Friday, June 30, 2017

4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8 July 2, 2017

(I know it's not a ram, but it's all I've got.)

4 Pentecost July 2 2017 Audio

Genesis 22:1-14

The story we have before us today in Genesis makes a claim on our lives. All that we have, our lives and the lives of those we love, belong to God who gave them to us in the first place. We hear that God provides for creation, God trusts us, and God is present with us. 

As I hear this story of Abraham and Isaac, and Sarah unvoiced, but hugely present, I imagine what may be going on. In the privacy of their tent, Sarah and her husband were exchanging words. Sarah to Abraham, "God told you what! God told you to take Isaac up on the mountain and make him the sacrifice! No way, God would never say that. It's God who gave Isaac to us when we were already too old to have children. It is God who said through this child there will be as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. And even if God did say it, you'll do it over my dead body!" You see, Sarah was fully dedicated, actively committed, to helping God’s plan happen.

Abraham, because he was so pigheaded and stubborn, and because he trusted God with the life of his son, and God trusted him with the lives of God’s people, took Isaac against his wife's better judgment, loaded him up with wood for the fire, and led him up the mountain. In my imagining, Sarah followed secretly. While Abraham built the altar and laid the wood on it, Sarah hid in the bushes. She waited for the moment she would jump out of the bushes to prevent this horrible thing from happening. She watched Abraham stop his work of setting the fire, and listen. But then she saw a ram not far from her, caught in the thicket by its horns. She got near enough to it so she could wave a stick in it's face and it thrashed about and Abraham turned and looked, and realized he could use the ram for his sacrifice. Silently and separately, Abraham and Sarah heaved a sigh of relief, and whispered to themselves, "The Lord does provide." God provides, God trusts, God is present.

This is a really hard story. This is a really troubling story. And it’s not the only troubling story in our Bible. What do we do with them? The story that precedes this one, where Sarah banishes her handmaid Hagar, and Hagar’s son by Abraham, Ishmael, is as troubling and tragic.

What kind of God asks a father to sacrifice his son in the name of trust? What kind of God assumes a mother will just go along with it? Sometimes, as a mother, and as a pastor, I just want to sit down and weep at the tragedy and the brokenness of life. I just want to weep when mothers and fathers must bury their sons or daughters because of gun accidents. I just want to weep when mothers and fathers must bury their sons or daughters because someone was distracted while driving a car. There are so many times I just want to weep. Sarah and Abraham must have felt that kind of pain.

I’ve been asked, as I imagine you have as well, why do we read these hard stories? Why are these stories even in our bible? God provides, God trusts, God is present. Because you see, some days I don’t know if I trust God with my son’s life.

But then I remember, you probably remember too. That you let your child grow up, you let your child drive a car. You let your child go out into the world. You let your child travel to far flung places in the world. You trust God with your child’s life. And you know, that life is not in your hands. You know, that life is risky, and that none of our children will get out of this live alive. You know that we are only stewards of our children’s lives, not owners, and that God calls them as God calls us. Is it the same as God’s trust in Abraham, and Abraham’s trust in God? Is it the same as the fear and pain I imagine for Sarah? I don’t know.

But I do know that following and trusting God in this world is hard, and messy. I do know that tragedy is a frequent visitor to parents who love and trust God. I do know that some days it doesn’t feel much like God provides, or God trusts, or God is present.

And then I remember that ram. That ram that Abraham saw. You see, there’s a little word play happening. The Hebrew word translated ‘provide’ is literally the word for ‘seeing’. (Thank you God provided that ram, and Abraham saw that ram. It doesn’t take away the difficulty of this story, but it does remind us again, that God provides, God trusts, God is present. All that we have, all that we are, belong ultimately to God. And we begin to see that for us, who are followers of Jesus, this story may point us to the story of the life, death, and resurrection of another son, the one in the flesh, the incarnate God, Jesus.

It is a tragic story as well. God in the flesh, Jesus, who says, oh God, why have you forsaken me, and who dies on a cross erected by the empire, with words of forgiveness on his lips. It’s a tragic story of suffering. It’s a joyful story of relationship. It’s a tragic story of loss. It’s a joyful story of the kind of love that the world condemns, love that is not a commodity, but love that lays down it’s life for the beloved. This is the God who provides, the God who trusts, the God who is present. Even, and this is the most amazing part, even, when we come up short, even when we cannot trust, even when we cannot find God anywhere, even when we wallow in our own self-doubt, that ram shows up. And when the ram shows up, it doesn’t save us from the tragedy of life, it does not rescue us from the reality of death. But maybe we see, maybe we see the God who claims our lives, and comes in the flesh to walk with us in our most tragic minutes, and hours, our eyes are opened to the God who creates us, the God who claims us, the God who provides, not what we want but what brings us true joy, the God who trusts, even when we cannot, the God who is present, even we cannot see. God gives all there is, God gives Godself on the cross,for us.

