Saturday, May 27, 2017

7 Easter Yr A May 28 2017

7 Easter Yr A May 28 2017 Audio

You all know I come from good Norwegian stock. One of the things that constitute us as a people is that we must eat, not necessarily like, but at least eat, lutefisk and lefse. Well, one of the other popular family reunion foods, a bit lesser know is glorified rice. I don’t know why rice has to be glorified, I like rice just the way it is, just as I prefer my torsk grilled rather than in soaked in lye, but who am I to question tradition?

I bring up this little conversation about Norwegian food, which is all white by the way, because glorified rice just really isn’t. At it’s core it really is just white rice, with cream and sugar added to make it something other than rice. So calling it glorified really just confuses me. And here’s the connection to today’s readings, the glory we read about in today’s readings needs not be so confusing. Making glorified rice is making rice into something it really isn’t; the father glorifying the Son so that the Son may glorify you, is creating or calling something into what it really is meant to be.

Thursday was the feast of the Ascension. The church marks this biblical story in which Jesus leaves this earthly existence. That’s always been somewhat confusing to me as well, but I’ve been reading this book by NT Wright, bishop of Durham, called Surprised by Hope, and his writings actually have helped me be less confused, for now at least. NT Wright explains that in the Resurrection, Jesus was raised from the dead, and there was some time between that event and the event of the Ascension. During that in between time, Jesus looked different than he had when he had been rabbi, teacher. We know this because all the stories describe the disciples and others not recognizing Jesus until he said something to them, like “Peace be with you.”

At the Ascension, Jesus ministry with his followers is concluded, and we are pointed to eternal life. Jesus has promised not to leave humanity bereft, but to leave humanity with the advocate, or the spirit, we are not left alone. The church celebrates that at the feast of Pentecost, and we spoke some of the Advocate last week. In the midst of all of this, the gospel writer John writes that Jesus has glorified God on earth, by finishing the work that was given to him to do. I think that this is where the message of today’s gospel lies. Glory is not about rice, it is not about making something that it is not, but glory is about you and I living exactly as we are meant to be, Glory is about being who we are created to be, just as Jesus is glorified and glorified the father by being exactly who he was meant to be, you and I are to glorify God by being exactly who we are called to be.

I’ve never been one to think or talk in terms of God’s plan for my life, or even in terms of God’s will. I’ve never really bought into a theology or staked my life on God directing the details of my life. However, I do believe that because of the resurrection of Jesus, preceded by his life and love, his pain and suffering, God does something new, something amazing, something wonderful. It is because of this new creation of which Jesus is the first born, that you and I receive the gift of new life, we receive gift of God’s abundant love, and it is that love which calls us to be the child that God calls us to be. We are glorified beings living for the glory of God. On this, I am willing to stake my life.

And in I Peter we have part of a picture of what it looks like to respond to God’s amazing and abundant love. We are to humble ourselves and God will raise us up. We are to cast all our anxiety on him, because he cares for us. We are to discipline ourselves and we are to keep alert. We are to remain steadfast in our faith, and we are to be in solidarity with the suffering of our brothers and sisters. When we respond to God’s amazing and abundant love in these ways, we too will be agents of the new creation; we too will be kingdom builders.

To be humble is a tough go in this present culture that idolizes drama and fame. But to be humble is not the same as subservient, or meek, or a doormat. I don’t see humble modeled much in our culture. I see posturing, I see the elevation of individual achievement, I see the need to be right. I see hero worship instead of mentoring. To be humble is to admit to ourselves and to others that we may be wrong, or that we may grow. It is to approach the others of God’s creation with an attitude that in the encounter, in the conversation, in the work and in the play, that we will be transformed, that we will be changed, that something amazing may happen and we will see the face of God. To be humble is to ask for and accept forgiveness. To be humble is to walk hand in hand with Jesus in our midst, Jesus in the other, Jesus in our suffering, and in our joy. To be humble is to be who God creates us to be; to be humble is glory.

We are to cast all our anxiety on God, because God cares for us. Oh how hard this is especially when anxiety and fear surround us and infiltrates our hearts and minds. Our economy makes us anxious, terrorism makes us anxious, being unsure if we have enough makes us anxious. But we are to cast that anxiety on God because God cares for us. We are to rest assured that God’s amazing and abundant love are enough. No more is needed, nothing less will do. Not to be anxious is to be who God creates us to be; not to be anxious is glory.

