Saturday, August 27, 2016
15 Pentecost Yr C Proper 17 August 28 2016 Audio
Luke, the gospel writer of hospitality, tells us a story about Jesus who is going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees, who we affectionally consider the keepers of the Law, to eat, on the Sabbath, a day that is held in high esteem according to the Law, a day set apart from all other days. In the story that Luke is telling us, Jesus observes how the guests take their places, and in response, Jesus tells a story about an invitation to a very special meal, a wedding banquet. So we have before us, a story within a story.
So first of all, I want you to imagine yourself as one of the invited guests. What does that mean for you? Where do you sit? With whom do you sit? Is there ever a time you may think to yourself, surely not saying anything out loud, that person should not be here, that person is not distinguished enough, that person is not good enough, that person is not like me, that person should not be at this table. Jesus says, "give this person your place."
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Now, I want you to imagine yourself as the one who does the inviting. When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return,
and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Remember, this parable is told in the context of a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. You gotta believe the leader of the Pharisees have an agenda in inviting Jesus over, usually, they want to test him, they want to see what he's made of, they want to find out if he is righteous before the law. And so far, Jesus has failed miserably. He heals on the Sabbath, he eats with sinners and outcasts, and now, he's telling everyone in hearing distance not to invite the important people over for a meal, but invite those who cannot return the invitation. Who do we invite to come eat with us here at Trinity? And when we invite them, do we actually encourage them to have something to eat, at this table and at the table in the parish hall. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
And lastly, I want you to imagine the invitation itself. This is an invitation that we cannot pay back. Jesus invites each and every one of us to the table, it's not about whether or not we deserve an invitation. Somehow, we are transformed in the eating. Somehow, we cannot leave the table without being changed. But it is not our own doing, it is indeed the love that wins, the love that blesses, that changes us. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
You see, this story within a story from the gospel writer Luke, who is all about hospitality, gives us a picture of God's kingdom. What does the kingdom look like in this story?
We need to back up for a moment, and remember something about 1st century mediterranean context. The greatest good was one's honor. Of course you sat at the head of the table, of course you expected those less than you to sit at the lowest place. Of course you invited the important people, the people who could do something for you, the people who had something you need. You would not have considered any other way. That's the way the world worked. It's really not so much different today. Jesus came into that context as Jesus comes into our context and says there is a new way, a way of God's kingdom. And in that kingdom, everyone has honor, everyone has status, and that is based on God's love, that is based on being created in God's image. It is not about who you are, it is not based on how much you have, it is not based on anything you can do. In God's kingdom, we are all related, and what we do matters. In God's kingdom it is love that wins and love that blesses.
What do we hear in this story? I hear a story of abundance and of enough. Do not be worried about who comes to the party, there will be enough. In God's kingdom there is enough, share what you have. Jesus is inviting us to stop counting and start giving and blessing. What would it be like to live into the freedom to stop calculating our social prestige and stop worrying about what others think and simply be kind to everyone around us, particularly those who are not often the recipients of kindness. What would it look like at work, at school, and at the places we volunteer or play sports or socialize, to look out for those who seem off to the margin and to invite them into the center by inviting them into our lives? Jesus invites us to experience the joy of playing “God’s helper” in handing out the abundant gifts of dignity and worth and value with which we have been blessed. There is joy that comes from blessing others with our regard.
We are called to this hospitality, we are called to this invitation, we are called to build this kingdom, where no one is an outcast, where all of us sinners are welcome. We are called to the table to feed and be fed. As we feed and are fed, we are sent into the world to be the heralds of this kingdom. We are sent into our work, and our school, we are sent into our communities, bearing this new reality. We are sent into the world to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so we entertain angels. By doing so we are the agents of God's kingdom. By doing so we bring God's healing and reconciliation to all who are broken, which is each and every one of us.
