Saturday, September 30, 2017

17 Pentecost Proper 21 Yr A Oct 1 2017

"By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them. "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you." The Pharisees are astounded at this. They are the authorities in Jesus' world. They hold the power. Who is this Jesus who says that his authority comes from someone or something other than them? Who is this Jesus who eats with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners? Who is this Jesus? 

Let’s remember that we have been hearing about forgiveness and reconciliation in the gospel of Matthew, as well as in the Old Testament Exodus stories for quite a few weeks now. What follows in Matthew’s story is this series of parables. We know something about parables. They are about describing the inbreaking kingdom of God; they are about showing us what the kingdom of God looks like. We know that the kingdom looks nothing like what anyone is used to or what anyone expects. God’s kingdom is something absolutely new, something no one has any experience with, that’s why there are parables, they make us and the original hearers think in ways not before imagined. This new kingdom is nothing like what had come before.

So what we hear today follows from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time, and he asks the disciples to get him a donkey. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on that donkey, not a stallion as would be expected of a Messiah. Jerusalem is in turmoil. The question among the people in the crowd that day is who is this? They were saying this is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. Then Jesus enters the temple, tosses out all who were selling and buying and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus healed the lame and the blind, and the chief priests and scribes became angry, they asked Jesus “Do you hear what these people are saying?” Jesus knew what they were saying. Jesus went out to be by himself, he came back to the temple, and there were the chief priests and elders again. Then comes the question, this all-important question. By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? The chief priests and elders end up arguing with each other, nobody can answer the question, and nothing really gets solved. By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority? The tax collectors and the prostitutes know something about this authority, but not the chief priests and the elders.

The chief priests and elders were concerned, understandably so, because if they went along with Jesus, who is doing something – they’re not quite sure what - with authority they can’t identify, the chief priests and elders also may be brought up on the same charges Jesus is. They too may be tried for misaligned loyalty. They could be held liable for the damage Jesus has done in the temple throwing things around and turning the tables over.

By whose authority? By God’s authority, not the Roman authority, not the Jewish authority, but God’s authority. Jesus heals, forgives, includes, feeds, by God’s authority. Jesus changes the system. Truly I tell you, we hear, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom before you, because they get it. They understand that the arc of God’s love in this kingdom is toward mercy, healing, and forgiveness.  

So we finally get to this parable of the man who had two sons. In Jesus' time, a father had ultimate authority. He could decide the fate of his children in a moment. He can give and he can take away. This father has asked his sons to go out into the vineyard to work. The first son says no, but eventually changes his mind and goes, the other son says yes, but in the end doesn't go to work. What is this about?

Maybe it’s about the surprising possibility of hope that someone who has refused to listen to God may yet change their mind. Hope that it’s never too late to respond to the grace of the Gospel. Hope that our past actions or current status do not determine our future. Hope that we are never beyond the reach of God. What does the kingdom look like? I think it looks like the possibility that God is willing to meet us right here and now, no matter what we think about how worthy or unworthy we may be. I think it looks like forgiveness and healing. I think the kingdom looks like each one of us who walk forward today ready to love those with whom we agree, and to love those with whom we disagree.

We live at a time of such division. I think following Jesus, living under Jesus’ authority, partnering with God in bringing about the kingdom is about reminding ourselves that beneath all of those differences is a profound commonality and solidarity in that we are each a child of God whom God loves, adores, and is speaking to right here and now. In God’s kingdom we take a little more time to listen to each other, we try to understand each other, and try to listen for God’s calling for ourselves and our community together.

And in this particular room in God’s kingdom we gather together to experience the awesomeness of God in the bread and the wine, the mystery that heals us and makes us whole. We gather together to experience the awesomeness of God in the midst of our humanity and in the forgiveness of the hurt we’ve caused ourselves and others.

By whose authority? By the authority of the one whose love calls us into being and blesses us. The one whose Word lives among us, in us, and through us. The one whose love forgives us when we are greedy and full of ourselves. The one into whose life we are baptized, the one whose love wins. Amen.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

16 Pentecost Proper 20 Yr A Sept 24 2017

16 Pentecost Proper 20 Yr A Sept 24 2017 Audio

So your teenager walks into the house after school, or after football practice, or band rehearsal, or just takes a break from homework, or even about an hour after dinner, and looks through the cupboards, opens the refrigerator door, and says, "Mom! There's nothin to eat."

