, so every encounter was transactional, there was aways a winner and a loser. 

We are not so different today. People want so desperately to be rewarded for good behavior. Some want so desperately to make sure those who exhibit bad behavior don't get the reward of heaven. They are willing to use Jesus, God, and the Bible as weapons to keep themselves in the right, but, they're wrong. With God there are no winners and losers, only imperfect people who are perfectly loved and forgiven. Only imperfect people who respond to God's amazing and abundant love and forgiveness by loving their neighbor, by feeding the hungry, tending the sick, visiting those who need companionship. 

So back to the question about why do bad things happen to good people God's love is not about cause and effect. That is a very difficult proposition. God causes people to suffer? God causes people to loose everything they have? God causes storms and accidents alike? That's just bad theology. There are many people who don't believe in a God like that, and I'm with them. There is natural consequence to bad behavior, there is natural consequence to all our behavior, but that is not God's judgement. That said, God does indeed care how we live our lives, and how we treat people, and holds us accountable.

The claim of scripture is incarnation, no less. That is an amazing and astounding claim, and I can believe in a God of no less. God does not rescue humanity from itself, God does not rescue humanity from it's own stupidity, or it's own brilliance. God does not rescue humanity from the depths of grief, or the heights of joy. God joins humanity in the midst of it. The claim of scripture is incarnation, no less. God with us, in all of it with us. And God transforms us. God creates something new out of it. God's grace and love trumps judgement. God's grace and love transform us, and in being transformed we turn away from that which is killing us, that which is causing brokenness and division and fragmentation, and we turn to God and to others. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are changed.

Let it alone for one more year, let me put some more manure on it, give it another chance. Let's be patient with this tree. It may yet produce, let's help it along and wait and see. For all of God's love and God's grace and God's patience and God's forgiveness, there is an expectation that something new will be born, that there will be fruit. 

Bad things happen to good people. We read about and hear about tragedy all the time, sometimes so much that we just have to turn our televisions off, leave the newspaper alone. But it is not God's doing. God's doing is being with us, among us, carrying us in our weakness, crying with us in our grief, dancing with us in our joy. God is digging around our roots, spreading manure in the hope that we’ll blossom and bear fruit. God loves us, loves us, loves us, enough to hold us accountable for our faults, cover us in grace, walk by our side, and forgive us our sins as long as this life shall last. And that's what Lent is about.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

2 Lent Yr C Feb 21 2016



2 Lent Yr C Feb 21 2016 Audio

During the season of Lent, we are challenged by our memory of what is to come. We know that Good Friday is ahead and that crucifixion comes before resurrection. We know what is to come because we already have been this way. Nonetheless, we are called to care for one another, just as a mother hen cares for her chicks. Just as God cares for us. And we are called to respond to that love through action toward others, reciprocating that love. Jesus challenges our notions of who God is and our visions of God’s kingdom. We are also challenged to expand our understanding of God to include images of a strong, nurturing presence.

We know what is to come because we already have been this way. Isn't that the truth. The pattern that is shown forth in the stories of the Old Testament shows God's creation, blessing, humanity's turning away from God, God calling creation back to healing, wholeness, and reconciliation. In the midst of pain and sadness, Abraham needed God to remind him who is was and what his role would be and that God was with him. In the midst of the wandering in the wilderness and certain death, the Israelites had to be reminded at every junction that God was with them. 

And that is the pattern of our lives. Each one of you has experience personally and with your friends and family of this truth. The reality of life is death, the reality of love is loss. But the reality of life is also resurrection, that's what the pattern shows us, that's what God's love tells us. What makes that so hard is that what the world counts as death, what the world counts as loss, is not at all to God. Every where we look, we are encouraged to change the way we act and feel and look to keep away our wrinkles or our sagginess or to increase our stamina or virility. Those things may be well and good and help us feel better, but God's kingdom is about being fully human, fully alive, knowing full well these bodies of ours will die. 

Death is what happens when we are trying so hard to stay alive, life is what happens when we live in the reality of resurrection, when we live in the reality that Love wins. And that is the new life that is gift, and to which we must respond yes! 
Yes, Lord, in the midst of this pain and loneliness I will continue to love, because it is love that wins. Yes, Lord, in the midst of this heartache I will continue to love, as a mother hen loves her chicks, as you lord, love me, because it is love that wins. Yes, Lord, in the midst of the joy and gladness of my life and my heart, I will spread your love and mercy and compassion to those who have lost hope, because I am grateful. 

In this passage, Jesus’ use of the mother hen image is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for all of us. It expands our imaginations. It is a mother’s love that is revealed here. And it is also a love that might seem unjustified. The people Jesus was reaching out to were known to “kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” We may say they were unworthy of Jesus' love, that they didn’t deserve it. And the truth be known, they didn’t deserve it, none of us deserve it. But that is the truth of God's kingdom, it is not about what we deserve, because it is not about us at all. It is about God's amazing and abundant love for all of us, and for each of us, just like that mother hen and her chicks.

