Saturday, February 25, 2017
Last Epiphany Yr A Feb 26 21017 Audio
Today marks our departure from the Sermon on the mount, or the teaching on hillside, whichever you prefer. We hear this story, Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white, each year at the conclusion of the Sundays after the Epiphany and as we launch into Lent. As I hear the story of Jesus' changing appearance this time, this transfiguration, I see in my mind's eye a trailer for a new movie. This is the stuff of pyrotechnic extravaganza. Our main character calls his friends to gather around him, and all of a sudden he dazzles before our eyes. Blazing and shooting and appearing with him are Moses and Elijah. There is so much happening in this trailer we hope it is not all the best stuff of the movie itself. The computer generated affects are big and loud and wild. The significance of the ancestors appearing is not lost on those in the audience watching. The appearance of Moses and Elijah bring us soaring in on that place where time is transcended, and those who came before us are side by side with us in the present and our attention is pointed to the future, but what kind of future will that be. If this is the trailer, what's the rest of the movie like? Oh, the stuff of movies that I love.
Oh, but wait. This trailer in my mind's eye is much like a story already told, at the conclusion of Star Wars, The Return of the Jedi. Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan appear amid the fireworks of celebration as Luke Skywalker looks on and wonders, hmm, this is important, this means something.
Well, this is important. This does mean something, but what is it, I wonder. What does this story of transfiguration have to say to us 21st century people? In the midst of this pyrotechnic extravaganza, with Moses and Elijah in attendance, I think it means that freeing people from slavery and wandering in the wilderness, is still God's mission. Healing and reconciliation, wholeness and forgiveness, is still God's mission. God's victory over death doesn't mean we don't die, Moses and Elijah indeed have died, Anakin and Obi-Wan indeed have died, but God does something more. God’s love never fails, God's love wins. God picks up the fragments of our lives and makes us whole. God loves our dark side and our light side, and puts us back together.
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. These are the very words we heard at Jesus' baptism, these are the words we hear on this mountaintop. Jesus has gathered his friends, Peter and James and John, and they hear these words, they are witnesses to this statement, this claim, that God's love is transforming, that God's love is transfiguring. So beside being an amazing story, we hear it on this last Sunday before Lent, because it points us in the right direction. Lent is really a baptismal journey. We begin on Ash Wednesday with the ashes that highlight the cross that has been traced on our forehead at baptism, when we were marked as Christ's own forever. The journey of Lent calls us to the wilderness, the journey of Lent calls us to die to that which is killing us, so that we may be raised to new life with Jesus, so that we may be transformed and transfigured by God's amazing and abundant love and grace. So that we may live fully and completely the life we are given as God's delight.
A part of this story I love, is that Peter wants to make the experience last forever by erecting three tents. Peter is one of my favorite people, probably because I am so much like him. When something wonderful happens, don't we want it to last longer? Don't we want the next time to be as wonderful as the first time? Don't we want to pack it all up so that we can do it exactly the same way the next time? I think this is where the expression "mountaintop experience" first came from. But you and I know that's not the way of life. You and I know that you can't stay in that place of pyrotechnic extravaganza, and in the end, Peter realizes it too. And that's where God meets us, in the midst of our humanity, in the midst of who we really are, where we believe we cannot be loved, but are loved, because God's love wins.
And maybe that's what is so important about this story. In the midst of the fullness of our humanity, on the mountaintop, as well as in the depth of our pain, and when we miss the mark, and in all the places in between, God comes to us and claims us. God's claim on us, God's love for us, sets us free. God's claim on us, God's love for us, transforms us, not into perfect people, but into people whose imperfections make us compassionate. God's love remembers our brokenness and makes us merciful. God's love seeps into the cracks of our hearts and we are forgiven.
Jesus touched them saying, "get up and do not be afraid." God's love for us transforms us and makes us fearless, so that we can go out and be about God's mission. Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; persevering in resisting evil, and, whenever falling into sin, repenting and returning to the Lord; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. These are our baptismal promises, this is the discipline by which we live our lives and follow Jesus.
