Saturday, April 30, 2016

6 Easter Yr C May 1 2016



6 Easter Yr C May 1 2016 Audio

I love the long, warm days of summer. But those days are preceded by these days, rainy and chilly. And yet, we're always so very thankful for the moisture, that has turned the grass green and put the trees into a flowering frenzy. All of this rain gives life to our world, but as we know, all that moisture is life-taking as well. Flooding and storms are always difficult to watch especially when we are just so thankful for the moisture. 

The rains and and the water that brings forth new life, remind me of my baptism. I am reminded that I have been joined with Jesus in the life and death of the baptismal waters. I am reminded that we are in a constant process of life, death and resurrection. I am reminded that God is never finished with me, that there is always another layer to be shed, another washing, another opportunity. There is forgiveness and healing, and that always leads to new growth and new life. And, the baby ducks are always born in flocks and travel together. 

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit of each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The book of Revelation was born out of a time when people who followed Jesus had to live under cover. Worship of the gods was proscribed by the Roman Empire. Empire and worship were one and the same. The book of Revelation gave hope in that context, and describes the community that Jesus has set up on earth that is an alternative to empire. These were people who would gather and sing songs to God and to the lamb, to share stories and to break bread in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They came together around a radical and transforming vision of the joyful reign of God. In this letter from John this community heard a call to faithfulness, a call to renew their love for one another. They heard the promise that they would be victorious, provided that they resist the seductions of the empire. I reminded you last week that the signs and portents of revelation worked to wake up the people to change, to wake them up so that they could resist the seductions of the empire. 

The vision of Revelation gathers the community together beside God’s riverside, to drink of its water of life, to find shelter beside God’s majestic tree of life with its healing leaves. As you read these verses in Revelation chapters 21-22, imagine yourself walking into this city through its open gates, exploring the landscape that the angel unfolds before you. You are safe at last. You are beloved.

I began today with my stories of being reminded of my baptism and being reminded of new life and resurrection because those experiences bring me to a place where I can imagine this reality that John describes for us. However, I know that the truth of our lives here and now is that the seductions are powerful. The seduction of greed, of exclusion, and of self-importance is powerful indeed. Chapter 21 in Revelation speaks specifically to the healing of all nations through the leaves of the tree of life. There is much in Revelation that some have used to dominate others and to create a culture of fear. The concept that some know as the rapture is clearly a misinterpretation of the message of Revelation. The call to transformation and to reconciliation and healing is clear in Revelation. The call to turn away from violence, to turn away from greed, to turn away from exclusion, to turn toward peace, to turn toward generosity, to turn toward inclusion is mighty powerful. God’s holy city provides enough food for all, in God’s holy city all hunger is satisfied. 

Given this interpretation of Revelation, that revelation offers hope and freedom, nourishment and sustenance in a culture of greed, violence, and narcissism, I ask you this question. How does this speak to your deepest hunger? How does this speak to the deepest hunger of our world? I think we spend our lives yearning and searching for nourishment, for something that resembles the holy city that is described in Revelation. Our search takes us by way of false nourishment. Like eating potato chips instead of sweet potatoes, or candy instead of fruits and vegetables. We look for satisfaction in places that can only offer us momentary delight. But when we look away from God to satisfy our hunger, we continue to go away hungry.

Gathered at the riverside, God’s people, you and I, have tasted life-giving water and manna from heaven. We have glimpsed God’s beloved city. Because of that, everything is different now. Everything and everyone is precious. The challenge is to live our lives according to the story of God’s beloved city, to live in terms of its blessing. We live in freedom, not enslaved by the need to please and perform, but fully and absolutely and abundantly loved by the God who created us, who came into our world to live, suffer, and die as one of us, who rose from the dead, and lives among us, 
and who will come again to reign here in the company of the creation. 

We live our lives connected to one another. Barbara Rossing reminds us near the end of her book, The Rapture Exposed, that Revelation’s story is about seeing the Lamb beside you in every moment of your life, in the car, at the shopping mall, at work and at school. We might call that Lamb, the Love that wins. Revelation is about looking more deeply into God’s picture and seeing how the Lamb, the Love that wins, is leading you even now into a world of joy and healing. 