This passage from Luke shows us what God's kingdom looks like. Indeed, we are called to care for one another as God cares for us, as the mother hen cares for her chicks. That is God's kingdom. God's kingdom is not necessarily something waiting for us at the end of our time or the end of all time. God's kingdom is what God yearns to create with us right now, in this place, in this time. God gathers us in, cares for us, brings life to us. God's kingdom welcomes all, cares for all, nurtures all, regardless of whether or not we deserve that amazing and astounding love. Can we do any less? 

During Lent we are particularly called into relationship with Jesus, just like that mother hen calls her chicks to herself so she can care for and nurture them. We are called into relationship, not because we are deserving, or wonderful, or perfect, we are called into relationship because we are loved.

I really like to listen to unaccompanied singing. I am impressed by voices that are lovely, and beautiful, and fun. Voices that sing complex arrangements, the only way that happens is by listening to one another. My music professor in seminary would give the lecture as each new class began. He would remind us that each of us comes from a place in which we were the leaders. And when you get a pile of leaders together, they tend to try to out do, or out sing, each other. But beautiful music ever happens by listening to each other. No one voice is more important, or less important, better than or worse than, any other. It is about all the voices, blending and soaring and supporting, that make beautiful music. The relationship of all the voices made the music even possible. I think that is a glimpse of God's kingdom. I think that is God's call into relationship. I think that is what Lent is about. 

Listening to God, listening to one another, building something beautiful that not one of us can do alone. That is the journey we take with Jesus. I was watching the Grammy's the other night, listening to Adel, and even in that very professional setting, with all the technology available, her microphone went out. And on she went. You see, it's not about perfection, it's about what we do in the midst of the reality of the journey, and how we lift one another up. It's about how we listen to each other, those we blend with well and those whose voice may be hard to hear. It's about how we listen to Jesus, whose deepest desire is to call us into himself, so that we know in the depth of our beings, that Love wins. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of The Lord. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

1 Lent Yr C Feb 14 2016



1 Lent Yr C Feb 14 2016 Audio

So he stands by the refrigerator, with the door open, looking inside, and says, I'm starving, there's nothing to eat. Then he goes to the kitchen cupboard, opens the door, and declares again, I'm starving, there's nothing to eat. I go to the grocery store, stock up on everything I think he likes to eat, get it all home, and there's still nothing to eat. He eats a delicious meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an hour later says, I'm starving, what is there to eat. Some of you have been there done that, for others, if you don't know what that's like yet, you will. 

And then there's that late afternoon grumbling in your tummy, and if you go too long you get a little light headed and maybe even ornery. What luxury we live in, every one of us is pretty sure we won't go for more than a few hours before our next meal. What a bunch of first world problems.

In this story, Jesus has been in the wilderness for a very long time, and I would imagine he is hungry, tired, stinky, and snarky. Forty days is significant as it is a signal to us of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Remember that story? Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and in the wilderness they began to distrust Moses, they began to distrust God, they began to whine about the food, the living conditions, the weather. But who wouldn't, right? After forty years and another generation, who wouldn't lose hope? After years of oppression, who wouldn't lose hope? After years of being mistreated, who wouldn't lose hope? 

That's what The Devil is counting on in this story from Luke. The Devil is counting on Jesus having lost hope and trust in God. The Devil is counting on Jesus believing that God just does not care. Each one of the suggestions The Devil has for Jesus names the temptation to give up on God, to come to believe that God is not sufficient to meet one's needs. It's not really about right and wrong, Jesus' decisions are not really black and white. So while Jesus is incredibly hungry, even if he had some survival skills, eating bugs for forty days, one would think he's ready to deal. The Devil says to Jesus, just have something to eat, you know how hungry you are. Which one of us wouldn't want a good loaf of bread? Then The Devil says to Jesus, you can have all the power and authority in the world, just think what you could do with that. This could all be yours. Just think what good you could do with it. And lastly, after The Devil may be getting somewhat frustrated, he says to Jesus, just test that God of yours now, just see if he'll whisk you out of death if you throw yourself off this cliff. 

You see, The Devil's proposals are just like the promises of the world, and they look so attractive. You will be filled and fulfilled, you will have power and prestige, you will have immortality. It is so seductive. It is so tempting. We don't even know it's happening. But when the pills, or the promiscuity, or the power, don't deliver the goods, we tend to continue to look further for fulfillment by increasing the frenetic pace of finding something that will make us happy. It is that inferno into which our hope, our happiness, our joy, get sucked. Thus, the expression, it sucks. The Devil counts on us giving up too, the Devil counts on us losing hope. and we may be so caught in the cycle of trying to make ourselves happy, that we give up without ever knowing we've given up.