On that mountaintop, during that pyrotechnic extravaganza, our ancestors Moses and Elijah remind us that we are a part of the timelessness of God's amazing and abundant love for us in particular as well as for all of humanity. Peter and James and John show us the truth of our humanity, both our desire to possess the glitz and glitter of a mountaintop experience, as well as our tendency to be afraid of the vulnerability of being known by God. They show us that we need not be afraid of the dark. Jesus shows us that we are beloved, God's delight.
Listen to Jesus, get up, and do not be afraid. These are words that are not bound to that mountaintop experience, but animate our lives today. Following Jesus in this culture of fear today is hard. What do we do? What do we say? There is so much around us that causes us to want to put our heads in the sand. But we know better. In a world torn apart by anger, hatred, and conflict, we have the privilege of being living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds. We began our Epiphany season with “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” We end our Epiphany season with “listen to Jesus, get up, do not be afraid.”
These are important words, for times such as these. You are God’s beloved, with you God is well pleased. Amen.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
7 Epiphany Yr A Feb 19 2017 Audio
Here we have the next installment of the Sermon on the Mount. We call this the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s really much more like the teaching on the hillside. Jesus, rabbi, teacher, is teaching about God’s inbreaking Kingdom, Jesus is teaching about what life as a citizen of God’s kingdom looks like.
National Public radio, over the years, has done a project called Story Corps, and this story I’m going to tell you is part of that. I’m telling it to you today because I think it illustrates our gospel very well. The story belongs to Julio Diaz, who stepped off the New York City subway platform after work one night; he was simply planning to walk over to his favorite local diner for a meal. But when a teenage boy approached him with a knife blade gleaming in his fist, Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker, knew the evening was about to take a more dramatic turn. The young man demanded Diaz’s wallet, and Diaz passed it over without objection. But just as his mugger turned to walk away, Diaz called after him: “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something.” The mugger turned around, surprised. “If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
The teenager looked at Diaz in disbelief, and asked why he would do such a thing. Diaz replied, “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money.” He told the young man that he’d just been heading out for dinner, and that he would be happy for some company. The young mugger decided to take Diaz up on his offer, and they headed into Diaz’s favorite local diner together. As they were sitting at the table, the manager, the dishwashers, and the waiters all stopped over to say hello to Diaz, and the young man was amazed at his popularity. “You’re even nice to the dishwasher,” he exclaimed.
“Haven’t you been taught that you should be nice to everybody?” Diaz asked him. “Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teenager replied. Thanks to Diaz, he was beginning to see that kindness wasn’t such a strange phenomenon, after all. When the bill came, Diaz told the teen that he’d have to get the check. After all, he still had Diaz’s wallet.
But the teenager slid the wallet back across the table without a moment’s thought, and Diaz treated him to dinner. Diaz also gave the would-be mugger a $20 bill to take with him –in exchange for the young man’s knife. “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right,” Diaz said. “It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
The collection of scripture we have before us begs the question, what does the kingdom of God breaking into human existence look like? I think this story wonderfully illustrates what the kingdom of God looks like. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In the kingdom of God Jesus says, there is not a set of laws, there is not a rulebook. Children of God, citizens of the kingdom are called to love and to serve. Citizens of the kingdom are called to respond with mercy and compassion, healing and reconciliation in all times and all places. Matthew interprets the verses from Leviticus as kingdom life as well. You shall leave some grapes in your vineyard for the poor and the sojourner, the alien, the immigrant, the migrant worker. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Kingdom life is different than worldly life, and kingdom life is not easy or even clear. And, there is not a time when we are relieved of kingdom life, that is the very hard part. Kingdom life starts now, not some later date, and not after death. Jesus says, you have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. And then Jesus goes on to say, “for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” You see, we are all in the same boat here. We are all accountable to these standards. Not one of us gets off easy, or even out of this life alive, just because we have money, power, popularity, or fame.