Just like the Israelites in this part of the Exodus. Whining, whining, whining, "God, we have nothing to eat, and what’s more, we don't like what you’ve given us to eat." But I do think that if I were wandering in the wilderness with Moses and Aaron for 40 years, I might be a little whinny too. “God, we’re tired, we’re hungry, we may as well have stayed in Egypt for all this gets us.” And they are reminded that in Egypt they were slaves, at least in the desert they are free.

This is a great story. In the verses that follow these we just heard, God instructs them to gather up what they need for themselves and their families. Each family got just what they needed, no more, no less. Then Moses instructed them not to save any of it, don’t leave any until morning he told them. Well, some didn’t listen to Moses, and hoarded the food that God had provided for them, they put it in their pockets and their backpacks, and it got wormy and smelled bad. So not only do they not seem to want what God has provided for them, they go ahead and eat it anyway, and then save some up for later, only for it to go bad on them. Lord, lord, lord, give us something to eat, give us something better to eat, we don’t like what you’ve given us, but even though we don’t like it we’ll save it for later and risk losing what is right here in front of us.

God provides, God provides enough. Even when it doesn’t look good. It’s all God’s anyway. Matthew’s gospel is paired with this story from Exodus and it carries the theme even farther. Matthew’s story always seems so topsy-turvy, so inside-out. The day laborers that show up at the end of the day get paid the same as those who showed up early to work, and work or no work, everyone gets paid the same. What is the kingdom like? The kingdom is not business as usual. Remember, kingdom parables serve to show us that God is doing this absolutely new thing, there is no business as usual. In this kingdom everything is re-ordered. It’s not even as simple as the last will be first, and the first shall be last. God coming into our midst, living, loving, suffering, dying, and being raised from the dead creates life in a way it has never been before.

So this kingdom parable didn’t sit well with those who heard it centuries ago, and it doesn’t sit well with people who hear it today, because we are trained to believe there is a reward. The simplest statement of that is if we live a good life, we’ll get our reward in heaven. This parable refutes that conventional wisdom. Our wages are paid at the baptismal font, not at the grave. The new life that God has affected is available from the beginning. We live our whole lives loved by God, the delight of God’s life.

Following Jesus is not about earning our wage or getting our reward in heaven. Following Jesus is about responding to God’s amazing and abundant love, about receiving God’s grace, right here, right now. Following Jesus is about the fruits of our baptism; following Jesus is about responding to the joys and challenges of our lives in ways that show forth the grace that God has given us. Following Jesus is not easy nor is it clear, it is not about finding Jesus, it’s about being found by God’s love. Following Jesus is about grace and forgiveness, the grace and forgiveness that God offers us, and the grace and forgiveness that we offer one another as we love our neighbors as ourselves.

So when did we get so greedy? When did we begin to hoard what we have? These stories we hear today remind us or maybe even teach us that we’ve got all we need, and there’s enough for everyone. One of the seminal stories about who we are and to whom we are related is the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Moses relayed the ten commandments to the Hebrews as they wandered. Moses said to the people, “God spoke all these words: I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me.” No other gods, only me, the Hebrew people, like us, had so much trouble accepting God’s gift of enough. God asks us for our undivided attention, and God gives us all we need. The Hebrew people couldn’t accept God’s gift of enough, and instead made their own god out of the gold they had and found. They got greedy. We get greedy, and we are encouraged in our greediness by a culture that constantly encourages us to buy more, and bigger, regardless of our ability to do so, regardless of need. Now, as much as the Hebrew people needed to hear “no other gods, only me,” and as much as the Jews of the first century needed to hear the inbreaking of God’s kingdom re-orders all that they knew to be true, we, in the 21st century need to hear this message that we are sought and we are found, that God loves us abundantly and claims us. Our wages are paid at the baptismal font, we are new creations.