Oh, Sarah, mother of Isaac, when your heart breaks, God’s heart breaks too. Amen.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Luke 15:1-7, Second Week DMin

In the very short story that we have before us today we participate in a celebration, a banquet, that is so much greater and grander than any celebration we can put on ourselves. There are so many people invited, so many people come. How do we get there? How do we get from a lost sheep to a grand, joyful, party?

The sheep is lost. It has wandered off, ninety-nine sheep left behind, and the shepherd goes out to find that one darned sheep. The shepherd looks and looks and finally there it is. The shepherd wraps this sheep in his arms, cradles it across his shoulders, tucked around his neck, where the shepherd can feel it’s heartbeat, slowing with every step, calming with every assurance, you’ll be ok, I’ve got you now.

Have you ever felt like that one who is lost? Have you ever wandered, wondered, if you would ever be found again, scooped up in the arms of anyone who loves you? You may know what that embrace feels like. But maybe not, maybe that return and embrace is yet to come. The one who waits, the shepherd, Jesus, anticipates your return.

Food, fun, frivolity. Celebrations just are not celebrations without gathering together around food, and the people who matter to us. The last thing I did before I came to spend these three weeks with you was our parish picnic. You know those picnic potlucks, overflowing with food enough for hundreds. We had to pull out more tables for all the food. We celebrate around food. Come we say, come and help us celebrate our graduations, our births, our comings and our goings. Come, and help us celebrate life, and death. Come, and help us celebrate our joys and sorrows. Come and let’s celebrate our turning and returning. Come to this table, you are expected, you are welcome. I think God’s celebrating at that one found sheep.

Don’t you hate that feeling of loosing someone in a crowd? The initial panic of  “Where’d he go?” followed immediately by “Oh my God he’s lost!” Even when it’s just for a minute. We were at the Minnesota State Fair, many of you know what those crowds are like. Up near machinery hill, playing on the Rainbow Playsets, and all of a sudden our son is gone. We panic, and look desperately for him, convinced someone has snatched him and run off with him. And the god-awful longest minute later, there he is, running toward us, as panicked as we are, and we snatch him up and hold him tight never to let go again. There is never even a question of leaving the ninety-nine behind, of course I search for the one who is lost.

That one horrible minute of being lost, it’s not about anyone being at fault, it is about the love and compassion in the finding, and in the returning to the arms that enfold, and encourage, and celebrate our return.

That Minnesota State Fair feels like the biggest party on earth. It seems like everyone in the entire state of Minnesota is there, all of humanity is there, all at the same time I am. And the food…the corn on the cob, and the Sweet Martha’s Cookies, and everything imaginable on a stick.

But the party held at the return of the one who was lost, is even bigger and better than the State Fair. Because, like the State Fair, no one is left out, every darn person is invited. You see, there are people at the State Fair I would never have invited to my party, there are people there I would never have eaten a corn dog next to in any other place or at any other time.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

When we hear these words, we recall the grumbling and whining of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Why did we leave Egypt, at least there we knew what misery to expect. In this wilderness we are hungry, and we don’t like the food God gives us, we’d really like something else. But Luke shows us that Jesus is trying to get the whole family together at the long ago foretold Abrahamic table, and the invitation is so broad, and wide, and deep, there is no building that can hold the party.

The story of the lost coin, and the story of the lost son, that follow this story of the lost sheep, help us to see how deeply Luke believes that this great feast, this great banquet, this amazing meal, is the portrait of the kingdom of God. In those stories, what was lost is found, what was dead is alive, and the celebration begins. In the third story, the lost son, we never find out if the older son, the one who was loyal and never got himself lost, ever joined in the celebration. He may very well have missed out because he was so angry at his father for welcoming back his brother. Each story shows us an increasing measure of loss and pain. But the measure of that loss and pain is nothing compared to the immensity of the joy of the one who welcomes the lost ones back.

The joy of the one who welcomes back the lost, and the celebration that ensues, shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like. It includes the outcasts and sinners, it includes the expanse of time and space. It includes the fellowship we have around our picnic tables, our Eucharistic tables, and our soup kitchen tables. It includes even the one who would rather not be included.