And next time you are washed in the rain, next time you witness new birth, remember who you are, God's beloved. Equipped and sent to love others. 
Thanks be to God. Amen, Alleluia.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

5 Easter Yr C April 24 2016



5 Easter Yr C Audio

“The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to one. He advanced toward it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape. ‘Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,’ said Scrooge, ‘answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be only?’ Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood. ‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.’ The Spirit was immovable as ever. Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE. ‘Am I that man who lay upon the bed?’ he cried, upon his knees. The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again. ‘No Spirit! Oh no, no!’ The finger still was there. ‘Spirit!’ he cried, tight clutching at its robe, ‘hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’ For the first time the hand appeared to shake. ‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: ‘your nature intercedes for me, and pities. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.’”

Barbara Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed, describes Revelation by comparing it to A Christmas Carol. She said that the visions in Revelation are like the visions Scrooge has. The ghost of the past, present, and future warn Scrooge that if he doesn’t wake up and change his ways, these visions are the way it is. The book of Revelation serves to show us the very same thing. If we don’t wake up and change our ways, if we don’t reconcile our relationships with one another and with this earth, our island home, the consequences will be dire. 

And then we come to chapter 21 that we hear today. This chapter is the chapter of hope. In this part of the story we hear Good News, we hear that what could be is that the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with us as our God and we will be God’s people. God will be with us and will wipe every tear from our eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am making all things new.

This is hope. This is where all our visions and dreams come into focus. The whole message of the bible is that God loves the world so much that God comes to earth to dwell with us. Revelation proclaims this message. God’s home is not somewhere else, but here in our midst, incarnate right here on earth. This is a message that is not just about the future; it is a message that is operative right here, right now. “See, I am making all things new.” New life is about now; new life is available to each and every one of us right now. We don’t live our lives for the reward at the end. We live our lives because we have this chance of new life, of a different way of being, right here, right now. And what is this new thing, what is the gift we’ve been given? Why does any of this make any sense at all? It is the gift of God with us, the gift of Jesus Christ who lived this life, just like you and me. Jesus who suffered and cried, Jesus who loved his friends, Peter who denied him, and Judas who betrayed him, Jesus, who would not give into the cultural pressures of his time. Jesus who was God who is God and who will be God forever, whose work in his life in his suffering in his death and in the resurrection gives us something new, gives us the truth of a transformed life, calls us into a life that is about hope and growth and love and forgiveness, it calls us away from a life of self-centered and self-serving narcissism. Hope is what revelation is about. 

When we embark on the journey of transformation, we enter the land of hope. When we enter the land of hope, we are in fact transformed, made new, given the gifts for living this life fully alive, where out of death comes new life, out of sadness comes hew hope, out crying and pain come new love. 

The vision of revelation is meant to be God’s vision by which we live our lives right now, as followers of the Lamb in our world. According to Barbara Rossing, “The Lamb is leading us on an exodus out of the heart of empire, out of the heart of addiction to violence, greed, fear, and unjust lifestyle or whatever holds each of us most captive. It is an exodus we can experience each day. Tenderly, gently, the Lamb is guiding us to pastures of life and healing beside God’s river.” 

The theme of exodus runs through the entire book of revelation, and it is the theme that guides us through our Christian lives. Each of us, and all of us together wander through the wilderness of all that which enslaves us, all that which hurts us and causes us to protect our hurts and fears at all costs. That is what the scary stuff of revelation is. It is the powers that enslave us. The powers of empire that demand worship and adoration at all cost. The powers of possession that cause us to fool ourselves into believing that people and things are ours to possess. The powers of self doubt that fool us into believing that we are not worthy to be loved by God. But it is also the theme of exodus that assures us that God is God and we are God’s people, and we can do nothing to cause God to break that covenant. That is the liberation, that is the freedom.

The vision of Revelation also is a vision of God’s dream right here right now, as well as that which is yet to come. We live in the tension of this vision always. You and I have been claimed by God at our baptism. We participate in God’s dream by sharing the love of God in Christ. They truly know we are Christians by our love. This 21st chapter of Revelation has been paired with the gospel of John chapter 13, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you have love for one another. We know that according to John, being a follower of Jesus is to love one another. Nothing more, nothing less.

You and I participate in God’s dream when we love one another. You and I change one life at a time when we love one another. You and I change people around us when we love one another. You and I can change the world when we love one another, because it is Love that wins. You and I can participate in the new creation described in Revelation when we welcome God in our midst, when we treat each and every person as if that person is created in God’s image. You and I can be an incarnational community, a community of love, of hope, of resurrection and of transformation right now, we don’t have to wait until some time in the future. 
Welcoming God among mortals, expecting Jesus with us, this is our call, this is the Christian life we are to be about. 