But the reality in which we live is that God’s inbreaking kingdom is happening right now, we live in this in between time, this time before the fulfillment of all time. So we are called to live in this now and not yet reality, we are called to live a kingdom life in this world as God continues God’s work of healing and reconciliation.
So how does this picture of kingdom life form and inform us in this day? Most assuredly kingdom life calls us to walk to a different drummer. Kingdom life calls us to love, not to hate. Kingdom life calls us to treat everyone with mercy and compassion, not disdain and derision. Kingdom life calls us to respond to those who speak and act badly with concern and kindness.
In this world where those who speak the loudest get listened to, how do you use your voice for peaceful change? In this world where spending is about special interest and personal programs, how do we stand for moral budget making? In this world where justice is confused with revenge, how do we turn the other cheek, how do we speak about healing and reconciliation? In a world where forgiveness is unacceptable because punishment is the only acceptable outcome, how do we drop to our knees and approach our creator with humility?
You see, we could very well be with those who were sitting on that hillside listening to Jesus teach. We are the blessed, and we are those who mourn. We are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and we are the ones who loose our saltiness, and we are the ones who put our lights under a basket. We are the ones who come to the altar to bring our gifts, and the ones who need to leave our gifts at the altar to reconcile with our brothers and our sisters. We are the ones who turn the other cheek, and the ones who deliver the first blow. We live at one and the same time as citizens of the kingdom and as those who miss the mark. This is the reality of our lives, we are not perfect, perfection only comes as we live our lives enveloped in the love, the mercy, the compassion, of our God. We may not be perfect in ourselves, but we are not off the hook either.
The truth is that Jesus walks this road with us, to show us the way. The truth is that on our own we tend to miss the mark. But we are children of God, and we are citizens of the kingdom, we are the peacemakers. We are called to avoid the violence and hatred that has crept into our social and political discourse these days. We are called to offer others a chance to escape the cycle of violence and hate that is so prevalent in our society. We are called to share our abundance with our neighbors and others who have come seeking. God’s mission is healing and reconciliation. Our mission is to follow Jesus who calls us to mercy and compassion, loving our neighbors and enemy’s, feeding those who are hungry, caring for those who need care. And it’s our job to live like we really believe Jesus actually is bringing in God’s kingdom, and to realize that we get to practice living like Jesus’ disciples and citizens of this new kingdom in the meantime.
Thanks be to God.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
6 Epiphany Yr A Feb 12 2017 Audio
Our relationships matter to God. At this point of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew really is providing commentary on what Jesus said as he began with the blesseds, the beatitudes. Our relationships matter to God. Our healthy relationships, our broken relationships, all matter to God. God delights in you, and loves you unconditionally and desires the best for you in and through your relationships. So this passage is about how we treat each other in relationship. This is an extension of the ten commandants. The ten commandments are about how God loves us and is in relationship with us, how we love God and how we treat each other. These words can help us create health and healing in our relationships. There is no hierarchy of sin here, breaking relationship is always painful and often tragic. These words remind us that all of our relationships are possible only with God's help.
To claim that our relationships matter to God is to claim two things. First, that this God who creates all that is seen and unseen, is truly the God who not only is God in our midst, but is also God who lived and loved and suffered and died, and who rose from the dead. This God is the God that is not only transcendent, the God who creates the heavens and the earth and all the universe, but also who is deeply and completely immanent, the God whose heart's desire is to be in relationship with us. Secondly, because it is God's heart's desire to be in relationship with God's people, you and me, God is doing something new in this incarnation. God is doing something new with the law and commandments. We hear that in this passage. No longer is it enough just to refrain from murder, or adultery, or lying, or idolatry, or any of the other sins that make up the Ten Commandments. No longer is it enough to not do it, God is calling us to go beyond the law, and to be deeply and completely in relationship with God whose love wins.