We are to be disciplined and to keep alert. It is hard to keep alert when everything draws our time, attention, and loyalty away from the discipline of prayer and study, away from our worship of God. We are inundated by opportunities to slumber rather than keep alert. We are anesthetized to the real world in which we need to live, the world in which God love us abundantly, the world in which we must respond to that love with prayer and praise, with loyalty and attention. To keep alert is to be who God creates us to be, to stay awake to love and charity, is glory.

We are to be steadfast in our faith. Steadfast, not right, not unquestioning, but steadfast, loyal, faithful. We are to persist in asking our questions and we are to persist in pursuing God as God persists in pursuing us. We are to be steadfast, we are to be faithful, no where does God demand success from us, everywhere God’s love and faith in us calls us to be faithful, to be steadfast. To be steadfast is to be who God creates us to be, to be steadfast is glory.

We are to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering, because they, like us, are wonderfully and fearfully created children of God. We are to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering, because when we can see that each of us is created in God’s image, we stand a chance of reconciliation, of restoration, resurrection. We are created new. To be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering is who God creates us to be, it is God’s glory.

The power of new creation, the power of resurrection is transforming power. The power of God’s gift of new creation makes sense out of our suffering and our joy. It is this new life that God gives, and we know it is true because each one of us has lived through pain and suffering that we thought we could not bear, to see and experience something entirely new on the other side of it, when we are willing to open our ears and our eyes to the new creation.

God calls us to glory, to be who we are created to be. God calls us to respond to God’s amazing and abundant love with hope and with new life, with the possibility that we may meet God in one another.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Amen.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

6 Easter Yr A May 21 2017

Rick and I were married 33 years ago this November. If your math is as good as mine, that makes it 1984. We met through YMCA camp, I was the waterfront director and he was a camp counselor. But the point of this is baseball. When Rick and I met and were dating, we went to the Metrodome for Twins baseball. Now, in those days, I rolled my eyes at baseball, boring! And actually fell asleep during baseball games. But I went, because he seemed to enjoy it and I loved him. We got married, and had kids, and brought our kids to the Metrodome for Twins baseball. As long as the kids could walk under the turnstile, they were free, we packed our own hotdogs in our picnic basket, and got to the dome early so we could sit way down in front, or on the third base line to watch batting practice. Before the game began, we'd move up into the nosebleed section into our own seats. I grew to love baseball, our kids love Twins baseball, and we go whenever we can, even to Miller Park! These days, if you see me checking my phone, it’s to get the score of the game. It's crazy what we'll do for love. 

In the fifteenth chapter of John, following what we hear today is, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." And what we have from John this week is a follow up to what we heard last week. John reminds us, you know how to do this, love is hard, and you can do hard things. John reminds us that love is about a relationship, love God, love yourself, love others. And in John, Jesus reminds us that we will not be left alone, love is a hard thing after all, and so Jesus gives the Advocate. Advocate is one way to translate the Greek word, Paraclete. Paraclete can function relationally by designating one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. All of these meanings however, derive from the most basic meaning of the word to “come along side another.” A colleague was telling me that there was a time when a person who was standing for trial literally stood in the box the entire time. A Paraclete is the one who stands with, the one who holds up, and the Paraclete was the one to come along side to help the person stand throughout the trial, and if needed, to stand in for that person. This is the image that John evokes in this passage, this is the truth of what Jesus does in this passage. Jesus shows us what God's love for God's people looks like, we are not left alone, we are not left to our own devices. 

What is hard about love, is that our world has led us to believe that love is about a feeling, that love is the same as romance, or passion, or sex. Love comes and goes. You can fall into and out of love. But that is not this love that God commands, that is not the love that this story shows us. A real love story is a story that shows a relationship that endures, a relationship in which the lovers treat each other well, respectfully, compassionately, lovingly, even when they don't feel like it, even when they don't want to. A real love story is a story in which a father pushes his son's wheel chair for the whole race, so that the son will know what it is like to run. A real love story is when one friend, who is blind, puts his friend who has no legs, on his back and they go about living life together. A real love story is when a couple watches baseball together, because they've grown to love baseball together. 