Thanks be to God, Amen. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

4 Easter Yr C April 17 2016



4 Easter Yr C April 24 2016 Audio

"Kathy, John, Mary, Joe, time to come and eat!" My mom would yell out the back door and we would come running from the schoolyard, or the neighbors yard, knowing there was a wonderful dinner waiting for us. "Kathleen Ann Monson" was not such a pleasant way to be called, if that was what my mom was yelling I knew I was in trouble. "I Rick, take you Kathy to be my wife" brought tears to my eyes. "Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Kathleen, fill her with grace and power, and make her a priest in your Church," are the words of ordination. 

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," are the words that William Shakespeare put in Juliet's mouth as she tells Romeo that she loves him, regardless of his family. In a little novel called "The Little Prince," knowing ones name connects or ties one to another, and in a novel by my favorite author Madeleine L'engle, called A Wind in the Door, naming is that which calls a person into existence, unnaming, or xing, allows a person to just vanish, to be annihilated, negated, extinguished, xed. In that story, Meg, the hero, is trying to save the life of her brother, Charles Wallace. Meg meets some very bad characters, called the echthroi, who take life out of the world by unaming them. And anytime we look over or around or through a person, anytime we disregard their name, the word by which they are known, we devalue and dishonor that particular creation of God.

"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish," the story in John tells us. Let that just wash over you. Jesus knows you. Jesus loves you. Jesus knows your name. Love wins.

We take a step backwards this week. For the weeks since Easter, we have been reading stories about Jesus after the resurrection, and the question I've been asking is how do we recognize Jesus. Our lectionary returns us today to the time before the events of Holy Week and Passion, to the festival of Dedication. 
It is winter, Jesus was in the portico of Solomon, and there were many gathered around him, maybe listening to his stories. They seem impatient, maybe even bored after being there all winter, they want Jesus to spill the beans to them, they want Jesus to give them the breaking news, they want Jesus to tell them if he is the one they have awaited since time began. Is Jesus the Messiah they have been waiting for? Is Jesus the leader, the one appointed by God, the descendant of David, the one who will free them from the tyranny of empire? 

Jesus responds "My sheep hear my voice." Maybe that too is an answer to the question how do we recognize Jesus. "My sheep hear my voice." We recognize Jesus as Jesus calls to us, as Jesus breathes us into being, as Jesus says our name, as Jesus gives us life. In the gospel of John, eternal life has a specific meaning. Being known by God is eternal life. Eternal life is realized in the present, it is that which God gives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus calls each one of us by name and we are known. In our baptism, we are marked and claimed as God's own.

But the question many ask is why bother? Why bother listening? Why bother with this shepherd thing? Why bother with Jesus at all? The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff --- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of The Lord my whole life long. 

Why bother? Because it's true. It's not true like 2 plus 2 equals 4, but it's true like caterpillars turn into butterflies, and seeds turn into flowers, and wheat turns into bread. You know it's true because you have walked with your family, friends and neighbors through pain and sickness, and you know that there is new life on that path. 
You know it's true because you have known loss, after your spouse has died, when you didn't think you could ever live life again someone calls your name, and picks you up and takes you out to dinner. You know it's true because you have not felt protected or safe, and someone gave you hope, someone gave you sanctuary. You know it's true because people run toward the bombs to help each other. You know it's true because someone calls your name, tenderly, lovingly, courageously, encouraging you to be fully and completely human, fully and completely loved. You know it's true, because you have that indelible mark on your forehead, and you have been named beloved daughter, beloved son.  

Beloved daughter, beloved son, I am your shepherd, follow my voice, follow me. To listen to Jesus' voice, to follow Jesus, is to be a disciple. And remember, in the gospel of John, love is the definition of discipleship. Following Jesus is all about loving one another. Following Jesus is about pointing people toward hope. Following Jesus is about being the one who calls another's name, following Jesus is about providing a way out of the lostness -- by providing again or for the first time a chance to be invited into a relationship with God. You are called by name, you are absolutely and abundantly loved. You are perfectly forgiven. You are nourished and fed by the bread and the wine. 