This is good news indeed. Good news in a world that needs good news. Good news that this life isn’t just about you, but it is about how you, and me, and every one of us is loved, and how you in turn love one another. It is about how you are the delight of God’s life, and about how you pay that forward. It is about how God transformed the world with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and how God continues to transform us and the world as each of us goes out into the world to do the work we are called to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

Each fall we turn some of our attention to gathering what we have, the gift of time, the gift of talent, and the gift of our treasure, and consider how that can be used in service of God’s mission in the world. The mission of Love, and healing. I encourage you to identify and celebrate the ministry that God has given you. We don't hoard the abundance God showers upon us, and we are not greedy about it either. We show forth so much love by being the church in the world, by being the body of Christ. Our baptismal ministry is lived out in so many ways. We celebrate God's abundance by loving and serving our neighbors, by volunteering in schools and hospitals, by knitting hats and prayer shawls. We celebrate God's abundance in our work as we create a culture of mercy and compassion wherever we find ourselves. We are ministers, every one of us, by virtue of our baptism. God's abundance enfolds us, empowers us, saves us, sends us. Go into the world to love and serve our Lord.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Feast of the Holy Cross, transferred, Sept 17, 2017

Feast of the Holy Cross, transferred, Sept 17, 2017 Audio

From the moment John opens his story, in the first few lines of this fourth gospel, John proclaims, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John’s first words call upon the creation story in Genesis, they imagine with us the incarnation, the Word becomes flesh for the sake of the world God loves, and helps us to cast our gaze to crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

The passage from John before us today follows Jesus’ last teaching. It follows Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet, and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the place of his death. The path John shows us is a path of love and light, light that enlightens, light that emboldens, light that illuminates all people everywhere. And the scene before us today follows this request of the Greeks, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” We are joined on this journey together with those who wish to see Jesus.

Jesus, God in the flesh, is the Light that enlightens the world. Even through this horrible death on a cross, God’s love extends and includes all of creation, you and me. You’d think John and Martin Luther King Jr. broke bread together, as Martin Luther King Jr. had said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

What is it we see? What does this Light that is God’s love in the world, reveal to us? The scene and the activity point us forward to Jesus’ death, death that looks to the world as failure and loss, but the means of Jesus’ death, and the hope of exaltation, resurrection and ascension is illuminated as well. The words announce to us that God’s love in the flesh, Jesus, is the Light, and the Light will never go out. We also learn that the Light is meant for everyone, not just some, not just the ones in the inner circle, surely not just the rich and powerful, not just the cool kids, but everyone. And John is grappling with a question of belief, or maybe disbelief. John wonders why some who have encountered Jesus believe that he is God in the flesh, God’s love made real, and some do not. John wonders how disbelief is even possible. For John, responding to the light, the revelation, the appearance of God in the flesh, is belief.

So when wondering about John’s question, why do some, many, most, in fact, not believe, the answer is may be somewhere in the experience of the Jews of Jesus’ circle, belief in Jesus put them out of the synagogue, out on the margins. So how do you fashion your life around that which looks like loss and defeat?

Death on a cross looks like a loss. In any definition of winning today, death, especially death on a cross, looks like loss, defeat, it sure doesn’t look like victory. Victory is winning. Winning is good, that’s what we hear from the one who holds the highest office in our country, and others who hold on tightly to power. It’s all about the win, and winning is worth any collateral damage it takes to get there. Dying on a cross sure isn’t winning. Telling the truth, and then dying on a cross, sure isn’t winning. It’s as true for us as it was for those who heard Jesus, who saw the wonders Jesus has done. Putting your faith in a guy who gets put to death on a cross, puts you on the margins, it puts you out of the winners circle. And it would have put you out of the synagogue, and life outside of the synagogue, in the world of 1st century Mediterranean culture for a Jew, would have been worse than death.

If you were Jesus’ friend, Jesus’ follower, and you witnessed Jesus’ death on that cross, how would you react? Protests, riots, calls for retribution. We see that all the time, and we call it righteous outrage. How could this death possibly happen? This person was innocent, we would have hoped for a far different outcome. Something that didn’t look like, couldn’t possibly be, death, on a cross.