Love is holding another person up, when all we want to do is fall down. Love is holding another person up when it seems impossible to stand another moment. Love is standing there for another person, speaking on behalf of the other, being the voice for the voiceless, love is showing up. And it is hard, so Jesus leaves this Spirit, this Advocate, this Paraclete, with us, we are not left alone. 

Love is hard, and you can do hard things. Have you ever known that Spirit, that Advocate, that Paraclete coming along side of you? This Spirit, this Paraclete is hard to identify. But it lives somewhere in the wind and the flame of compassion, of grace, courage, faith, peace, laughter, music, strength, and joy.  

Love is hard, and you can do hard things. When is a time when you have wanted to just lie down and quit, or even die, but someone came by your side and held you up? When have you been broken and spent, and someone came by your side and gave you words of encouragement? When have you been ready to throw in the towel, when have you been ready to call it quits, and someone came by your side and said, that's why a baseball game is nine innings. When have you stood by the side of one you love, when doing so may have seemed doomed. 

An understanding of Advocate is "to speak on behalf of another." In John, this is a manifestation trinity that is different than the more familiar Spirit, as in wind or fire. We’ll hear more about that manifestation of the Spirit in the coming weeks, when we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. But here, in this part of John, the Advocate will stick up for you, and you will stick up for others. You will bear witness, you speak on behalf of love, you will stand by the side of the other or the beloved, you will hold one another up, because you can do hard things, because God loves you, and because Love wins even if the Twins don't.

What amazing good news this is, especially as we face the challenges of these times. The Advocate has our back and will never give up on us. It feels empowering, like when someone is with you and for you, you can take risks, you can try things you didn’t think you’d try, not because you won’t ever fail, but because failure won’t destroy you when you’ve got this kind of support. You can try, and try again, and try yet again because you have an advocate.

And it’s hard to be generous, brave and compassionate when it seems like so many are not; when we witness people in all aspects of our civic lives, and even our personal lives, use language that is divisive and hurtful. It’s hard to be generous, brave, and compassionate when you feel that no one hears you, or even when you are afraid. Remember though, you can do hard things, because the Advocate stands with you, and even stands for you. You can do hard things, because God’s love wins, and God’s love welcomes all. We can do hard things, because we stand with and for each other, because we are nourished with bread and wine, body and blood. We can do hard things, because we are sent into the world bearing God’s love. Amen.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

5 Easter Yr A May 14 2017

5 Easter Yr A May 14 2017 Audio

The words that open this chapter of John’s gospel are words of comfort and hope. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.” As Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension approach in this gospel, Jesus is giving his followers, including us, words of truth, good words to hang on to. Again, our lectionary is disjointed. In the season of resurrection, in the season of Easter, we find ourselves returning to a time when Jesus was teaching his disciples. But what Jesus is teaching his disciples is all about the promise of resurrection, it is all about life filled with God’s love, God’s abundance.

This gospel of John continues to show us what it means to live as Easter people. This is a story that shows us what John's understanding of eternal life looks like. Eternal life, the life that Jesus promises, the life that Jesus inaugurates with resurrection. We are Easter people, we are love carriers. And this story shows us that.

Jesus says "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." 
I am the Way. The invitation is not to a simple answer, but to a complex relationship. Jesus stands at the sheep-gate and calls our names. Jesus invites every one of us into this relationship that begins now, and continues through the fulfillment of all time, John calls this eternal life. Jesus has prepared and is preparing room for us, a place that where Jesus is, we are also. 

This is a relationship that breathes new life, a relationship that is about transformation, a relationship like no other. We know Jesus, and come to God through Jesus, not by a one time conversion, not by saying the right words, and not the same for all of us. Instead, we belong to Jesus, it is in Jesus that we are truly who we are meant to be. We journey together, we are a community walking the path together. The way is a way of continuous conversation and discovery. The way is not a single answer we can teach our children; it is an adventure we share with them and with Jesus, our companion on the way. It is an adventure that will bring us to people in whom we meet Jesus. The way is not a list of conditions we must assent to; it is how we are loved, it is how we love, it is how we give, it is mercy, it is compassion, it is justice.