But, even when we give up hope, even when we give up on God, even when we give in to the glitter and glitz the world offers us, God never gives up on us. Love does indeed win. That's what so amazing about God. No matter what, God does not give up on us. That is what this story is about, that is what this story we hear all the way through Lent tells us. It's not an easy story to hear, there's heartbreak and death, but there's also healing and new life. 

Jesus experiences his relationship with God through the stories in sacred scripture. Jesus knows those sacred stories well, and in them hears God's love, he hears hope and healing and health. You see, this thing we do with God is not transactional. Though we do want it to be that way. God, if you pull me out of this mess I've gotten myself into, I will be a better person, I will go to church every Sunday. But isn't that the very same thing The Devil is doing? 
This thing God does with creation is not transactional, it is relational. The Devil wants us to think it's transactional, that it's about bargaining with God. That's where those temptations from The Devil come from. The Devil says to Jesus, if you turn these stones into bread, if you take this power and authority, if you jump off this cliff, then I will give this all to you. With The Devil it is transactional, with God it is relational, and at the center of that relationship is the Love that wins. 
  
The relationship calls us to turn away from or set aside or leave behind all that is killing us and turn back to God. As we hear that call, and as we set aside the stuff that gets in our way, as we lay down our own heartbreak, and as we fall to our knees, we realize we are already forgiven. We realize Love and Hope and Joy have never been absent from us, we've just had our backs turned, we've had our hearts hardened. We realize that we are washed in the reality and love of God.

And as we begin to live the new life that is gift, it dawns on us that we must respond to God's love. It dawns on us that there is pain and suffering and injustice in our world, and the new life that is God's gift really isn't about any one of us anyway. 

We can respond to God's love with prayer, we listen to God and God's movement in our lives. That's what relationship is all about. We can respond to God's love by fasting from that which keeps the relationship from flourishing. We can respond to God's love by giving our love, our wealth, our time. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that give life to our relationship with God. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that enact God's love, God's justice, in our world. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that remind us that God always has hope and faith in us. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that show that Love wins.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ash Wednesday Yr C Feb 10 2016

Today we begin our journey, pitch our tent, quiet our spirits, listen. We begin by remembering. We remember who we are and whose we are. We remember that we are marked as Christ's own forever at baptism, and that same marking, that same cross, is retraced on our foreheads this day with ashes. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 

Why do we do this Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week thing year after year?Why isn't just once enough? We do it again because we so quickly forget. We forget who we are and to whom we belong. We forget that we are created in God's image. 

We forget that we are born to die, that we are all in this together. We don't often talk about death in polite company, this day we look at death and say, I belong to Jesus,death does not win, love wins. On this day we embrace our mortality and remember that the God who creates us, the God who yearn for relationship, calls us to Godself at the end of our time on this earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

On this day birth and baptism, dying and death, come together in one brief moment of messiness and humanness, and we are marked with the sign of the cross, the sign that we do not belong to ourselves but that we belong to God.

We forget that we are loved abundantly, we forget that we are the delight of God's life. And as we forget, we have a tendency to place ourselves front and center, and we forget that God is God and we are not. And to help you remember, take one of those rocks you saw when you came in, take it and put it in your pocket or your purse, and carry it with you all through Lent, carry it with you and remember who and whose you are.

This season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday is brilliant really. In it we have the opportunity to do nothing. That's really all we have to do. We are invited to spend some time in the quiet each day, and do nothing. No one, not even you, can reproach you for it, because you can just say to them or to yourself that that's what you're doing for Lent. Go ahead, give it a try. Spend 10 minutes each day, sitting in your chair, sitting in the quiet. You may even have more than 10 minutes, but start there. 

Some of you may say to me or to yourselves, I can't do that, I'm too busy, I've got kids, I'll do something else for Lent, like give up gum, or candy, or chocolate, do that too, but also give 10 minutes to the quiet, and see what happens. Pitch your tent, make camp, give it 10 minutes a day.

God is already calling us into relationship, sometimes we need to make room. God shows up, all the time, we though are often just too busy, or too loud, to notice. 

It may take a while, it may take the whole 40 days, but you may make room for remembering who you are. You may make room for remembering that you belong to God, that you have been marked as Christ's own forever. As that reality dawns on you, as the reality of God's amazing and abundant love takes hold in you, as you remember that Love wins, you may feel compelled to respond. You may feel the need to ask for forgiveness, for that which you have done or left undone. You may feel the need to forgive someone in your life. You may need to lay down that which is killing you. You may feel the need to serve, or to give. You may feel the need to give something up, put something aside. Because sometimes, we need to clear our hearts so that we can make space for God.

On the other hand, you may be in a place where you feel bereft. Feeling God's love is just not where you're at. Relinquish control, let go, trust yourself to be a part of something beyond yourself. Open up the quiet space, be connected to the community of faith, into your hands oh Lord, I commend my spirit. 