I’m reminded of a movie I watched with my kids, over and over. Hook, with Robin Williams, the kingdom table is piled high with all the wild and wonderful things that can be imagined. And the people sitting at that table, are lost boys, battered, bruised, lost, and found.

God’s kingdom table is populated with all those who have turned from God, and returned to God. God’s kingdom table is populated with all those younger children who have been reckless, and all those older children who have been loyal. God’s kingdom table is populated with all those who stand on the margins and look in, and those in the center whose gaze is nearsighted. God’s kingdom table is populated with those who wish to be first, and those who are always last. God’s kingdom table is populated with all of us who are scooped up by the joyful, compassionate one, and ride on those shoulders all the way to the celebration. The table is set, the party is ready. Come.

John 10:1-10, First week of DMin

On hot summer nights, when every kid in the entire neighborhood was out playing kick the can, my mom would yell out the back door, Kathy! and I’d come running. I heard my mother’s voice, and recognized that I wanted to come running into her wide and wonderful and protective embrace. Jesus is like that in this passage we have from John. Jesus calls our names, and we come a runnin. And Jesus is not just holding the door open for us, but Jesus is the door through which we find love and life. 

We’ve just heard the story about the man born blind, how long was he blind? Blind from birth, a long, long, time. The man, blind from birth, hears the voice of Jesus, recognizes who Jesus is, and is healed. Jesus asks the man who was formerly blind, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the no longer blind man answers, “And who is he, sir?” Jesus responds, “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.” The formerly blind man proclaims, “Lord, I believe.”

Lord, I believe. This man, blind from birth, and no longer blind, has a whole new life, he can see, the world before him and around him is opened up, the landscape of his life is completely changed. No longer does he sit on the margins, he can see, no longer does he beg, he can see. His life is completely transformed, this is new life indeed.

And immediately we hear another story, really a continuing story, that the abundant life the no longer blind man received, is available to us as well.

Jesus the shepherd, calling my name, calling your name. What is that like, hearing Jesus, the shepherd calling our names? How do we recognize that voice? Kathy, I love you, come to me, let me embrace you, let me give you all you need, let me fill that hole in your heart with life, with love. Come, come with me, walk with me into this amazing place, run into my arms, into my embrace, this place of love, this place of life.
I am the door, come through this door, here is a place of protection, of nurture, of sustenance, this is a place created for you. And when our eyes are opened, when we hear and recognize the voice of the one who creates us, and comes to be with us, and loves us, we run through that door.

And what’s more, is that Jesus does this again, and again, Jesus calls his followers by name, but not just you and me, Lazarus as well. You remember, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus arrived at the tomb of his friend, and Jesus wept, and Jesus called to Lazarus, Lazarus, come out! In hearing his name, Lazarus came out, and was unbound, set free. Lazarus, the one who was dead, is now alive.

But not even just you and me and Lazarus, Mary as well. Mary stood weeping at Jesus’ tomb. She bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, sitting where Jesus should have been. She did not know where Jesus had been taken.

She turned around and Jesus was standing there, but she didn’t know him, she thought he was the gardener. Until he spoke to her, until he called her name, Mary! She turned and saw him, teacher! Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” I have seen the Lord!

The abundance of the life Jesus invites us into is shown to us by the healing of the man blind from birth. Being blind from birth is being blind for-ever, and this man can see! He recognizes Jesus. This is an abundance that is immense, over the top. The man who was blind, now is saved from darkness. The man who was blind is brought from the margins of the community, into the community. The man who was blind, has new and abundant life.

Lazarus lives!

Mary proclaims.

We hear Jesus call our name, we recognize Jesus is the door through which we too can see God’s presence with us, making us into a beloved being. Giving us sight that enables us to see Jesus in our midst, in ourselves, in one another. Giving us sight that enables us to proclaim, like Mary, I have seen the Lord!

And what’s more, what’s even more over the top, more abundant, more amazing, is that Jesus, the door into God’s embrace, God’s love, is not exclusive or judging. This not about keeping people out, this is Jesus inviting people into new life, abundant life. “I am the door” is to invite people in, to recognize God in the flesh that is Jesus’ new and abundant life. To hear the voice of the shepherd, to walk through the door that is open, is to follow Jesus into Life, abundant life. Life in the here and now and life eternal in the resurrection. Life in the here and now and life even when Jesus leaves us. You are enough, see Jesus, recognize Jesus is God with us, walk through the door, and receive life, abundant life.

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