And then there’s Judas. Judas, who very soon betrays Jesus into the hands of the authorities. Judas, who was a trusted friend. Judas, who just couldn’t believe how Jesus could possibly be Messiah, the anointed one. He didn’t act like the Messiah, he consorted with sinners, with women, with unclean outsiders. Judas, who was one of the inner circle, who loved Jesus, and whom Jesus loved, who had spent his sleeping and waking hours with Jesus, in the middle of a garden, handed him over. The sadness, the grief, in this act of betrayal is almost too much to bear.

It gets mighty dark, and still, the Light doesn’t go out, and still, the love that is God’s own body, does not lash out in hate.

John tells us that the victory here is of a whole different sort. It was all about his being lifted up. That’s how God, the true God, the God of astonishing, generous love, would be glorified. Swords or bullets don’t glorify the creator-God, Love does. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Everytime I visit these verses I come away feeling somewhat battered, bruised, and I have to take a break, sit in the quiet, light a candle, and wait. I have to wait for the light to dawn on me, again. And when it does, and it will, I am emboldened to do what Jesus calls me to do, to do what this relationship with Jesus, with God in the flesh, calls me to do, and that is to risk love again. We are called by this dying and rising, we are called by this light that does not go out, we are called by this love that does not seek revenge, retribution, or power, to love.

That is what is happening here. That is where our belief, our faith, lives. In God in the flesh, love made real. When our own faith wanes, when our own disbelief takes hold, we find hope in love in the flesh, love made real. When we pray for our loved ones that they may find the kind of absolute and unconditional love that God has for us, God’s children, and that is made real in the love poured out on the cross, we can find it here. As Jesus says to his mother as she stands at the foot of the cross, “woman, here is your son,” so we too are part of the family that loves and cares for one another. Jesus shows us how that is done through the signs and wonders of this gospel. Jesus breaks bread and feeds thousands, so that all may be fed, all may be healed.

Today, the light shines brightly and we believe in Jesus, God in the flesh, when we see these signs in action, and when we participate in the goodness. But it’s not always that way. There are days, weeks, months, maybe years of disbelief. Especially when it feels like God is distant, especially when the hurt is palpable, especially when the wind blows, the waters rise, and the fires rage. The modern day prophet, Fred Rogers, calls us to look for the helpers. In the midst of tragedy, in the midst of devastation, look for those who run in to help. Be those who run in to help, there is always enough so no one goes hungry or thirsty. Not only our friends and neighbors in Texas and Florida and Montana, but those right here on our very streets, men and women who are our neighbors.

This is the truth of the cross, the truth of love hanging on the cross, the truth that the light will not be put out, the truth that love wins.

May the light shine in our lives, and when our faith wavers, and our belief falters, and our grief grips our hearts, may we share what we have, the love that gave up all power for us. Amen.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

14 Pentecost Proper 18 Yr A Sept 10 2017

I had the great good fortune a few years back to take classes at the Vancouver School of Theology, in Vancouver, Canada, in the Indigenous ministries program. In one of those classes we spent some time telling food stories. The people in the class were First Nations people from Canada, Alaska, and the United States, and Anglos from the same places, and one fellow from Africa. Our professor had us tell food stories because they reveal so much about culture and relationships with one another, and with the land. The class was about food, water, and sustainability. A Navajo woman told us about the corn and the corn pollen. Corn is one of the main staples of the Navajo people. It's an important food item, and every spring, many Navajo families plant large fields of corn. But its use goes far beyond just nutrition--it's also an important part of Navajo prayer. The pollen of the corn is dusted off the tassels and used in ceremonies as a blessing, and is offered in prayer. Corn is used to make many traditional dishes, including kneel-down bread, blue corn mush, dried steamed corn and roasted corn. The corn is also used during a ceremony when a Navajo girl comes of age--a large corn cake is cooked underground in a circular pit lined with corn husks.