We are followers of Christ. We are invited to the table where there is no preference of place. We are invited to be builders of the kingdom. We are charged to engage every person with mercy and compassion, for by doing so, we entertain angels.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
14 Pentecost Yr C Proper 16 Aug 21 2016 Audio
Rick and I have been watching the Olympics on TV. Swimming and synchronized swimming, of course, and Rick loves track and field. But, we've gotten quite friendly with the mute button on the remote. Commercials. They drive me crazy, and yet I think we can learn a lot about ourselves by the commercials. If I were one to believe anything I see and hear on television, these are the things that I think are important to Americans, in no particular order: I have to take some sort of drugs to sleep better, to feel better, or to have better sex; I have to have a sexy car; I have to have financial security; I have to drink but do so responsibly; I have to wear the right clothes; I have to buy the right toys, etc. etc. etc. Even the feel good ads want me to buy something. On some level, consumerism, the transactional relationship, has become the dominant world religion, and we freely hand ourselves over to it. And, when we believe in the religion of consumerism, the religion of transaction, it is quite easy to believe that you, or me, or any one of us is the most important person in our particular universe, and fulfilling our needs is the most important endeavor we can be about.
So how is it we find ourselves in this place today? Why is it that you get up on Sunday morning and come to church? You've got other places to be, the lake place, or just drinking coffee in your own kitchen, soon and very soon it will be football. Why is it that so many of you put in hours planning our Trinity country fair, so many of you attend vestry meetings as leaders in this church, you cut the grass, you clean the yard and the kitchen, you make sure this space is ready for us to gather, you read scripture, you serve at this altar. You spend your overnights in the GIFTS shelter, you make meals, you give rides. Here we are, honoring the Sabbath; here we are, worshipping God. Here we are, listening to stories of faith in Jesus, we are not at home, watching TV drinking our coffee. Here we are, eating and drinking the bread and the wine, being made into the body of Christ, why do we do it? Why do we come here?
I think it is because we are the same as the woman in our gospel today. This woman whom Jesus set free. This woman who was bound up, enslaved, for all of her adult life. This woman whom Jesus released. This good news we hear today is true. You and I know it is true because it describes our lives, each one of us is set free, each one of us is released from the bonds that hold us at a distance from each other, we are released from the bonds that keep us believing that ultimately our needs, real or perceived, are the most important needs in the world. Ultimately, God's relationship with us is not transactional, God's relationship with us is loving, giving, emptying.
We find ourselves here today not because we have to be here, or we are obligated to be here, but because we are free. We are free from the bonds of selfishness, from the bonds of self-absorption, and egotism. We are free from the religion of our culture that preaches you must buy, you must have, you must consume. The religion of our culture that preaches you can rest when you’re dead, where people work more and more and wonder why they are so exhausted and why they feel more behind.
Keeping Sabbath is important, your being here is important, because we bring all our brokenness, we bring all our hurt, and are healed. And in the healing and being made whole again, being put back together, we are freed to show compassion. And in reaching out, showing compassion, we participate in bringing God’s healing, freedom, joy and peace to those in need, and that is a rejuvenating path to experiencing those things more fully in our own lives. We are free to be transformed into the persons we are created to be. So what’s really important here? God's dream is healing and reconciliation, God's dream is love and compassion. Keeping the Sabbath is about keeping God’s dream the main thing. It is about the nearness of the kingdom.
The woman in our story today was released from the bondage of her ailment. We too are released from bondage, but you and I both know that we tend to choose to stay in bondage. We tend to believe the religion of our culture that says to us either “you are like God” and deserve to have anything and anyone you want, or “you are worthless” and deserve only what happens to you, both of which are lies.
The truth is so very different from any of that. The truth is that we are God’s beloved creation, and that God loves us whether or not we love God, and that God came to be part of creation, to live, love, suffer and die, so that we may be reconciled, or joined together with God, and with one another so that we may be free. The truth is that the story is not about any one of us, but the story is about God’s relationship with us, and our relationship with God and our neighbor.
That’s the main thing, and what flows from that main thing, what flows from God’s amazing and abundant love for us is the freedom to love others, regardless of approval or disapproval, regardless of whether or not they deserve our love, regardless of whether or not they brought life’s circumstances upon themselves or if they are a victim of circumstances. What flows from God’s amazing and abundant love for us is mercy and compassion.
Mercy and compassion cause us to look at length and with open hearts into the eye of those who are ignored, those who are very old, those who have no one to care for them, those who cannot speak for themselves, those who cannot move on their own, those who are homeless or ill or in pain, those who are lonely, angry, grieving. Mercy and compassion cause us to care about people even when their vulnerability reminds us of our own.
Watching TV shows us not only the values of our American cultural religion, it also lets us into the living room, and the back yards of people all over our world. And we have seen floods and fires, we have seen violence and idiocy. Sometimes we suffer from “compassion fatigue,” we can no longer feel because it seems overwhelming, and we know how close we are. Sometimes we hear ourselves say, “that could have been me,” and we can no longer listen or watch, we can no longer be compassionate. We will not feel at peace or be at rest when we are frantically running away from something.