The effects of turning away from God, the effects of our sin, the effects of missing the mark, are broken relationships, and broken relationships will kill us. Broken relationships and broken hearts kill us from the inside out. The effect of broken relationships are hearts that are hardened and no longer capable of love, compassion, mercy, justice. They are hearts no longer capable of beating. Well, you might as well cut out your eye, or lop off your hand for as much as your body is good for anything anymore. Do you see what's happening here? God's relationship with us, and our relationship with others is so important in this life that without them we may as well be dead, in effect, we have lost life.
That’s what this passage is about. Murder, broken relationship, adultery, divorce, broken promises. It’s all here. This passage is about relationship, this passage calls us to integrity, do your insides match your outsides?
And this has everything to do with how we respect the dignity of every human being with whom we come in contact. Surely first and foremost the human beings we live with, our partners in life, our children, our brothers and sisters, and all the people we encounter day by day. It also has everything to do with how we respect the dignity of those we know only by our common humanity. Those we read about in the newspaper, those we see on our screens in far away places, those who are in our own communities but must hide because of who they are.
So I'd like you to call to mind one of the relationships in your life that is most important to you. One that is healthy and whole and good and sustains you regularly. Picture that person, that relationship. Think about what makes that a good relationship, why is it so important. Give God thanks for that person and the relationship you share. Now, call to mind another relationship that is important but has suffered some damage. Don’t try to figure out who was to blame for the hurt, but rather hold that person and relationship in prayer. Offer that broken relationship to God as an offering and as an arena of God’s help and healing. Think about what action you can take to move that relationship to greater health. Do you need to ask forgiveness? And now pray with me, Lord God of healing and wholeness, we offer this broken relationship to your care. Show us how to heal and be healed in this broken relationship, give us the words, show us the way, so that your love shows forth, our hearts may be healed, and the world may be a better place. Amen.
In these days when our legislature is considering laws that discriminate, I am reminded of those who have gone before us, those who have spent their lives being loved by God, and loving others, those who have spent their lives not in fear of showing God's love to the world but proclaiming God's love for all to the world. Those whose hearts could have been hardened because to continue to love was not only difficult but dangerous. I am reminded today of the first black Episcopal priest, Absalom Jones, whose life we celebrate each year on February 13th. Absalom Jones bought his wife's freedom, and went on to buy his own freedom, and became a priest at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Absalom Jones was known for his abolitionist preaching, in God's kingdom, there is no owning another human, there is no prejudice, there is no bigotry.
But of course, I'm preaching to the choir. You know these things, you do your best. You ask for forgiveness. Today I want to encourage you. I want to encourage you to take this love that wins even farther. Take it to people whose hearts have been hardened, and show them that it is love that wins, not hate, not prejudice or bigotry. Show them that Jesus took all that fear into his own body and replaced it with his love. Show them what eternal life looks like, it's not some reward after we're dead, it's the life God gives us, life fully lived before we're dead, it's a heart that is living and breathing and loving, not cold and hard. Show them that you will not live your life in fear of those who are different from you, but you live your life loud and proud for God's love. Show them that you are a person of integrity, your insides match your outsides. Show them what it looks like to follow Jesus.
You see, Jesus walked this journey not to uphold the status quo, but to show us that in God's kingdom, everything is different. Jesus goes to the margins to show us that the first will be last, and the last will be first. Jesus protects those who are vulnerable to show us that all relationships matter, women and men matter, respect and dignity matter. Forgiveness matters. Words matter, and the Word matters. Amen.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
5 Epiphany Yr A Feb 5 2017 Audio
Jesus' sermon on the mount continues with you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. You are the light that shines in the darkness. This is an amazing gift as well as an amazing promise. Not only is God in our midst, God in the flesh, the light in the world, but that light, God in the flesh, God in our midst, is in us, shines through us, and as we bear that light into the world, darkness cannot overcome. That's not nothing, that's something. God's love, the love that wins, gets communicated to the world through you. Martin Luther King Jr. said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." And, something more, you are the light of the world, that is who you are, you are a child of God. This is not about what you must do, it is about who you are, you can't help but be the light and drive out darkness.