Jesus says, I am the Truth. Truth is encountered on this adventurous journey. Jesus is the embodiment of truth. Truth is not defined narrowly. Truth is about a lived reality. Truth is the story of life, death and resurrection. Living in relationship with Jesus is the truth. The truth will accompany us on the journey whose destination is unknown, but is promised to be magnificent. Truth sets us free to make our home in Jesus. We see at the journey’s end a spacious place, open and welcoming, full of grace, far greater than the bounds of our understanding, full of the expectation of our return.

Jesus says, I am the Life. We define life so narrowly. In our culture it seems more and more that the boundaries of life include seeking ways to alter the reality in which we find ourselves. Our culture sells us images of fame, images of bigger and better everything, from homes to cars, trucks, and body parts; rather than inviting Jesus into the midst of that reality and living it fully. Throughout the scriptures we gather and glean that God’s deepest desire for humanity is to live life fully and to know the abundance of God’s love. 

Life is the relationship that Jesus invites us into, a relationship with him and with others. Life, love is the call to us in this world, right here and right now, in our work, in our homes, in our schools. Life is the relationship that Jesus calls us to, a relationship that demands loving oneself and loving others. A relationship that is full of living, a relationship that is full of giving. Giving for others, giving of ourselves, giving because it is the right thing to do.

The way, the truth and the life is not a narrowly defined exclusive club for people who profess a particular way of belief. The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship like many of our relationships, with good days and bad, with joys and sorrows, with arguments and apologies, with forgiveness and new beginnings. 

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is lived out in community, lived out with others who also each day strive to bring their passion about and their love of Jesus into the world.

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation into a transforming relationship with Jesus, a relationship that brings meaning to life and death, and new life. A relationship that speaks the truth in the face of evil and injustice, a relationship that makes possibilities out if impossibilities. 

The way, the truth and the life is an invitation to live a life of meaning, and sometimes that is hard. I think in this story it is as if Jesus says to us, you can do hard things people. Loving me and loving one another is sometimes hard, and you can do hard things. So we come together here, in this church, to remember this. We come together, with all our own hurt, and with all the hurt we've caused others, we show up. We listen to the stories, we share our common prayers, we break bread, and we remember who we are, and something happens. We are made new, somehow the fissures of our hearts and souls are filled with bread broken, love spilled, truth lived, life reborn. 

It is such an expansive invitation, a call to each and every one of us. The house has many rooms, enough for all. The sheep-gate is for us to enter, it is not to keep people out. This house is the place where love wins, it is the place where hearts are healed, it is the place where new life arises out of death. It is the place where we can do hard things. In this house your brokenness is received, the fragments of your life are collected. In this house you don't have to have it all figured out, you can sit in the mystery and your heart will dance. 

And in this house, where all this messiness and healing and dancing happens, God’s love overflows, your love overflows and your love shows others how the cracks are filled. The cracks in our lives and in our common life together caused by poverty, and hunger, the cracks caused by drugs and alcohol, the cracks caused by power and greed, the cracks caused by fear. These cracks can only be filled with the love that overflows, the love that wins.

The call to us includes a sending. We are sent out to love and serve others. We are sent out to bring God’s healing love and grace into the world. We must act on this love, we cannot just say it, or sing about it, or think it’s pretty. Because love is what we do. Love is what God does, and we are God’s hands and feet. Walk in love as you are loved. God’s call to us, when we answer it, can change the world. Go, and change it.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleulia.   

Sunday, May 7, 2017

4 Easter Yr A May 7 2017

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. During the 50 days of Easter, we read the stories about Jesus appearing to his friends, after Jesus has been resurrected. But today we go back. We go back to this story about the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd story follows right after Jesus heals the blind man. On the 4th Sunday of Easter each year, the Good Shepherd story is interjected into the series of stories of Jesus’ appearance after the resurrection. It’s a good story to hear each year at this time, because it is important for us to hear about what it is that God accomplishes in Jesus in the resurrection. And resurrection has everything to do with abundant life, the abundant new life that the blind man receives as he is healed, the abundant life the sheep have as they respond to the shepherd’s voice, and the abundant life that Jesus invites us into.