So this week as we reflect on the gospel, it might do us some good to linger where Jesus lingers, to begin in a moment of Sabbath, to start from a quiet place within, and remember the main thing. The main thing, that it isn’t about me today, it isn’t about any one of us, it is about what happens outside the walls of this church. It is about meeting others with God’s compassion, God’s mercy, and reminding ourselves of the dignity, the freedom, the blessing that is God’s desire for each of us as God’s child.
This is a story I came across this week that I think illustrates what this kind of compassion looks like.
"I work in a decent sized, local, indie bookstore. It’s a great job 99% of the time and a lot of our customers are pretty neat people. Any who, middle of the day this little old lady comes up. She’s lovably kooky. She effuses how much she loves the store and how she wishes she could spend more time in it but her husband is waiting in the car (OH! I BETTER BUY HIM SOME CHOCOLATE!), she piles a bunch of art supplies on the counter and then stops and tells me how my bangs are beautiful and remind her of the ocean (“Wooooosh” she says, making a wave gesture with her hand)
Ok. I think to myself. Awesomely happy, weird little old ladies are my favorite kind of customer. They’re thrilled about everything and they’re comfortably bananas. I can have a good time with this one. So we chat and it’s nice.
Then this kid, who’s been up my counter a few times to gather his school textbooks, comes up in line behind her (we’re connected to a major university in the city so we have a lot of harried students pass through). She turns around to him and, out of nowhere, demands that he put his textbooks on the counter. He’s confused but she explains that she’s going to buy his textbooks.
He goes sheetrock white. He refuses and adamantly insists that she can’t do that. It’s like, $400 worth of textbooks. She, this tiny old woman, bodily takes them out of his hands, throws them on the counter and turns to me with a intense stare and tells me to put them on her bill. The kid at this point is practically in tears. He’s confused and shocked and grateful. Then she turns to him and says “you need chocolate.” She starts grabbing handfuls of chocolates and putting them in her pile.
He keeps asking her “why are you doing this?” She responds “Do you like Harry Potter?“ and throws a copy of the new Cursed Child on the pile too.
Finally she’s done and I ring her up for a crazy amount of money. She pays and asks me to please give the kid a few bags for his stuff. While I’m bagging up her merchandise the kid hugs her. We’re both telling her how amazing she is and what an awesome thing she’s done. She turns to both of us and says probably one of the most profound, unscripted things I’ve ever had someone say:
“It’s important to be kind. You can’t know all the times that you’ve hurt people in tiny, significant ways. It’s easy to be cruel without meaning to be. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can choose to be kind. Be kind.”
The kid thanks her again and leaves. I tell her again how awesome she is. She’s staring out the door after him and says to me: “My son is a homeless meth addict. I don’t know what I did. I see that boy and I see the man my son could have been if someone had chosen to be kind to him at just the right time.”
I’ve bagged up all her stuff and at this point am super awkward and feel like I should say something but I don’t know what. Then she turns to me and says: I wish I could have bangs like that but my darn hair is just too curly.“ And leaves.
And that is the story of the best customer I’ve ever had. Be kind to somebody today."
The kingdom of God is near.
Saturday, August 13, 2016
13 Pentecost Yr C Proper 15 August 14 2016 Audio
Fire is one of the most powerful forces of nature. Fire threatens people and property. Fire threatens forest and hillside. Fires are destructive, fire burns, fire kills. Fire is energy and force that consumes until it burns itself out. And yet fire is necessary for a forest to be reborn.
The fire that Jesus came to bring to the earth is a fire of transformation. It is a fire that does not destroy but that refines, renews and purifies. We know that not only does fire destroy, at the same time fire is the very thing that provides the energy for seed pods to open to create new life. You can see that so clearly in a place like Yellowstone National Park. The new growth that has resulted from fire is amazing. Wildflowers, trees, that would never have grown if it weren’t for fire. This is like the refining and purifying fire that Jesus brings. This is the fire that has the strength to create something new out of something old, something alive out of what seems dead. This is the fire that molds liquid into solid, and solid into liquid. This is the fire that transforms a lump of clay into a beautiful pot.