Well, with that Good News, how does the love of God get communicated in the world through you? You are commissioned to be God's light in the world. As I use communicate in this context, I mean the fullness of that word, not just words. Some of the synonyms of communicate are connect, interface, make known, network, and relate. For me the ultimate meaning of communicate is in communion, "be known to us Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread." God's love gets communicated in the world through you and the light that you bear. What does that look like?
These words lead me to picture God's communication through you as a light in the world like a web of relationship. You shine in your workplace, and God is present. You shine in your school, and God is present. You light up the darkness, and God's love is communicated. But that seems all rather ethereal, right? What does it really look like?
The theme of light shining in the darkness is a universal human theme, we all know that from scripture, from Genesis and from John and from Isaiah. And we may get some direction from popular culture. The epic stories of our time show us how light shines in the darkness, and the best of those show us how that light is multiplied in community.
In Madeleine L'engle's book, A Wrinkle in Time, our main characters travel through a wrinkle in time to the dark planet of Camazotz which is entirely dominated by the Black Thing. The father of our main character, Meg, is trapped on this planet, after a time Meg is able to free her father, but only after finding her own strengths, her own giftedness, her own light, and engaging in the web of relationship that is community. In the Harry Potter stories, the power of light in the darkness is a dominant theme. Dumbledore even says, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” And then he goes on to say, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." Again, the light in these stories is found in the web of relationships among Harry and his friends. I could go on and on and bore you completely with these references, stories I hold dear, but instead I'd love to hear about your own understanding of the light shining in the darkness in the places you go for meaning.
The question is, what does it look like for you to be God's light in the world? What does it look like for your light to be the only light shining, what does it look like for your light to join with and be joined with others to create a brighter light? Again, it is not what we do, but who we are, God's beloved, that shines. But for others to see the light, sometimes it is what we do. So many of you are lights in the world. Your light shines when you give a compassionate word at work, your light shines when you give an encouraging word at the check out counter at the store, your light shines when you shovel your neighbors walk. These light shining moments are so important. And your light, your voice, your words matter in a world that seems to have left compassion and justice behind. You are indeed, a light in the building of the kingdom. But what about when we join our lights in the web of relationship, when we join our lights in a community of light?
When we do that, when lights shine on the darkness of the injustice of racism, when lights shine on the darkness of the disregard for human dignity, when lights shine on the darkness of the lack of access to health care, we begin to see the building of God's kingdom. During this month that is designated Black History, we are reminded of the witness of this kind of light, in the persons and the web of community of the people who sat on buses and wouldn't give up their seats; the people who sat at lunch counters and endured the indignity of insults and attacks; the people who knocked on doors to register others to vote; the people who worked day in and day out at their jobs, so they might provide education for their children.
This sermon on the mount, this gospel, matters in our world today. It is almost as if it was delivered for times such as these. Shine your light, stand up for what is right. Claim God's healing love for you and for all creation. Pay attention to what God is doing. Believe that you are loved.
God's love is what brings us back together, puts the fragments of our lives back together. It is God's love, borne by your light, that can bring healing and wholeness to our broken world. Indeed, it is God's mission to heal our world, and it is our mission to be a part of that healing. It is God's love, carried on the light of compassion, that we must show forth.
We are called to follow Jesus. Following Jesus implies learning about who Jesus is so that we may follow. Following Jesus implies walking a journey in partnership with others. Following Jesus implies activity. Do justice, love kindness, and walk intentionally with God. Look for Jesus in the blesseds that are hard to see. You are the salt, you are the light. Following Jesus is to carry God's love into the world and change it, change the world. Be the light that shines on injustice, be the light that shines on oppression, be the light that shines, and reveals compassion, kindness, and mercy. Amen.
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