Lent isn't just the lead up to the party at Easter. It's actually much more like life itself. We get cleaned up, all ready to go, and the next thing you know we fall back into the mud. Life is Hard, it's messy, just like these ashes, this smudge reminds us of who we are and whose we are, loved, imperfect, forgiven. Everyone one of us the same before God, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There is no getting out of it, there are no distinctions.

I invite you now to consider this journey of Lent. I invite you to consider embracing the quiet. I invite you to think about that which you need to set aside so that you may enter a Holy Lent. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Last Epiphany Yr C Feb 7 2016



Last Epiphany Yr C Feb 7 2016 Audio

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him. At the very beginning of these Sundays after Epiphany we heard the same voice at Jesus' baptism say "you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." In that story John the baptizer was there to show how important that event was, and in this story Moses and Elijah show up to let us know that this event is really important, and Peter and James and John are there to witness this transfiguration. The stories we have been hearing these 
Sundays have been showing us who Jesus is. Jesus, the carpenter's son, Jesus, the boy who reads from the scroll in the synagogue, Jesus, the one who would be hurled off the cliff, Jesus, the beloved, listen to him. 

In the midst of the cacophony that surrounds us, in our work, in our school, as we play, in our homes, at our tables, we are to listen. Can we even do that, can we even listen to Jesus? Where do we listen? How do we listen When do we listen? It seems like a fairly small ask, listen to him, and yet we do everything we can to not listen. We fill our spaces with sound and noise and motion. We fill our days with stuff to do, errands to run, accomplishments to fulfill. That is what our lives are made of. We wear our earbuds, we listen to our Pandora stations, we are inundated with sound. 
I don't think that is necessarily bad, but I do think we don't really know what to do with quiet and silence. I also don't think that it is only in silence that we can hear God. God will have us listen, and sometimes God knocks us around so that we do. But I do think our spirits' yearn for quiet.  

Maybe, as we begin our shift from the glory of Epiphany through this moment of transfiguration that transforms time, to the journey of Lent, we may choose to find some time to listen.

We may listen to stories of Jesus. The gospel readings we will hear are not stories about sweet, gentle Jesus, but about strong, brave Jesus who calls us to be like him. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus tells the truth about Herod's depravity and Pilate's oppression, Jesus shows us what real love looks like, and that Love always wins. 
Last week I told you that this life is about flying boldly and courageously, these stories of Jesus show us what that looks like. Read the stories, tell the stories, know the stories of Jesus. During Lent this year you might find a way to listen to the stories of Jesus each day.

We may listen to God in prayer. Prayer is really about listening to God. It is good to thank God, and ask God, and bless God and bless people and things. But really, prayer is about listening. Prayer is about carving out some time to intentionally listen to God's movement in our lives. My personal mantra is, "more quiet, less words." But, my favorite author, Madeleine L'engle, says it much more beautifully in her poem "Word". I'll read it for you.

I, who live by words, am wordless 
when I try my words in prayer. 
All language turns to silence. 
Prayer will take my words 
and then reveal their emptiness. 
The stilled voice learns to hold its peace, 
to listen with the heart
to silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered, 
all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.
I leave, returned to language, 
for I see
through words, even when all words are ended.
I, who live by words, 
am wordless when I turn to the Word to pray. Amen.
(quoted in Praying Our Days: 
A Guide and Companion by Bishop Frank T. Griswold)

I do encourage you to find the time to pray, to sit in silence, and to listen. Now, when I was a younger mother, and exhausted most of the time, I would try to sit still for a while, and listen in prayer. I would inevitably dose off. And I believe in a God who believes in me, and I believe there is a time and a season for everything, that was my season for dosing off prayer, this is my season for attentive silence. You need to find your own kind of silence. And if you need words, there are plenty in your prayer book, use them. Those of you with young children at home might consider praying the Lord’s Prayer together each day especially during Lent. Maybe before or after meals, at bedtime, even in the car (if that is when you have quality time together).

We may listen to God in other people around us and around the world. Jesus listened and responded to the people around him and calls us to listen to the people around us and those all around the world who need us to hear them. What do we hear from people around us and around the world, that transforms us? How do we listen to the needs of others 
and respond in ways that truly help? Sometimes when we listen to the needs of others, our own world is disrupted, we are transformed in the listening. Listening, deeply listening to others, changes us. Another of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis writes, "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me." 

As you listen to God, You may want to respond to God's voice, God's love. How may you do that? What might you do? What will your Lenten discipline be? I know that the older children in Sunday school will be talking about collecting their coins and where they want to give them. Maybe we can follow their lead and give, there is so much need right here in our community, and there is need around the world. Episcopal Relief and Development is a project that you might think about.

Listen to God, listen whether you can hear or not, God will show up.