In JRR Tolkein’s story, The Lord of the Rings, the premise is that a ring that was forged from the fires of the earth holds unbearable power for the ringbearer. The bearer of the ring is always corruptible, and will, eventually, succumb to the power of the ring. The only way for the ring to give up its power is to be thrown back into the fire. The journey of the ring bearer and the fellowship is a journey of transformation and refinement. It is a journey away from individualism and concern only for oneself, toward unity of purpose and shedding of selfishness. On the way, the dwarfs, men, hobbits, and elves, are faced with their own mortality, their own limitations, and realize the journey is about much more than each of them individually, and is much more about who they are together. They were challenged to use their gifts in ways they never thought possible. When the mission was accomplished, something new had been created, out of the fire that refined, molded, melted, reshaped.
Fire transforms, fire refines, fire purifies. Fire is powerful. Jesus came to bring fire to the earth. Jesus came to transform and refine us. Nothing is the same after the fire. Nothing looks the same, nothing smells the same, everything is different. What was old has been reshaped, reformed. Jesus came so that nothing is the same as it was.
One of those things that is transformed is relationships. Remember that the gospel writer Luke claims that part of Jesus’ mission was and is to redefine kinship. Nothing is the same with Jesus and after Jesus, especially kin relationships. Nothing is the same, including the assumptions that have always been made about the natural order of family relationships. What I think Jesus is saying here, and it is probably one of the most difficult passages in the gospel to hear, is that kinship is not the most important relationship, but our relationship to God is our most important relationship, our primary relationship. This is not different from the message of Luke that we’ve been hearing for some weeks. Our relationship with God is our primary relationship. But this transformation of relationship causes fractures. When all the members of a family are not in relationship with God, family relationships are stressed, families can become broken.
In order to form a relationship, we must spend time in that relationship and pay attention to the other in the relationship. When we are in relationship with God, we must spend time with God in prayer, we must learn about God through reading scripture, and we Christians understand God who is one of us, Jesus Christ. We are an incarnational people. God is made known to us in the flesh, Jesus Christ. We say we know Jesus Christ through others, we say we know Jesus Christ through the breaking of the bread. So one way we are in relationship with God is to be in community, we participate in the body of Christ, we are made into the body of Christ.
Each one of us must be in relationship with God through prayer and learning, and all of us together as church must be in relationship with God through prayer and learning. That is part of what makes us a Christian community; and what results from prayer and learning in Christian community is that we may end up in different places, we may disagree. God created us all different, unique; we all have different lenses through which to see.
In a little book by the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander, the bishop of the diocese of Atlanta, called This Far by Grace, Bishop Alexander makes an observation, he says,
“In the Anglican tradition, we got over the need to agree with one another centuries ago. One of the glories of our way of being faithful is to hold together, in creative tension, a cacophony of diverse voices, a rich continuum of temperaments, and almost as many ways of knowing as there are things to be known. It’s often tense, but never boring.”
I think this is the kind of fire of creativity that Jesus calls us to in this gospel passage. The fire that creates in each of us something new, something different, something that was only a seed pod before, but now can grow and flourish and be who and what it was meant to be. We are not created new to be the same; we are created new to be who we are called to be.
The fires of transformation and refinement are not about making us all the same. The fires of transformation and refinement are about making us unique and beautiful; the fires of transformation and refinement are about making us in God’s image. And in that uniqueness and in that beauty, all of us together come closer to being who God creates us to be. We are transformed into the people, not individual people, but a people, not just fathers and sons, not just mothers and daughters, but a people, from different tribes and different nations, which belong to God. We are transformed into a people who show forth their gifts. A people who love one another as we have first been loved. A people who offer dignity and respect to all. A people who together are better than they are apart. A people who are fed, who feed one another, and who go forth into the world giving thanks and praise to our God.
Saturday, August 6, 2016
12 Pentecost Yr C Proper 14 Aug 7 Audio
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid God assured Abram, the angel assured Mary, do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Do not be afraid we must be assured as well, do not be afraid.
Fear is a powerful motivator, for good or for ill. It seems that the world in which our sacred stories originated, and the world in which you and I live are not so different. Our ancestors were afraid of the same things we are afraid of, not having enough, not having enough food, water, clothing, housing. They were afraid of persecution, afraid of being teased and bullied for being different. They were afraid of death, afraid of the unknown, afraid of the dark, afraid of mortality and absence, afraid of natural disaster and human made disaster. They were afraid of those who seemed a threat, those whose ways are so different from our ways, those who believed in a God who seemed so foreign.