Well, that's her story. And I had an opportunity to tell my story. About Lefse, of course. I told them that my mother, who was of Irish descent, stood next my great aunt Minnie, who was Norwegian, as she mixed the Lefse dough, the potatoes and the cream and the flour, until the consistency was just right. Just right could only be felt, not measured. My mom stood by aunt Minnie while she rolled the dough out flat on the lefse rolling board, with the lefse rolling pin, until it was just right. There was no way to measure that, you just had to feel it. My mom stood by aunt Minnie while she pealed the lefse off of the lefse rolling board and set it flat on the griddle over the wood fire of the kitchen stove. I stood by my mother's side, feeling the lefse dough to see that it was just right, rolling the dough until it was thin enough, placing it on the electric lefse griddle as it turned just a little bit brown. My sons, my daughter in law, stand by my side, mixing the potatoes and the flour until the dough is just right, rolling it out just thin enough, placing it on my mother’s lefse griddle until it is just a little bit brown. 

The story is as much about the corn pollen, or the lefse, or the tortillas, or the bread, as it is about the relationship, the connection to those who came before, and those who come after. It is about who we are and to whom we are related. It is about how our diverse cultures form us as a people, and how our story sustains us. The story we hear today from Exodus is a story like that. It is a story that forms Israel as a people, and it is a story that remembers who they are. Today's portion of the story almost reads like a recipe, it is that and it is a call to remembrance and to reconciliation and forgiveness. It says this is who we are and what we do together, this is what we eat, why we eat it, when we eat it, and who we worship. It calls Israel to remember. This story says to the people, and to us as well, this is hard, being a people is hard, and you can do hard things. This is a story of survival, of tragedy, of heartache, and of hope. It says, if we can hang together, we can make it. It is a family story. 

This is a really important story for us to remember today. It seems we have forgotten about being a people, a people who live in a world of reconciliation and forgiveness. A people who live in diversity, and respect.

We, right here, have a story centered in a loaf of broken bread, made real by Jesus' love for us, and when we tell the story, and eat the broken bread, Jesus' brokeness makes us whole, our fragmented parts are put back together again. We are healed, we are whole, we are forgiven, we are set free. 

And in the gospel of Matthew our family story tells us about how followers of Jesus are in right relationship with one another, even when the relationships are troublesome. Churches are full of troublesome people, imperfect people, sinful people. And some of these people are us. Church though, in this part of Matthew is a future reality, it is not present in the mind of the author as we know it today. So this passage is not necessarily about church as we experience it today, but it is most certainly about family, about community, and about connections, it is most certainly about how we interact with one another, and I believe it is most certainly about how we approach one another with forgiveness. We don't forgive to help the other person, and we don't forgive for others, we forgive for ourselves. We forgive, because not forgiving kills us from the inside out. Forgiveness is never about the one forgiven, it is always about the one doing the forgiving. Jesus knows this, of course. Forgiveness is about right relationship.

Being in relationship can be at times wonderful, at times fulfilling, and at times very very painful. Such is the nature of trying to love one another in a fallen world. We witness bad behavior and anger all around us in response to being hurt. Anger seems to be a more socially acceptable response to hurt, instead of forgiveness. I think this is so because so many people think forgiveness is about the other person. Like it is a transaction of some sort. You can only forgive if the other person is sorry, or if the other person changes their behavior, or if the other person does what you want them to do. But forgiveness is not a transaction. Forgiveness is about a transformed heart. Anger really gets us nowhere. Anger only kills us from the inside out. Anger only hardens our hearts and cuts short our lives. 

Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness covers us with its grace. Forgiveness can even rewrite the narrative of our lives. And, just as importantly, we are forgiven. In all of our impetuous imperfection, in all of our risky races, in all of our messy murkiness, we continue to be the delight of God's life, we continue to be loved perfectly, and forgiven abundantly. God continues to come to us in love, God comes to us in the unreasonable incarnation, God comes to us in Jesus, in the bread, in the wine, in each other, and God says to us, there is nothing, absolutely nothing you can do that will separate me from you. God says, I forgive you now, and I will forgive you forever. 


Feast of Pentecost Yr A May 31 2020 (Sunday after the murder of George Floyd, riots in Minneapolis)

YouTube video Feast of Pentecost Yr A May 31 2020 (Sunday after the murder of George Floyd, riots in Minneapolis) Acts 2:1-21, 1 Co...