Listen for the shepherd's voice. 
Come and be who you are called to be. 
Love wins. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

2 Easter Yr C April 3 2016



2 Easter Yr C Audio

"It is one of the cosmos' most mysterious unsolved cases: dark matter. It is supposedly what holds the universe together. We can't see it, but scientists are pretty sure it's out there." I read that on the Internet, so it must be true. And earlier in Lent, I read or heard, can't remember which, that we know about 3% of all there is to know. 

We want to know so desperately, don't we? We want certainty, we want proof, we want it all. And yet, in faith as in science, the story we tell really only touches the mystery of the universe every once in a while. And yet the story we tell, whether it is the story of faith, or the story of science, does a darn good job of pointing us in the right direction, describing the reality in which we live. The story of faith, and the story of science, are not mutually exclusive stories, they are stories that describe different things, and yet, they dance together. 

Jesus died, didn't he? And yet we claim resurrection, we claim that God entered time and space and did something absolutely new, something so amazing that all we can do is sing and dance and shout alleluia! All we can do is try to describe it, try to draw pictures and make music, we can't come close to knowing it. And that amazing thing that God continues to do changes us, transforms us, like Jesus, we are made into something completely new and different. The doors of the house where the disciples met in fear were locked, and Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus came and stood among them, but until Jesus said, Peace be with you, they did not even recognize him. Well would you? He was dead, why on earth would Jesus be standing among them. Remember the women who came running back from the tomb? The disciples didn't believe them, they didn't believe even Jesus himself until Jesus said these familiar words, Peace be with you. Only then did the disciples realize this was Jesus in their midst. 
How could this be?   

You see, this story about Jesus appearing to the disciples after the crucifixion and resurrection, this story about Jesus coming back to appear to Thomas, who missed it the first time around, serves to try to show us what resurrection looks like. It tries to show us what this amazing thing that God does, looks like. 

Imagine yourself there. You are in that room, it is hot and smelly and so close, the doors are locked, the windows are barred. You are so frightened, the same people that just killed Jesus are after you. You can't eat, you can't sleep, your stomach is in knots. And then, all of a sudden, without any warning, this man shows up in the room. How did that happen? There's no way he could have gotten in, you locked those doors yourself. Everyone is shaking in their sandals. And then he speaks. "Peace be with you." His hands and his feet were torn from the nails driven into them, his side was pierced. You knew it was him when he spoke again of peace, and forgiveness, when he breathed on you and you felt his spirit. 

Thomas wasn't there that day, and just like you, couldn't believe it until he saw it. So a week later, when Thomas was there, Jesus showed up again. The hands, the feet, the side. You knew you had to tell this story, you knew that God had done something so amazing you just had to tell everyone. 

Here you are, on this day, the Sunday after Easter, your 60th Easter, your 45th Easter, your 20th Easter, your 10th Easter. We gather together here, in this place. Our doors are wide open, we hope and pray each time we gather that God will show up, that God will send us people to whom we may introduce God. The reality is that God is here, God is showing up. The question is do we recognize God? Do we recognize Jesus in our midst? This story we hear today points us to the ways we recognize Jesus in our midst. Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit, forgive the sins of any, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. This is the way we recognize Jesus, this is the way we serve Jesus, this is the way we follow Jesus. We listen to those around us, we listen to their stories, we listen to who they are, and when we do, Jesus shows up.

When people tell the story about Thomas they tend to end with the admonition to believe without seeing. Somehow, believing without seeing gets equated with certainty and faith. But I think one of the mistakes that is made in Christian talk is that belief and certainty become synonymous. Certainty is never a pre-requisite for belief, and certainty is not a product of belief. There is a place for all of our doubt and uncertainty. Even Thomas shows us that. Certainty actually is not really very important at all. The reality in which we live, and the place I began all of this today, is that reality in which we see and experience very little of the total that is possible in human experience. We place our faith in the story that is true, not in the certainty of being right. We place our faith in the story of life, joy, pain, suffering, death, and resurrection, and the God who walks with us in the midst of it all. The God who collects all of humanity's pain, fear, and hate, 
and takes it into Godself through love. That is not about certainty, but it is about love. 

We practice love and God shows up. That is what this life and this faith is all about. We practice peace and Jesus shows up. That is what serving others is all about. We practice silence and the spirit shows up. That is what prayer is all about. Open the doors, let all who would enter come in. 
Love wins. Amen.