Today we live in a culture of fear. We are afraid of not having enough, and we are afraid of those we think may take away what we do have. We are afraid of reading the newspaper because we don’t want to read of the sadness, violence, and tragedy all around us. We don't want to read that our stocks are doing poorly and our retirement is gone. We are afraid of getting sick because we don’t have enough health insurance to cover the hospitalization. We are afraid of getting old because we are unsure of what our bodies will become and what they will do, and the value of our lives until we die. We are afraid of people who think and do and believe differently from ourselves. We are afraid of dying and so we forget to live.
We are afraid of losing, losing our money, losing our lives, losing our house, we are so afraid of losing we hold on tight, we become greedy, we worship idols. We heard all about greed and idols in the parable we heard last week of the Rich Fool. Fear leaves us insecure and paranoid. Fear breeds intolerance and suspicion. Fear causes our relationships to be conditional and abusive.
No fear. Be not afraid. These are words of comfort, and they are words of action. How do we follow Jesus in a culture of fear? What is the fitting response, the ethical response to fear? Now, fearlessness is not a good thing. But that is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong things. Putting fear in its place is being freed from fear to being empowered by love to love. The quieting of fear is required in order to hear and do what God asks of us, and yet in our culture, fear seems to have the loudest voice.
Quieting our fear is not easy, but these overwhelming fears need to be overwhelmed by bigger and better things, by a sense of adventure and fullness of life that comes from locating our fears and vulnerabilities within the larger story that is ultimately hopeful and not tragic. It is the story of God’s abundant and amazing love that resides with us in the life and love, the pain and suffering, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And only by facing death, our most primal fear, can we move ahead to embrace life with the great nevertheless that is God’s gracious word to a broken world.
At our baptism, we were united with Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever. Through baptism we have already faced death, and seen it overcome. Every time we gather together here to celebrate Christ with us we acknowledge the work that God does in Jesus on the cross. Be not afraid, you are not alone.
Following Jesus in this culture of fear is to offer hospitality, and then we are no longer strangers. Following Jesus in this culture of fear is to be compassionate instead of safe. Following Jesus is to transform this culture of fear into a culture of hope.
And this is what it looks like to follow Jesus, it is our work as baptized people. Bringing the kingdom near, for the gospel writer Luke, is all about the amazing grace of God. We are followers of Jesus who express openhanded mercy to others, especially those in need. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, extend hospitality to those who cannot reciprocate, give without expectation of return. Such practices are possible only for those whose dispositions and convictions and commitments have been reshaped by the transformative encounter with God’s amazing grace.
Be not afraid, because the chief competitor for God’s focus stems from the wielding of power, in forms of life designed to keep the privileged segregated from those of low status, the least, the lost, and the left out.
And we continue to hear, Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. How do we live as kingdom people and live without fear? Sell your possessions, and give alms. In other words, be generous, give to the poor. The call of discipleship is to live as if we mean it, not as if we are afraid of it. The call is to live as if God is our priority. Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message is, Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out.
The call is to live our transformed lives in the world, and when we do that, we can change our world, we can transform our world, and the kingdom will be near. The call of discipleship is to no longer be afraid to be yourselves, to be the person God created you to be, to live your life as the beloved of God. When God is the priority, when God is our treasure, there our hearts will be also, and there will be no fear. There will be courage, we will be dressed for action and have our lamps lit. There is nothing we miss out on, instead, we are emboldened and encouraged to live our lives as agents for change, we are participants in bringing the kingdom near.
I’m remembering a movie of a few years ago now, Evan Almighty, which if you haven’t seen yet you may want to netflix. Evan, who has just been elected to congress, prays for his family and his relationships. As a result, God tells Evan to build an ark. Near the end of the movie Evan figures out that God doesn’t necessarily give what it is we ask for, but gives us opportunities to engage in what we need. So when Evan prayed for better family relationships, God gave Evan an opportunity to engage in family relationships, by building the ark together.
God gives us opportunities for discipleship, God gives us opportunities to minister with the least, the lost and the left out. God gives us opportunities to live boldly and courageously. God gives us opportunities to live as if we mean it, to live with no fear, and to witness to the nearness of God’s kingdom.
Be not afraid.
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