Jesus stands at the gate and invites. Jesus stands at the gate and says everyone may enter here. Jesus stands at the gate welcoming every one of us as he calls our names. This is what abundant life looks like. Resurrection is about abundant life. We are Easter people, Jesus has and does invite us in, and abundant life is available to us, to everyone, right now, not just at the end of our lives, not just at the end of time, but right now.

The story of Jesus healing the blind man, which immediately precedes this Good Shepherd story, is one of seven miracle stories in John’s gospel. It is a story about the blind man who hears Jesus voice, recognized who Jesus is, and is healed. That story continues as Jesus stands at the gate, calls our names, and invites us in, you, me, and the blind man. Jesus offers love, healing, compassion, and mercy. Jesus offers wholeness to our brokenness. Jesus offers life where there is only death. Jesus offers sight, when all around us there is darkness. Jesus, at the gate, offers entrance into new life. Oh my, what an offer. Are we willing to take Jesus up on the offer? Are we willing to walk through the gate, that is Jesus, and receive the miracle that is resurrection?

The miracle stories prepare us for the miracle of resurrection. Resurrection is a miracle of awareness, aliveness, an awakening. We have stories that help us roll away the stone of our tomb-life. We have stories that remind us that others have suffered as we do, and as those we love. We have stories that reassure us unexpectedly and unpredictably, that on the other side of suffering there is life. We have stories that help us to awaken and live. These are resurrection stories. These are stories about how we recognize Jesus. These are the stories that will set us free.

In the introduction to his book, Celebrating Easter and Spring, Mark Harris says, "If we believe in a creative power that shatters the icy tomb of winter with the life-giving miracle of spring, we have seen a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power that moves tens and then tens of thousands of people to cry out against injustices of society, enabling the downfall of hatred and prejudice, then we have fomented a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power lying within each human breast that enables us to break the bonds of personal pain and know the hope of new tomorrows, then we have experienced a resurrection."

This is what Easter is about; this is why we are Easter people. In the book of Acts, from which we hear this morning, is the story of people who live in the reality of resurrection, who are Easter people, and who formed their lives and community around that reality. Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. The response to resurrection is awe.

I am in awe because of the wonders and signs of resurrection. It is because of resurrection that we are baptized and we devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. What is it about resurrection that causes such fervor? Resurrection is a present and future reality. Resurrection, what happened at the first Easter, is about God’s interruption of human history, God has created this amazing new thing. God raises Jesus from death to new life. The promise is that the same will happen to each of us. That is what is meant by the present reality, and the future reality.

It is this reality in which we live and die. It is the promise that on the other side of suffering and pain there is abundant life, life that is unimaginable. It is the promise that in the midst of suffering and pain, in the midst of the muck and mess that sometimes just is life, God is with us, God loves us and cares about us. It is when we say, I cannot bear this suffering, that we remember that God's love for us is so great, Jesus bears that suffering for us on the cross.

In this Easter season we live on the side of abundant life. We live in the reality of new creation. The Good News is that death does not have the victory, the Good News is that love Wins. Life finds a way. Baptism, teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers is our response to the gift of abundant life.

So in the resurrection and by the Spirit, the word, the sacraments and prayer, and in those in whom we are called to serve for Jesus’ sake, the absent Jesus is present to us. So in the midst of our pain and suffering, our joy and delight, we say yes to Jesus, we walk through the gate with Jesus, to new and abundant life. We are to be agents of new creation. We pray daily to our Lord, that the Kingdom should come, that God’s will be done. That is about the present reality of word, bread and wine, and prayer and the future reality of the new creation right here on earth.

We need to get to the work that God has given us to do. God's mission is healing and forgiveness of and in the world, and our mission is to bring that good news that God's love wins into the world. God continues to teach us to be compassionate, to listen to others whose opinions and beliefs are different than our own, to listen to each others faith stories, to identify our gifts and talents, to live out our baptismal ministry.

We need to walk through that sheep-gate, and invite others to come with us.  We need to recognize the risen Christ in others, we need to serve Christ in all people, Jesus calls us, how will we answer?

9 Pentecost Yr B Proper 11 July 22 2018

Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And so they went. I had the great...